Whether you arrive in Belfast by boat, plane or overland, your first port of call should be one of its cozy bars — The Garrick, Whites Tavern and The Spaniard are a few favorites — with a map in one hand and a pint of Guinness in the other. Maps, tours and advice are available at Visit Belfast, a tourist information center opposite city hall.
Visit Belfast, 9 Donegall Sq. N., Belfast BT1 5GB. +44 28 9024 6609; visitbelfast.com
The Garrick, 29 Chichester St., Belfast BT1 4JB. +44 28 9032 1984; thegarrickbar.com
Whites Tavern, 2-4 Winecellar Entry, Belfast BT1 1QN. +44 28 9031 2582; whitesbelfast.com
The Spaniard, 3 Skipper St., Belfast BT1 2DZ. +44 28 9023 2448; thespaniardbar.com
Belfast, a city that has certainly been through the worst of it, particularly during "The Troubles" of the 1970s, '80s and '90s, has seen something of a revival in the last few years thanks to investors and locals getting excited about the city again. Treasures such as the cobblestone-paved and pub-filled Cathedral Quarter and historical Queen's University, and the city's link to the Titanic, have all provided a solid foundation for Belfast to find its feet again.
As in any city, a tour is a good way to get your bearings (that is, after that pint) and to home in on what might interest you most. Belfast has a typical open-top bus tour, but if you want something more personal, Paddy Campbell's Famous Black Cab Tours let you dive beneath the surface to discover much more about the city's fascinating history, politics and culture. If you’re more interested in filling your stomach, then Taste & Tour, Belfast’s food tour, is the way to go. For those feeling confident (and fit) enough, you can guide yourself around via City Bikes. Don't forget to stop at the Titanic Belfast, a must-visit museum for tourists.
Titanic Belfast, 1 Olympic Way, Queen's Rd., Titanic Quarter, Belfast BT3 9EP. +44 28 9076 6386; titanicbelfast.com
Keeping up with the nautical theme, near the Titanic museum is Holohan's at the Barge for a spot of lunch on your first day. This quirky riverside restaurant is the place to be for some of Northern Ireland’s most well-known dishes, including a play on the traditional boxty, a potato (no, there's no getting away from the potato in Ireland) pancake.
Holohan's at the Barge, 1 Lanyon Quay, Belfast BT1 3LG. +44 28 9023 5973; holohansatthebarge.co.uk
Whatever your mode of transport around the city, the Queen’s Quarter — home to the city’s prestigious and beautiful university — is not to be missed. A wander around the university area, plus the nearby Botanic Gardens and Ulster Museum, will whisk you away to another world. Pop into The Pocket for a bite to eat or a coffee as well as a postcard-perfect view of the university’s main building.
Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Belfast BT9 5AB. +44 28 9044 0000; nmni.com
The Pocket, 69 University Rd., Belfast BT7 1NF. +44 77 8887 8525; thepocket.coffee
Given Belfast is a small city, it wouldn't be ambitious to fit in a trip to the Cathedral Quarter. Here you'll find street art; a few coffee spots (Established is a popular hangout); The MAC, a performance venue, museum and workshop space; and the wondrous St. Anne’s Cathedral. If you're partial to a cocktail, then a visit to The Merchant Hotel is always a good idea. Follow this with dinner at Coppi, a laid-back Italian restaurant. Once you're fortified, try a traditional Irish music session at the John Hewitt pub before turning in for the night at The Bullitt hotel, a new, trendy boutique hotel with king-size beds and fast Wi-Fi.
Established Coffee, 54 Hill St., Belfast BT1 2LB. +44 28 9031 9416; established.coffee
The MAC, 10 Exchange St. W., Belfast BT1 2LS. +44 28 9023 5053; themaclive.com
The Merchant Hotel, 16 Skipper St., Belfast BT1 2DZ. +44 28 9023 4888; themerchanthotel.com
Coppi, Unit 2 St. Anne's Sq., Cathedral Quarter, Belfast BT1 2LR. +44 28 9031 1959; coppi.co.uk
John Hewitt, 51 Donegall St., Belfast BT1 2FH. +44 28 9023 3768; thejohnhewitt.com
Bullitt Hotel, 40a Church Ln., Belfast BT1 4QN. +44 28 9590 0600; bullitthotel.com
Be lazy. Yes, in Belfast you have permission to be lazy and still feel like you’re exploring the city. On your second day amble down to the historic St. George’s Market, where you can start your day with a Belfast Bap, a combination of white soda bread, egg and brown sauce, while listening to the hustle and bustle of the market and live music. Once you’re feeling up to it, mosey around the different stalls stocked with handmade gifts, local food delicacies and other goodies.
St. George's Market, 12-20 E. Bridge St., Belfast BT1 3NQ. +44 28 9043 5704; belfastcity.gov.uk
It wouldn't be right to go to Belfast and not sample some of its great pubs. In addition to the ones previously mentioned is The Duke of York, situated down one of Belfast’s “Entries,” the name for the quaint backstreets hidden across the city’s main center. The pub is filled with memorabilia and hosts regular traditional music in the evening. The Sunflower Public House, at the back of the Castle Court shopping center, has a beer garden and hosts live music daily.
The Duke of York, 7-11 Commercial Ct., Belfast BT1 2NB. +44 28 9024 1062; dukeofyorkbelfast.com
Sunflower Public House, 65 Union St., Belfast BT1 2JG. +44 28 9023 2474; Facebook
If that doesn’t fill your day, then a trip to the glassed-in rooftop of the Victoria Square Shopping Centre will afford you a 360-degree view of the city. One floor down you can find a selection of restaurants to take a well-deserved rest and enjoy a meal. If, however, you're in the mood to splurge on dinner, then just around the corner is OX, a Michelin-starred restaurant that takes local produce to another level with its use of seasonal ingredients, creative presentation and beautiful surroundings.
Victoria Shopping Centre, 1 Victoria Sq., Belfast BT1 4QG. +44 28 9032 2277; victoriasquare.com
OX, 1 Oxford St., Belfast BT1 3LA. +44 28 9031 4121; oxbelfast.com