What To Do During A Weekend Break To Belfast, 2016
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Belfast is one of our favourite cities for a weekend break. Its tourism scene has gone from strength to strength over the past few years, not least in part due to the 2012 opening of Titanic Belfast and the city's now cemented status as the home of HBO's popular Game of Thrones TV series. Add to this immense cultural clout Belfast's relatively compact size, its positioning on one of the world's most stunning coastlines, and what you're left with is a destination that few can afford to miss. One day isn't quite long enough for the full flavour, few have a whole 7 to spare, but a long weekend is perfect in our eyes.
Below you'll find a list of some of our favourite things to see and do in Belfast, alongside an occasional recommendation from our partners at Irish Tour Tickets. Pick and choose the ones that interest you most and piece together an ideal weekend break.
Highlight Events In Belfast | 2016:
What's the only thing better than a chilled out city break? How about one that's buzzing with festive vibes? If your preferred atmosphere is of the musical persuasion then the folks at Irish Tour Tickets recommend the following concerts:
- Adele (February 29 - March 1). The hit singer-songwriter of 2011's '21' and 2015's '25' takes to the stage at Belfast's SSE Arena early this year as part of her 2016 tour the UK and Europe.
- Tennants Vital (August). From its conception in 2002 the Tennants Vital music festival has developed into a regular feature of the Belfast events calendar. It's held annually across 2-3 days, usually within the capital or 13 miles east at Bangor. Wherever this year's weekend of sound is due to be held be sure to check in for act and date confirmations.
- Belsonic (August). Currently set for its ninth edition this summer music festival was a hit with last year's concert goers. The likes of Paloma Faith and Stereophonics graced a stage set up in the historic surrounds of Belfast's Custom House Square.
- Elton John (December 2). The final stretch of the year will be filled with the sounds of Sir Elton and his piano. He'll take to the stage of the SSE Arena on the 2nd of December.
Highlight Festivals In Belfast | 2016:
- Out to Lunch Festival 2016 (January 8-31). In our opinion, every city in the UK could do with a festival that combats the January blues. This is the aim of Belfast's 'Out to Lunch', now in its 11th year. While it might sound gastronomic in nature it's actually an arts festival focusing on diverse forms of expression from live music and theatre to comedy and literature. But yes, there will be plenty of grub on offer. Just head along to the Cathedral Quarter during lunchtimes and evenings throughout January for your daily dose of cultural nourishment.
- NI Science Festival 2016 (February 18-28). As well as a vast range of gigs not limited to the above four, February will be occupied by the latest edition of the Northern Irish Science Festival. Venues include The Black Box on Hill Street, Titanic Belfast, Queens University, the Ulster Museum and more. In other words a star roster of locations all presenting the modern and innovative face of Belfast. Learn about the phenomenon of synaesthesia through a special cocktail tasting session, hear Prof Robert Winston explain the biology and psychology of happiness, and discover the science of Star Wars and Doctor Who. The full events program is expected to become available on January 14th.
- St. Patrick's Day (March 17). While it won't fall on a weekend this year St Patrick's Day is always big on the events calendar. Be sure to view the main parade as it leaves Belfast City Hall and mingle with your fellow revellers during the street carnival.
Fun Day And City Tours To Try:
- Wee Toast Tours. We haven't found a guided pub crawl quite like this one anywhere else in the world. Belfast's Wee Toast Tour is led by a passionate team of locals who operate what we can only describe as a sort of 'cycle float'. Their contraption has 15 seats, 10 with pedals and 5 without, along with a driver and an onboard barista who serves as guide. So long as at least eight eager pub connoisseurs in good physical shape are available to put their legs to work the group can enjoy an unforgettable night on the town. Grab a seat and meet new people at the weekend, discover local favourites, and experience a bit of healthy teamwork.
- Belfast Food Tours. If you're not much of a drinker and prefer to discover a city through its gastronomy then a Belfast Food Tour is just the ticket. Walks led by a knowledgeable local depart every Saturday, along with occasional Fridays and Sundays, and cover 8 delectable city centre destinations over 4 hours. Famous spots such as St George’s Market feature along the route, so be sure to work up an appetite beforehand. Belfast Food Tour Pictures © Loreen Katherine.
- The Wee Tram. From wee toasts to a wee tram, hop-off at stop 4 on the City Sightseeing Belfast tour (Titanic's Dock & Pump House) and await this quirky little mode of transportation. The red carriage trains are modelled after the old tram system that used to ferry dockworkers around the shipyards. While they might be smaller nowadays and lacking any rails their function is still very much the same- transport people around the docks. Jump aboard and experience the best of Belfast's maritime heritage at the Pump House Visitor Centre, SS Nomadic museum ship, and the world-famous Titanic Belfast exhibition. The Wee Tram is a hop-on hop-off service, so come and go as much as you please across 2 days.
- Game Of Thrones Film Locations Day Tour. Since its first TV adaptation in 2011 George R. R. Martin's epic 'A Song of Ice and Fire' has grown to become one of the most recognisable fantasy series in history. With most of the elements of a Games of Thrones having been produced and filmed in Northern Ireland it goes without saying that fans visiting Belfast for the weekend should immerse themselves in the real world Westeros. Join one of Irish Tour Tickets daily departures from 10 Great Victoria Street for an exciting full day journey featuring The Dark Hedges (Kings Road), Ballycastle (used as the native home of Lady Catelyn Stark and Varys); Larrybane, where Renly swears he will avenge Ned’s death, and much more.
