Belfast is a small city in comparison to others, but what it lacks in size, it definitely makes up for in character. For those who have maybe never been, Belfast is the main city of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has a population of around 1.8 million, hence the stereotype that everyone knows everyone. Having grown up in Northern Ireland I can say that while the stereotype is not always true, there is a reason it exists. Belfast has a population of roughly 340,000 people and is most famously know for building the Titanic.
1. The Titanic Centre
The Titanic Centre in Belfast is the largest in the world. It sits in the newly-named Titanic Quarter, which is part of the old ship yards. From most parts of the city you can clearly see the big yellow cranes, named Samson and Goliath that were used to build the historic ship. For a reasonable price, you can wander around the centre at your leisure and enjoy learning more about the ship, the city and the people who built it. There are plenty of exhibits and lots to read and learn. There are many interactive displays for children and adults to immerse themselves in the experience. For an additional price you get exclusive access to the recreated staircase, as seen in the film; as well as access to the SS Nomadic, which is the only White Star Line ship still in existence today. It was originally built to transfer the passengers to the RMS Titanic and RMS Olympic. It’s a perfect activity for a rainy day, or even just to learn more about the history of the city.
2. The Botanic Gardens
For those who want something a little bit more chilled, or want somewhere to go and enjoy the sunshine, The Botanic Gardens are a great place to go. The gardens are located close to the city centre, beside Queen’s University, Belfast. The University is one of the oldest buildings in Belfast and allows visitors to walk around the grounds. The gardens have two building which visitors can enter- the Tropical Ravine House and the Palm House. Both of these are free of charge and indoors. They house many plants, some native to Northern Ireland, while others are more exotic. Visitors can walk around the gardens, or alternatively on a warm summer’s day they can join the numbers of students and locals who will be found lounging on the grass or playing games of Frisbee. Quite often on a warm day the gardens are visited by an ice-cream truck as well. The gardens include a rose garden, which during the summer months is full of colour and warmth and there is a oriental rock garden with a small bridge.
The gardens are also home to the Ulster History Museum, which is free to enter as well. The Ulster Museum can take up to 2-3 hours to walk around and has many exhibits about Northern Irish history, nature and an art gallery. The gardens have access routes from Botanic Avenue; the university gym and onto many of the residential streets backing on to Botanic Avenue, so it is a well-used thoroughfare and can be quit busy around 7-9am in the morning and 5-6pm in the evening as people travel to and from work.
3. Movie House Cinema
Going further towards the city centre, you will find the Movie House cinema on Dublin Road. The Movie house is a chain of five cinemas across Northern Ireland, known for their relatively cheap prices and for showing the latest blockbuster films. With it’s location so close to the university, this is an ideal place for students to visit. It is also a great place for families, who maybe want a break from walking around the city centre, or just something to distract the kids for a while. The cinema has both 2D and 3D projections and quite often ha family deals or special children’s deals. The Movie House hosts the annual Belfast Film Festival, which uses many of the cinemas in the main city to promote the work of local artists and producers. The festival traditionally takes place from late March to April each year and takes place across the city, with some outdoor viewings as well as those within the existing cinemas.
For times and prices simply go to the website at: http://www.moviehouse.co.uk/
4. Belfast Royal Avenue
Royal Avenue in Belfast is the main shopping street, with most of it’s biggest stores, such as Primark, Eason’s, New Look and Next among others, situated here. The shops and businesses here are a mix of big chain stores and family owned boutiques. This is the busy hub of activity in Belfast, which stretches from City Hall and Donegal Square out towards the newspapers offices of The Belfast Telegraph. Here you can have a look around City Hall, with it’s domed ceiling, marbled interior and stained glass windows. The building also has small grounds, with the ‘Big TV’, where you will often find local business people taking a break for lunch while watching the local news. Royal Avenues houses most of the cites shops, however from Royal Avenue you can get to the High Street; Victoria Square Shopping Centre; Castlecourt Shopping Centre and the surrounding streets and alleyways. Victoria Square Shopping Centre is one of the largest within the city centre and was opened in 2008. The shopping centre is most famously known for having the largest House of Frazer store within the UK. The Cathedral Quarter in Belfast is a developing part of the city centre, with many restaurants, bars and art galleries. It is a small, cobbled section of street which used to be the centre of the cities warehousing. Nowadays it is the main art and cultural hub of Belfast, with many clubs, bars and art houses opening. The area is also home to some of Belfast’s art societies, with the Community Arts Forum; Belfast Humanist Group; Craft Northern Ireland and Belfast Community Circus School being among a few holding meetings in the area.
5. Made in Belfast
This is a relatively new business, started by a woman from Kent, Emma Bricknell, which has two restaurants in the city centre, one near City Hall and one in the Cathedral Quarter. The food is high quality and mostly locally sourced. The decoration in the restaurants is a mix of up-cycled furniture and scraps along with some Ikea pieces. The decoration will change from time to time, as the staff find new pieces or create pieces to add to the interior. It has a rustic feel, with empty wine bottles and scrap metal artwork lining the walls, or as centre pieces on the tables. The atmosphere in both restaurants is fairly laid-back and the focus is on the food and friendly customer service. The menu includes some basic food, with a twist from other countries. This reflects the attitude and creation of the well-travelled owner, Emma, who wanted to make ” basic, rustic peasant food but with influences from all over the world”, as stated on the company’s website. The restaurants caters to families as well a party groups, or simply friends having an evening out.
For a look at the menu, please go to their website: http://madeinbelfastni.com/
Belfast has many great things to offer, whether it’s something historical; shopping; indoors; outdoors or just somewhere to relax. The city is easily accessible by train and by bus and once in the city centre, most things are within walking distance. The people are friendly and will be happy to help with directions if you should get lost, or simply want a recommendation of somewhere to go. If you are interested in finding out more about this vibrant little city, you can go to Visit Belfast, the city’s official visitor information site. Here it will list more places to go, things to do and places to eat as well as giving some history to the city.