The complex character of Belfast is hard to pick. The iconic yellow Harland and Wolff cranes and sprawling harbour flag the city’s shipping roots. The regal city hall marks the influence of the English crown. The barbed wire, corrugated tin and concrete fences show this city has seen The Troubles. And the store-lined boulevards and art-donned cafes say Belfast knows how to do modern.
As our first encounter with Northern Ireland, the chameleon city of Belfast greeted us warmly and showed us a good time. Our first day was spent wandering the inner city and West Belfast. Our second day happened to be St Patrick’s Day, and therefore we appropriately spent it in pubs throughout the city.
Here are some of the shots I took while walking Belfast.
Tips for travelling Belfast:
Camping options for Belfast do exist, although they are a little way from the city. We stayed at Jordanstown Loughshore Park, a city-run, automated site that can be booked online. With the passwords sent to you after booking, all you need to do is make sure you ask for a wi-fi code before the end of a business day as there are no attendants during winter and the phone support is only open business hours Mon-Fri. It was a nice spot in a popular park by the water and you could catch the (infrequent) bus or train to the city centre.
Know your key city streets. We found it was a little hard to stumble upon a good pub, cute cafe, etc. in Belfast, simply as the shops dominate the city centre. In the end, here is what we came up with:
- Donegall Place is the main street in the city, where you can find major stores. This leads straight up from the impressive City Hall in the middle of the city (you can’t miss it). Signs along this street will also point you towards the Belfast Welcome Centre, a very well stocked, helpful place to start.
- There are a few great pubs and bars around Victoria Square, all with warm a traditional feel and modern patrons.
- There are some cute little cafes in Rosemary Street, juts off Donegall Place.
Make time to see the Peace Walls in West Belfast. Towering over West Belfast homes, these walls of concrete and steel were built during The Troubles (from 1971 onwards) to keep the Belfast communities segregated and secure. While they were once in a place of violence and tension, they now solemnly stand, painted with reconciliation messages, as a colourful reminder of the how different modern Belfast is from its past. For the best look at the murals, go to Cupar Way, off Lanark Street in West Belfast. Having Panda van to get us there was so convenient, as it is quite a walk from the city and we were there in rain. The mural section stretches about 300 metres, so if you can, park at the end of the street and take a stroll.
Don’t be afraid to park in the city. Fresh off the boat from Scotland, we drove into the city centre and easily found a street pay and display park only a few blocks from the main street, which made it easy to wander and orientate. The city is pretty easy to drive, with the few one-way systems quite large and clearly marked.
Stay tuned for next time – I’ll take you along Northern Ireland’s gorgeous Causeway Coastal Route from Belfast to Derry.
A big cheers to Wicked Campers UK for the awesome van (Panda) and for making this trip possible. Every day offers more delights!