Touring with Tell:

Holly Cowley
Holly Cowley

March 15th, 2022

Ballintoy Harbour

As I pack up to leave Belfast, after living here for the past 6 months, I felt it a good time to add my own contribution to the Touring with Tell series. In September of 2021, I moved from Lincoln to Belfast with very little direction other than AWAY from my home town.

When to go?
I’ve been in Belfast over the whole of winter which means I got to experience it at Christmas. The amazing Belfast Christmas market runs for an entire month right in the city centre with loads of stalls and food vendors. Coming from Lincoln, I’m used to a massively overwhelming Christmas market that crams everything into just three days, so this was a really nice alternative. I could nip in and out to get my Christmas presents, have a drink in the pub tent, or grab some very tasty grub to keep my hands warm.

It’s interesting that, even in the middle of winter, Belfast doesn't shy away from a beer garden. So it can be pretty chilly outside but the courtyards (like in Ulster Sports Bar) and outside venues (such as White’s Tavern) will still be booming. Its nice that the city doesn't just shut down when it gets chilly and it’s also a good way to fight that Seasonal Affective Disorder.

I do, however, wish I’d gotten to experience Belfast in the summer. It’s no joke that it rains...a LOT here.

Where to visit?
Belfast, despite being Northern Ireland’s biggest city, is still surrounded by lots of beautiful countryside. One of my most favourite things about Belfast is that you can be stood in the middle of a busy city and see mountains in the distance. You’re never far away from nature and some of the best places to visit as a nature-lover are...

Cave Hill - A large hill just outside of the city which, when you reach the top, boasts incredible views.
The North Coast - If you have a car then I really recommend driving the Giant’s Causeway coastal path, stopping off to walk down to the Giant’s Causeway itself. TOP TIP; don’t stop at the National Trust site if you’re on a budget. Go a little further down the road and you only have to pay £5 to park and there’s a great scenic walk down to the causeway.
Portstewart - This gorgeous coastal town, also on the North Coast, is just five minutes from the more popular surf-spot Portrush but, in my opinion, Portstewart is much more beautiful and less urbanised. You can get the train into Portrush and then there are regular buses to Portstewart.
Bangor - Bangor is another town that is easily accessible by train from Belfast. It has a lovely little town centre to wander around and a pier where you can eat some fish and chips.
Helen’s Bay - Helen’s Bay is a residential beach that I honestly just stumbled upon on a drive. It is small but beautiful and has lots of dog-walkers and sea-swimmers even on a brisk day.

If you’re looking for something a little more metropolitan or cultural then I’ve heard that you can't go wrong with a visit to the Titanic Museum. The Titanic was built here in Belfast by Harland and Wolff, something you’re unlikely to forget with the massive yellow cranes brandishing their title, visible from almost every part of Belfast. I’d also recommend a walk around the Titanic Quarter, even if you don’t visit the museum, its very modern with some cool sights. It’s worth grabbing a coffee and having a wander.

Another fantastic thing about Belfast is how easy it is to get to Dublin. All you have to do is board the train at Lanyon Place station, for as little as £15 if you book in advance! It’s approximately two hours and the open border makes it easy to see the Republic of Ireland as well!

Where to eat?
I’m a sucker for eating all the food and drinking all the coffee a city has to offer, so this section is going to be big. Buckle up!

First thing’s first, bars. It is undeniable that if you’re looking to have a laugh and a drink and just an all round good night out - Belfast is the place to be. In terms of bars I am partial to Bootleggers which is a trendy bar and restaurant with eclectic decor, a young crowd and a delicious food and cocktail menu. However, my absolute favourite Belfast bar is Muriel’s which offers a huge range of delightful cocktails. I’m partial to their Amaretto Sours. It’s a little bit more expensive but the speakeasy-style decor and relaxed vibes are just unmatched.

However, if you’re looking for something a bit more authentic, there are a whole host of traditional Northern Irish pubs in the city. Some of my favourites are Madden’s and Kelly’s - both offering a creamy pint of Guinness on tap.

Another Belfast exclusive is the greasy-spoon style cafe ‘Maggie May’s’ which offers some great Northern Irish food like an Ulster fry or a soup and a sandwich deal, perfect for some affordable and hearty grub.

Finally, I make it a habit of mine to find the very best coffee places a city has to offer. In town there are Established and Neighbourhood which offer some very trendy, hipster-vibes with top-notch coffee. In my opinion, it is East Belfast where you’ll find the best coffee spots, of which there are an abundance such as...

Morning Martha
General Merchants
Cafe Smart
The Lamppost Cafe

Where to stay?
If you want to stay central, then the Cathedral Quarters or Queens Quarters are the most picturesque places with both hotels and Airbnbs for all budgets. I know for a fact that there is a Premier Inn right at the heart of the Cathedral Quarter. However, the Airbnb’s in the surrounding areas will be just as nice, and generally cheaper.

What to bear in mind?
Something that should not be forgotten, when visiting Belfast, is it’s long and brutal history with England. This has, unsurprisingly, led to resentment that still lingers in today’s society. I would always recommend doing some research before travelling to Belfast - being informed is essential. Secondly, be sensitive to certain topics. Thirdly, it is worth looking into the political persuasions of the area in which you’re staying as some areas are staunchly Unionist and others are Nationalist.

Before moving 300 miles from my hometown to Belfast, I knew very little about it, outside of what I’d been told in my history lessons. I often believe that Belfast gets overlooked for other bigger, more metropolitan cities, which is a real shame. Belfast has so much character and culture to offer its tourists, and it would be a real shame to let pre-conceived opinions keep you from experiencing this one-of-a-kind city and its surrounding areas.