How I love Ireland, land of wide nature plains, castles, heritage and turbulent history, but also strong culture, friendly people, good food, lots of pubs, beer, and as it turns out many Instagrammable sights and hotspots as well!
Last year I visited Ireland for the first time and explored the Cork region in the south west, about which you can read more in these blogs: Instagrammable spots of Cork County and Top 5 south west Ireland. But the north was long on my list as well, and a few weeks ago I had the pleasure to experience a first glimpse of the region through a city trip with my blogger friend Lieke, a.k.a. LittleWanderbook, in the capital of Northern Ireland: Belfast!
Belfast played a key role in the industrial revolution, as biggest linen producer of the world, famous for their tobacco production, rope making and ship building, it has long been a city of great importance.
Walking around this quaint, yet buzzing city felt very safe indeed and roaming the back streets here was a true pleasure! Everything is quite easy to reach on foot, and although the city keeps growing, it's still very authentic and easily covered in 2-3 days.
During our 3 day visit we explored as much as possible and tried to uncover all hidden gems and beautiful architecture of the several districts in the city center, the Linen Quarter, Queen’s Quarter, Cathedral Quarter and Titanic Quarter.
To follow all my hotspots you can save below map for your next visit, zoom in or click on the numbers and walking map to see the exact routes we took and sights we visited.
If you're looking for unique sights and the perfect authentic experience of everything Belfast has to offer, let me show you my favourites through many of my own pictures in my top 7 here below:
1.Wander the back streets, Cathedral Quarter & street art
I just love to explore, and get lost in the small and authentic streets behind the more commercial façade of most cities, and in Belfast there are many. If you follow above walking map through Cathedral Quarter, which was also very near our hotel, you will find beautiful architecture, quaint shops, unique pubs and street art all around.
This area was my favourite because it represents the contrasts of the city so well! Rawness & beauty right next to each other, classic architecture & street art, Michelin star restaurants & Irish pubs, history & folklore, all entwined amongst these streets.
The neighborhood takes its name from the focal point of the Quarter; St Anne's Cathedral, also known as Belfast Cathedral, one of the most photogenic, and also very Instagrammable, monuments of the city.
The foundation stone was laid in 1899, after which in 1903 a new cathedral was constructed around it and the old church was demolished. It consists of several parts which makes the outlook different from each side.
And in April 2007 a unique 40-metre stainless steel spire was installed on top of the cathedral, named the Spire of Hope'. The monument is part of a wider redevelopment planned for the Cathedral Quarter, and is like several in Belfast also illuminated at night.
The Cathedral Quarter's dynamic mix of cultural and artistic venues and activities, combined with some of the most beautiful old streets and buildings, make it one of Belfast’s most vibrant areas to visit.
Street Art and murals are supported by the government and have therefore flourished throughout the city, making Belfast a place where artists from around the world come to paint.
2. Explore Belfast by Black Cab
Although most of the city’s Quarters are easy to explore on foot, some sights are located a bit further away, and in my opinion it's always nice to learn a bit more about a place’s history from a local. Especially as the Irish are great story tellers and nobody can teach you more about the city’s turbulent history and folklore than a local guide. If you book a Black Taxi Tour with Mr. Billy Scott you will get exactly that!
Not only were his Instagrammable and authentic car, his unique accent, and local stories very amusing, he also took us on a tour through the less Instagrammable, but very interesting suburbs of Belfast. He told us all about the history of Belfast’s bloody civil wars and political conflicts, and showed us many memorable murals and sights like the Peace Wall.
Dividing Belfast and representing years of conflict, using murals to remind us of the importance of peace and unity. Of course we also had to contribute to this by leaving a message on this important wall, like Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama before us. Very impressive and certainly a unique experience worth booking, via: TouringAroundBelfast.
3. St.George’s Market
This award-winning market is one of Belfast’s oldest attractions. Built between 1890 and 1896 this beautiful building and vibrant market is renowned as one of the best in the UK and Ireland because of its fresh produce, unique stalls and ambiance.
I loved the fact that the stalls are very diverse, offering local products, unique antiquities and decorative products, handmade crafts, plants, pottery, and so much more, all combined with lots of food and music played at the heart of the historic venue. See for yourself through this gallery, click on the arrows to go through and see the descriptions:
4. Botanic Gardens, University Quarter & City Hall
Next the Belfast Cathedral, the City Hall and Queens University are some of the buildings which are highly Instagrammable and unique in Belfast as well.
