As Ireland basks in the heat of the hottest summer yet, record breaking temperatures are shattering the curse of the “Irish Summer”. With the mercury hitting new heights, there’s no better time to explore the best of the island when the sun shines. Longer days and brighter nights make for the perfect city break and a trip to Belfast promises a summer like no other.
Just two hours from Dublin city centre, it’s the perfect spot for a weekend break, not to mention a sustainable staycation. Did you know… Belfast has been ranked #19 in the official list of sustainable destinations in the world?
With so much to see and do, this handy guide will help you cram the best of summer in Belfast into one full on and unforgettable weekend. So, what are you waiting for?
Every trip to Belfast should start at St George’s Market. One of the city’s oldest attractions, the market has been running since 1604 and today is home to dozens of traders and food stalls every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Pick up breakfast from one of the many vendors offering cuisines from around the world, or sample the local fayre and sink your teeth into the famous filled Belfast Bap or feast on a traditional Ulster Fry.
After that, it’s time to get acquainted with the city.
Morning Exploration: City Tours
Head on over to the city’s iconic City Hall before picking up tickets at the Visit Belfast Welcome Centre for one of the many daily walking tours led by an independent tour guide recounting Belfast’s troubled history, legends and folklore whilst taking in iconic landmarks.
If comedy is your thing, you’ll love the If Buildings Could Talk city tour. Billed as “the most entertaining tour in Belfast” this leisurely walk down memory lane reminisces some of the city’s more unusual stories that’s guaranteed to have you chuckling.
Or why not rest the legs and explore the city on wheels on the city sightseeing bus tours that allow visitors to hop on and off and enjoy unlimited travel for 48 hours whilst the infamous Black Cab Tour offers a range of routes and itineraries.
More active visitors can cycle their way through the city or adrenaline junkies can get their fix of the city from the water with Belfast’s River Lagan Hydrobikes.
Nothing beats dining al fresco – head to the sunny piazza of St Anne’s Square in the Cathedral Quarter and take your pick from the abundance of world cuisines on offer. Enjoy a taste of Italy at Coppi – Belfast’s first cicchetti bacari restaurant bringing Venetian tapas to the city or feast on eastern Mediterranean delights at Buba, famed for its halloumi fries and sharing platters. For an oriental experience with a difference, opt for House of Zen’s outdoor barbeque.
Seafood lovers can catch the fish of the day whilst soaking up the sun at Fish City or Mourne Seafood Bar. Crowned one of the top five fish and chip restaurants in the UK, Fish City offers award-winning dishes with the finest local craft beers, ciders and cocktails whilst Mourne Seafood serves shellfish sourced from their very own shellfish beds in a lively spot situated next door to Kelly’s Cellars Irish pub – perfect for a post-lunch tipple.
Afternoon Adventures: Festival Fever
Summer in Belfast sees the city bursting with culture, arts, music and good times as festival fever takes over.
Watch the city morph into a kaleidoscope of colour and creativity at the Belfast Mela, startingon Saturday 20 August. This week-long celebration of culture and diversity kicks off with the fabulous Mela Carnival, filling the streets with vibrant global costumes, pulsating world music and dance and amazing processional sculpture and sees the stunning Botanic Gardens transform into a magical global garden of awe-inspiring sights, sounds and aromas of nations coming together.
Join in the jam at Belfast’s first ever Ukulele Festival at The Deer’s Head from 19-21 August taking place on various stages around Belfast. Classical music lovers can tune in to BBC Radio 3 Summer Invitation concert with the Ulster Orchestra on 31 August at the Ulster Hall.
A whole host of award-winning restaurants prove that the small but mighty Belfast really does hold its own when it comes to great food. Home to three Michelin starred restaurants – Ox, Muddler’s Club and Deane’s EIPIC – diners can get a real taste for the city with its locally sourced fine dining tasting menus, perfectly paired with wines from around the world expertly chosen by sommeliers.
Be among the first to check out award-winning chef Niall McKenna’s new Waterman restaurant in the heart of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, serving classic European-style cuisine made with quality local produce in stylish surroundings of a former Bushmills bonded warehouse, now known as Waterman House and home to its own cookery school.
For a more chilled experience, try EDŌ, serving a selection of tapas, or why not opt for dinner with a view at Novelli at City Quays offering an authentic Mediterranean menu.
Evening: Sundown Sessions
A city known for its warm welcome and craic, Belfast comes alive when the sun goes down. The city’s famous Cathedral Quarter, brimming with bars tucked down entry ways, take your pick from any number of lively spots – from Henry’s and The Jailhouse to The Duke of York, The Harp Bar, The National, and White’s Tavern, you’re sure to enjoy a great night’s craic.
Located in an area once home to many of the city’s press offices, The Reporter Bar is one of the city’s newest bars, clad with artefacts and memorabilia, illustrating the city’s colourful history through the eyes of the press.
If cocktails are more your vibe, check out Belfast’s newest cocktail bar Angel and Two Bibles. Buzz for entry, climb the stairway to this hidden speakeasy and choose a chalice from its quirky menu – The Old Testament or The New Testament.
Bed down for the night, in 5 star luxury, boutique hotels or budget options, there’s something to suit everyone.
Hastings Grand Central is more than a hotel. It’s an ode to a city. Standing tall in Bedford Street, this impressive jewel fuses glamour and grandeur with a uniquely Belfast spirit and is home to The Observatory, Ireland’s tallest bar providing spectacular 360 degree city views. Bullitt Hotel is a stylish and cleverly designed hotel, oozing hipster-chic vibes with an urban atmosphere whilst The Harrison is a bohemian bolt hole in the Queens Quarter, telling the story of famous people with connections to Belfast. ETAP Hotel offers moderately priced essential comfort right in the heart of the city next to the bustling ‘Golden Mile.’
It’s not surprising that as a UNESCO City of Music, you don’t have to go far to find a gig, session or concert. Head to Maritime Mile to experience some of Northern Ireland’s finest artists, from opera to jazz, indie and electronic to traditional and folk music, your summer soundtrack covered.
If nature is what you crave, then a visit to Belfast’s beautiful Botanic Gardens is a must. The plush parkland is complemented by the Victorian glass Palm House and Tropical Ravine which houses some 190 plant species in temperate and tropical zones. Whilst you’re there, pop into the Ulster Museum located within the grounds and come face to face with dinosaurs, meet an ancient Egyptian mummy and marvel at chunks of the Moon and Mars in a special meteorite exhibition.
Round off your morning exploration with a gently-paced walking tour of Belfast’s Street Art every Sunday at noon, leaving from the red benches on Commercial Court (beside the Duke of York bar).
Take a leisurely lunch and stroll around the newly opened Trademarket Belfast on the Dublin Road. Lovingly transformed containers house food and retail traders in this pop-up market exhibiting the best of independents. Or toast your trip in style, pop in to Parisien and enjoy unrivalled views of City Hall from its Grey Goose Terrace whilst dining on a unique French-inspired menu.
Afternoon Adventures: Arts
Culture vultures should head to The MAC, home of international art exhibitions, live theatre and all manner of weird and wonderful goings-on – acclaimed sculptor Ron Mueck’s first exhibit in Ireland is here until November – a powerful exhibition of meticulously sculpted figures, from mini to mammoth, that act as psychological reflections of the human condition.
For an immersive arts experience, Dreamachine at Carlisle Circus takes visitors on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to explore the extraordinary potential of your own mind. This multisensory experience is conjured entirely by light and 360 degree spatial sound. Created by a team of leading minds in architecture, technology, music, neuroscience, and philosophy, the colourful world of the Dreamachine will unfold behind your closed eyes. Take the experience up a notch at W5 where thrill seekers can experience “The Dark” – a brand-new science fiction scare adventure sure to give you goosebumps.
No trip to Belfast is complete without a visit to the award-winning Titanic Belfast, named the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction in 2016. Uncover yet more of the liner’s history on the self-guided Titanic Trail, available to download on your mobile and taking in maritime heritage attractions including SS Nomadic, Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices, Titanic Belfast, Titanic and Olympic Slipways, and Titanic’s Dock and Pump-House.
Catch the Enterprise from Dublin’s Connolly Station to Lanyon Station and enjoy free onward rail travel to Titanic Quarter Station as well as a free Metro Bus Service to the city centre. From Dublin, the X1 bus service operates from Dublin Busáras in the city centre and Dublin Airport to Belfast, with 21 departures every day.
If you’re planning on taking the car, free on-street car parking is available in Belfast City Centre after 6pm Monday – Saturday, and all day Sunday. Value Car Parks’ state-of-the-art car park in Grosvenor Road offers overnight parking for just €10.
For more information visit www.visitbelfast.com