While for an older generation Belfast's very name may be synonymous with civil unrest and political turmoil, optimistic younger generations are busy turning their city into an exciting place to live and work, with scores of top-class shops and restaurants and a nightlife that gives Dublin a run for its money.
Despite this forward-looking attitude, Ireland's second-largest city does not hide from its past, and the famous political murals of West Belfast have become a popular stop on tours of the city. But they are just that - one stop on a tour which takes in fascinating museums, impressive architecture, peaceful gardens and much more.
As the birthplace of the Titanic, Belfast has been and remains a centre of industry and commerce. However, the city also boasts a thriving cultural scene which includes the UK's second largest arts festival, held every October in and around Queen's University.
As well as being a great destination for a city break, Belfast provides a gateway to Northern Ireland's rural delights and scenic splendours.
Things to do in Belfast
- • City Hall An extravagant, Renaissance-style building at the heart of Belfast city centre serve as the city's council chambers. Completed in 1906, a statue of Queen Victoria stands guard outside, and free guided tours take in the elegant, Italian marble entrance hall and include a chance to sit on the mayor's throne.
- • Crown Liquor Saloon An unusual addition to the National Trust's catalogue, Belfast's most famous bar is a perfectly preserved example of Victorian ostentation, ornately decorated with Italian tiles, stained glass, marble and mahogany, all lit by atmospheric gas mantles. Raise a pint of Guinness to Patrick Flanagan, The Crown's original owner. The story goes that Flanagan, a Catholic, gave the pub its Royalist name under strict orders from his Protestant wife, but sneakily placed a crown mosaic in the pavement outside, where it would be under the feet of his customers every day.
- • Victoria Square A smart and modern shopping centre open since 2008, Victoria Square boasts a wide range of designer and high street shops as well as a good choice of restaurants. You can enjoy views over the city by travelling up to the top of the glass dome.
- • Titanic Shipyard Belfast's Titanic Quarter is currently undergoing a £1 billion regeneration project in preparation for 2012, the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's maiden voyage. In the meantime, the Lagan Boat Company introduces visitors to the history of the shipyard with a tour of the harbour and the dry dock where the Titanic was built.
- • Odyssey Complex The Odyssey Complex is Belfast's centre for entertainment, with a 10,000-seat sports arena, an IMAX cinema, an interactive science centre and a selection of cafés and bars.
- • Botanic Gardens Just a short stroll from Queen's University, the centrepiece of the Botanic Gardens is the beautiful Palm House, whose birdcage-style dome is a masterpiece of cast-iron and curved glass. Not to be missed is the Tropical Ravine, a giant red-brick greenhouse with a raised walkway overlooking a jungle of tropical plants.
- • Ulster Museum A fascinating exploration of Irish history and prehistory, with a special focus on Belfast's industrial past. The prized exhibit is the mummified body of Egyptian princess Takabuti, who arrived in Belfast in 1835 and was the first mummy ever to be put on display outside of Egypt. The top floors of the museum house an exhibition of Irish and British art from the 19th and 20th centuries, with a particular focus on the works of Belfast-born Sir John Lavery.
- • Falls Road and Shankill Road These two infamous roads offer a sombre but intriguing insight into Belfast's recent history. A 'Peace Line' has divided the two areas - one Protestant, one Catholic - since 1970. The main attractions are the iconic murals which chart the history of The Troubles as well as the political opinions of visitors from all over the world, who come to leave their mark on the walls. The best way to explore the area is in a black cab taxi tour.
- • Cave Hill, Belfast Castle and Belfast Zoo Looming at the northern edge of Belfast, Cave Hill provides the best views over the city and out to Belfast Lough. On a clear day you may be able to make out Scotland on the horizon. On the slopes of Cave Hill are the 19th-century Belfast Castle, a fine example of Scottish Baronial architecture, and Belfast Zoo, home to a white tiger, red pandas and meerkats.
Belfast Bed and Breakfasts
- • Sleepy Cedars
A warm welcome and great value for money await you at Sleepy Cedars, a bright and modern B&B set in a restored Victorian townhouse at the foot of Cave Hill, close to Belfast city centre. The well-appointed rooms are bright and airy and equipped with TV, DVD, free WiFi and tea/coffee-making facilities. A tasty homemade continental breakfast is served daily and included in the price.Book Belfast bed and breakfast Sleepy Cedars
- • The Old Schoolhouse Inn
The Old Schoolhouse Inn is located less than half an hour outside of Belfast city centre on the shores of Strangford Lough, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Northern Ireland's first marine nature reserve. Rooms are comfortable and well furnished with spacious en-suite bathrooms. Breakfast is served in the dining room or outside on the terrace, while delicious French cuisine can be enjoyed in the charming restaurant, with views of the lough.Book Belfast bed and breakfast The Old Schoolhouse Inn
Getting AroundBelfast has two airports - Belfast International Airport, about half an hour outside the city, and the George Best Belfast City Airport, just past Victoria Park on the edge of the city centre. Belfast Central Station and the main bus station are both located in the city centre. Many of the main attractions are within walking distance of each other, and there are good bus connections to all areas.
Do you own a Belfast B&B? List your property for free on BedandBreakfastworld.com.
By Eleanor Brown