The City Hall, the centerpiece of the city center, is nothing less than impressive. It has several connections with the Titanic, and with its imposing structure it’s also known as 'the stone Titanic'. With a beautiful park around it, the building is open to visit free of charge, and also beautifully illuminated at night!
If you venture a bit outside the city center past the City Hall, passing by many beautiful churches, you will reach University Quarter, the area around Queen’s University, Ulster Museum and the Botanic Gardens, an oasis of nature and tranquility amidst the city.
The Botanic Gardens date back from 1828, and are open to the public since 1895. Its stunning Palm House is one of the earliest examples of a curvilinear cast iron glasshouse and surrounded by flowers in spring. But for me nature holds its charm in every season and even now in autumn the rose gardens here were still in full bloom.
The Ulster Museum is located in the gardens, free of admission and with its 8,000 square metres of public display space the largest museum in Northern Ireland.
5. View from the top – 23rd floor Observatory Grand Central Hotel
The Grand Central Hotel is one of the highest hotels of Northern Ireland, located in the Linen Quarter near the City Hall. This prestigious brand new hotel with 300 bedrooms, 3 restaurants, and Ireland’s highest cocktail lounge, with the most spectacular view over Belfast from several sides, is very Instagrammable.
The observatory on the 23rd floor, with top to floor glass walls, also offers a great afternoon tea with one of the best views in town, which makes it a must when in Belfast.
6. Afternoon tea at the iconic Merchant Hotel
But for a more authentic and very classy afternoon tea I highly recommend the AA 5 Red Star Merchant Hotel in Belfast! Situated in the heart of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter the impressive historic façade of this stunning building can not be overlooked.
Complete with Art Deco inspired wing and a multitude of luxurious facilities, as to be expected from a 5 star hotel. But next to an overnight stay an afternoon tea in The Great Room is a must, surrounded by the grandeur of this unique venue, complemented with their perfect service, we felt like true princesses.
And as it befits Instagram fanatics, we couldn’t stop taking pictures of this Instagrammable experience.
7.Titanic Quarter & Museum
In the harbor of Belfast you will find one of the world’s largest urban-waterfront regeneration projects; the Titanic Quarter. By walking by the water over the pedestrian bridge you will get a stunning view upon the city’s skyline with historic buildings and modern skyscrapers built right next to each other. And will lead you to the Titanic hotel and Titanic Belfast, one of Northern Ireland biggest tourism success stories.
Opened in 2012 at the mere cost of £97 million this impressive Museum tells you all about the history and demise of this iconic ship, which was constructed in the adjacent shipyard, through several unique experiences and displays.
The imposing building, 32 meters high, as the Titanic was, and shaped like the bows of a ship, holds 9 galleries spread out over 4 floors, taking you through time while showcasing Belfast’s history and the story of the Titanic.
All of this is done in a unique and engaging manner through 3D, cinematic displays and special rides, offering a truly unique experience which should not be missed.
Where to stay?
During our 3 day trip we stayed in the perfect location in the city, at the very hip, comfortable and just 1 year old award-winning Bullit Hotel.
This hotel offers comfy rooms with city views, fresh local food in 2 restaurants, live music on the buzzing Babel Rooftop Bar and a varied events calendar.
Certainly a good choice for a no-nonsense stay in the perfect central location! And make sure to go for drinks in the Garden at the rooftop bar as well, with amazing views like this.
Where to eat?
The Taylor & Clay Restaurant at the Bullit Hotel specializes in steaks and can not be missed if you are a grill and, or meat lover. One of their specialities is the renowned and ethically farmed Wagyu beef prepared on their Asador Grill, which of course we sampled as well😊
But for a real treat make sure to reserve one of the exclusive seats at the Michelin star restaurant OX Belfast. We experienced their unique 8 course tasting menu, prepared with organic local ingredients of the season, complemented with matching wines, and a meeting with the chef.
This provided us with a full scope of all the unique things Belfast has to offer, but we would love to come back for more!
For more info and restaurants you can go to VisitBelfast, and get a taste of the city's atmosphere through this gallery:
I hope you can experience all of this yourself during a visit to Belfast. And hopefully follow my map to experience all the beautiful sights this quaint, yet fun city has to offer!
Have you ever been to Ireland or Belfast, and do you feel like visiting all of these Instagrammable spots yourself after reading this, and seeing my pics? You can find all my Ireland blogs on this page!
And find me on social media via the icons at the bottom of this page for more daily pics of beautiful and authentic Belfast and Ireland.