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Belfast Cruises

Belfast, Ireland

About Belfast

Belfast or Béal Feirste (meaning “mouth of the sandbanks” in Gaelic) is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland, occupied since the Bronze Age. The nearby Giant’s Ring, a 5,000-year-old circular henge from the era, points to the area’s earliest inhabitants; other artifacts have been found in surrounding hills. The Celts are believed to have arrived from mainland Europe during the Iron Age, and because the Romans didn’t conquer any part of Ireland, the Celtic heritage remains pure and strong.

In more recent history, Belfast blossomed as a commercial and industrial center in the 18th century. Fine linen and rope were mainstays of the economy. The 19th century was dubbed the Golden Age under Queen Victoria, as Belfast grew into a major shipbuilding hub and the island’s most important center of industry. Today it is further bolstered by a vibrant arts and cultural scene; a harmonious atmosphere pervades its streets, leaving the “Troubles” of religious tension in the late 20th century behind. Today, it is a hidden gem of the British Isles as it undergoes an economic and cultural renaissance.

Belfast Lifestyle and Culture

Beautifully restored Victorian architecture, a gleaming waterfront, a thriving food scene and music-filled pubs are all part of today’s Belfast. The city center has undergone considerable expansion and regeneration in recent years, notably around Victoria Square.

The influence of Britain is everywhere, with buildings exuding Victorian flair and cosmopolitan elegance, but the city clings to its famous Irish charm with welcoming pubs, inns and shops. Along the Golden Mile, high-end boutiques are reminiscent of those found in Paris, and the opulent Grand Opera House stands as a hub of Belfast culture.

Each of Belfast’s quarters has its own distinct culture. The Titanic district, the most recently redeveloped, is full of innovation and entertainment. Here you’ll find attractions centered around the famed ocean liner, but also many restaurants and much nightlife. The Gaeltacht Quarter is characterized by its lively culture of music, drama and traditional pubs. It’s also home to the area’s famous political murals and peace wall. The Cathedral Quarter takes its name from St. Anne’s Cathedral. This burgeoning arts and craft scene is home to many visual and performing artists. The leafy Queen’s Quarter has eclectic shops, cafés and galleries, and is home to picturesque Botanic Gardens, a public park.

Belfast Sights and Landmarks

The Titanic Belfast museum, with its stunning aluminum facade, is the world’s largest Titanic exhibition and the pride of the city. Explore the shipyard and uncover the myths and legends surrounding the ship’s story. For a bit of architectural wonder, admire the classical, Renaissance-style City Hall, built with white Portland stone in 1906. A free tour gives you the chance to sit on the mayor’s throne in the council chamber while you marvel at the Italian marble and stained glass. Not far from City Hall is St. Anne’s Cathedral, another stunning building, full of mosaics, carvings and textiles. Tour the church, then absorb the atmosphere at one of the many fine cafés and bars in the area.

Built in 1870 for the 3rd Marquess of Donegall, Belfast Castle is an example of Scottish baronial style, but its glorious formal gardens are the big draw. Walk farther to the top of Cave Hill, where you can enjoy spectacular views of the city.

The Ulster Museum and the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum sit next to each other in Belfast’s lush Botanic Gardens public park. Inside the former, you’ll find a vast array of exhibits, including a 2,500-year-old Egyptian mummy, Bronze and Iron Age artifacts, and even an interactive Nature Zone. To experience life from a century ago, peruse the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum. Explore farms, schools and shops from the turn of the 20th century, in addition to steam locomotives and horse-drawn carriages.

Belfast Entertainment and Activities

For an all-in-one entertainment stop, visit Belfast’s Odyssey complex. From a movie cinema and ice hockey rink to bowling and a range of dining options, there’s something to suit every taste.

The century-old Grand Opera House is a fine example of Georgian theater architecture and holds performances most days. It also features an art gallery displaying work from local artists, so even if you’re not a theater buff, it’s worth a visit.

For a dose of greenery, visit one of Belfast’s many parks: Botanic Gardens, a 28-acre public park, is a highlight. A raised walkway overlooks tropical ferns, orchids and lilies. The park’s centerpiece is the curvilinear Palm House greenhouse, with its cast-iron and glass birdcage dome.

Nearby, the Giant’s Causeway spills into the sea, a spectacular formation of 40,000 conjoined basalt columns carved by the earth and the crashing surf. This magnificent natural sculpture was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 and a national nature reserve in 1987. According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant, but in actuality the columns resulted from a volcanic eruption some 60 million years ago.

Belfast Restaurants and Shopping

Belfast’s culinary scene has exploded in recent years with talented chefs and superb local produce. An example of its nouveau cuisine can be sampled at Home restaurant, originally conceived as a pop-up. Now permanently fixed in the city center, it serves up local, seasonal fare. OX restaurant is another good option for sustainable seafood and seasonal produce.

For one of the top restaurants in town, head to Holohan’s aboard the Belfast Barge, serving Irish food with an inventive twist. The Crown Liquor Saloon is Belfast’s best-known pub, regarded as much for its food and fine ales as for its decor. Elaborate tiling, fine stained glass and gleaming woodwork gave this gem the reputation as one of the finest Victorian gin palaces of its time.

Constructed in 1896, St. George’s Market is Northern Ireland’s largest indoor market and the oldest continually operating market in all of Ireland. If you are visiting the city during its opening hours Friday-Sunday, you can shop here for a range of food products, flowers, clothing, crafts and more. For more mainstream shopping, visit Victoria Square, where upscale shops fan out from under a stunning glass dome.