Words by Tanya Grimson
November 10th, 2017
The city I first visited in 2007, I can thankfully say, shares no resemblance to the metropolis that now stands in its wake. Belfast is a city reborn, thriving and full of energy. And although the history is still felt inside the city centre, it is commemorated culturally using street art to capture iconic moments of not only its troubled history but also its fallen soldiers and Northern Irish legends. But nothing about this city is negative, it seems the Belfastians are settling very well into their new way of living and although they cannot ignore or forget what has happened, they are moving on and so should we.
During my 48 hours in the city, I was constantly charmed with its welcoming and happy vibe with seriously cool hipster undertones radiating from its bars, new hotels and thriving night scene. It’s a small city with a smaller city centre which allows you to explore every nuke and cranny, and it’s in those tiny hidden alleyways that you are surprised with funky barber shops, eateries and pubs. Situated less than two hours from Dublin, I cannot believe I have waited so long to visit again, but having sampled the new Belfast, and their new culture of eat, drink and be happy, I won’t be long returning.
Make this a priority when you are setting the agenda for your weekend break. This is a real opportunity to understand and see the troubled history of Belfast and the impact it had on the lives of those living in the city at the time and also now. The tour drives through both the Catholic and Protestant communities in the Falls and respective Shankill, divided by a huge walled fence and a gate that separates them to this day and is still locked at 10 pm each night to keep the residents from interacting with each other.
The tour allows you to see and hear from both perspectives and how each side represents their history and the fallen men from their communities, colourfully decorated with infamous murals that recount their history. You have the opportunity to get out on both sides, take photos and to leave your footprint by signing the wall. A real eye-opener and a truly important experience in order to see the Belfast then versus the Belfast now and how although the history can never be forgotten, it is wonderful to see how it is now embraced as a lasting memory and legacy but something that can be healed with time.
For more info and to book, visit www.belfasttours.com
A recent addition to the Belfast scene and rapidly making a name for itself as the hippest place to stay in town, the Bullit hotel, (named after the infamously cool Steve McQueen movie of the same name) opened just over one year ago. Described as an ‘urban playground,’ the hotel is exactly that.
Featuring 43 stylish bedrooms and categorised simply as Dinky, Comfy and Roomy. Focusing on maximising their space, the rooms are not large but you can live with this due to its setting and location. We stayed in the ‘Comfy’ sized room which is just large enough for a comfortable weekend stay. You have to live with no wardrobe but rather a stylish red clothes rail in the corner of the room, but these are the compromises you are willing to make. However the bed is spacious, king sized and their smart TV’s (which are pretty cool) are perfectly aligned directly in front of the bed for those down times. But this is not a hotel for down times, this is an urban dwelling, suited for those on the go. With the most fantastic central location, two mins walk from both the Cathedral Quarter and Victoria Square, this is the place to pop in and out of throughout the day, soak up their Saturday afternoon drink vibe and grab a bite to eat in their Taylor & Clay restaurant.
One of the coolest things about the hotel, other than its décor, is how they cater for the urban dweller, the busy tourist, the business traveller. If you don’t have time to sit down and enjoy the breakfast in the hotel, hang your brown paper bag outside your room before you go to bed and it will be filled with OJ, a granola pot and a piece of fruit to kick-start your day.
The hotel also features a heated courtyard garden, an Espresso Bar and has three bars (including Baltic, NI’s first ski-themed bar), and most recently and newly opened, rooftop bar, Babel. Taking inspiration from the 1950s and ‘60s design, the rooftop bar and garden is now the largest in Ireland.
This is a new breed of hotel, a hotel that puts less focus on the rooms but on the overall experience of the hotel. They don’t want you to stay in your room and rest, this is a hotel for the lively vivacious set of urbanites, looking for something novel, exciting and fun and they have managed to offer exactly that. This hotel in some ways represents the new Belfast, a city full of fun, character and buckets of charm.
Rooms are available to book now at www.bullitthotel.com, starting from £120.
The Titanic Experience is just that, an experience, not to be missed. From the moment you set your eyes on the huge intricately designed building, you can clearly see why Belfast is so proud of its latest cultural attraction. Based over six floors with nine insightful galleries to meander through, start your experience with the history of booming Belfast that led to the creation of the Titanic. Move on to ‘The Shipyard Ride’ that takes you inside the gully of the boat to see and feel the conditions of the workers during their six-day working week and work your way up to the launch of the boat and its tragic demise.
This is a truly visceral experience using the best technology that allows you to witness it from all perspectives, from their 360⁰ videos of the inside of the ship, including the iconic Grand Staircase to holographic images of guests inside their opulently recreated bedrooms. Every floor showcases every element of the ship and its fateful maiden voyage, from its regal guests to the discovery of the wreck of the Titanic RMS on the sea floor of Newfoundland in 1985.
It’s a spectacular spectacle not to be missed with hugely poignant moments that allow you to take in the gravitas of the experience from all accounts and how Belfast’s greatest pride became their greatest sorrow.
