Quite why more people don’t make the short hop over the Irish Sea to Belfast is a mystery to me. It has everything to deliver 24 hours of delight for everyone. For such a small place (the city has a population of just ) it is steeped in history, constantly re-inventing itself, in no small part due to the effervescent spirit of the locals who are often dubbed “the friendliest in the world”.
Touching down at George Best airport sandwiched between the historical Stormont Castle, for years the mediating table between two warring factions, and the Titanic Quarter, you are just 15 minutes from the city centre. Both are big draws for visitors and are certainly worth a few hours of your time. The Titanic Quarter is also home to the Odyssey Arena and the 5 W’s Interactive Science Museum, a great way to keep the kids amused for an hour or two. As with the other major places to visit, Belfast’s history has played out in the areas outside the central area of the city.
Whilst the city has enjoyed a peaceful decade or so, the scars of the struggles between the two ideologies are still here for all to see. Today tour buses and converted black taxis shuttle up and down the Falls and Shankill Roads, stopping every few hundred yards to tell the story of how the conflicts affected the city. People flock to these inner city areas, which still suffer the same social problems that blight other areas around the UK, to look at The Murals, huge paintings on buildings and walls depicting the key events and people of the unrest. The peace wall, built to stop violence escalating, is still there to see, still dividing communities and a reminder of the fragile balance of the political ecosystem of Ireland. Any visit to Belfast should include a trip to see the remnants of a world that seems so alien to us today.
The city centre is no different from any other you will find in England – same brands, same shops and same shopping habits. The comforts of Victoria Square Shopping Centre are topped off by a viewing platform at the crest of the glass dome although it’s not one for people scared of heights.
For a decent cluster of bars you can’t go far wrong than the Cathedral district where the great and the good head once the sun goes down. Belfast is also firmly on board with the craft brewery revolution and there are some fine bars to sample the local “home brew” including Crown Liquor Saloon in Great Victoria Street and Bittles in Upper Church Lane. And when it comes back up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning then you will find the night owls in St George’s Market where food stalls rustle up delights from across the world.
One word of advice on a place to rest your weary head – book early. Hotel prices aren’t cheap in Belfast although there are some decent places to stay including Malmaison and The Fitzwilliam. If you plan to visit the Titanic Quarter then the Premier Inn behind the Odyssey Arena is a good bet.
Belfast may not be on everyone’s radar as a top 24 hour city but it should be. Book early enough and you can grab a night away for less than £100 per person.