Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland and is located along the eastern coastline. Its setting is the stuff fairytales are made of. It’s surrounded by hills, including Cavehill (which is thought to be the setting of the novel Gulliver’s Travels), rivers (it is where the colossal Titantic was built), ancient artifacts (like the Giant’s Ring), lush plant life including many 19th century gardens, and close proximity to the Atlantic. It also boasts a decent weather average that doesn’t go much under 6 °C (43°F) or above 18°C (64 °F), no matter what time of year it is. Belfast also enjoys short winter days and long summer evenings.
But regardless of its pristine setting, Belfast had seen its fair share of turmoil known as The Troubles. The locals are split almost down the middle religiously, Roman Catholics versus the Protestants, that have pitted against each other for nearly a century. Many terrorist groups from either side have killed thousands since Belfast began to emerge as a major city in the late 1960s. The fighting continued up into the 1990s, though much of it has been a cease fire since the police and government took a huge stance on the issue.
Because of its troubled past, Belfast is still recovering. However, the troubles led to a huge cultural surge and many of the Irish caught in the middle turned to music, literature and poetry to deal with their feelings. Out of it came such bands as the Cranberries and U2 to name a few examples. The city is also trying to clean up its act and has since been rapidly developing its quarters including Waterfront Hall, Victoria Square and the Titanic Quarter. Although it lost a previous bid as a 2008 European Capital of Culture, seemingly due to its bloody past, it is ever increasing its tourism sector and has seen millions of visitors annually in recent years for the first time ever.
Because of its coastal perch, Belfast has a wet, humid, and temperate climate. Averages are about 13C (55F) in January and go upwards towards 32C (90F) in July. The area is noted for its ability to stay in higher digits during the winter months compared to surrounding regions because of its lofty latitude. It also averages about 213 days of rain but less than 10 days of snowfall.
The humidity can really make Belfast an uncomfortable place to be when it gets above and beyond 27C (80F). There are festivities throughout the year and when considering the weather, the best time to go is from about October through April.
Belfast is serviced Belfast International Airport. It is located 21 kilometers outside of Belfast and travelers can reach the city by:
Bus: Translink offers a 24 hour service that leaves every 10 minutes and goes to and from the center of Belfast.
Train: Belfast Central railway station has its own Airbus stop at the airport.
If you are in the center of town, the best way to see Belfast is by foot.
There is also a bus network called Metro that runs from 6am – 11pm. It is color coded to route making events and attractions easier to get to. Most of the routes start at Donegall Square though there are several stops throughout the city. Over the weekend, the Metro runs special stops though it only goes on a fixed rate, meaning a taxi might be a better means of travel come Friday and Saturday evening.
There are also two major sightseeing tours including the open-air buses called “Belfast Sightseeing,” which take tourists on an hour trip through the city. The more famous of the two are the Black Taxi tours that are given by drivers who know the city, literally, like the back of their hand. The tour lasts as long as you want to stay. There are also regular taxis that do not operate as tour guides at several locations in the heart of Belfast.
Belfast also has a main bus station called the Europa on Great Victoria Street. There are Trasnlink buses that provide access to every nook and cranny in the city. Translink is a promoter of Park and Rides that are available at Station Street, Bridge Street, York Street, and Middlepath Street. The Easibus and Centrelink bus companies also operate in the heart of Belfast.
There are also trains in Central Station, like the Bangor, Larne, Lurgan, and Lisburn lines that operate in the city. The smaller Great Victoria Street Station on Glengall Street provices an essential link from the outskirts to the heart of the city.
Our mini-guide to what’s on in Belfast lists the top events in 2010 in a handy Belfast calendar format. If you take your short break in Belfast, Ireland when these events are taking place, add them to your list of things to do in Belfast.
January: Out to Lunch Festival – Through a good part of January, Belfast opens its arms to many different comedians, musicians, dancers and literary figures during the Out to Lunch Festival. Like the name implies, the majority of events take place during the lunch hour. Tickets are £5, not including meals.
February: Spring Festival (Feile an Phobail) – One of Belfast’s top community organizers, Feile, hosts their annual Spring Fest each year; the only one if it’s kind in the city. A carnival like atmosphere rings in the warm weather with events, activities and more pub crawlers than Belfast care to admit. Ticketing information can be found on the Feile website.
March: Titanic Made in Belfast Festival – The tragic story of the Titanic has always fascinated the world. What better place to learn about her beginnings than in the city she was built? The festival aims at providing guests with Titanic tours and special exhibitions including the new Designed and Built in Belfast display. Venues vary. Admission begins at £6.50.
April: Belfast Film Festival – This comprehensive film festival features many genres including world cinema, documentaries, shorts, classics, and same sex cinema. There is also a competition that brings in many bright up and comers and the winner is chosen by audience participation. There are also many events including dialogues, premieres and more. Though not even a decade old, the film festival has helped Belfast steadily grow as a culture city and brings in a very eclectic, international crowd. A full fest pass is £55 while a documentary pass is £40.
May: Festival of Fools – Street theatre groups from around the world come to Belfast for the highly entertaining Festival of Fools. These hilarious spoofs leave guests joyfully teary eyed with bruised knees from all of the slapping and what not. The fest takes place on various streets and venues in Belfast. Most events are admission free.
June: City Carnival – In celebration of the Lord Mayor’s term in office, hundreds of locals dress in colorful costumes and bang instruments while parading down the streets. Street performers are plentiful as are massive colored floats. The carnival takes place at the same time as the Maritime Festival at Clarendon Dock and Queen’s Quay. Admission is free.
July: Rose Week – The beautiful Belfast International Rose Garden at Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park fills with fun for the whole family during Rose week. There are competitions in the Rose Garden, music, and entertainment; not to mention dozens of new varieties of Roses, who will be viewed by a panel of judges mid week. Admission is free.
August: UK Strongest Man Challenge – Some of the UK’s most strapping men converge upon Belfast’s City Hall, Custom House Square and several other venues to compete to see who is the strongest of them all. Admission varies.
September: Open House Festival – The Open House Festival takes place in Belfast’s most cultural spot, the Cathedral Quarter. Over 60 music events will take place including American Roots, Old Time, bluegrass, Cajun & Creole, Punk Blue, Irish Traditional Music, country and a colossal Elvis tribute. Admission and venues vary.
October: Enchanted Evenings – Belfast’s exquisite Botanic Gardens are the site of the annual Enchanted Evenings. The magically activities and events include light and sound performances, performers dressed as fairies and gnomes, puppet shows, illuminations at the Palm House and Tropical Ravine and live music. The fairytale fun starts at 7:30pm and lasts until 10:00pm.
November: Outburst – This annual fest, also known as the queer arts festival, brings out a creative showcase in the genres of art, music, film, theatre, performance and writing from the international gay community. Events take place at venues around Belfast. Admission is £5 at the door.
December: St. George’s Christmas Fair and Market – St. George’s Market is one of Belfast’s oldest traditions, dating back to the 19th century. In a recent survey it was deemed one of the top five markets in the UK and during Christmas time it abounds in holiday festivities. The market is free aside from what you buy.