Historic buildings, a fascinating maritime past, unique tours, internationally famed museums, vibrant nightlife and gourmet restaurants make the Northern Irish capital a superb getaway. Easy to access by car, ferry, train or plane, the city makes for an effortless break and can be conveniently combined with a coastal holiday. Along with plenty of budget options, it’s home to many high-end hotels that frequently host international VIPs. Comprising districts of individualised quarters, each with its own character, the city’s Victorian streets offers variety and a plethora of memorable sights. Soak up some history, immerse in the culture – and be sure to try an Ulster Fry, when you eat, do, sleep Belfast.
Dine at the Ox
Condé Nast Traveller listed OX amongst the world’s hottest restaurants. The Sunday Times counted it as one of the 100 best restaurants in the UK. The Irish Times named it Best restaurant Ireland in 2015. Chef Stephen Toman has won multiple awards and Ox has held a Michelin star since 2016. The eatery’s larder changes according to the seasons, showcasing produce from local suppliers. Six-course tasting menus (with optional wine pairing) are served by night, with two or three-course experiences by day. And for those just wanting a snack, there’s Ox Cave for sharing boards and platters. Designed by Oscar & Oscar, the 40 seat restaurant overlooks the River Lagan.
Dine at The Wolff Grill
Overlooking the Titanic Belfast building and slipways where the Titanic was built, the Wolff Grill is part of the Titanic Hotel. If you’re in town on a Sunday, this is the place to be for a hearty roast lunch representing excellent value. In the evening, a la carte favourites include rabbit, monkfish and tender rump of lamb. While there is always at least one vegetarian option, it tends to lend itself better to carnivorous diners. The team of award-winning chefs is led by Nigel Mannion – together they create a sophisticated and often unusual combination of flavours (look out for the likes of parsnip custard and sea bream with Earl Grey and lemon).
Drink at the Observatory
In addition to classics like the Old Fashioned and Negroni, the Observatory offers unique serves named after local landmarks, such as the University Quarter, Linenopolis, St George’s Market, City Hall, Napoleon’s Nose, Botanical Garden, Titanic Quarter and a non-alcoholic St Anne’s (many of which can be seen from the bar’s floor to ceiling windows). However, the defining feature of this memorable venue – as its name would suggest – is undoubtedly the spectacular views; Observatory is the highest bar in Ireland. In addition to libations, there’s a menu of sharing boards and an exclusive Jawbox G&Tea afternoon tea.
Visit Titanic Quarter & Titanic Belfast
This is one of the city’s biggest draws. The ill-fated vessel has been immortalised over again in movies and artworks, but this visitor attraction tells of its journey like no other. A self-guided experience is part of the Titanic Belfast exhibition, enabling those of all ages to immerse in its tale. And the 185 acres of waterfront land around it are well-worth staying for afterwards. An enormous regeneration project has brought film studios, an entertainment complex, Olympic slipways, a four-star boutique hotel and buzzing bars and restaurants to the ocean liner’s home neighbourhood. The Titanic Quarter is a true mix of the old and the new.
The Best of Belfast Tour
Join Belfast’s number one walking tour company – DC Tours – if you want to fall in love with this city. It has five stars from Tourism NI and its lead guide, Paul Donnelly, was named the UK’s ‘Top Tour Guide of 2019’ at the Wanderlust World Guide Awards. The team has even created its very own mural – which you can see as part of the itinerary on the Best of Belfast Tour, a new addition to the DC Tour options. You’ll burn some calories as you explore on foot, learn facts about the city, hear the authentic stories and discover some top tips on where you should (and shouldn’t) dine!
Visit the Botanic Gardens and University Area
Imagine you’re in the Southern hemisphere for just a little while, as you wander through the exotic tree and plant species of the Botanic Garden. First established in 1828, it contains a Palm House with birds of paradise, a Tropical Ravine with some of the world’s oldest seed plants and a curved glasshouse with a birdcage dome. And best of all, it’s free, so you can come whenever you need your green space fix. The leafy surrounding area – the Botanic Quarter – is known as Belfast’s Shoreditch, and is littered with international eateries.
Explore the Cathedral Quarter, shop and soak up the culture
The oldest part of the city mustn’t be missed. Here you’ll find the Belfast School of Art, a new Ulster University campus, The Friend At Hand whiskey museum and the district’s namesake, St Anne’s Cathedral. Cool cafes, quaint shops and cosy pubs (including one that contains a door from the TV series Game of Thrones) are around every corner. So is an array of colourful street art and meaningful murals, reflecting the vibrant local art scene. And in September, Cathedral Quarter hosts its own annual festival of music, comedy, theatre, art and literature.
Visit Belfast City Hall
This civic building stands at the centre of the city, a notable landmark separating the commercial and business districts. It stands on what was once the Linen Exchange and was completed in 1906, in a Baroque Revival design (an almost exact replica can be found in Durban). Found on Donegall Square, its Portland stone exterior is lit up by night. While inside, visitors can take a free 45-minute guided tour to view the portraits, Irish oak panelling, grand staircase and Greek marble rotunda that lie within. There’s also an exhibition, cafe and gift shop.
Culloden Estate And Spa
Originally intended as an abode for the Bishops of Down, this 19th-century estate is found on the outskirts of Belfast. The historic grandeur of the building is contrasted with a modern extension, in the form of the ESPA spa with steam room and hammam. 98 spacious bedrooms provide plenty of room for king-sized beds, desks and bathrooms with rainfall showers. It’s not unusual to find a pianist or harpist playing in the bar or accompanying a meal. And in addition to the top-notch cuisine in the main restaurant, there’s a cosy inn within the grounds, for a beer and bite beside a roaring fire.
Titanic Hotel Belfast
Relive the Golden Age of Travel, with a stay at this art deco, nautically-themed hotel just across from the Titanic Experience. It may be a new venue, having opened its doors in 2017, but the building has a long history. This was once the headquarters of Harland & Wolff (the maritime engineers responsible for most of the White Star ocean liners), a heritage reflected in the hotel restaurant’s title. Indeed, the waterfront’s history is woven throughout – lookout for details like the stunning Titanic model in the Harland Bar. The venue received three gongs at this year’s Irish Hotel Awards and was named Northern Ireland’s Leading Hotel in 2020’s World Travel Awards.