Belfast (pop. 330,000), the second-largest city on the island, is the focus of the North’s cultural, commercial, and political activity. Acclaimed writers and the annual arts festival in November support Belfast’s reputation as a thriving artistic center, with art galleries, coffee shops, and black-clad sub-cultural connoisseurs all contributing to that view. West Belfast’s famous sectarian murals are now perhaps the most informative source on the effects of what the locals call the Troubles. Despite the violent associations conjured by the name Belfast, the city feels more neighborly than most international (and even Irish) visitors expect.
Flights: Belfast International Airport (BFS; 9442 4848; www.belfastairport.com), in Aldergrove. Airbus (9033 3000) runs from the airport to the Europa and Laganside bus stations (M-Sa every 30min. Su about every hr.; 6). Trains connect the Belfast City Airport (Sydenham Halt), at the harbor, to Central Station (f 1).
Trains: Central Station ( 9066 6630), on East Bridge St. runs trains to: Derry (2hr. 3- 9 per day, 8.20) and Dublin (2hr. 5-8 per day, 20). Centrelink buses run from the station to the city center (free with rail tickets).
Buses: Europa Station ( 9066 6630), off Great Victoria St. serves the north coast, the west, and the Republic. Buses to Derry (l3hr. 7-19 per day, 7.50) and Dublin (3hr. 6-7 per day, 12). Laganside Station (9066 6630), Donegall Quay, serves Northern Ireland’s east coast. Centrelink buses connect both stations with the city center.
Ferries: SeaCat ( (08705) 523 523; www.seacat.co.uk) leaves for: Heysham, England (4hr. Apr.-Nov. 1-2 per day); the Isle of Man (234hr. Apr.-Nov. M, W, F daily); and Troon, Scotland (2Vihr. 2-3 per day). Fares 10-30 without car.
Local Transportation: The red Citybus Network (9066 6630) is supplemented by Ulsterbus’s suburban blue buses. Travel within the city center 1.10, students and children 55p. Centrelink buses traverse the city (every 12min. M-F 7:25am-9:15pm, Sa 8:35am-9:15pm; 1.10, free with bus or rail ticket). Late Nightlink buses shuttle to small towns outside the city (F-Sa 1 and 2am; 3, payable on board).
Taxis: Value Cabs (9080 9080). Residents of West and North Belfast use the huge black cabs; some are metered, and some follow set routes.
ORIENTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Buses arrive at the Europa bus station on Great Victoria Street. To the northeast is the City Hall in Donegall Square. South of the Europa bus station, Great Victoria St. meets Dublin Road at Shaftesbury Square; this stretch of Great Victoria St. between the bus station and Shaftesbury Sq. is known as the Golden Mile for its high-brow establishments and Victorian architecture. Botanic Avenue and Bradbury Place (which becomes University Road) extend south from Shaftesbury Sq. into the Queen’s University area, where cafes, pubs, and budget lodgings await. To get to Donegall Sq. from Central Station, turn left, walk down East Bridge St. turn right on Oxford St. and make the first left on May Street, which runs into Donegall Sq.; or, take the Centrelink bus. Divided from the rest of Belfast by the Westlink Motorway, working-class West Belfast has been more politically volatile; the area is best seen by day. The Protestant neighborhood stretches along Shankill Road, just north of the Catholic neighborhood, which is centered around Falls Road. The two are separated by the peace line. During the week, the area north of City Hall is essentially deserted at night, and it’s a good idea to use taxis after dark.
Tourist Office: The Belfast Welcome Centre, 47 Donegall PI. (9024 6609). Has an incredibly helpful and comprehensive free booklet on Belfast and info on surrounding areas. Open June-Sept. M 9:30am-7pm, Tu-Sa 9am-7pm, Su noon-5pm; Oct.-May M 9am-5:30pm, Tu-Sa 9am-7pm.
Banks: Banks and ATMs are on almost every corner. Bank of Ireland, 54 Donegall PI. (9023 4334). Open M-F 9am-4:30pm.
Laundry: Globe Drycleaners & Launderers, 37-39 Botanic Ave. (9024 3956). About 3-4 per load. Open M-F 8am-9pm, Sa-Su noon-6pm.
