To compensate for the 850-900 word limits on my published articles, I have decided to use my blog to provide supplementary information for every article I publish. So, instead of daily minutiae on what I eat, what I do, who I see, and my thoughts on topics I know little about, my blog will provide information on places and activities mentioned in each article and recommendations for other places to stay, dine and visit.
In most cases I will only mention places and activities that I have personally experienced. If I haven’t, I will say so. In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that many of the places cited have comped me or provided a significant discount. Whether they comped me or not, I will not include places or activities where my experiences have been less than satisfactory.
The Best Way to Belfast
Many major airlines offer one stop, connecting service to Belfast, including United, Virgin Atlantic, British Air, Air New Zealand, and Continental. Current fares from LAX start in the low $800s.
To call the numbers below, dial 011 (the international access code from the USA), 44 (UK’s country code), and 28 (Northern Ireland’s area code)
Where to Stay
Avenue House, 23 Eglantine Ave., Belfast, 9066 5904, http://www.avenueguesthouse.com. Spacious, sunny rooms with flat screen TVs and free Wi-Fi on a quiet, leafy, tree-lined street in the Queen’s Quarter, the neighborhood Queens University. Doubles from $97 including breakfast.
|my room at the Avenue House|
Hotel Europa, Great Victoria Street, Belfast, 9027 1066, http://www.hastingshotels.com. Historic, elegant hotel near the City Centre. Reputed to be the most bombed hotel in the world, it is a pretty quiet place these days, other than the traffic on Great Victoria Street. Doubles from $134.
Where to Eat
Beatrice Kennedy, 44 University Road, Belfast, 9020 2290, http:// www.beatricekennedy.com. Old world elegance in the heart of the Queens Quarter. Expensive, but a limited “pre-theater“ menu offered from 5-7 pm (think early bird special without having to be in South Florida) makes this a more affordable option. Two courses for $25, 3 for $30.
Cayenne, Shaftesbury Square, 7 Ascot House, Belfast, 9033 1532, http://www.cayenne-restaurant.co.uk. Hip, sleek Asian fusion about a half mile from the City Centre. See comments above about the “pre-theater “menu.
Café Conor, 11a Stranmillis Road, Belfast, 9066 3266, http://cafeconor.com. Comfort food in an attractive, unpretentious setting near Queens University. Main courses range from $12-17.
Other Places to Visit and Things To Do
McHugh’s Bar, Queens Square, Belfast, 9050 9990, http://www.mchughsbar.com. Check schedule for music, though it all looked pretty spontaneous to me, with musicians sitting in as the spirit (and spirits) moved them.
|Saturday Night at McHugh’s|
The John Hewitt Bar, 51 Donegal St., Belfast, 9023 3768, http://www.thejohnhewitt.com. One of the most popular destinations in Northern Ireland for beer and music. Check schedule for dates, times, and performers.
Historical Pub Tours of Belfast, 9268 3665, http://www.belfastpubtours.com. You can walk from one pub to another in the historical narrow alleyways in the old section of the city called the “entries” on your own. Or you can sign up for the historical pubs tour. Either way, it’s a great way to spend a late afternoon and early evening. The pubs are not overly crowded, but have just enough customers to make them lively. On Saturday evening there is live music almost anywhere you go.
Taxi tour of murals, Falls Road. At the recommendation of the owners of the B&B where I stayed, I used Fona Cab (9033 3333) instead of the more popular but more expensive black taxis. Fona charged me $63 for a two hour tour.
|Murals on the Catholic Side of the Peace Wall|
|Mural on the Protestant Side of the Peace Wall|
Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, 216 Falls Road, Belfast, 9096 4180, http://www.culturlann.ie. A very friendly Irish cultural center in the heart of Falls Road featuring books, CDs, live music, and a café. This was the highlight of my walk up Falls Road. I didn’t know anything about the place when I started, but its 19th Century red brick exterior and colorful murals pulled me across the street for a closer look. I entered the building and discovered a world of Gaelic music, culture and warmth. As I walked around, looking at the endless CDs of Irish music, three men introduced themselves, and asked me to join them for a cup of coffee. We had a great conversation for about an hour talking about what it was like to live in Belfast then and now. The bottom line, according to one, a former member of Sinn Fein who spent three terms in jail during the Troubles, “thousands of people are alive today who wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for the peace agreement.” I could have stayed there for hours talking to them, but it was Saturday night and the pubs and music beckoned.
|My New Friends at the Irish Cultural Center|
Don’t miss the lush and uncrowded botanic garden in the Queen’s Quarter (the Ulster Museum is near the entrance to the gardens). The 1830s era Palm House, filled with palms and flowers, is one of the earliest examples of curvilinear glass and cast iron hothouse architecture. Also, make sure to visit the aptly named Tropical Ravine, especially on a dark and dreary day.
|Inside the Palm House|
|The Palm House|
|The Tropical Ravine|
Belfast Welcome Center, 47 Donegal Place, Belfast, 9024 6609, http://www.gotobelfast.com. General info, maps, tours, music venues and schedules, etc.
McComb’s Giant’s Causeway Tours, 9031 5333, http://www.minicoachni.co.uk. Some of the most dramatically beautiful scenery I have seen is only an hour or so drive away. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Giant’s Causeway, is the highlight, a peninsula of basalt columns near ground level stretching into the sea. The drive/ride there would still be worth it even if the causeway were little more than a goat path. My recommendation would be to take the tour rather than drive it yourself. The views are much better from a bus window several feet off the ground than from a little car being squeezed off the road by one of the buses. The only problem is that you have to put up with the nonstop banter and bad jokes from the driver. It’s a tossup, though not having to drive that narrow winding road on the wrong side of both the car and the road was the deciding factor for me. Besides some of the driver’s banter was informative and his jokes were occasionally funny.
|The Giant’s Causeway|
A Final Note….
In general, I found the people of Belfast to be among the friendliest I have ever met. They came up to me on the street and in the pubs and cafes to welcome me, ask where I was from, and give advice on what to see and do. The first time it happened to me, I thought I was being set up for a scam or a sales pitch, but the gentleman in question just wanted to be helpful. This happened constantly, people figuring I was an American and coming up to talk and welcome me to Belfast. It took a while before I completely let down my guard and stopped bracing for a con or pitch, but when I finally did, I fell hopelessly and unequivocally in love with the city and its charming, garrulous people.