Belfast Travel Information

Mother Earth Travel > United Kingdom > Belfast > History

At the centre of Belfast is the triumphant Victorian pile of the City Hall, both the focal point of the city and its best orientation point. Around the City Hall is Donegall Square, the very heart of the city, and one of the few green spaces in the centre of Belfast. The lawns around the City Hall are pleasant to linger on on a sunny day, while at Christmas the area becomes a covered skating rink.

The Shopping District

In the centre of Belfast, in front of the City Hall, is the main shopping district. This part of the city centre is very compact and can easily be ranged on foot. Donegall Place and Royal Avenue run down from the City Hall, and the shopping area stretches out to Victoria Street in the east, King Street in the west and up to North Street in (guess what) the north. The glass-roofed Castlecourt shopping centre on Royal Avenue, complete with fountains and cafes, is the largest covered shopping area in the city, and there are a number of other smaller arcades in the surrounding side streets. Best of these is Queens Arcade, with its vast range of specialist shops.

The Entries

The little alleyways that run between Ann Street and High Street, in the east of the shopping district, are known as the Entries. Tucked away here you'll find many an old saloon, such as White's Tavern, which claims to be the oldest pub in Belfast. The Entries adjoin the Cathedral Quarter around St. Anne's Cathedral - this district of the city has seen considerable redevelopment in recent years and is now home to many new apartments, cafes and bars.

The Golden Mile

To the south of the City Hall is Great Victoria Street, which runs up to the university area of the city and which is often referred to as the "Golden Mile". This district is home to the city's greatest concentration of restaurants, bars and cafes. Along the Golden Mile you'll find the Grand Opera House and the splendid Crown Liquor Saloon, which is owned by the National Trust. Both sumptuously Victorian, they offer significantly different forms of entertainment! Many restaurants and cafes line Great Victoria Street, together with the Europa Hotel, which had for many years the unenvied reputation of being the most frequently bombed hotel in Europe. However it is now shaking off that dubious distinction and is currently expanding, a symbol of renewed confidence in the city itself.

The University District

The Golden Mile leads to the neighbourhood of Queen's University, which is characterised by its plethora of pubs, clubs and places to stay. This is one of the most attractive districts in the city: take an hour to stroll around the well-tended grounds and pleasant red-brick quadrangle of the university. Next-door are the Botanic Gardens, which provide a tranquil, peaceful spot for a picnic; the Palm House is situated in the gardens and is a relative of the great glasshouses at Kew and the Botanic Gardens in Dublin. The Botanic Gardens are also home to the impressive Ulster Museum (complete with dinosaur exhibits) which is certainly a fine place to while away an afternoon. The Stranmillis Village area is about ten minutes walk away: full of small shops, restaurants and cafes, it is a most pleasant spot for lunch and an excellent refuge from the city within the city. Stranmillis runs into the Lagan Meadows district - the river at this point meanders gently through green fields.

The East

To the east of the City Hall is the mouth of the River Lagan. This area has seen lavish redevelopment in recent years, and along the waterfront there are many places to enjoy the river. The Waterfront Hall is Belfast's new pride and joy and even if you don't have time to take in a concert, stop for coffee and have a look at the splendid auditorium. Further along, the Lagan Lookout affords excellent views of the two great cranes -- David and Goliath -- of the Harland and Wolff shipyards. This is where you can get a feel for the industries, such as shipbuilding, upon which modern Belfast is founded. Indeed it is these industries that have distinguished Belfast, often giving it more of a feel of a northern British industrial city than any comparisons with Irish cities. At the time of writing, the great shipyard is threatened with closure - a potent symbol of the decline of the great Victorian industries upon which the wealth of Belfast was founded.

The West

West Belfast is where the sectarian divisions of the city are most starkly displayed. The Protestant neighbourhoods are clearly demarcated from the Catholic areas that surround them. The main route through the Protestant area is the Shankill Road and the Catholic equivalent is the Falls Road. With the recent slow moves towards peace, West Belfast is by no means a no-go area, but tact and awareness should be at the forefront of any exploration. Visitors should also remember, however, that there are probably rougher areas in their own cities and that West Belfast, despite sectarianism, is just another inner-city area that has seen deprivation but is attempting to rejuvenate itself. It is important to bear in mind, for example, that crime rates in Northern Ireland are the lowest in the United Kingdom. Petty crime has been almost unknown in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland through the long years of the Troubles -- and this statistic says more about the culture of the province than any newspaper headline!

The North

If you travel north of the central shopping district you will eventually reach the Cave Hill, the most prominent of the steep hills which surround much of the city. The Cave Hill dominates the backdrop of the city, looking down on it as P.J O'Rourke described it, "like some kind of Caledonian Sugar Loaf Mountain". Also look out for the feature, often described as Napoleon's Nose, resembling as it does a man lying down and his nose pointing upwards. It is also believed that Jonathan Swift was inspired by this sight in his description of Gulliver lying on his back when he first arrives in Lilliput. Belfast Castle nestles on the slopes of the hill, but climb to the top for excellent views over Belfast, the surrounding countryside, the Irish Sea and (on a clear day) Scotland.

Beyond the City: Co Antrim

The coastline of Northern Ireland stretches north and south of the city of Belfast. North of the city, the impressive Norman citadel of Carrickfergus Castle guards the mouth of Belfast Lough. North of the busy ferry port of Larne, the Antrim coast road runs through some of Ireland's most spectacular scenery. Passing through the National Trust villages of Cushendun and Cushendall, the road leads to the pretty resort town of Ballycastle, home of the 'Oul Lammas Fair' in August. Regular ferries ply the route between Ballycastle and Rathlin Island, the only inhabited island off the Northern Irish coast. In the summer, ferries also link Ballycastle with Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre. West of Ballycastle, the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede attracts many lovers of vertigo!

Co. Down

The coast south of Belfast is gentler, but contains a wealth of attractions. The busy resort of Bangor east of the city is a pleasant day trip on a fine day; while south of Bangor lie the beaches and green landscape of the Ards peninsula, home of many fishing villages and fine seafood restaurants. The peninsula shelters the island-studded waters of Strangford Lough, one of the most important wildlife refuges in Ireland. The great National Trust property at Castle Ward can be reached from the peninsula: take one of the regular ferries from Portaferry to Strangford and Castle Ward House lies off to the right. Also in the region is Downpatrick, resting place of St. Patrick; Greyabbey, home of Ulster Scots culture; the thriving resort of Newcastle; Royal County Down golf course (one of the great courses of the world) and the rugged landscape of Silent Valley and the Mountains of Mourne.

Weather

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High 43° 44° 47° 52° 57° 63° 65° 64° 60° 55° 48° 45°
Avg. Low 34° 34° 35° 38° 43° 48° 51° 51° 48° 44° 37° 35°
Mean 39° 39° 42° 46° 50° 56° 59° 58° 54° 50° 43° 40°
Avg. Precip. 3.4 in 2.3 in 2.6 in 2.1 in 2.4 in 2.5 in 2.5 in 3.2 in 3.4 in 3.5 in 3.1 in 3.1 in

Fahrenheit temperature scale is used.