Belfast presents visitors with an intriguing mash-up of past and present. You’ll find that the Northern Ireland capital, where musician Van Morrison and writer C.S. Lewis were born, showcases a reinvigorated creative spirit alongside a distinctive history that includes its shipbuilding roots.
Begin your exploration in its city center, specifically at Belfast City Hall. The Baroque Revival-style structure features a tower in each corner and a central copper dome that amount to an unmistakable skyline presence. Free tours are offered daily, and surrounding gardens make an appealing spot for people watching or a picnic amidst local workers and international travelers.
For a bird’s eye perspective on the area, head to Cave Hill, considered the inspiration for Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. A few miles outside of Belfast, the hilltop presents views to the Isle of Man, Scotland, and Northern Ireland’s Mourne Mountains on a clear day. On the way back down, stop in Cave Hill Country Park to visit Belfast Castle, a striking 19th-century building whose elegant grounds overlook the city and harbor.
In south Belfast, the sprawling Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park offers 128 acres of peaceful meadows, woodland, and gardens—including the stunning City of Belfast International Rose Garden that comes alive each July for Rose Week celebrations. Heading back toward the city center, see more examples of Victorian architecture at the Botanic Gardens’ domed Palm House filled with tropical plants, and just beyond at red-bricked Queen’s University.
A whole other side of Belfast is revealed along the River Lagan, where the world’s biggest ocean liner, the RMS Titanic, was constructed during the city’s shipbuilding heyday. Soak up the historic maritime atmosphere at the Titanic Quarter, home to the world’s last remaining White Star Line ship, SS Nomadic, and the WWI light cruiser, HMS Caroline.
The unmistakable Titanic Belfast, a gigantic titanium reincarnation, comprises three thousand silver-anodized aluminum panels that catch light in mesmerizing fashion (pictured above). Inside, find the world’s largest Titanic visitor experience, complete with state-of-the-art interactive displays and gripping exhibitions that depict the ship’s interior and deck and explore industrial life in Belfast.
When night falls, traditional music sessions kick off and friendly crowds spill out onto the cobblestone streets of the Cathedral Quarter. The John Hewitt, a pub named after the late poet, is owned by The Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre and hosts a variety of local bands. Irish antiques and artifacts decorate the Duke of York, a cozy pub that extends to an outdoor gallery of murals depicting historic Belfast scenes and scene-makers.
During the day, the Cathedral Quarter is a destination for art lovers. Established and upstart galleries are joined by MAC Belfast, a community hub that draws all ages to an array of modern theater performances, art exhibits, and experimental projects.
The Belfast food scene is likewise eclectic, with a slew of new upscale restaurants led by international and Irish chefs. Choose from fresh local seafood, Irish-inflected tapas, basement cocktail bars, and creative tasting menus complemented by impressive wines. Spend an afternoon strolling through the 19th-century St George’s Market (pictured above), where about 250 local artisans and growers sell everything from fresh produce and fish to local cheese, coffee, and chocolate.
It’s this satisfying blend of food, culture, tradition, and entertainment that makes Belfast such a memorable place to visit. And getting to Belfast couldn’t be easier: Fly nonstop from $99 one-way on Norwegian, which has been named Europe’s Best Low-Cost Airline for the fifth year in a row by Skytrax. Flights depart from Providence/T.F. Green and New York/Stewart International Airport. If you’re leaving from New York City, take advantage of the Stewart Airport Express, a super-easy bus transfer between midtown Manhattan and Stewart International Airport, timed to your Norwegian flight. Book now at www.norwegian.com/us