For more info, visit www.titanicbelfast.com
When you talk to locals in Belfast about where you are going for dinner that night and you tell them The Muddlers Club, it is genuinely met with a sigh of jealousy that you are about to experience something truly special and they are not invited. Opened in 2015 by former chef of Michelin star restaurant The Ox, Gareth McCaughey and nestled down a hidden lane in the vivacious Cathedral Quarter, The Muddlers Club lives up to its reputation. Based on an open kitchen (chefs table), this is the closest you will get to an episode of Masterchef. With tables closely placed to the open kitchen window that allows you to immerse yourself in the process – to witness the roar of the chef’s pace and feel the heat from the stoves burning, the experience is truly engaging. However, thankfully it is not simply show over substance with the food being the real winner of the evening. Opt for their five-course tasting menu reasonably priced at £45, or £70 if paired with wine, and you will be in for an evening of indulgence, invention and delectable edible treats. Each course uses the best of locally sourced ingredients and presented in a Michelin star fine dining style. The courses are spread out allowing you to not only witness the creations come alive but savour the result. The Muddlers Club strikes the perfect balance of Michelin style food without the snobbery, making it a firm favourite on the newly vivacious Belfast foodie scene.
Located on Warehouse Lane (just off Waring St or Exchange Place), Cathedral Quarter www.themuddlersclubbelfast.com
Victoria Square is the latest shopping attraction to grace Belfast, providing the city with a shopping centre experience to rival Dublin’s Dundrum. Although not of the same scale as Dundrum, its open-air environment makes it feel less like a shopping centre but rather a hub of retailers all in the one space. Victoria Square is home to over 50 stores, featuring key high street retailers such as House of Fraser, Mango, H&M, Urban Outfitters and the Apple store, to name but a few. There is also ample eating opportunities as well. Choose from Wagamama, Yo Sushi, Boojum, Pizza Express, Five Guys and McDonald’s (of course). Take a lift to the top for the most spectacular views of Belfast as the impressive glass dome is also a viewing gallery where you can look across the Belfast skyline.
If shopping centres are not your idea of a fun way to spend your weekend, opt for the charming George’s Street Market instead. Built in 1890-1896, The Saturday City Food and Craft Market is the heart of the city, the place to go to get your fresh produce for your weekend culinary delights. They play host to the widest selection of spices I have ever seen, artisan bread of every variety and a selection of fresh fish and meat. But if you are not culinary-minded you can still enjoy their other offerings, from handmade jewellery to art and prints that allow you to mindfully meander and soak up the food, the vibe and the sheer enjoyment of market browsing. Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, each day hosts a slightly different selection of produce. Keep an eye out for their very special Twilight Market, a highlight of the Belfast cultural calendar, taking place in early 2018 where an array of live music by local entertainers, chef demonstrations, local food and drink producers and local arts and crafts will be entertaining the masses on the evening, but is strictly over 18s after 9 pm due to licensing laws.
For more info, see St George’s Market
It’s hard not to fall in love with the Cathedral Quarter as it plays host to most of the coolest bars in town such as the Dirty Onion. By far one of my favourite bars that I encountered during my visit, from its industrial style dark but open plan space with worn out sofas, exposed metal beams to the open fire that you invites you in on the first whiff on an early winter day. The outdoor area is equally as inviting with ample outdoor heating, a large bar and continuous live music even during the day at weekends. And if you get peckish, pop upstairs to their chicken hut, Yardbird. This pub was built to make you stay, and it’s hard not to.
You can’t come to Belfast without sampling ‘The Crown Liquor Saloon’, if you are looking to dip your toe in Belfast culture, The Crown is not a bad place to whet your appetite. Located on Great Victoria Street this is a recognisable landmark in Belfast due to its elaborate Victorian décor, dating back to 1826.
Otherwise find your way to the Duke of York in the Cathedral Quarter, a traditionally decorated bar with old advertising. Nestled down a cobbled street, take your pint directly opposite to the prettiest alleyway full of upside down umbrellas lining the ceiling leading you to a courtyard and drinking area where wall art fills every space with elaborate and colourful paintings depicting the city’s past.
For all art lovers, make a pitstop at the MAC, known as Belfast’s hub for all things cultural, from exhibitions to stage productions and live events. Currently showing and definitely worth a viewing is Cheng Ran’s In Course of the Miraculous, an eight hour film work that explores three real-life mysterious disappearances, including Everest expeditioner, George Mallory, a Chinese fishing trawler, Lu Rong Yu and artist, Bas Jan Ader, who vanished during his 1975 journey across the Atlantic as part of a performance titled In Search of the Miraculous. Although In Course of the Miraculous is 8 hours in duration, you can pop in and out of the exhibition during its showing. It will be screened in the Sunken Gallery once per day, from 11 am – 7 pm and is running until January 14th, 2018.
For more information on forthcoming events and theatre productions, visit themaclive.com
Belfast is only 90 minutes from Dublin with regular Enterprise trains going from Dublin Connolly to Belfast Central.
For more inspiration and local information visit www.discovernorthernireland.com.
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