The main tourist information center for the city is the Belfast Welcome Centre at 9 Donegall Square, BT1 5GJ (www.visitbelfast.com; [tel] 028/9024-6609). From June to September it’s open Monday to Saturday, 9am to 7pm, and Sunday, 11am to 4pm; and from October to May, Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5:30pm, and Sunday, 11am to 4pm. They can help book accommodations in the city, and they also have a bureau de change and left luggage facility. Smaller visitor information points are at Belfast International Airport ([tel] 028/9448-4677) and George Best Belfast City Airport ([tel] 028/9093-5372).
Small and easily traversed, central Belfast is best explored walking. The main tourist districts are as follows.
Dominated by the impressive domed City Hall, the bustling Donegall Square area is the best place for shopping, particularly along Donegall Place, which extends north from the square, onto Royal Avenue. Bedford Street, which travels south from Donegall Square, becomes Dublin Road, which leads to:
The leafy area around Queen’s University contains the Botanic Gardens, art galleries, and museums, as well as a buzzing nightlife scene.
North of Donegall Square, surrounding Donegall Street, Belfast Cathedral presides over this area with many vast Victorian warehouses. The district has quite a buzzing feel, with plenty of interesting shops.
Southwest of Donegall Square, the stretch of Great Victoria Street leading to Bradbury Place is the city’s best address for restaurants and pubs, although it’s a bit hyperbolically named. As one local said to us, “It’s not a mile and it’s not golden. But it’s nice enough.”
Northeast of the city center, a series of big commercial developments have recently gone up around Belfast Harbour. Here you’ll find several big purpose-built attractions.
Outlying Attractions: Belfast Lough
Belfast built up around the mouth of this coastal inlet; today the city’s outer suburbs stretch along its north and south shores. There are a few worthwhile sights here, all doable on an easy short trip out of the city proper. A dozen miles or so to the northeast, just off the M3 motorway, the castle town of Carrickfergus offers a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city, with some fresh sea air. Locals like to say that Carrickfergus was thriving when Belfast was a sandbank, and looking around its winding medieval streets and traces of city walls, it’s easy to believe. On the other side of the Lough, Cultra is a relatively nondescript residential suburb with one big attraction—the excellent Ulster Folk & Transport Museum.
Joining the National Trust -- Several of Ulster’s best historic sites are managed by the National Trust, a not-for-profit organization that preserves thousands of buildings and areas of natural beauty across the U.K. (including Northern Ireland), keeping them accessible to the public. Taking out a yearly membership gives you unlimited free admission to all of them, which can work out cheaper if you plan to visit several. If you also happen to be visiting Britain on your trip, or within the same year, it could be a wise investment. The current membership costs are £65 for individuals, £108 for couples, and £72 to £115 for families. You can sign up for membership at any National Trust property, or join in advance online at www.nationaltrust.org.uk. American visitors can also join the U.S. wing of the National Trust, the Royal Oak Foundation. Visit www.royal-oak.org or call [tel] 212/480-2889 for more information. Royal Oak members get the same benefits, plus money off lectures, tours, and other special events held in the United States.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.