Emergency: 999; no coins required. Police, 65 Knock Rd. (9065 0222).
Hospitals: Belfast City Hospital, 9 Lisburn Rd. (9032 9241). From Shaftesbury Sq. follow Bradbury PI. and take a right at the fork. Royal Victoria Hospital, 12 Grosvenor Rd. (9024 0503). From Donegall Sq. take Howard St. west to Grosvenor Rd.
Internet Access: Belfast Central Library, 122 Royal Ave. (9050 9150). 1.50 per 30min. Open M and Th 9am-8pm, Tu-W and F 9am-5:30pm, Sa 9:30am-lpm.
Post Office: Central Post Office, 25 Castle PI. (9032 3740). Poste Restante mail comes here. Open M-Sa 9am-5:30pm. Postal Code: BT1 1NB. Branch offices: Botanic Garden, 95 University Rd. across from the university (9038 1309; Postal Code: BT7 1NG) and Botanic Avenue, 1-5 Botanic Ave. (9032 6177; Postal Code: BT2 7DA). Branch offices open M-F 8:45am-5:30pm, Sa 10am-12:30pm.
Despite a competitive hostel market, Belfast’s fluctuating tourism and rising rents have shrunk the number of available cheap digs. Most budget accommodations are located near Queen’s University, south of the city center, which is convenient to pubs and restaurants. Take Citybus #69, 70, 71, 83, 84, or 86 from Donegall Sq. to areas in the south. B&Bs occupy virtually every house between Malone Road and Lisburn Road, just south of Queen’s University.
HOSTELS AND UNIVERSITY HOUSING
HArnie’s Backpackers (IHH), 63 Fitzwilliam St. (9024 2867). From Bradbury PI. turn left onto University Rd.; Fitzwilliam St. is on the right. Friendly atmosphere in the comfort of an antiquated building with a drawing room to match. Luggage storage during the day. Dorms 7-9.50,
Belfast Hostel (HINI), 22 Donegall Rd. ( 9031 5435), off Shaftesbury Sq. Clean and inviting interior is highlighted by colorful rooms and floors. Books tours of Belfast and Giant’s Causeway. Breakfast 2. Laundry 3. Reception open 24hr. Dorms 8.50- 10.50; singles 17; triples 33. Expect higher prices on the weekend.
The Ark (IHH), 18 University St. (9032 9626). Follow Great Victoria St. through Shaftsbury Sq. taking Botanic Ave. and then make a right on University St.; look for the blue grating on the right. The Ark has nice dorm rooms with a bustling, well- stocked kitchen. They also book tours of Belfast ( 8) and Giant’s Causeway ( 16). Weekend luggage storage. Laundry 4. Internet access 1 per 20min. Curfew 2am. Coed dorms 8.50-9.50; doubles 32. O
Queen’s University Accommodations, 78 Malone Rd. (9038 1608). Take bus #71 from Donegall Sq. East. University Rd. runs into Malone Rd.; the residence halls are on your left. Undecorated, institutional dorms provide spacious singles ortwin rooms with sinks and desks. Open mid- June to Aug. and Christmas and Easter vacations. Free laundry. Singles 8.50 for UK students, 10 for international students, 12.40 for non-students; doubles 21.40.
BED AND BREAKFASTS
El Camera Guesthouse, 44 Wellington Park ( 9066 0026). A pristine and well-lit fam- ily-run guesthouse. The selling point is a fabulous breakfast, with a wide selection of organic options and teas. Singles 25, with bath 40; doubles 4855. July discounts available.
Botanic Lodge, 87 Botanic Ave. (9032 7682). Offers B&B comfort surrounded by many eateries. A short walk to the city center. All rooms with sink and TV, some with bath. Singles 25, with bath 35; doubles 4045.
Marine House, 30 Elgantine Ave. (9066 2828). A mansion with an airy warmth to match its size. Rooms are extremely clean, and come with bath, phone, and TV. Singles 38; doubles 48; triples 66.
Marine House, 30 Elgantine Ave. (-a-9068 2814). This comfy roost is especially great for those with cars; secure parking is free. Amazingly hospitable owners and nice amenities round out the deal. Singles 25; doubles 40; triples 55.
Avenue Guest House, 23 Eglantine Ave. (9066 5904; fax 9029 1810). Large rooms with excellent beds, a modern decor, and expansive window views. All rooms with bath and TV. Singles 35; doubles 45.
Dublin Road, Botanic Avenue, and the Golden Mile have a high concentration of restaurants. For dinner in the city center, head to a pub for a cheap meal. If you’re in the University area, try one of the many student-filled eateries for a quick fix. Good fruits and vegetables can be had at St. George’s Market, on East Bridge St. between May St. and Oxford St. (Open F 8am-2pm and Sa 6am-noon.)
12 Azzura, 8 Church Ln. has gourmet pizzas, pastas, and sandwiches, with options for both veggie and meat lovers. Chef Sharon often knows what you want to eat before you do. Entrees under 4. Open M-Sa 9am-5pm.
Benedict’s, 7-21 Bradbury PI. (9059 1999), is located in a swanky restaurant, but has great meals for reasonable prices. Come between 5:30-7:30pm, and as part of their Beat the Clock” gimmick the time you order becomes the price you pay. (Open M- Sa 7-10am, noon-2:30pm, and 5:30-10:30pm; Su 5:30-9pm.)
The Moghul, 62A Botanic Ave. (9032 6677), overlooking the street from 2nd fl. corner windows. Serves up an outstanding Indian lunch with vegetarian options M-Th noon- 2pm ( 3), or an all-you-can-eat buffet F noon-2pm ( 5). Open for dinner M-W 5-1 lpm, Th-Sa 5-midnight, Su 5-llpm.
Bookfinders, 47 University Rd. (9032 8269). Mismatched dishes mingle with counterculture paraphernalia bookstorecafe. Extensive vegetarian and vegan options. Soup and bread 2.80. Sandwiches under 3. Open M-Sa 10am-5:30pm.
Windsor Dairy, 4 College St. (9032 7157). This takeaway bakery delights with piles of pastries for 30-50p and daily specials for around 2. Hot food runs out by 3pm, due to hungry locals in the know. Open M-Sa 7:30am-5:30pm.
The Other Place, 79 Botanic Ave. (9020 7200), 133 Stranmillis Rd. (9020 7100), and 537 Lisburn Rd. (9020 7300). Reasonably priced all-day breakfast menu ( 3-4) with chalkboard-listed specials. Features huge servings and an array of ethnic foods. Open Su and Tu-Sa 8am-10pm.
DONEGALL SQUARE. The most dramatic and impressive piece of architecture in Belfast is appropriately its administrative and geographic center, the Belfast City Hall. Neoclassical marble columns and arches figure prominently in A. Brunwell Thomas’s 1906 design. Its green copper dome is visible from any point in the city. Check out the forboding Queen Victoria statue in front of the main entrance, (lhr. tour June-Sept. M-F 11am, 2, and 3pm.; Sa 2:30pm; Oct.-May M-F 11am and 2:30pm; Sa 2:30pm. Free.) The Linen Hall Library, 52 Fountain St. contains a comprehensive collection of documents related to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Note the red hand of Ulster that hangs above its door. (Open M-F 9:30am-5:30pm, Sa 9:30am-4pm.) CORNMARKET AND ST. ANNE’S CATHEDRAL. North of the city center, this shopping district envelops eight blocks around Castle Street and Royal Avenue. This area, known as Commarket after one of its original commodities, has been a marketplace since Belfast’s early days. Relics of the old city remain in the entries, or tiny alleys. When in Commarket, stop by St. Anne’s Cathedral, also known as the Belfast Cathedral. Construction began in 1899, but to keep from disturbing regular worship, it was built around a smaller church already on the site; upon completion of the new exterior, builders extracted the earlier church brick by brick. Each one of the interior pillars of the cathedral names one of Belfast’s professions: Agriculture, Art, Freemasonry, Healing, Industry, Music, Science, Shipbuilding, Theology, and Womanhood. (Donegall St. near the city center. Open M-Sa 10am-4pm.)
THE DOCKS AND EAST BELFAST. Although the docks were once the active heart of Belfast, continued commerical development made the area more suitable for industrial machinery than people. However, Belfast’s newest megaattraction, Odyssey, 2 Queen’s Quay, a gigantic center that houses five different science attractions, promises to bring back the hordes to this previously dilapidated industrial area. The best feature is the W5 Discovery Centre, a science and technology museum that beckons geeks of all ages to play with pulley chairs, laser harps, and robots. (9045 1055. Open M-Sa 10am-5pm, Su noon-5pm. 5.50, students and seniors 4.) For nautical nuts, the Sinclair Seamen’s Church is sure to please. Here, the minister delivers his sermons from a pulpit carved in the shape of a ship’s prow, collections are taken in miniature lifeboats, and an organ with port and starboard lights carries the tune. (Corporation St Open \N 2-5pm and Su service.)
THE GOLDEN MILE. This strip along Great Victoria St. contains many of Belfast’s jewels. Of these, the Grand Opera House is the city’s pride and joy, sadly making it a repeated bombing target for the IRA. Recently, it was restored to its original splendor at enormous cost, only to be bombed again. However, more peaceful times have allowed the Grand Opera House to flourish. Er\joy the current calm either by attending a performance or by taking a tour on Saturdays. ( 3, seniors and children 2. Box office open M-Sa 8:30am-6pm. Tours 11am.) If opera is not your thing, visit the popular Crown Liquor Saloon, 46 Great Victoria St. a showcase of carved wood, gilded ceilings, and stained glass recently restored by the National Trust. Finally, check in to the Europa Hotel, which has the dubious distinction of being Europe’s most bombed hotel, having survived 32 blasts.
QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY AREA. Charles Lanyon designed the beautiful Tudor- revival brick campus of Queen’s University Belfast in 1859, modeling it after Magdalen College, Oxford. The Visitor’s Centre, in the Lanyon Room to the left of the main entrance, offers Queen’s-related exhibits. (University Rd. Open May- Sept. M-F 10am-4pm, Sa 10am-4pm; Oct.-Mar. M-F 10am-4pm.) Behind the university, relax in the meticulously groomed Botanic Gardens, which offers a welcome respite from the traffic-laden city. Inside the garden lie two 19th-century greenhouses: The toasty Tropical Ravine House, and the more temperate Lanyon-designed Palm House. (Open daily 8am-dusk. Tropical House and Palm House open Apr.-Sept. M-F lOam-noon and l-5pm, Sa-Su 2-5pm; Oct.-Mar. M-F lOam-noon and l-4pm, Sa-Su 2-4pm. Free.)
NORTH AND SOUTH BELFAST. Riverside trails, ancient ruins, and idyllic parks south of Belfast make it hard to believe that you’re only minutes from the city center. The area can be reached by bus #71 from Donegall Sq. Six kilometers north along the tow path near Shaw’s Bridge lies the Giant’s Ring, an earthen ring with a dolmen in the middle. Scientists estimate that the ring was constructed around 2500 BC. Little is known about the 200m wide circle, but experts speculate that it was built for the same reasons as England’s Stonehenge, whatever that reason may be. (Open 24hr. Free.) Like the South, North Belfast is also a pastoral break from the urban grind. Cave Hill, long the seat of Ulster rulers, makes for fabulous views. Atop the hill sits Belfast Castle, built by the Earl of Shaftsbury in 1934. The castle lacks the history and majesty of its older brethren, but it still offers an amazing view of the Belfast countryside. (Open M-Sa 9am-10:30pm, Su 9am-6pm. Free.)
WEST BELFAST AND THE MURALS. West Belfast is not a sight in the traditional sense. The streets display political murals, which you will come across quickly as you wander among the houses. Be discreet if photographing the murals. It is illegal to photograph military installations; do so and your film may be confiscated. The Protestant Orangemen’s marching season (July 4-12) is a risky time to visit the area, since the parades are underscored by mutual antag-onism. Cab tours provide a fascinating commentary detailing the murals, paraphernalia, and sights on both sides of the peace line. Michael Johnston of Black Taxi Tours has made a name for himself with his witty, objective presentations. ( 0800 052 3914; www.belfasttours.com. 9 per person for groups of 3 or more.)
TH E FALLS. On Divis Street, a high-rise apartment building marks the site of the Divis Tower, an ill-fated housing development built by optimistic social planners in the 1960s. This project soon became an IRA stronghold and saw some of the worst of the Troubles in the 1970s. The British army still occupies the top three floors, and Shankill residents refer to it as Little Beirut. Continuing west,
Divis St. turns into Falls Road. The Sinn Fein office is easily spotted: One side of it is covered with an enormous portrait of Bobby Sands and an advertisement for the Sinn Fein newspaper, An Phoblacht. Continuing down the Falls there are a number of other murals, generally on side streets and on Beechmont.
SHANKILL. North Street turns into Shankill Road as it crosses the Westlink and then arrives in Protestant Shankill, once a thriving shopping district. Turning left onto most side roads (coming from the direction of North St.) leads to the peace line. The side streets on the right guide you to the Shankill Estate and more murals. Crumlin Road, through the estate, is the site of the oldest Loyalist murals.
ENTERTAINMENT AND NIGHTLIFE
Belfast’s cultural events and performances are covered in the monthly Arts Council Artslink (free at the tourist office). The Grand Opera House, on Great Victoria St. stages a mix of opera, ballet, musicals, and drama. Buy tickets at the box office, 2-4 Great Victoria St. (9024 1919. Tickets from 12.50.) The Queen’s University Festival (9066 7687) in November draws ballet troops, film groups, and opera performances to the city.
Pubs were prime targets for sectarian violence at the height of the Troubles. As a result, most of the popular pubs in Belfast are new or restored; those in the city center and university area are quite safe now. Most pubs close early, so start crawling while the sun’s still up.
White’s Tavern, Winecellar Entry, off High St. White’s is Belfast’s oldest tavern, serving drinks since 1630. W gay-friendly night ( 5 after 10pm). Live trad music Th-Sa. Open M-Sa ll:30am-llpm.
Katy Daly’s Pub, 17 Ormeau Ave. north of Donegall Sq. High-ceilinged, wood-paneled, antique pub with a young crowd. Catch the local bands that frequent it Tu-Th and Sa.
Apartment, 2 Donegall Sq. West, where Belfast’s beautiful people come for pre-clubbing cocktails. Spacious, modern layout offers a cafe bar and bistro downstairs and an upscale lounge upstairs. Arrive before 9:30pm on weekends and dress smart. 21+ after 6pm. Open M-F 8am-lam, Sa 9am-lam, Su noon-midnight.
The Botanic Inn, 23 Malone Rd. “The Bot is an incredibly popular student bar, packed nightly from wall-to-wall. This huge pub is almost an official extracurricular for many stu-dents who attend nightly. Get the original meal deal, a entree with a pint for under 5 (3-8pm). 20+. Cover 2. Open daily ll:30am-lam.
The Duke of York, 7-11 Commercial Ctr. An old boxing venue turned Communist printing press, the building was rebuilt after being bombed by the IRA in the 1960s. The Duke of York is now home to the largest selection of Irish whiskeys in town. 18+. Open M noon- 9pm, Tu noon-lam, W noon-midnight, Th-F noon-2am, Sa noon-3am.
When the pubs close, the clubs come alive. Ask the staff at the Queen’s University Student Union for info about the latest hot nightspots. You can also consult The List, available in the tourist office and hostels.
Milk Club Bar, 10-14 Tomb St. This up-and-coming club indulges in the best kind of fun possible: The slightly cheesy variety. Let loose to pop and club hits on the dance floor, or have a drink at the illuminated bar. (Open daily noon-3am.)
The Fly, 5-6 Lower Crescent. Popular with a young set of partiers and socialites. Check out the fun vodka lounge on the 3rd floor that serves some 60 flavors. Then head to the 1st floor for pint chasers or to the 2nd floor for mingling and dancing. (Open M-Th 9pm- 1:30am, F-Sa 9pm-l:45am.)
The Kremlin, 96 Donegall St. is Belfast’s hottest gay spot. Free Internet upstairs is upstaged by free condoms downstairs. Theme nights run from foam parties to drag shows. (Bar open M-Th 4pm-3am, F-Su lpm-3am.)
The Limelight, 17 Ormeau Ave. next door to Katy Daly’s Pub. This dark and smokey nightclub is a strong draw for young faces. Tu student night, F Disco night, Sa alternative music night. Cover 2-5. Open 10pm-2am.
BELFAST Photo Gallery
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