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November 28, 2020
By Heidi Fuller-love
Easy to reach from elsewhere in the UK and compact enough to cover in a short time, Belfast is prime city break territory. Surmounting decades of conflict, the gritty Northern Irish capital is currently in the grip of a thrilling renaissance making it the perfect time to visit.
Standing tall beside the River Lagan, Belfast is home to a host of new hip bars and top-grade attractions. With a burgeoning food scene and some of the finest pubs in the UK, gourmets also have plenty of good reasons to visit the birthplace of the RMS Titanic.
What’s more, with Belfast just a short hop away from the UK mainland, a quick, two-day break in this exhilarating Irish city can be remarkably cheap.
Weekend breaks in Belfast typically start in the very same manner as they do anywhere else on the planet: with a coffee! Grab your first caffeine fix at Established Coffee, a low-lit java joint at the heart of the hip Cathedral Quarter. Order their scrumptious smoked cheddar and walnut toastie served with a rich raisin and caper puree, then head out to explore the area. At sunset, the Cathedral Quarter morphs to become one of the city’s hippest dining and nightlife neighbourhoods, but there’s plenty to do here during daylight hours, too.
First stop should be Belfast Cathedral where you’ll be dazzled by the eye-catching 150,000-piece mosaic made in the 1920s by local sisters Gertrude and Margaret Martin. Keeping pretty little Buoy Park on your left, head for the Metropolitan Arts Centre. Better known as the MAC, this world-class cultural hub hosts everything from music and theatre performances, to live music and art exhibitions. Good news for those hoping for a cheap Belfast city break: the cathedral costs just £5 per adult, while the entry to the MAC is free.
By now, you’re probably feeling peckish. If you’ve come to Belfast for a weekend break you’re in luck, because Belfast’s gorgeous Victorian St George’s Market (corner of Oxford and May streets) will be open. It’s a brisk walk to get there along Donegall Street (look out for 19th-century local landmark, the Albert Memorial Clock) but you’ll be rewarded with the pleasure of munching on local-made curries and other foodie delights as you browse antiques and arts and crafts.
After lunch, it’s time to get political during a tour of Belfast’s 17 Peace Walls, where you’ll get a sober reminder of the city’s troubled past. The best-value way to see these mural-dotted walls, which still divide the city’s Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods, is on wheels with local bike share scheme Belfast Bikes (45 stations all over town).
When the sun sets over the city’s troubled past, head for the Cathedral Quarter to fill up on the vibe of Belfast’s hip and happening side. This is one of the UK’s cheapest cities for going out, so you won’t need to spend a lot to have fun here, either.
For dinner, head for Hadski’s, a chilled brasserie-style restaurant with counter seating, or try the gin-soaked fish and other funky delights at arty hangout Made in Belfast. There are two venues – one in Cathedral Quarter and the other by Belfast City Hall.
After dinner stagger over to the Dirty Onion where you can sup on craft beers amidst a chic clientele. If you’re seeking a classic Irish experience, however, you should make a beeline for The Duke of York, a snug, wood-panelled pub along a cobbled alley where they have live music most nights of the week.
With just two days in Belfast, you can’t afford to let a hangover slow you down. Nip your booze-fuelled queasiness in the bud with a stomach-settling Ulster fry at local-loved café chain Maggie Mays.
Once you’ve filled up on Maggie’s carbfest of potato bread, hash browns, bacon and other stodgy delights served over a mountain of chips, you’ll want to burn some calories. Take a stroll in the nearby Belfast Botanic Gardens and get your fresh air fix in floral surroundings.
By now, your stomach will have settled, so it’s time for a light lunch at family-owned restaurant Holohans at the Barge. Traditional Irish dishes with a contemporary twist are on the menu of this converted barge moored near the 19th-century Queen’s Bridge. Must-try dishes here include the prawns served with a feisty chilli jam and garlic mayo sauce.
Sticking with the theme of water, it’s time to visit Titanic Belfast, which is undoubtedly the city’s superstar attraction. Incredibly, when it was launched on May 31, 1911 this mighty ship was the largest man-made moving object on Earth.
The city’s state-of-the-art museum, which opened in 2012 to commemorate the centenary of the ship’s sinking, houses countless captivating exhibits. Built over six floors close to the site where The Titanic was built, four thrilling areas packed with interactive exhibits – including a 3D cave that lets you ‘walk’ through the ship’s corridors – lead you on a voyage to discover the history of this iconic ship. You’ll also be able to hear personal stories about life onboard the ship during its fatal maiden voyage, relive the vessel’s tragic end and take a thrilling ride through a recreation of the shipyard where the ill-fated liner was built.
Toast the end of your 48-hour city break in Belfast with a pint at the city’s most famous bar. Crown Liquor Saloon is an atmospheric Victorian watering hole complete with stained glass, tile mosaics, decorative carvings and gas lamps.
Arrive early to stake out a seat in one of the cosy snugs, then congratulate yourself – you’ve discovered the best place in town for sipping on a creamy pint of Ireland’s best-loved black stuff.