Belfast was never known as a hotbed for international tourism, but things have changed drastically in recent years for Northern Ireland's industrial city. In 2016, Belfast's Titanic Museum won the title of best tourist attraction in the world, as voted on by The World Travel Awards. The museum beat far-flung destinations like Peru's Machu Picchu and the Las Vegas Strip to take home the title.
And there's so much more to explore in this unsung city. From fine dining establishments to world-class shopping, there's plenty to do in Northern Ireland's capital city. Now DEPARTURES' a comprehensive guide on how to spend the perfect 24 hours in Belfast.
9 a.m.: Whether or not you're staying at The Merchant Hotel, it's a must-visit for breakfast. If not for the food, then at least for the architecture. The interior decor at the hotel's Great Room Restaurant is an opulent display of plush, rich red chairs, and intricately carved wall ornamentation. And the food won't disappoint either. The spread offers fresh juices with natural Irish yogurt, or for a more substantial dish, a full Irish breakfast—eggs, bacon, sausage, black and white pudding, vegetables, and bread.
10 a.m.: One suggestion for any city you visit is to seek out the local market, it's always the best place to get a real feel for the city: People watch, try local staples, and shop for souvenirs to bring back home. At St. George's Market, you'll get to experience a little bit of Belfast all under one roof. From the local, fresh seafood to the handmade crafts and jewelry, it's a great place to start your day when touring The Auld Smoke—a reference to the city's industrial past.
12 p.m.: Next stop, the Titanic Museum. This international attraction welcomes over 600,000 visitors annually, according to The Irish Times. It's easy to see why. With interactive experiences that take visitors through this history of the ship and its affiliation with Belfast, the museum is a must when visiting. Make sure to give yourself ample time to not just tour the museum, but also walk through the adjoining shipyard—it's where the iconic Titanic was built.
2:30 p.m.: You can't go to Belfast and not indulge in some local seafood. Mourne Seafood Bar, about a 25-minute walk from the Titanic Museum, is the ideal place for any seafood lover. Whether it's oysters, prawns, salmon, or fish and chips that you're looking for, Mourne's has a great spread that will ensure that you'll leave with a full stomach.
When heading to Mourne from the museum, take the path along the River Lagan for some of the best views in the city. It's a great way to get a sense of Belfast's industrial past, noting how the old architecture blends in with the new, modern buildings.
4 p.m.: In a city like Belfast that's known for its industrial heritage, it can be nice to explore the more scenic sides of town. The Botanic Gardens offer a great retreat from the bustle of the city with peaceful tropical gardens that make it easy to forget that you're in the center of the most populated town in Northern Ireland. Built between the late 1830s and early 1850s, the architecture is notably different from anything else in Belfast; with its iconic glass dome, it's an architectural site that can't be missed.
In the gardens, you'll also find the Ulster Museum which showcases 9,000 years of Irish culture and history. With over 15,000 works of art and a boundless collection of Irish artifacts, it's easy to spend an entire day here. But don't stay too long as you won't want to miss out on dinner.
7 p.m.: After exploring all day it's best to seek out a relaxing spot to grab a quality meal. St. James South has been a staple in luxury dining in Belfast for over 15 years with their artfully executed, classic dishes. The contemporary space is a nod to Belfast's modernization, with clean off-white walls and modern-leaning food presentations that stray from the industrialized persona of the city. You won't find the quintessential fish and chips here, but dishes like grilled coley with fresh vegetables, or gin-curred salmon with beetroot.
9 p.m.: I'm a firm believer in the fact that the best way to end a day in any city is with a cocktail in hand. The Perch Rooftop Bar is the perfect spot to take it all in and has unparalleled drinks to boot. The rooftop bar in Belfast's city center serves a variety of artisanal cocktails and small bites (in case you didn't get your fill at dinner). Guests can sip on a Rooftop Spritz (Tanqueray No. Ten gin, white chocolate, watermelon, lemon, and prosecco) while enjoying the indoor/outdoor vibe. While the bar is technically an outdoor establishment, the design incorporates the brick exterior walls, making it feel a bit cozier than the average outdoor space.
Where to Stay
Winner of the Luxury Hotel of the Year in 2017, Culloden Estate and Spa is truly one of the most opulent hotels in, or around, Belfast. The 100-plus year hotel will make you feel like a member of the Royal family as the castle-like space offers a number of luxurious treatments for its guests. From a spa with an extensive treatment portfolio to their fine dining restaurant, The Mitre, the hotel has something for everyone.
Aptly named after the famed (yet doomed) RSS Titanic, the Titanic Hotel allows guests the opportunity to stay right on site of the Titanic Museum, where the iconic vessel was built. The artfully-designed space harkens back to the ship's unparalleled beauty with a number of nautical touches, but nothing over the top. There's an impressive bar at the heart of the 119-room hotel where guests can leisurely sip on cocktails while planning out their daily excursion, and a collection of 500 artifacts and art that represents the hotel's affiliation with the 'Unsinkable Ship.'