Belfast Welcome Centre
To make the most of your time in the city your first point of contact should be the centrally located Belfast Welcome Centre (Tourist Office) at Donegall Square North, just opposite City Hall. The staff can provide maps, book accommodation and tours, recommend itineraries and places of interest and sell you overpriced and tacky souvenirs. There is also a useful left luggage facility.
Image: Tourist attractions in Belfast
Donegall Sq. - Opened in 1906, the City Hall will possibly seem familiar to South African visitors, who may notice a resemblance to the city hall in Durban. This is a fine example of turn of the century architecture from the heart of the British Empire's drafting office. The City Hall houses Belfast's Council chambers and administrative offices. Excellently presented free guided tours are available every day; ring ahead for details of times. Also of note are the grounds, containing a memorial to victims of the Titanic and a statue of Queen Victoria.
40 Fountain St. This diminutive shop space was recently taken over by the Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA) as a small gallery space to promote the built environment in Northern Ireland. Regular exhibitions and workshops are held here.
Ormeau Baths Gallery
18a Ormeau Ave. Significantly lacking in credibility, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has now taken over the running of this once-lively and vibrant art gallery. This change of direction has left the OBG without a single artist involved in the running of the museum. A group of local artists has subsequently formed the Ormeau Baths Gallery in Exile, a mobile venue which hopes to 'return' to the OBG building in 2007.
Saint Anne's Cathedral
Donegall St. The stunning cathedral building is situated at the opposite end of Royal Avenue, the main shopping street, from the City Hall. It is a fascinating building, and is at the centre of the "Cathedral Quarter", which is reluctantly being redesigned and cleaned up by various investment agencies to become Belfast's 'cultural' district. Thankfully, a lot of work remains to be done, and the area contains many fine cafés, bars and interesting buildings that recall the city's commercial and industrial heritage. Rent prices have yet to jump significantly, so keep an eye out for the small galleries and studio workspaces that remain in this area.
23 Donegall St. Tu-Sa 11AM-5PM, Tel: +44 28 9023 0965. Belfast Exposed is Northern Ireland's only dedicated photography gallery, and as well as operating a fine exhibition space in a refurbished warehouse building, also provides local photographers with dark room and processing facilities and a well maintained library. Exhibitions are usually free and always worth seeing.
Belfast Print Workshop and Gallery
30-42 Waring St. This gallery is combined with an active workshop, where local artists are able to use the facilities to print their work. Usually a good selection of local work.
Belfast Central Library
Royal Ave. Opposite the road from the Cathedral, the Victorian library building houses an excellent Irish section and a newspaper library, containing archives of all Northern Irish newspapers.
Titanic Boat Tour
Belfast takes a bizarre pride in that the ill-fated Titanic was built here (not caring to promote the many hundreds of other ships that were built here which did not sink) and you can now take a boat tour around the area that the ship was built.
The Waterfront Hall
2 Lanyon Pl. Standing on the northern side of Donegall Square, Belfast's imposing concert and conference venue is visible to the east where Chichester St meets the riverside. Built in 1997, it has been credited with generating £10 for the Belfast economy for every £1 spent on its construction . The main auditorium offers some of the best performance hall acoustics anywhere in Europe, and it is worth checking with the box office for upcoming shows.
The Bar Council & Bar Library of Northern Ireland
414 Chichester St. Not open to the public, but notable for its striking architectural design. The northern half of the building is the opulent home of Belfast's (privately employed) barristers; meanwhile the southern end of the building (visible from May St) is occupied by the more modest Royal Courts of Justice Stamp Office (a tax-payer-funded government agency). Presented with two clients with two wildly different budgets, local architects Robinson McIlwaine successfully designed one building which seamlessly merge a more modest design and cheaper materials for the southern half of the building and a more elaborate and expensive design at the northern end.
Cornmarket is at the centre of Belfast's retail area. Visitors from other parts of the UK and Ireland will feel immediately at home with the bland selection of high street chains.
University Rd. Take any number 8 bus (8A - 8C) from the city center. At the southernmost end of the Golden Mile, the university is a fine Victorian building with extensive grounds. It contains a visitors' centre in the main central building.
Queens Film Theatre
20 University Sq. Belfast's art house and repertory cinema, and is the central location for the annual Belfast Film Festival.
Accessed from University Rd beside the university and at the southern end of Botanic Ave. Very popular with locals and visitors alike. The Palm House contains local and interesting plants, such as carnivorous plants. Beside it is the Tropical Ravine, unique to the British Isles, where visitors walk around a raised balcony observing tropical flora and fauna. With large lawns and well maintained planting, the park is a popular destination in the summer. Fans of the BBC TV hidden camera comedy show 'Just for Laughs' will recognise the park from many hidden stunts. During the summer months be on the lookout for cameras pointing at you from parked vans and badly disguised tents.
Accessed off Stranmillis Rd in the Botanic Gardens. This excellent museum has much to see, including a large section on the history of Irish conflict, Northern Ireland's marine life and a significant collection of art. While many locals dislike the 1970s extension, it is one of the finest examples of a Brutalist modern extension being added and successfully integrated to an older classically designed museum. Free.
55 Ridgeway St. The diminutive Lyric remains the only full-time producing theatre in Northern Ireland. A busy schedule of productions can be found online.
Antrim Road. Open daily 10AM-7:00PM (April 1 to September 30)/ 10AM - 4PM (October 1 to March 31), admission £11.50 (adults)/£5.80 (children, students, senior), take any number 1 bus (1A - 1G) from the city centre. A substantial modernisation programme has recently been finished, and the zoo has a very good variety of animals. The prairie dogs are of particular interest, as their tunnels extend throughout the park, rendering any open space looking like a giant game of 'whack-a-rat'. Much merriment was caused when the zoo was praised for letting the prairie dogs run wild and free, an accident that was caused after much effort was spent preventing them from digging out of their enclousre but noone checked on their ablity to climb and they simply scampered over their small enclosing wall.
Antrim Rd. Daily 9AM-6PM, admission free, take any number 1 bus (1A - 1G) from the city centre. The castle (more accurately a large stately home) dates from 1870 and was restored in 1988. It is situated on Cave Hill and has good views of the city and coast. Cave Hill Country Park has marked walking routes and is an excellent viewpoint from which to get a view of Belfast.
An Chultúrlann (Irish Language Cultural Centre)
216 Falls Road, BT12 6AH, the hub of Irish language activities in Belfast. Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, at the heart of the Gaeltacht Quarter on the Falls Road is the Belfast Irish Experience, a friendly drop-in space where you can engage with the locals and experience Irish culture, but depending on your interests, it is also a dynamic arts centre, a centre for traditional music, a tourist information point, a café, a place to buy crafts or books, a place to learn the Irish language or take up new hobbies, to meet friends or book a tour, a place to feel proud of your heritage or to explore Irish culture.
West Belfast Taxi Association
35a King St. Operate a remarkably efficient service from Belfast city centre to areas of West Belfast. Taxis run every few minutes up the Falls Road to destinations including Whiterock, Andersonstown and Twinbrook. The services operate as taxi buses, with passengers sharing a black cab with others who are going to roughly the same place. The routes are similar to bus routes, but the driver will stop and let you out at any point. Taxis can be hailed along the Falls and Andersonstown Rds.
Fáilte Feirste Thiar (Welcome West Belfast)
243 Falls Rd. Tourist Information office and welcome centre located in the heart of the Falls. The office distributes free maps, offers tours and general information about this part of the city.
Throughout Falls Rd and Shankill Rd. Visit the world renowned murals in the nationalist Falls and unionist Shankill portions of West Belfast. The main murals are situated on gable walls of buildings on both the Falls and Shankill roads, but others are located in the lower Shankill estate (off the lower Shankill Rd onto North Boundary St) and Bombay St (off the Falls Rd onto Clonard Gardens).
546 Falls Rd. One of the two massive cemeteries of West Belfast. Milltown is dripping with history, being the final resting place for many Republican paramilitary members (mostly buried at the Republican plot, beneath the tricolour flag). There is also a memorial garden for IRA members killed during the Troubles, including those who took part in the 1981 Hunger Strike. Milltown cemetery is also the site of the notorious killings in 1988 of three mourners at an IRA funeral by Loyalist paramilitary Michael Stone. The attack took place near the Republican plot.
Falls Rd. A large open space populated by a huge cemetery, gardens, Gaelic Football and Hurling pitches. Falls Park is a pleasant place to visit on a sunny day and provides a welcome respite from the city.
Casement Park (Páirc Mhic Asmaint)
Is the principal stadium of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) in the province of Ulster. The sports of Gaelic Football and Hurling are played here, both of which provide a unique experience for visitors to the city. Tickets are extremely well priced and are, in most cases, available on the gate. For match dates and times check the Irish News newspaper or online.
14 Andersonstown Rd. O'Neills is the largest manufacturer and retailer of Gaelic Sports equipment and memorabilia, ideal for a more individual souvenir. Merchandise such as team or county jerseys are well priced, with a clearance department in-store where factory seconds and older stock are on sale at very low prices.
