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Only ever been to the South of Ireland? Dublin is a great place to visit, but don’t miss out. The capital of the north, Belfast, was voted one of the top destinations in the world to visit in 2012, according to National Geographic. So what’s all the fuss about?
Belfast is small enough to get around easily yet has dozens and dozens of great bars and restaurants to suit all styles and budgets. Since the end of the troubles, there’s been extensive redevelopment in the area, bringing in top names and high end businesses from all over the world. Belfast is said to have one of the best local music scenes in the country, not to mention all the festivals throughout the year. It’s also the home of the Titanic, with a new Titanic Centre documenting the ships history having been built in 2012. During your stay make sure you try the Ulster Fry – a fry up with soda bread and potato bread as well as all of the staples of an English breakfast, fondly referred to by locals as a ‘heart attack on a plate’.
There are two options for a place to stay in Belfast – the city centre and the area around Queen’s University a few miles up the road. Both are so close to each other it mightn’t matter too much, but Belfast’s city centre becomes largely deserted at nights with all the nightlife lying a bit further south. Our recommendation is to go towards Queen’s, where around the Botanic Avenue and Bradbury Place areas there are places to stay to suit all budgets.
If it’s a sunny day, take a walk to Queen’s University and Botanic Gardens, this smallish park has been a main staple of the city since 1828 and is known for its 1840 Palm House. It can become busy in the gardens during summer, so if you want a quieter –and bigger– green space to spend the day in head a mile or so up the road to Ormeau Park.
The area around the Botanic Gardens has plenty of Asian and local restaurants close by or there’s the Belfast Empire which does pub food, has live music on several nights a week and comedy nights and bands on in the venue upstairs. There’s also Lavery’s Gin Palace, an old bar with a pool hall on the top floor and a smoking garden outside.
As for attractions, there’s Belfast Castle, the Old Crumlin Jail (which dates back to 1845), Belfast Zoo, St Anne’s Cathedral, and the Titanic Visitor Centre to name but a few. For art and theatre lovers there’s the main Belfast theatre, the Grand Opera House, the newly opened MAC, the swish Waterfront Hall or the newly refurbished Lyric Theatre.
You could take the Belfast Sightseeing Tour on its red open-topped bus where you’ll be treated to a tour of the city and its history, from the old docks and Sailortown, to the Falls and Shankill Roads, then up to Stormont, Belfast’s parliament.
It’s a good idea to use Belfast as a base to explore the rest of Northern Ireland – try the Antrim coast, Giant’s Causeway and Rathlin Island among others. Although there’s enough in the city to keep you occupied!