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Alive with arts, culture, and urban energy, not to mention an irresistible food-and-drink scene, Belfast is possibly the hippest of the UK capitals. Industrial architecture from its heyday as a shipbuilding port — don’t forget to include a visit to its award-winning Titanic museum — now houses boutique shops, galleries, and music venues. The cobbled streets of the Cathedral Quarter, once home to the city’s newspaper, are the centre of Belfast’s fashionable bar and restaurant scene.
Historic buildings range from the classic Victoriana of the Grand Opera House to the baronial grandeur of Belfast Castle. The city’s transformation from its more recent troubled past can be witnessed in the new street art that flourishes alongside the political murals of once-divided West Belfast, now known as the Gaeltacht Quarter. The leafy college grounds and surrounds of Queen’s University include the 28-acre Botanic Gardens, with the Ulster Museum at its entrance; within 30 minutes you can be out of the city entirely, and on Northern Ireland’s ruggedly beautiful North Coast.
Belfast International Airport (BFS), which serves dozens of international destinations and UK cities, is situated 18 miles northwest of the capital. It’s around a 30-minute journey to the city centre, whether you’re driving, taking a taxi, or using the express bus service. The smaller George Best City Airport (BHD) is only 10 minutes from the centre; its flight routes are limited to the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Belfast is a great walking city, its centre compact and easy to navigate on foot; there’s also a bikeshare scheme with dozens of docking stations. A good local bus network can help you cover longer distances, and excellent rail links connect nearby suburbs and towns, allowing you to avoid driving in the city’s notorious traffic.
Belfast keeps a busy calendar. Its cultural life is so vibrant that there are events and festivals every week of the year, celebrating film, comedy, fashion, food, and design. The Cathedral Quarter is particularly fun in May, when it stages its own arts festival, while in June tens of thousands of visitors flock to the world-renowned Photo Festival. There’s traditional music everywhere in July, and August is the month of both Mela and Pride. October brings travelers to the city for the flagship Belfast International Arts Festival. For the warmest and sunniest weather, June to August is your best bet, though spring and autumn are perfectly pleasant (if unpredictably rainy), and there’s much to enjoy through the winter months, too.
This former 18th-century estate south of the city was turned into a park in 1959. Its 128 acres combine woodland, walled gardens, rolling meadows, and a sparkling fountain. A world-famous rose garden draws thousands of visitors each summer, when it’s in full bloom.
Belfast’s waterfront is awash with seafaring history. The stretch of the River Lagan from the Big Fish sculpture at Donegall Quay to Thompson Dock — the last place the Titanic rested on dry ground — takes you past some of its major landmarks. The marina is also a lively spot for dining and entertainment.
Belfast’s most visible natural landmark, this rocky bluff can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. There’s a relatively steep trail leading to the 368-metre summit, an Iron Age hill fort. But if that sounds exhausting, you’ll find plenty of walking routes around its lower slopes that take in woodland scenery as well as the caves themselves, which are thought to be ancient iron mines.