- Giant's Causeway Day Tour. If you're interested in visiting Northern Ireland's most famous World Heritage Site then there's plenty of means by which to reach it from Belfast. The most straightforward of these is a coach tour that departs the city centre. These tours often include more than just the volcanic columns themselves, they also incorporate stops at the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle, Bushmills Distillery and more.
- River Lagan Boat Tour. If the wee trams show visitors the Titanic Docks by land then the Lagan Boat Company has the sights of the harbour covered. Join them each day from 12:30-15:30 and sail the waters that birthed some of recent history's greatest seafaring icons. You'll also venture out into the Musgrave channel for views of the seal colony.
- Belfast Black Cab Tour. Even in modern day Belfast it's impossible to escape the legacy of The Troubles, so why not spend part of your weekend break getting to understand this dark chapter in Northern Ireland's history? Black Cab tours are led by former members of the factions involved in the unrest, but who have now dedicated themselves to offering unbiased accounts of the era. Tours last about 1 hour 30 minutes and depart every day from the Europa Hotel at 11:00 and 19:00.
Classic Places To Visit:-
If you're visiting Belfast for the first time then beneath we've listed 8 must-visit attractions. If you're a returning visitor then why not rediscover one for old time's sake? The likes of the Ulster Museum and St George's Market always have something new to offer. For those planning on using the City Sightseeing Belfast tour during their weekend break we've included the closest stop number to the attraction:
- Belfast Castle & Cave Hill Visitor Centre. Not only is it one of the most scenic spots around Belfast, but this lofty estate holds a wealth of great attractions and amenities. Explore the Cave Hill Visitor Centre museum located in the castle basement and dine in the Cellar Restaurant. The grounds are perfect for an afternoon stroll, with their views over Belfast Lough and city. Be sure to take a walk over to Napoleon's Nose, a distinctive rocky outcrop that's said to have inspired the novel Gulliver's Travels.
- Ulster Museum. Belfast's largest museum is guaranteed to have something new on offer each time you visit. You can reach it by hopping off at stop 15 on the city bus tour. If it's your first visit then find out about its best permanent exhibitions here.
- Belfast Zoo. Belfast Zoo is easily reached by disembarking at stop 2 on the bus tour's blue route. Travel along a scenic road overlooking Belfast Lough and meet thousands of animals including Rothchild's giraffes, lions, sloths and tropical birds.
- Titanic Belfast. This attraction is a definite must during any weekend trip. Find out the details here and note that you can arrive outside the front door by riding the bus tour to stop 4, then jumping aboard the wee tram.
- W5 Science Centre. The W5 in Belfast's Odyssey Pavilion is replete with fun activities for all ages. It boasts around 250 exhibitions spread out across 4 unique zones. Stop 3 on the city bus tour is the best value means by which the centre.
- St George's Market. It's a highlight location on the Belfast Food Tour that you can reach yourself via stop 6 on the city bus. Head along from Friday to Sunday to immerse yourself in a wonderland of food and craft stalls. Saturdays also feature a garden market while Sundays see the weekly antique market. Expect more than just crafts and produce at St George's, as it's a popular venue for weekend relaxation ans live music.
- Crumlin Road Gaol. Dating back to 1845, this infamous prison finally closed its doors to inmates in 1996. After extensive renovations it later re-opened as a leading tourist attraction and conference centre. Head along and join a 70-minute guided tour during which you'll hear tales of well-known incarcerations and about the political segregation between Republican and Loyalist prisoners. Crumlin Road Gaol is ideally located at stop 8 on the city bus route.
- Belfast Cathedral. We'd recommend checking out the Cathedral Church of St. Anne for its vast collection of ecclesiastical artworks and other motifs relating to the history of Belfast. Pay a visit during your weekend break and receive an audio guide at the entrance. The cathedral is located right next to stop 7 on bus tour route.
Interesting Places To Eat And Drink:-
Sightseeing is hungry work, but why spoil the magic of discovering interesting places by eating in some faceless fast food joint? Below are a few recommendations from the locals at Irish Tour Tickets, as well as a few ideas of our own.
- Cabaret Supperclub @AMPM. Weekly shows from murder mysteries to cabaret and tribute acts.
- Cast & Crew. Fantastic Restaurant in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter.
- Bittles Bar. A traditional Victorian era pub located near Victoria Square Shopping Centre that's shaped like (though pre-dates) the Flatiron Building.
- Boojum Belfast. A popular Mexican burrito restaurant that opened in 2007 close to Queen's University Belfast and the Botanical Gardens.
- Havana Bank Square. Won Belfast’s best newcomer restaurant 2015.
- Lavery’s Bar. Great nightclub within the complex and also to watch sports in the lounge.
- McHughs Bar and Restaurant. A traditional eatery with modern twists located in Queen's Square. It dates back to 1711 and today features a diverse weekly roster of live music.
- Ox Belfast. A renowned Michelin Star restaurant positioned along the edge of the River Lagan.
- The Crown Bar. The only bar owned by the National Trust.