Tips from a Travel Writer: Belfast

Posted on July 02, 2013 by Fiona Hilliard

 

This week our resident travel writer Julie McNamee takes a fresh look at her hometown, Belfast.

 

belfast
 

Even though I was born and bred in Belfast, up until 10 years ago I wouldn’t have recommended it as a tourist destination. The Troubles had taken their toll, there was nothing much to do in the city, there was a chronic shortage of good restaurants, and in the city centre you were faced with depressing 60s, 70s and 80s architecture created to replace the buildings destroyed during the bombings.

These days it’s a different story. The city’s a-buzz, new restaurants and bars open all the time, there are new areas to visit and tourists are actually being catered for. In TripAdvisor, there are 246 “things to do” listed – I never thought I’d see the day! Here’s my choice of things to do in the city.

Take a Taxi Tour

Value Cabs and Taxitrax both run taxi tours of the city’s main attractions, along with entertaining commentaries. Or take a political tour to see the murals that still adorn the walls in some parts of the city and find out more about life during the Troubles.

Eat!

At one time in Belfast the only decent restaurant was the Michelin-starred Paul Rankin business Roscoff – and it wasn’t exactly a bargain. The foody landscape has changed, however and there’s lots of fresh Norn Iron produce available in the city and lots of good value, quality restaurants to eat it in. Try The Barking Dog restaurant with its pretty outdoor area if the weather’s right or Molly’s Yard for good food and beer in the University Quarter.

Belfast’s oldest market, St George’s, was built in 1890-96 and, along with the rest of the city, has had a lease of life in recent years. Bread, meat, cheese, cupcakes and lots more fresh groceries are available to buy, but that’s not all – jewellery, antiques and crafts are also sold at the weekends.

Cathedral Quarter

The Black Box arts centre and the Cathedral itself are just two of the attractions in this atmospheric area. There are a myriad of restaurants as well, plus the annual Fool’s Festival that’s held in various venues throughout the summer months. Narrow streets lead to the popular pubs in the quarter – try the John Hewitt who have had Mumford & Sons and Seasick Steve playing there in the past.

Walk the Lagan Towpath

Starting in the Stranmillis area of the city, there’s an 11 mile canalside towpath walk that stretches through the tranquil Lagan valley to Lisburn. Lock keepers cottages provide refreshments and stopping opportunities on the way.

Visit the Theatre

The Lyric Theatre has been on the go since 1951 and is now housed in a striking architect-designed building opened in 2011. Actors like Liam Neeson have trod its boards in the past and these days it’s the only full-time producing theatre in Northern Ireland. (It does a mean scone in the gorgeous cafe as well.

I hope that’s given you a taste of what’s available in the UK’s fourteenth largest and very manageable city. Expect a warm welcome and a laid-back atmosphere and take yourself off on a trip to the city of Belfast!

Fiona Hilliard

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