A grand short break in Belfast
No doubt you’ve heard of Belfast in Northern Ireland, most likely not for good reasons. The city of Belfast is steeped in culture, history, industrial might and a ship building prowess in bygone days. Unfortunately most know it for the violent clashes between those that wish to stay loyal to the united kingdom and those that long for a united Ireland.
For whatever reason you’ve heard of Belfast there’s a lot to learn here and a lot to see too. As the conflicts ease somewhat, tourism has grown and Belfast is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK. It’s easy to see why on a recent visit to the city. So here’s our guide to the best things to see and do in Belfast.
Rather than gloss over the “troubles” in Belfast, one very popular tourist activity is a tour of the murals that adorn many walls of houses, shops and office all over the city. The best way to see these murals is with a local who lived through some of the most violent conflicts. The local cabbies offer a private tour of the best and most famous murals in town. Our driver Joe was not just a font of knowledge on the subject but was also a great story-teller. We had just 2 hours with him but learnt so much about the war that happened on the streets of Belfast. You get to walk around the housing estates of Shankhill and the Falls, the two areas where most of the conflicts have happened.
A private tour in your own black cab means we got to see the most interesting areas relating to the conflict and could ask him any questions we had on the subject. We had 2 hours with Joe but could have spent all day with him! Well worth it if you want to learn more about this subject that dominated Belfast for so long.
- Tours duration: 2 hours, starting from your hotel
- Ticket price: £16.20 per person (minimum 3 people)
- Website: Get 10% off at getyourguide.com
Belfast now has not 1 but 3 bus tours and the big open top double-decker buses can be spotted on most of the city streets. The longest running is still the best (We asked Joe our private mural tours cabbie!). Taking you to the most interesting parts of town, the big red Sightseeing Bus starts in the centre of town and covers a lot of interesting areas including the ship building docks, grand Victorian buildings of the industrial revolution and more interesting areas where the conflicts affected the most. The tour buses leave every 30 minutes and stop at lots of places making it the best way to get around town. The guide on each bus does a great job of not just pointing out interesting landmarks and buildings but also explaining more about the history and culture of Belfast. Be prepared to a learn a lot! Tours last around 1 hour depending on traffic and tickets let you hop on and off as much as you like for 24 hours.
- Opening times: Daily from 10am – 4:30pm
- Ticket price: £12.50 per person for 24 hours.
- Website: Book online at getyourguide.com
The story of the Titanic is known worldwide from many movies and TV shows. We all know how the story ends but not many know how the story of the Titanic started. Built in Belfast it took 3 years to complete and involved thousands of workers from the city. Built at a time when the industrial revolution was in full swing and Belfast was producing some of the biggest and most luxurious ships in the world.
- Opening times: Daily from 10am – 5pm
- Ticket price: Adult £13.50, Children £6.75
- Website: titanicbelfast.com
Where to stay in Belfast
There are of course a lot of places to stay in Belfast and with any popular tourist city prices can be quite expensive. If you’re looking for a good comfortable nights sleep in a much more local surrounding we can recommend the Parador Hotel and Pub on Ormeau Road. Its a little further out-of-town but is a wonderful local pub with live music, friendly helpful staff and even a fireplace to make the place feel very cosy.
The rooms are above the pub and are well looked after. Clean and tidy. Most have a shower within the room and share bathrooms on each floor. We had a room on the top floor and never had a problem with the live music in the pub. Breakfast is included and although they no longer offer a lunch or dinner menu you can use some of the kitchen facilities if you want to cook for yourself. We had a great stay and enjoyed chatting with the landlord. The live music at weekends is a must and its proximity to your bed makes it easy to let your hair down and enjoy the great Northern Irish atmosphere.
- Location: 471-473 Ormeau Road, Belfast
- Room rates: £25 per person per night
- Website: Book online at HostelWorld.com
Other things to do in Belfast
There are of course many other museums and places worth checking out in Belfast. I’d recommend the Ulster Museum in the Queens Quarter with a lot of interesting exhibits on the history and culture of this region of Northern Ireland. The Belfast Zoological Gardens are wonderful on a sunny day too. For more history on the conflicts in Northern Ireland check out the Irish Republican History museum for a rather one sided view of the argument. Never the less its worth a look.