One might wonder about such a nickname but here’s the thing: it isn’t one. It is in fact the direct translation of the Irish name of Belfast (Béal Feirste) into English. With a population of over 333,000, it is both the largest city and the capital of Northern Ireland (UK). The coat of arms of the city boasts with the motto “Pro Tanto Quid Retribuamus”, Latin for “What shall we give in return for so much”, and its grandeur directly reflects those words. How? Well, it is the most important cultural, industrial, economic and social centre of its parent country – the driving force behind the scintillation of the north. Stretching upon an area of 115 square kilometres, the city and its surroundings were used for countless Game of Thrones scenes. If that doesn’t make you want to visit it, then you can always remember those good-old Irish pubs (wink)!
The pride of Northern Ireland gained notoriety during the times of the Troubles (between the 1960s and 1998), when gun and bomb attacks were as frequent as night raids and stray bullets. An outright civil war waged between the Unionists (mostly Protestants) and the Republicans (mostly Catholics) over the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, it created lawless zones so dangerous that armed forces were ineffective. Ended by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the Troubles have generated numerous tourist attractions that people who are interested in the history of Ireland can flock to. Know that the city is perfectly safe now and the Troubles no longer threaten the lives of locals or of tourists.
Belfast is located between the temperate and the oceanic climate zones in a way that it manifests certain aspects from both sides. What’s interesting about it is that it has a much warmer climate than most of its sister-cities located on the same latitude due to the warming influence of the Gulf Stream. Besides that, rainfall is as abundant as it can get with an average of 157 rainy days each year. Although this may seem a lot to those who live in dryer places, some parts of England and Scotland receive much more precipitation. Summers are warm and winters are forgiving (the lowest temperature ever recorded was only -9.9 degrees Celsius whilst the highest was 30.8). What you should keep an eye out for are fogs, for they are abundant as well and they can get quite pesky when it comes to driving. Pack some warmer clothes, adjust your headlights and you should have no problems.
Belfast is served by two major airports: the eponymous Belfast International Airport (located 21 kilometres north-west of the city near the village of Aldergrove) and the George Best Belfast City Airport (located near the Port of Belfast, 5 kilometres from the city centre). Handling more than 7 million passengers annually (combined), they offer a total of three asphalt runways for passenger and cargo flights. The Belfast International Airport is the most heavily-used one in Northern Ireland and it is subject to constant growth. Both of the aforementioned are served by taxi stands but the City Airport is much cheaper due to its proximity to the city (it should cost you no more than 10 pounds to get to the centre). The Belfast International Airport, however, will rid your pockets of around 30-35 pounds if you choose to hit the city by taxi. If cabs are not an option for you, then you should look for the Metro 600 buses from the former or the 300 Airport buses from the latter.
Other means of getting around involve car rental shops (there are so many of these that you can hardly miss them), buses, trains and even boats. If, however, you wish to go eco-friendly, we are happy to tell you that the city is completely walkable and riddled with bicycle lanes. If you do not have huge bags, we recommend that you take advantage of the local fresh air and hike (wink).
SIGHTS AND ACTIVITIES:
We have probably all heard about how important the Celtic culture has had over the Irish people and for this particular reason, you should go and visit the Ulster Museum. Boasting with a collection that spans over 9,000 years and with a floor space of 8,000 square metres, it is one of the most exquisite museums of archaeology, ethnology, fine art and applied art in Northern Ireland. Other areas covered to some degree include botany, zoology, numismatics and local history. A major constituent of the National Museums Northern Ireland, the establishment was founded in 1821 as the Belfast Natural History Society only to be moved to its current location (Stranmillis) in 1929. Oh, and do not forget to check out the eye-popping artefact collection pertaining to the Spanish Armada.
Next up, you should visit the Botanic Gardens located on Stranmillis Road in Queen’s Quarter. Occupying an area of 110,000 square metres, it was opened in 1828 as the Royal Belfast Botanical Gardens. The Ulster Museum is located right at the entrance, so there’s an extra reason for you to visit both of them. Also at the entrance, you can also find a statue of the famous Belfast-born physicist, William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin. If you are into the warmer climates of the world, you are most certainly going to enjoy the Palm House with its exotic flora.
After being done with the cultural establishments of the city, it is time to hit the Golden Mile – the stretch of the Dublin Road between the City Hall (a must-see) and the university area. Dear readers, this is the place where over 80% of the bars, cinemas, restaurants and clubs are located within the bounds of the city centre. Two other major attractions of Belfast can be found there: the Crown Liquor Saloon and the Grand Opera House (we recommend that you check them both out). If you long to experience a truly Irish fun-area, this would be the place to go to!
It is not only the Troubles and Game of Thrones that make Belfast intriguing for its exquisite bars and cultural establishments also put it on the world map. Prices do tend to be a bit high if you are not prepared well enough so make sure you have a few hundreds of pounds with you before travelling there. Safe journeys!