Capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast is shrouded in recent history. Known for the birthplace of the Titanic, the world’s most famous ocean liner due to its demise and more recently ‘The Troubles’. A tragic series of conflicts taking place in the late 20th century. History that is not easily put into the past, it still looms over the city and its people, lurking in the shadows of memory. This beautiful port city has much to offer, but if your time is limited, here is an idea of what to do in Belfast in 48 hours.
Day 1: For starters, hopefully it’s a weekend. Not only will the nightlife be pumping if that’s your thing, but more importantly (since it’s not hard to find a pint anywhere on the emerald isle) is the St. Georges Market. A morning stroll here is a perfect way to begin the day. Artisan products, produce, local cheese, breads, a huge fish counter, crafts and more, it would be easy to lose a morning here just checking out and sampling the goods.
For breakfast, there are a handful of places to grab a bite amongst the hustle and bustle, but my recommendation is the Belfast Bap. Egg, a pile of bacon, sausage, hash brown and black pudding all in your choice of vessel. The options range from a fresh bap to traditional soda bread (my choice) to a variety of potato farls. You’ll need to sit at one of the communal tables as it is a messy handful, but what else could be expected of a Full Irish in a sandwich.
If visiting around lunchtime I suggest grabbing a seat on the balcony at the St. George’s Market Bar & Grill. Overlooking the action on the ground floor, there may even be some live music to watch. The menu has a range of Irish classics as well as some fresh vibrancy in the mix, though they are famous for their Full Irish with Ireland’s best Clonakilty black pudding. I chose another classic. Good ol’ beer battered fish’n’chips. It was excellent with a thin crisp batter you could hear as the fork crunched through to a moist, flaky fish. This served up with thick cut chips and the best minted mushy peas I had throughout my time on this island.
Market hours: Friday 6am-3pm, Saturday 9am-3pm, Sunday 10am-4pm
*St. George’s Market Bar & Grill is also open for breakfast and dinner and some days through the week.
From the market, walk along the River Lagan looking out over the cranes of the harbour where the Titanic was once labored over. Reaching the ‘Big Fish’ which is just that (hard to miss), cross the bridge and check out the reasonably new Titanic Museum. I was skeptical, primarily because I just had the 1997 film running in the back of my mind. I left astonished with a new understand of the Titanic and its maiden voyage, but also a history of Belfast’s ship building era. How it became a major port along with the hardships of the thousands of builders. I was surprised with how interactive it was. From a ‘cart’ ride through a day in the life of a ship builder and their jobs to a short movie about the exploration and rediscovery of the ocean liners remains.
For dinner, checking out the famous, ritzy looking Crown Bar is an option. A tourist haven, I was told this is a place locals do not frequent. I simply walked by, glancing in at the packed atmosphere of suits and dresses and thought, ‘No. No, this is not for me’. Instead, I continued walking back to the University district of the city where I was staying and found a nice pub called Lavery’s on Bradbury Place. The food was great, exceeding my expectations of the average pub. Starting with a raw milk Irish cheese plate, it was a treat I was unused to unable to get raw milk cheeses at home. This followed up by steak and Guinness pie, it was a hefty portion, but delicious. On another visit here, I got the Guinness and Young Buck blue cheese burger, which happened to be my favorite from the cheese plate. This was also where I was introduced to Buckfast by a local. An odd winey liqueur with caffeine and a reputation for well, as it was told to me, f*!king me up. I only had a ‘sample’, but still, somehow that’s a whole other story!
Day 2: I set out in the morning and the day let me know that these shoes weren’t made for walking, but that’s just what they did! Joining Dead Centre Tours for their ‘History of Terror’ walking tour, the guide was waiting at the main entrance to Belfast’s City Hall. It was a leisurely walk spanning a few hours by a more than eligible guide. Born and raised in Belfast, he gave a unique and insightful tour through the city center. Almost frighteningly so, he brought us back to the time of these tragic and horrific events that took place throughout ‘The Troubles’ through pictures and stories.
*For 15 pounds, I highly recommend this tour for anyone interested in the history of the city beyond just the murals.
To check out their website, click here.
The tour ending beside the ‘Big Fish’ and around lunchtime, it’s a perfect spot to check out McHugh’s just down the street. One of the three establishments boasting the oldest pub in Belfast, but regardless, this pub is well worth the visit. With jolly Irish men singing at the bar when I entered, I sat down for a locally brewed Stout. I ordered up two small plates as I couldn’t choose. First was a boxty, a potato bread (or pancake, depending on where you are), smoked haddock and a poached egg stacked tall with a granny smith vinaigrette. This was followed by a pork terrine with mature Irish cheddar, soda bread and a chutney. Both delicious, I was yet again surprised by the quality and wished I had time to come back for their dinner menu in the quieter upstairs.
After lunch, embark on a self-guided tour of West Belfast to view the murals. Beautifully colourful, politically meaningful, they are widely spread across the suburban walls. The famous Bobby Sands memorial mural is one of the first you’ll come across, but the further you explore, you’ll find them scattered nearly everywhere. Another option is the well-known Black Cab Tours, but I preferred leisurely walking around the area, not to mention pinching my pennies.
Belfast has much to offer, but in my opinion these are the highlights if time is short. If time does permit, I would highly suggest entering the eerie confines of the Crumlin Road Gaol to hear stories of inmates and view their cells or take a stroll through the more pleasant grounds of the university. While many day trips are on offer out of the city to see GOT filming locations or the Giants Causeway, I personally recommend skipping the hop on/off day trips and heading to Bushmills yourself. The true beauty of this area is best discovered not on a time crunched tour, but slowly at a countryside pace. Post on Bushmills coming soon…
Have you been to Belfast? What else did you do? Let me know below!