A city of conflict. A city of contrast. Is it Ireland? It is England? Is it both? Is it neither?
These questions are sensitive in this part of the world and the answers for each person are violently different. The Troubles were violent years that is for the most part in the past. The city as well as the county of Ulster is divided between Protestant or Catholic, English or Irish. Bar bombs, car bombs, petrol bombs and shootings encompassed a large part of the city and resulted in deaths and destruction on both sides. The downtown was closed off and the ‘temporary wall’ was added and grew higher and higher and still stands as one of the largest walls in the world.
The vast history makes up Belfast even for those who don’t want it to. However, a new culture is moving in to the city, who don’t remember the past days. Belfast has become one of the most international cities in Europe and a place for many young people to flock to. The downtown is beginning a resurgence with new, young bars and restaurants on every corner. The Guinness and potatoes are there, but more so the gin cocktails and ethnic food is taking over as the new face of Belfast.
Top Things to Do
- A Black Cab Tour – This tour will take you through the old neighborhoods of Belfast where most of the struggles took place. You get the chance to go through both Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods to see the site of major events as well as some of the most significant murals. You also visit sections of the wall and are lead on the tour by someone who has usually grown up in the time of troubles.
- Queen’s University – A lovely campus to walk around and see the older buildings and gardens of the area.
- The food and drink scene. Belfast’s dining and bar scene was shocking to me when I arrived. The food is something you’d find in a hot spot of London or Chicago, not what you’d expect of a small city on an Island. Likewise, the bar scene has funky and new bars in addition to traditional pubs.
- Titanic Museum – I did not actually get the chance to visit the Museum but I have heard it is very interesting and an exciting place to go.
- Side Trips to Giants Causeway and Northern Coast
Food and Drinks
If you are visiting Belfast as part of a trip around Ireland, I’d recommend trying out some of the newer cuisine in Belfast that isn’t as traditional. If you’ve been traveling a while before you reach here, you may be growing tired of the beef stew as I was and want to try something different and Belfast is the place to do so.
For dinner, some new and more posh restaurants I’d recommend are Hadski or Acton and Sons.
For coffee or breakfast, I’d recommend Harlem café.
For some more traditional pubs, Crown Liquor Saloon or John Hewitt are both good options.
Things to Know Before You Go
Northern Ireland is currently part of the United Kingdom so pounds are the currency, however many places also accept Euros, and even dollars as well in some places.
Belfast is a very walk-able city so it is easy to get around, but if you plan on traveling through more of the region or into the rest of Ireland, I’d recommend renting a car, but beware of the driving on the other side of the road!
Note: Belfast nowadays is considered a safe city, but it is important to exercise caution and avoid making any comments towards any of the people or events that live here or the side that you identify with. I think that travelers can often overlook all details of a conflict or event and from visiting we are only able to scratch the surface of the experience of those who live here.