The capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast gained worldwide notoriety during The Troubles of 1969-1997 when there were frequent gun and bomb attacks in the city. Nowadays, its scars have very nearly healed and it remains an intriguing destination. You could say it is a city you either love or loathe. Tourism is not as developed as, for example, in Dublin but the city is undergoing massive urban regeneration projects and as such the skyline is constantly changing. It is a safe city despite its troubled past and is a great place to go if you're after a mini-break in Northern Ireland.
Belfast is home to a wide range of parks and green open spaces, such as the Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park. Stormont Castle is four miles from the city centre and has spectacular grounds. The guides from the bus tours which are available will give you an explanation of the castle's history. Queen's University is known for its beautiful campus; its gothic architecture looks particularly magnificent on a sunny day. Belfast Castle dates back to 1870 and is another popular venue for weddings and conferences. St Anne's Cathedral is a beautiful and tranquil building, away from the hustle and bustle of typical Belfast.
Belfast city centre is focused on Donegal Square and Belfast City Hall; they are, as you might say, the centrepieces of the city. The City Hall is a neoclassical building which serves as the seat of the city's government and you will need to take a guided tour of City Hall to get the most out of your visit. Belfast claims to be the birthplace of the Titanic and as such has many Titanic-themed attractions such as the Titanic Belfast (an attraction and monument to Belfast's maritime heritage, telling the story of the Titanic) and the Titanic Dock and Pump House. Cultra Manor is a museum which contains a Titanic exhibit featuring drawings by Thomas Andrew, the ship's designer and former Belfast resident. It is also a popular venue for functions. Try something a bit different and head down to the Odyssey Arena at Queen's Quay and watch an ice hockey match. However, a visit to Northern Ireland is not complete without seeing Giant's Causeway. It is accessible by train or bus from Belfast. The Belfast City Bike Tour is a two to three hour guided tour of the city by bike and is a great way to see the attractions. The ride is just over six miles.
+ Despite being a relatively small city, Belfast has a vibrant nightlife
+ Easy to reach, with cheap flights from elsewhere in the UK
+ Its reputation for being a dangerous city is exaggerated
- Best not to visit in July due to the Protestant marches
- There are some areas which should be avoided at night
The most important thing to avoid is undoubtedly talking politics in Belfast. The Troubles are still understandably a sore subject and thus the locals don't need to be reminded of the past when they are attempting to pave the way for the future. Also, some public areas are alcohol-free zones, such as the Botanic Garden area, and you can incur hefty fines if you do not respect these laws.
In terms of your safety at night, it is best to avoid the Golden Mile (the stretch between Belfast City Hall and Queen's University) as it is not the safest part of Belfast. However, there is normally a large police presence there.
There are plenty of Irish specialities to sample in Belfast, among them being soda bread, Irish stew, beef and Guinness pie and Irish lamb chops. Although a real steadfast diet, Irish cooking is not the only kind of cuisine you can get your teeth into in Belfast, there are also a lot of Chinese, Indian and European restaurants.
To bring back
There are some tacky keepsake items to bring back from Northern Ireland if you so wish. If you're going to go the whole mile, there's plenty on offer, such as Guinness glasses, Titanic memorabilia, shamrock-emblazoned souvenirs, red-haired leprechauns, the list goes on.