The Best of Belfast: Travel in Ireland

The Kremlin Bar in Belfast

The Kremlin Bar in Belfast

Over the last few years, Belfast, in Northern Ireland, has seen a renaissance that’s made it a “must go” for clubbers and tourists. From the city center — where a new bar (and new coffee bar) seems to open every week — to the beautiful Giant’s Causeway coast, where thousands of black basalt columns march out to sea just a short trip away, Belfast really has become the center of a country that people are looking at with new eyes.

The capital of Northern Ireland is situated on the east coast, at the mouth of the River Lagan and at the end of Belfast Lough — a long inlet that made Belfast one of the major shipping cities in the 19th century and which was nicknamed “the Athens of the North.”

Around 550,000 people live in the metropolitan region. The name “Belfast” originates from the Irish Béal Feirste, or the “mouth of the Farset,” one of the rivers on which the city was built, which is now a mere trickle beneath a street.

During the Second World War, Belfast was one of the major cities bombed by German forces, mainly due to its concentration of heavy shipbuilding (the legendary RMS Titanic was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard) and aerospace industries.

Michael Moore, a guest at the West Belfast Festival
American filmmaker Michael Moore (right), a guest at the West Belfast Festival

Resentment among the Catholic population at widespread discrimination erupted into violence in 1969, and bombings and rioting formed a backdrop to the next 30 years, a period euphemistically referred to as “The Troubles.” But that finally seems to be behind the city and the country, because today Belfast is buzzing.

Three Fun Venues

Magners Empire Comedy Club, Belfast’s longest-running comedy club, features leading acts every Tuesday, September through June, in the converted church of the Belfast Empire Music Hall.

The Kremlin, Northern Ireland’s first gay-owned and run club, is the best gay venue in Belfast; it won the “Ireland ’s Best Gay Venue” award three years running. Last year brought major renovations, making the venue an even greater draw.

The Queens’ Film Theatre (QFT) features independent and world cinema. The theater, opposite Queen’s University, features a café bar where you can get a drink and a snack before the treats on the silver screen.

The Belfast Empire Music Hall

42 Botanic Ave.

(028) 9032 8110


96 Donegall Street

(028) 9031 6061

Queens Film Theatre

20 University Square

(028) 9097 1097


The Victorian-style Palm House, at Palm House Botanic Gardens, contains exotic plants, trees and flowers.
The Victorian-style Palm House, at Palm House Botanic Gardens, contains exotic plants, trees and flowers.

Three Best Events

Féile an Phobail West Belfast, August 4 -13, 2006, brings local talent to the world stage and features entertainment by leading international artists. With events held at many locations, it features comedy, bands, debates, discussions, tours, exhibitions, concerts, dramas, street theater and children’s events.

On an even larger scale, the Belfast Festival at Queen’s, October 19 – November 4, 2006, is the biggest and most prestigious arts festival in Ireland, attracting more than 50,000 visitors a year to film, dance, theater, comedy, poetry and jazz events.

Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival

North of the city center, the Cathedral Quarter is an up-and-coming part of the city with numerous restaurants and bars. During the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, April 27 – May 7, 2006, you can experience music, comedy, street theater, literature, film and visual arts.


Féile an Phobail West Belfast

(028) 9031 3440

Belfast Festival at Queen’s

(028) 9097 1197

Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival

(028) 9023 2403

Three Best Activities

The Palm House, a Victorian-style glass building at Palm House Botanic Gardens, is a huge hothouse containing exotic plants, trees and flowers. It’s a must-visit all year round, but in August and September it is the setting for the largest outdoor sculpture exhibition in Ireland. Banana trees are a speciality at the nearby Tropical Ravine, and visitors to the botanical gardens can bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the lawn.

A more exotic picnic can be had at Cave Hill, a 400-foot (122 m)
hill that dominates the north side of Belfast. Belfast Castle, on a slope of the hill, affords sweeping views of the countryside. The castle’s newly refurbished visitor’s center offers background on the castle and the landmark hill.

The Joyce Too tour boat motors past the Harland and Wolff shipyard, where the Titanic was built.
The Joyce Too tour boat motors past the Harland and Wolff shipyard, where the Titanic was built.

Also worth checking out is the river Lagan. One of the best things to do is to go to the weir at Donegall Quay and catch a ride on the riverboat MV Joyce Too, which offers tours of the Lagan and a Titanic tour, in which visitors pootle up the river past Harland and Wolff, the shipyard where the fated ocean liner was built.

The tour ends at Cutter’s Wharf pub, where you can have a pint sitting outside (hopefully) in the sun.

Palm House Botanic Gardens

(028) 9032 4902

Cave Hill

Antrim Road

(028) 9077 6925

The Joyce

Donegall Quay

(028) 9033 0844

If You Go

Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau