24 Jun 19 / Belfast
How to Spend 48 Hours in Belfast
Belfast is a relatively small city so you can see in a lot in a weekend. It has so much more to offer than just a political landscape or as a filming location for Game of Thrones. Here's how to enjoy two full days in the city and still give you reasons to return.
WHERE TO STAY
Malmaison Belfast is a gorgeous boutique hotel in a central location close to the Titanic Quarter, SSE Arena, the Grand Opera House and great shops. The rooms are big with freestanding bathtubs and don't forget about the late check-out as standard. Start your weekend at MalBar with 'Thank Mal It's Friday' cocktail specials every Friday from 5pm to 8pm.
BLACK TAXI TOUR
You will soon discover that Belfast people love to talk so make the most of that trait by taking a black taxi tour of the city. It's a great way to get your bearings and see where you would like to explore further. The knowledgeable cabbies can share Belfast's history while pointing out the sights. There are themed tours too if you want to focus on Game of Thrones or the political murals.
ST GEORGE'S MARKET
Ask to be dropped off at the award-winning St George's Market as it's one of Belfast's oldest attractions. The Victorian building has a Friday Variety Market, the City Food and Craft Market on Saturdays and a mixed Sunday Market with local arts and crafts. Live music at the weekends gives this place an atmosphere that the locals love and you are certain to find some truly one-off gifts.
You could continue shopping in the Victoria Square shopping centre but even if trawling the stores for bargains is not your thing you will want to visit for the dome. Climb up the spiral stairs into the glass dome for impressive free views of the city and out to the mountains.
After you've dropped your shopping bags back at the hotel, and had lunch at Chez Mal Brasserie, it's time to get on your bike. There's a public bike hire scheme in Belfast with over 40 docking stations across the city. Grab a bike from Victoria Street and cycle south to Queen's Quarter to the next destination.
ULSTER MUSEUM & BOTANIC GARDENS
Telling the unique human story of this part of Ireland, The Ulster Museum is within Belfast Botanic Gardens. Meet dinosaurs, an Egyptian mummy, natural history, art and treasures across multiple floors. All for free.
Also free to visit, the Belfast Botanic Gardens is open until 9pm during the summer months. The glorious Victorian Palm House is home to tropical plants and birds. It's a beautiful public park and you can bring a picnic or head back to Chez Mal Brasserie for a decadent dinner.
Belfast has a wealth of choices for evening entertainment. The Grand Opera House is Northern Ireland's most iconic theatre and has West End musicals, comedy, family shows, concerts, opera and ballet. And the SSE Arena has shows by the world's biggest names in music and comedy, plus it is home to the Belfast Giants ice hockey team.
Belfast is synonymous with shipbuilding. Built here in 1911, the RMS Titanic was the world's largest passenger ship when it entered service and the largest man-made moving object on Earth. Opened to mark its centenary, the ship-shaped Titanic Belfast is a multimedia experience that covers the industrial history of the city all the way through to the creation, destruction and aftermath of the world's most famous ship.
You will need half a day to see the nine interactive galleries telling the tragic story of the fateful liner. The self-guided tour is insightful and includes a ride that takes you through the 'shipyard' during construction complete with face-warming coals. Voices from survivors relay accounts of the disaster and submarine footage of the wreckage is shown on a huge cinema screen and also underfoot, below a glass floor.
Once you have crossed the Lagan Weir Footbridge to the Titanic Quarter there is a lot more to see. This area is steeped in the rich history and tradition of the city's shipbuilding heritage. And for the Game of Thrones fans, next door to Titanic Belfast is the film set at Titanic Studios.
The 'Maritime Mile' is a leisurely stroll along the waterfront. As well as Titanic Belfast you will see the slipways where Titanic was built and launched, the vast Thompson Dry Dock and The Salmon of Knowledge, more commonly referred to as The Big Fish. A popular selfie spot, it's a 10m salmon sculpture decorated with printed ceramic tiles celebrating the regeneration of the River Lagan. Or you could ride around the area on the Wee Tram to hear shipyard stories in the shadow of Belfast’s famous yellow cranes, Samson and Goliath.
Your Titanic Belfast ticket also includes entry to SS Nomadic. You can go on board the last remaining White Star Line vessel to experience over 100 years of authentic maritime and social history, as well as its relationship with the Titanic.
Or explore World War One battleship HMS Caroline, the last surviving vessel from the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Extensive restoration means there is lots to explore from recreated cabins to photo opportunities on the deck with the steering wheel.
TITANIC DOCK AND PUMP HOUSE
At Titanic Dock & Pump House you can see where the famous liner was fitted out after the superstructure had been completed and her engines, boilers, anchors and so on were fitted. You can walk all around the dry dock as well as down inside it where you can see the keel blocks that vessels rested on. You can also visit the pump house that was responsible for moving water out of the dry dock.
After a relaxed lunch at Chez Mal Brasserie, you have a choice of attractions for the afternoon.
The iconic Belfast City Hall is an impressive civic space and worth a visit. It was built in the late 19th century following Belfast being awarded city status by Queen Victoria in recognition of its rapid growth. The Baroque Revival style building is a beautiful centrepiece to the city and there are free daily tours available. There is also a permanent exhibition detailing the history of Belfast.
The gardens outside City Hall are home to a Titanic memorial which names all 1,512 victims of the disaster, including two stowaways, who to this day, their real-names remain a mystery.
Take a tour around Stormont Parliament Buildings and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of Stormont Estate. The Parliament buildings are open to the public from Monday to Friday and there are free tours twice daily.
CRUMLIN ROAD GAOL
This 19th-century prison witnessed 150 years of imprisonment, conflict and executions before it closed its doors in 1996 and reopened as a visitor attraction. Crumlin Road Gaol was home to many political prisoners in the height of The Troubles and was the scene of 17 executions between 1854 and 1961.
To explore The Crum, take a one-hour guided tour that will take you through the tunnel that runs under the road, leading prisoners through to the courthouse, the cramped cells of Wing C and finish off at the execution chamber and the graveyard. There are also evening historical tours, ghost walks and paranormal tours, and The Crum is also a concert space so do check what's on.
After enjoying one of the 'Mal Classics' for dinner at Chez Mal Brasserie, you could stay for cocktails at MalBar or head out to embrace Belfast's vibrant theatrical scene. The Lyric Theatre is the only full-time producing theatre in Northern Ireland, and The MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre) is a fabulous cultural venue with music, theatre, dance and art. Or choose Black Box for a diverse variety of cabaret, music, comedy and film events.
Laura Porter - Travel Writer for Malmaison and Hotel du Vin