The capital of Northern Ireland and its largest city, Belfast is a gritty port town with a long, convoluted and often violent history and around 650,000 inhabitants in its urban zone. Built on the production of Irish linen, tobacco, rope-making and ultimately shipbuilding (including the ill-fated Titanic), its shipyards were the largest on the planet by the early 20th century. A key player in the Industrial; Revolution, Belfast was the destination for huge numbers of the country’s rural folk desperate for paid work.Still a hub for industry, although its shipbuilding glory days are long past, the political violence of the ‘Troubles’ affected the city’s popularity for decades but have now subsided, resulting in the regeneration of the city centre, especially around its heart, Victoria Square. The scars of those dangerous times have made the city an intriguing destination for visitors from across the planet, with Belfast now celebrated as one of the UK’s safest cities.
Tourism is on the increase here, as the north of Ireland is a far cheaper destination then the south in every visitor sector including hotels, shopping and eating out. The raw energy of the city is also proving an attraction bringing many weekenders to this mostly undiscovered and often underestimated region. Perhaps its most popular draw for many visitors is its plethora of pubs, many of which were considered no-go places until 10 year ago. Nowadays, a traditional Irish welcome and lashings of Guinness is the usual response of locals to tourists entering any Belfast pub or bar.Eating out here encompasses a wide selection of international foods as well as traditional filling Irish fare, in every style of eatery from basic to pub through upscale restaurants, gourmet haunts and fast food outlets, not forgetting fish and chip shops, a favourite throughout the UK. Belfast’s Golden Mile, Dublin Road and Botanic Road are the hub for eateries of all kinds, with the Queen’s University district, Cornmarket, Donegall Quay, Dunmore Street and Malone Road close seconds in the foodie stakes. The St Anne’s district is fast becoming the place to see and be seen, and is known for its nightlife as well as its coffee shops, bars and restaurants.Breakfast here is best eaten in coffee shops, whether firm chain favourites or small local enterprises. Most open around 07:30, serving pastries and suchlike, with a good few bars opening their doors and offering full Irish breakfasts. Lunch is possibly the most popular meal, with pubs the most popular locations for tasty, inexpensive full lunches. Many Belfast eateries offer the same menus for lunch and dinner, but charge less for the midday meal. Specialist cafes offer stunning salads and vegetarian options and others offer traditional Irish stews at lunchtime. Fast food outlets, of course are everywhere.Belfast is more than well supplied with shopping destinations as it’s the central shopping hub of the comparatively small country of Northern Ireland. Central Belfast is the main shopping hub, within easy walking distance of Belfast city centre hotels.
Shopping malls, branches of well-known department stores, pedestrianised shopping streets, high street names and individual shops are all here, with adequate, convenient parking provision making the experience easy.Donegall Pass, Dublin Road and Bedford Street are home to quirky home design stores and boutiques, antiques shops and galleries, gift and souvenir shops and other highly individual outlets. Castlecourt Shopping Centre is the newest and hottest shopaholic destination in the city, with 70 stores and an attractive glass roof letting in natural light. Set on Royal Avenue, it’s drawing shoppers away from the more traditional department stores. Not to be ignored are Belfast’s range of markets; historic, atmospheric and full of bargains, with haggling allowed.