Eileen Hickey Republican History Museum
Conway Mill. Museum exploring the history of Republicanism in Belfast. A charming museum, offering the history of Belfast from a Republican perspective. Offers a very interesting glimpse into what Belfast was like for the Catholics and Nationalists who had to live there through the discrimination and violence of the troubles. Free admission.
Stormont Parliament Buildings
he parliament buildings are the home of the recently reinstated Northern Ireland Assembly. The buildings are massive and have marble interiors. The grounds are interesting in themselves, and a walk down the mile long road to the main parliament buildings is well recommended. Guided tours commence at 10am and 3pm (Monday to Friday) during weeks when the Northern Ireland Assembly is active. During 'Recess' (Christmas, Easter week, July and August) there are tours from 10am to 3pm on the hour, every hour. These tours are free and do not need to booked in advance.
Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra
Approximately 8 miles north-east from Belfast City Centre and most easily reached by train from Cultra station. Open daily 10AM-6PM. It is one of Ireland's premier tourist attractions. It has a vast collection, and you could spend days exploring all of it. Highlights of the transport museum include a DeLorean (great scott!, etc.) and two train sheds full full of old steam locomotives and buses from Northern Ireland's past. The Folk Museum, on the other side of the railway line features a re-creation of an old Irish town. On Saturdays, there is a miniature railway operating, which is great fun. The folk museum is outdoors, so come prepared for the changeable Irish climate.
The Golden Mile
The name given to the mile or so between Belfast City Hall and Queen's University. It sometimes disappoints tourists because it's less immediately evident and less densely packed together than the name suggests. It's also not the safest part of Belfast at night - local taxi trivers will tell you some horror stories about things they see on Friday and Saturday nights and a large police presence is usually in evidence. Be careful using cash machines, and if you're having trouble getting a taxi it's probably better to start walking than to stick around for too long on street corners. Exploring the area in the day time will help you if you come back later for a night out. You'll find the lion's share of the City Centre's best bars and some good places to eat here. The Golden Mile starts around the Europa Hotel on Great Victoria Street, takes a skip to the left to continue down Dublin Road, reaches a buzzing climax around Bradbury Place (just south of the big screen overlooking the junction) and graduates to student friendly but welcoming bars along Botanic Avenue and University Road
Crown Liquor Saloon (Crown Bar)
46 Great Victoria St. aka Crown Bar. Situated on the Golden Mile opposite the Europa Hotel, it is by some visitors rated to be the most beautiful pub existing in Northern Ireland today, and even if you don't drink, it's worth a visit. Apart from the stained glass windows (lovingly restored and replaced after several car bombs) it is largely unchanged since Victorian times, and the dark interior is still gas-lit. Inside, you'll find the famous booths which can seat about a dozen people, and be closed off from the bar with the attracted wood panneled doors. These are hot property after work on a Friday afternoon, so move quickly if you have the chance to occupy one. Note the button inside which was once used to summon a barman to take your order (sorry, these no longer work).
2 Queen's Quay. Across the bridge from the Lagan Weir is the Odyssey centre. This complex contains a cinema, the Odyssey Arena (home of ice hockey team Belfast Giants), a bowling alley, W5 (an interactive science discovery centre) and a range of restaurants and bars.
Parks & Open Spaces
Belfast is home to a wide range of parks and open spaces, making it one of the greenest cities in Ireland. The main parks include Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park, Ormeau Park and Botanic Gardens (located in the south of the city), Waterworks, Belfast Castle estate, Cave Hill Country Park and Alexandra Park (north Belfast), Dunville and Falls Park (west Belfast) and Orangefield and Victoria Park (in the east of the city). There are a host of walking routes through these parks and many include play facilities for children. Slightly further out from the City Centre, the Lagan Towpath is a delightful, peaceful and safe walk particularly during the summer months.
Grand Opera House
Possibly the finest remaining example of Georgian theatre architecture in the UK, this century-old building is a must-see for theatre and art lovers alike. Plays tend to show every evening except Sundays, with matinee performances on Thursdays and Saturdays. Discount is often available for students and senior citizens. The theatre also features an art gallery, displaying local artwork: viewing the pictures is free. If you ask nicely staff are usually pleased to give you a short tour of the theatre so you can take photos and learn a little bit about the theatre's history. The theatre also has a contemporary bar and cafe for people to relax during the day or have lunch. The staff are very friendly and helpful, with a good knowledge of the area. The theatre is right next to Great Victoria Street Station, making it a perfect place to visit when you arrive.