Rejuvenate Yourself in Rejuvenated Belfast
For several decades suggesting a break in Belfast would have caused at best laughter, but happily the political situation has improved beyond all measure and since the millennium tourists have been flocking to the city. They come to enjoy the best of the old and see the rise of the new. A whole characterful capital city returned to the destination list.
The terrible times of The Troubles should not be forgotten, and a tour of some of the more notorious spots puts the current situation into perspective: the Black Taxi Tour is an easy and friendly way to do this. If you prefer your own motive power, Belfast is quite a small city and one reasonably well-suited to pedal-power, with places like Bikedock providing bikes-for-hire and all the accoutrements.
For an instant glimpse of the changing face of the city the Victoria Square shopping centre works in two ways: take the lift to the top of the dome there – worth a look in itself - and look out on the architecture of the past and future; or just wander this recently completed retail hub with more than 70 shops including some big names and see evidence the peace dividend up close and personal. If retail therapy is your (shopping-)bag the slightly older Castle Court on Royal Avenue is another option, again about 70 shops; or do the city centre thing for more independent shops, and the occasional quirky offering. City Hall is the focal point of the city centre, and you should drop in to try the café there, though within a short stroll there are several high-end restaurants .
Café culture – and pub culture – is alive and well in the Cathedral Quarter, the oldest part of Belfast but with a renewed vigour in recent years: plenty of great restaurants to try, galleries to browse in, and bars for a quick tissue restorer and mix with the locals. Keep your ears pricked for poetry readings and your eyes peeled for other events in some of the arty pubs here. If not there then there is bound to be something going on in the arts in the city, which never seems to be without a festival of film, music, drama... Check our events pages so you don’t miss out.
The other quarter that is for the arts-minded is Queen’s, no great distance from the Cathedral Quarter. Studenty for obvious reasons, with the buzz and energy that student areas everywhere enjoy, it again has no shortage of cultural happenings to help fill the evenings of your stay.
If you are looking for the most radically rejuvenated district, however, best to check out the Titanic Quarter. Even if you can’t understand why a ship that sank on its maiden voyage should be so revered (many more durable ships were born here too, however), the mixture of docks and new construction – around £7 billion set to be spent on the area - is a heady and illustrative one. See the docks from the water with a boat tour; make for what will surely be seen as Belfast’s answer to Bilbao’s Guggenheim, the Titanic Signature building, its stunning architecture already a draw. The Titanic Dock and Pump House takes us back again to Belfast’s industrial heritage, exploring the making of the liner with a visitor centre and café to provide information and sustenance respectively. In the same district you’ll find Belfast’s Odyssey Complex, a magnificent new sporting venue too.
To balance the industrial let’s veer back to the cultural – and on two levels. Conveniently close to one another are the Grand Opera House and the Crown Liquor Saloon , Victorian gems both. The Opera House gives performances of the art form that provides its name, but also features musicals and entertainments of other stripes; the Crown is a survival of the highly decorated gin palace once common in our cities, now a rarity – and this one is owned by the National Trust to prevent rare turning to extinction. Loved by locals and visitors alike it has loads of snug little booths along with a long ‘altar’ bar; but is most memorable for its sumptuous and colourful decor – brass, stained glass, mosaic tiles, mirrors and more. Not a place where people go to speak in hushed tones or stare in boredom at one another over a gradually warming half either.
Belfast is a city that has come back to life, where a visit will make you feel alive too, the enjoyment of the finer things doubtless doubled by the years of relative privation. Information Britain has a plethora of accommodation choices in Belfast to suit every pocket and style.
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Previous destinations of the month:
Starry Starry Night, Look You – Dark Skies Tourism, South Wales | Mills and Hills in Central Lancashire, Lancashire | Get Fit on the North York Moors, North Yorkshire | A West Country Christmas – Dorset in December, Dorset | Nottinghamshire – Rural and Urban, Nottinghamshire | The Test Valley, Hampshire | Ashdown Forest, Sussex | The Rugged Northumberland Coast , Northumberland | The Resorts of North Devon, Devon | The Queen's London, London | Denbighshire , North Wales | York and Its Surrounds, North Yorkshire | The High Weald of Kent, Kent | Leisure, Luxury and Retail Heaven in Leeds , West Yorkshire | Rejuvenate Yourself in Rejuvenated Belfast , Belfast | Seasonal Fun in Brum, West Midlands | Autumn in the Southern Chilterns, Buckinghamshire | Cheshire Peaks and Plains, Cheshire | Essex’s Colne Valley, Essex | Cardigan Bay, West Wales | South Wales Valleys, South Wales | Highland Perthshire, Perthshire | South Downs National Park, Sussex | Royal Wedding London, London | Vale of Belvoir, Leicestershire | The Oxfordshire Cotswolds, Oxfordshire | Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire | Edinburgh at Christmas, Edinburgh and the Lothians | Marvellous Manchester, Greater Manchester | The National Forest, Derbyshire | East Lothian, Edinburgh and the Lothians | Regency Brighton and Hove, Sussex | Isle of Purbeck, Dorset | The Somerset Levels, Somerset | Llandudno, North Wales | Hereford, Herefordshire | Cheltenham, Gloucestershire | Bristol, the Great West City, Bristol | Weardale, County Durham | Festive London, London | Islay, Isle of Islay | Blackpool and the Lancashire Coast, Lancashire | The Vale of Evesham, Worcestershire | Land of the Prince Bishops, County Durham | The North Cornwall Coast, Cornwall | Torbay, Devon | Dumfries & Galloway, Dumfries and Galloway | West Highland Way, Argyll | Caithness and Sutherland, Highlands | Harrogate & its Surrounds, North Yorkshire | Sheffield, South Yorkshire