When Chris and I were trying to pick a destination for a last-minute city break, I can’t say that Belfast immediately sprang to mind. To be fair, I felt like going on a city break abroad, and Belfast simply felt too close given that it was still in the UK.
Thankfully, the cheap flights found through Skyscanner and a bit of initial research helped change my mind.
After additional reading and the habitual perusing of travel blogs, I soon got into a state of embarrassing travel excitement, as I knew that we were in for a few action-packed days.
And this all turned out to be true. Belfast provided one of the most memorable, varied and fun city breaks we’ve ever been on.
Since good travel karma is important, it’s now up to me to convince you that Belfast needs to be YOUR next city break too.
It may sound cocky, but I don’t think I’ll have a tough time persuading you.
Be impressed at City Hall
There are many impressive buildings and attractions in Belfast (some of which I detail below), but it feels right to start with the first one that we came across: Belfast’s City Hall.
|Belfast’s grand City Hall.|
Built in 1906 on the site of a linen exchange hall, the City Hall assumes a proud position in the centre of Belfast. The grand building looms over the park surrounding it, which was filled with workers enjoying their lunch at the time of our visit.
If looking at the exterior isn’t enough, you can take a free guided tour of City Hall from Monday to Friday (at 11am, 2pm and 3pm) or Saturday (2pm and 3pm).
|The eye-catching Titanic Belfast.|
|The shipyard where the Titanic was built.|
If you, like me, have had the Giant’s Causeway on your bucket list for some time, then I’m very happy to report that Belfast is the best location for a day trip to the aforementioned natural wonder.
|Just one small glimpse of what awaits you at the Giant’s Causeway.|
There are many different day trip offers from competing operators, but most will include stops at a number of unique and beautiful coastal spots, such as Dunluce Castle, a rather scary bridge at Carrick-a-Rede, the Old Bushmills Distillery and, of course, the causeway itself.
|One of the other sights you’d see on a causeway day trip – Carrick-a-Rede.|
|And Dunluce Castle.|
If I do manage to convince you to visit Belfast, don’t pass up the chance to see the Giant’s Causeway for yourself; read about our day trip there.
All of this sightseeing and day tripping requires energy, right? You’ll need to start your day correctly – by having a full fry up breakfast at Maggie Mays.
Now, we were told that Maggie Mays is quite the institution, so we had high expectations for what we would have on our plates. When those plates did arrive, I wish I hadn’t worn such tight jeans.
|Get in my belly! The completely anti-diet fry up at Maggie Mays.|
When listing the different components of the dish, I feel like I could ramble off endlessly: eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns, mushrooms, tomato, pancake, potato bread and soda bread. Goodbye, diet; hello, deliciousness.
Whether you’re nursing a hangover from an over-enthusiastic night spent at Belfast’s many excellent pubs or you simply want a meal so big that you won’t need to eat again until dinner, Maggie Mays is the place to go.
Speaking of institutions, a visit to Belfast is not complete until you’ve stopped off for a pint (or three) at the Crown Liquor Saloon.
I’ve written about National Trust properties before, but these posts have concerned grand houses and expansive gardens. But now I can also proudly say that I’ve been to a National Trust-owned pub.
|An essential stop for the beer fans – Crown Liquor Saloon.|
The Crown Liquor Saloon dates back to 1826, and, if you squint at the interiors, you could easily imagine Victoria-era folk blending into the surroundings. With rich, ornamental woodwork used throughout, as well as the presence of stained glass windows, I guarantee that you’ll have never been to a pub quite like it.
We went there on a weekday afternoon, and it was busy! Be prepared to wait a while if you’re keen to get a table.
Everyone likes free stuff, right? Happily for those who are on a tight budget like me, there are plenty of free attractions and sights in Belfast.
One of the best of these is the Botanic Gardens. Covering 28 acres, the gardens have a long history, as they were first established in 1828. While it’s easy to just while away the time by wandering the pathways, there are particular sections to see for those wanting a proper plan in place.
|The architecturally perfect Palm House.|
During our visit, there was a sudden downpour, so we hid inside the Palm House. This Victorian greenhouse houses all manner of exotic plants and flowers, and it’s a peaceful spot – albeit, a humid one – to contemplate nature at its most colourful.
If you also happen to experience a slightly longer downpour, the gardens are home to the Ulster Museum, which contains displays pertaining to a wide range of subject matter. Dinosaurs? Botany? Local history? You’ll find a little bit of everything at this unique museum. Admission is also free here.
As a London resident, I get to visit some of the top cocktail bars in the world, but I can honestly say that I had some of the best cocktails of my life at Belfast’s Love and Death Inc.
|The best spot for cocktails – Love and Death Inc.|
Part-restaurant, part-event venue, part-bar, Love and Death Inc’s drinks menu arrives at your table in the form of a full-on comic book. With enthusiastic staff behind the bar who actually care whether or not you get a drink that you like, it wasn’t long before our cocktails arrived – and they were perfect.
You’ll find the usual suspects on the cocktail menu, but there’ll be plenty of reinventions scattered throughout the pages. Ask for the bartender’s guidance, take a seat in the candlelit room and settle in for a night of high-quality cocktails.
(And remember: Maggie Mays beckons all ye owners of massive hangovers.)
This turned out to be our favourite part of Belfast, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Filled with hipster cafes, up-and-coming restaurants and with its strong focus on various art forms, we loved exploring this vibrant neighbourhood.
It seems logical to start with the landmark after which this area is named. St Anne’s Cathedral stands at the centre of it all; among its many noteworthy features is its external Celtic cross – allegedly the largest in the world.
|St Anne’s Cathedral.|
This is also the go-to quarter for food and drink. Every street and side alley seemed to hold innumerable culinary temptations and it was with difficulty that we chose just one place to sample: Le Coop. Luckily, our selection proved to be a great one, but I’d love to go back to discover more of the best of the Cathedral Quarter’s food scene.
|Just one of the Cathedral Quarter’s many charming side streets.|
|Prawn popcorn at Le Coop.|
This neighbourhood also provides many offerings for the artistically inclined. There are galleries and street art to find, as well as the art exhibition centre of The MAC (admission is free).
|Rainbows inside new arts venue, The MAC.|
|And just one of the many examples of strong street art we saw throughout our visit.|
I’ve said it elsewhere, but part of the joy of travelling stems from finding gems via seemingly aimless wandering.
Belfast is compact enough that it’s easy to traverse on foot – so this is precisely how we chose to explore. In doing so, we came across some memorable finds, some beautiful and some quirky.
|The formidable university buildings.|
|To something not entirely serious.|
Our favourite find had to be The Dock, an honesty box cafe located en route to the Titanic Belfast. Not familiar with the concept? Honesty box refers to the method of payment operating within an establishment. In order to cater to all types of people – regardless of their work/financial status – the cafe invites people to pay what they think each sandwich/tea/coffee is worth.
The Dock is a relaxed, creative space and, if I was based in Belfast, I could easily see myself working from this cafe. With artworks hanging on the walls and bottomless tea awaiting, we found ourselves enjoying the atmosphere until closing time.
|Don’t mind if I do, The Dock!|
|The fun interiors of Belfast’s honesty box cafe.|
This one makes me a little sad, as the Simply Crispy cafe is no more. Formerly found at That Wee Cafe, the main fare on offer was the stuff of childhood nostalgia: crisp sandwiches!
|Ready for assembling – Simply Crispy.|
|Childhood nostalgia satisfied.|
I’m including Simply Crispy here to show that Belfast is fully on trend with its themed cafes – and to encourage you to keep your eyes open for the next cafe of its kind.
Or, you know, they can bring back the crisp sandwich cafe, as it was that incredible.
Whether you’re keen on history, street art, cocktails, beer, fulfilling bucket list items or visiting some gardens, Belfast truly has something for every type of traveller.
We’ve been fortunate to travel to a number of UK destinations, yet none of them surprised us as much as Belfast did. It was the only place that, as soon as we were about to board our plane home, prompted us to say, spontaneously, “We need to get back here very soon.”
Belfast, you’ve bewitched us and even made us speculate on what it would be like to live in your city, and, in accordance with the rules of good travel karma, I hope that this post sends other travellers to be equally ensnared by your many charms.