I have to confess a personal interest in this one. I was born and lived for a fair number of years in Belfast before I moved to Glasgow, then London. So anything I have to say about this dirty old town is not as a complete outsider, although I haven’t actually lived there for over 14 years.
We all know Belfast’s violent history, and the character of Northern Ireland people I guess has formed around this. Our humour is a bit drier than that in a lot of the UK, and we’re apparently a friendly bunch. More importantly, we pronounce Primark as Preemark rather than Prymark (sorry for those outside the UK who won’t have a clue what I’m talking about there). Other than that, we’re just like the rest of you, only a bit drunker. And Belfast is actually quite a lively place to visit these days.
Here’s QT’s Belfast city guide on what to when you’re there that doesn’t include the Crown Bar or Titanic Exhibition.
Things to do
Visit the QFT (Queen’s Film Theatre), Belfast’s leading independent cinema, operating since 1968 and showing a good mix of new and not so new non-mainstream films. The address is 20 University Square, Belfast BT7 1PA and they’re a wee bit off the main drag, so here’s some information on how to get there
Go see the big fish – a ceramic, well, big fish beside the Lagan. Take a walk down there at night when the area’s lit up nicely.
Take an Allen’s bus tour to the famous as well as infamous parts of town. The university and city hall are included, and you’ll be taken up the Falls and the Shankill. Now, I haven’t actually done this, and some day I should, but I reckon for first-time visitors to Belfast it’s a must-do to get an idea of the differences (and probably more importantly, the similarities) between the two communities.
Made in Belfast is a regular stopover for me when I’m visiting. There’s a branch very near the City Hall, and one in the Cathedral quarter, and it’s usually quite busy (although I’ve always just about managed to find a table.) The “magnificently mad” decor (their words) comes from the company ethos of pouring all the money into the food, therefore skips and junk shops are the source for their charming mix of mismatched tables, chairs, pottery etc. The food is local where possible, and always ethically and organically sourced. Expect treats such as beef fat chips and Greek briam (vegetable stew).
Muriel’s cafe bar will help you out if you’re in need of a coffee, eggs benedict or a croque monsieur for breakfast. And they do all day meat, seafood and cheese platters alongside a mean selection of cocktails using all the trendy alcohols and mixers you could wish for.
Made in Belfast: Units 1 And 2 Wellington Buildings, Wellington Street, Belfast, BT1 6HT
Muriel’s Cafe Bar: 12-14 Church Lane Town Centre, Belfast BT1 4QN
The Spaniard is a very cute and cosy little Spanish-style bar in the Cathedral Quarter. They describe themselves as “pop/rock culture meets spanish chux” and they have a very lovely website with a very good song of the month by local band “The Fools” when I last looked at it.
There was a time in Belfast when just about the only beer you could buy was Tennants, Harp and Guinness. Thankfully that’s now changing, and the John Hewitt has quite a range, including Belfast Black, Blue Moon (Belgian) and Clothworthy Dobin (love that name). And live bands often play there.
The Spaniard: 3 Skipper Street, Belfast, BT1 2DZ
John Hewitt: 51 Donegall Street, Belfast BT1 2FH
Take a Trip
Since you’re in Northern Ireland anyway, take a trip up the Antrim Coast – this is seriously one of the most beautiful coastal drives in the world, and the Giant’s Causeway is as impressive as it looks in the photographs. Hire a car, or take a bus – the aforementioned Allen’s bus tours do an all day Causeway tour
Update 5th July 2012 – I’ve just heard today that creationism gets a mention at the Causeway’s new visitors’ centre Don’t let that put you off and just use the visitors’ centre for the toilet facilities :o)
Quirky Places to Stay
I haven’t been able to track anything down very quirky, however the Malmaison is set up in an old seed warehouse, and the gorgeous Merchant Hotel is in the former headquarters of the Ulster Bank – a handsome High Victorian building.
Malmaison: 34-38 Victoria Street, Belfast BT1 3GH
Merchant: 16 Skipper Street, Belfast BT1 2DY
Here are a couple of blogs that might whet your appetite for the great city of Belfast: