To make the most of your time in the city your first point of contact should be the centrally located Belfast Welcome Centre (Tourist Office) at 47 Donegall Place, just north of City Hall. The first floor centre is accessible by elevator and escalator just to the left of the Boots Pharmacy. The staff can provide maps, book accommodation and tours, recommend itineraries and places of interest and sell you overpriced and tacky souvenirs. There is also a useful left luggage facility.
Taxi tours35A King StreetPhone: +44 7892716660Hours: 2 hoursPrice: 30Taxi Trax of West Belfast have seen the history of the troubles over the past 40 years. They even have a mural that can be seen on the International Wall. belfast mural tourscity centerPhone: +44 7846687085Hours: 2 hoursPrice: 30.00 minTake a personal tour of the famous Belfast Murals,Hear the stories behind them,Tour the streets that show the scars of decades of conflict.
Belfast city centre is focused on Donegall Square and Belfast City Hall in its centre. All major city bus routes converge here and, on sunny days, this is where shoppers and office workers can be found enjoying their breaks. The City Hall is the grand centerpiece of the city and the orientation point for your exploration of Belfast. Running north from the centre of Donegall Square is Donegall Place, a broad and bustling shopping street, which will lead you towards the Cathedral Quarter and the Arts School. The city centre is bordered to the east by the River Lagan, and to the south by the area around Donegall Pass. Where Belfast city centre meets the River Lagan, windswept pavements prove that meaningless sculptures and grandiose attempts at urban planning do not necessarily make for a popular urban space. The horrendous dual carriageway known as the Westlink separated the centre of Belfast from the western suburbs of the city in the 1970s; this borders the city centre to the west. On the plus side, the network of dual carriageways and motorways mean that one can get from the city centre to all the surrounding suburbs and satellite towns in less than fifteen minutes, even during the rush hour, something which is impossible in many other cities, for example Dublin.
In between these rough boundaries, you'll find Belfast's heart. Parts of it are blighted by dereliction, others are blighted by narrow-minded money-grabbing redevelopment. Note that while largely safe at all times, years of city centre curfews during the troubles means that the centre of Belfast can be startlingly empty of pedestrians after 8PM. City centre living has yet to become as popular here as in other parts of Britain and Ireland.
City HallPhone: +44 28 9032 0202Donegall Sq, - Opened in 1906, the City Hall will possibly seem familiar to South African visitors, who may notice a resemblance to the city hall in Durban. This is a fine example of turn of the century architecture from the heart of the British Empire's drafting office. The City Hall houses Belfast's Council chambers and administrative offices. Excellently presented free guided tours are available every day; ring ahead for details of times. Also of note are the grounds, containing a memorial to victims of the Titanic and a statue of Queen Victoria. The spacious grassy square and broad pavements that surround the City Hall are also where local youths gather to perform complex mating rituals. The City Hall will temporarily close to the public from November 2007 for essential renovation works. However, the grounds of the building will remain open and will continue to play host to popular events, such as the Continental Christmas Market. The building is scheduled to reopen in 2009 and, until then, most Council services, including the Registrar's office for births, deaths, marriages and civil partnerships, will relocate to Adelaide Exchange in nearby Adelaide Street. PLACE Built Environment Centre40 Fountain StPhone: +44 28 9023 2524PLACE is the Northern Ireland Built Environment Centre based in Fountain Street, Belfast. PLACE was established in 2004 and is now an independent charity running a public programme of exhibitions, debates and discussions, architecture tours, site visits and design workshops on various local and international built environment topics relevant to Northern Ireland. For information on upcoming walking tours, exhibitions or events visit the website or give the Centre a call. Ormeau Baths GalleryPhone: +44 28 9032 140218a Ormeau Ave. Significantly lacking in credibility, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has now taken over the running of this once-lively and vibrant art gallery. This change of direction has left the OBG without a single artist involved in the running of the museum. A group of local artists has subsequently formed the Ormeau Baths Gallery in Exile, a mobile venue which hopes to 'return' to the OBG building in 2007. Saint Anne's CathedralPhone: +44 28 9043 4006Donegall St. The stunning cathedral building is situated at the opposite end of Royal Avenue, the main shopping street, from the City Hall. It is a fascinating building, and is at the centre of the "Cathedral Quarter", which is reluctantly being redesigned and cleaned up by various investment agencies to become Belfast's 'cultural' district. Thankfully, a lot of work remains to be done, and the area contains many fine cafs, bars and interesting buildings that recall the city's commercial and industrial heritage. Rent prices have yet to jump significantly, so keep an eye out for the small galleries and studio workspaces that remain in this area. Belfast Exposed23 Donegall StPhone: +44 28 9023 0965Tu-Sa 11AM-5PM. Belfast Exposed is Northern Ireland's only dedicated photography gallery, and as well as operating a fine exhibition space in a refurbished warehouse building, also provides local photographers with dark room and processing facilities and a well maintained library. Exhibitions are usually free and always worth seeing. Belfast Central LibraryPhone: +44 28 9050 9150Royal Ave. Opposite the road from the Cathedral, the Victorian library building houses an excellent Irish section and a newspaper library, containing archives of all Northern Irish newspapers. Titanic Boat TourBelfast takes a bizarre pride in that the ill-fated Titanic was built here (not caring to promote the many hundreds of other ships that were built here which did not sink) and you can now take a boat tour around the area that the ship was built. The former boat yards of Belfast are being ambitiously redeveloped into a residential and commercial neighbourhood that will be called (you guessed it) the Titanic Quarter. Tours cost 5. Check sailing times on their website. The Waterfront Hall2 Lanyon PlPhone: +44 28 9033 4455Standing on the northern side of Donegall Square, Belfast's imposing concert and conference venue is visible to the east where Chichester St meets the riverside. Built in 1997, it has been credited with generating 10 for the Belfast economy for every 1 spent on its construction. The main auditorium offers some of the best performance hall acoustics anywhere in Europe, and it is worth checking with the box office for upcoming shows. The Bar Council & Bar Library of Northern Ireland414 Chichester StNot open to the public, but notable for its striking architectural design. The northern half of the building is the opulent home of Belfast's (privately employed) barristers; meanwhile the southern end of the building (visible from May St) is occupied by the more modest Royal Courts of Justice Stamp Office (a tax-payer-funded government agency). Presented with two clients with two wildly different budgets, local architects Robinson McIlwaine successfully designed one building which seamlessly merge a more modest design and cheaper materials for the southern half of the building and a more elaborate and expensive design at the northern end.
Cornmarket is at the centre of Belfast's retail area. Visitors from Britain and Ireland will feel immediately at home with the bland selection of high street chains.
Belfast's leafiest and most accessible suburbs are found south of the city centre along Botanic Ave, and University Rd around the Queen's University. Apart from the small loyalist community around Donegall Pass, the areas between University Rd and Lisburn Rd are mostly mixed, and there is a dense student population living in rented accommodation. It's a 20 min walk from Donegall Place to Botanic Avenue. The commercial core of Belfast is apparent on Bedford St, and the lively bars, takeaways of Dublin Rd are busy most nights of the week. Botanic Ave is somewhat quieter with less traffic and is lined with cafés, restaurants and small shops. Farther south, beyond the University, is the Lisburn Rd, recently christened "Belfast's Bond Street", with its eclectic mix of boutiques, chic bars and restaurants, and lively coffee shops. This part of town is the most affluent of the city, and is regularly referred to by its postcode: BT9.
Queen's UniversityPhone: +44 28 9024 5133University Rd. Take any number 8 bus (8A - 8C) from the city center. At the southernmost end of the Golden Mile, the university is a fine Victorian building with extensive grounds. It contains a visitors' centre in the main central building.
Botanical Gardens, accessed from University Rd beside the university and at the southern end of Botanic Ave, . Very popular with locals and visitors alike. The Palm House contains local and interesting plants, such as carnivorous plants. Beside it is the Tropical Ravine, unique to the British Isles, where visitors walk around a raised balcony observing tropical flora and fauna. With large lawns and well maintained planting, the park is a popular destination in the summer. Fans of the BBC TV hidden camera comedy show 'Just for Laughs' will recognise the park from many hidden stunts. During the summer months be on the lookout for cameras pointing at you from parked vans and badly disguised tents.
Ulster Museum028 9038 3000. Accessed off Stranmillis Rd in the Botanic Gardens, 028 9038 3000. This excellent museum has much to see, including a large section on the history of Irish conflict, Northern Ireland's marine life and a significant collection of art. While many locals dislike the 1970s extension, it is one of the finest examples of a Brutalist modern extension being added and successfully integrated to an older classically designed museum. The museum is closed until the end of October 2009 for major redevelopment. Free. Lyric Theatre55 Ridgeway StPhone: +44 28 9038 1081The diminutive Lyric remains the only full-time producing theatre in Northern Ireland. A busy schedule of productions can be found online. A major redevelopment is planned to take place in the next few years.
Belfast ZooPhone: +44 28 9077 6277Antrim Road. Open daily 10AM-5:30PM, admission 6.70, take any number 1 bus (1A - 1G) from the city centre. A substantial modernisation programme has recently been finished, and the zoo has a very good variety of animals. The prairie dogs are of particular interest, as their tunnels extend throughout the park, rendering any open space looking like a giant game of 'whack-a-rat'. Much merriment was caused when the zoo was praised for letting the prairie dogs run wild and free, an accident that was caused after much effort was spent preventing them from digging out of their enclousre but noone checked on their ablity to climb and they simply scampered over their small enclosing wall. The Zoo has recently welcomed Lily, the first Barbary lion cub to be born in Ireland. Belfast CastlePhone: +44 28 9077 6925Antrim Rd. Daily 9AM-6PM, admission free, take any number 1 bus (1A - 1G) from the city centre. The castle (more accurately a large stately home) dates from 1870 and was restored in 1988. It is situated on Cave Hill and has good views of the city and coast. Cave Hill Country Park has marked walking routes and is an excellent viewpoint from which to get a view of Belfast.
An Chultrlann216 Falls Road, BT12 6AH, 028 9096 4180, the hub of Irish language activities in Belfast. Cultrlann McAdam Fiaich, at the heart of the Gaeltacht Quarter on the Falls Road is the Belfast Irish Experience, a friendly drop-in space where you can engage with the locals and experience Irish culture, but depending on your interests, it is also a dynamic arts centre, a centre for traditional music, a tourist information point, a caf, a place to buy crafts or books, a place to learn the Irish language or take up new hobbies, to meet friends or book a tour, a place to feel proud of your heritage or to explore Irish culture.
West Belfast Taxi Association 35a King St, 028 9031 5777, operate a remarkably efficient service from Belfast city centre to areas of West Belfast. Taxis run every few minutes up the Falls Road to destinations including Whiterock, Andersonstown and Twinbrook. The services operate as taxi buses, with passengers sharing a black cab with others who are going to roughly the same place. The routes are similar to bus routes, but the driver will stop and let you out at any point. Taxis can be hailed along the Falls and Andersonstown Rds. Fare from the city centre to Andersonstown are £1.30 one-way, cheaper and more convenient than the equivalent bus service.
Filte Feirste Thiar243 Falls Rd, 028 9024 1100, Tourist Information office and welcome centre located in the heart of the Falls. The office distributes free maps, offers tours and general information about this part of the city.
Political Murals, throughout Falls Rd and Shankill Rd. Visit the world renowned murals in the nationalist Falls and unionist Shankill portions of West Belfast. The main murals are situated on gable walls of buildings on both the Falls and Shankill roads, but others are located in the lower Shankill estate (off the lower Shankill Rd onto North Boundary St) and Bombay St (off the Falls Rd onto Clonard Gardens).
Milltown Cemetery546 Falls RdOne of the two massive cemeteries of West Belfast. Milltown is dripping with history, being the final resting place for many Republican paramilitary members (mostly buried at the Republican plot, beneath the tricolour flag). There is also a memorial garden for IRA members killed during the Troubles, including those who took part in the 1981 Hunger Strike. Milltown cemetery is also the site of the notorious killings in 1988 of three mourners at an IRA funeral by Loyalist Michael Stone. The attack took place near the Republican plot.
Falls Park, Falls Rd, 079 1754 3626. A large open space populated by a huge cemetery, gardens, Gaelic Football and Hurling pitches. Falls Park is a pleasant place to visit on a sunny day and provides a welcome respite from the city.
Casement Park (Páirc Mhic Asmaint) is the principal stadium of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) in the province of Ulster. The sports of Gaelic Football and Hurling are played here, both of which provide a unique experience for visitors to the city. Tickets are extremely well priced (admittance to a major game would not be more than £20) and are, in most cases, available on the gate. For match dates and times check the Irish News newspaper or online .
O'Neills Sportswear14 Andersonstown RdPhone: +44 28 9062 7032O'Neills is the largest manufacturer and retailer of Gaelic Sports equipment and memorabilia, ideal for a more individual souvenir. Merchandise such as team or county jerseys are well priced, with a clearance department in-store where factory seconds and older stock are on sale at very low prices. Eileen Hickey Republican History MuseumPhone: +44 28 9024 0504Conway Mill. Museum exploring the history of Republicanism in Belfast. The museum is not affiliated with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and could be seen as fairly biased. Tourists should make up their own minds whether or not to visit. Free admission.
East Belfast is the largest of the cities' 4 electoral wards and is serviced by a number of large arterial roads (Cregagh Road, Castlereagh Road, Newtownards Road and Holywood Road), which all start in or close to the city centre.
East Belfast is a mainly residential and largely Protestant area encompassing a wide range of housing from the working class terraced streets along the Beersbridge road, to wide tree lined avenues of Belmont, and all areas in between. Despite its largely Protestant nature East Belfast is generally the area of the city where newcomers to Belfast of all religious and political persuasions from within Northern Ireland will look to purchase houses in when they arrive in the city. The rationale for this may be that although South Belfast is often thought of as a desirable locale it is in many cases prohibitively expensive. North and West Belfast are even cheaper than the East but whilst both contain many pleasant neighbourhoods they still have a lot of echoes from the troubles that can put newcomers off. North Belfast especially has a large number of "interface areas" (regions where working class loyalist and republican areas meet) that can occasionally flare up into trouble. East Belfast, possibly because it has only one interface area and is relatively homogeneously Protestant, was less on the "coalface" of the troubles than both the North and the West.
Stormont Parliament Buildings, 028 9025 0000. The parliament buildings are the home of the recently reinstated Northern Ireland Assembly. The buildings are massive and have marble interiors. The grounds are interesting in themselves, and a walk down the mile long road to the main parliament buildings is well recommended. Guided tours may be possible, telephone in advance.
Ulster Folk and Transport MuseumPhone: +44 28 9042 8428Cultra. Approximately 8 miles north-east from Belfast City Centre and most easily reached by train from Cultra station. Open daily 10AM-6PM, admission 6.50. It is one of Ireland's premier tourist attractions. It has a vast collection, and you could spend days exploring all of it. Highlights of the transport museum include a DeLorean (great scott!, etc.) and two train sheds full full of old steam locomotives and buses from Northern Ireland's past. The Folk Museum, on the other side of the railway line features a re-creation of an old Irish town. On Saturdays, there is a miniature railway operating, which is great fun. The folk museum is outdoors, so come prepared for the changeable Irish climate.
Lorne Guide Headquarters, about a mile away from the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. It is the guide headquarters for Northern Ireland but to access you must be part of the guiding community e.g. Brownie, Guide etc.
Belfast Metropolitan Area
Whilst the urban area of Belfast itself has a population of just over 480,000 people, the larger Belfast Metropolitan Area encompasses neighbouring councils of Lisburn, Newtownabbey, Carrickfergus, North Down and Castlereagh with a total population of just over 640,000.
It is worth noting that a large make-up of the City's daily commuters come from these areas and the areas themselves have certain sights worth visiting.
Conveniently, rail links go to all Belfast Metropolitan areas via Belfast Central Station and Great Victoria Street Station. Bus links are also an option from Great Victoria Street Station. Prices vary, where buses are typically cheaper but take slightly longer, usually not more than around 30–40 minutes in total.