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Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland, a country that shares the same island as the Republic of Ireland but is part of the United Kingdom. While Belfast retains some of the Irish charm you’ll encounter in the cities of Dublin and Cork during a European cruise, Belfast has an ambiance entirely its own with a cosmopolitan vibe that you might expect to find in London or Edinburgh. The British influences in the city become apparent while you cruise Belfast, explore the streets, and encounter Victorian architecture and British pubs.
Your cruise to Belfast will pull into the harbor situated in Belfast Lough, the large sea inlet located on the east coast of Northern Ireland that connects to the Irish Sea via the North Channel.
Belfast Castle is a stately structure located on a hill in Cavehill Country Park. Here, you’ll get panoramic views of the city and sea below as well as a glimpse into the city’s past. Belfast Castle dates back to the 12th century when it was built by the Normans. Today, it’s a great place to amble around and enjoy the gardens and walking trails with gorgeous views. It also has an onsite restaurant and tavern.
Belfast City Hall is designed in a Classical Renaissance style and has an impressive façade that is partly thanks to the Portland stone it’s made out of. Guided tours of Belfast City Hall are available.
Another iconic building you don’t want to miss is Hillsborough Castle, which was built in the 18th century and serves as the official residence of the British Royal Family when they’re in Northern Ireland. It also often serves as the meeting place for foreign dignitaries who visit Northern Ireland.
Those who enjoy history, science, and freebies will enjoy a visit to the Ulster Museum. This interesting museum has free admission and houses a number of collections pertaining to history, art, and natural science.
The Titanic was built in Belfast, and you can visit a museum that focuses on the doomed ship’s history. The museum is set up in an interactive manner that makes you feel as if you’re walking along the decks of the ship. You’ll also visit an exhibit that will have you feeling as if you’ve traveled to the bottom of the North Atlantic to see where the Titanic now lies. Hear stories that were told by the survivors of the maritime disaster and learn about the workers who built the Titanic and more of the history behind its design, which was an engineering marvel back in its day. Another interesting facet of this museum is that it was built on the shipyard where the Titanic was built. You can even see the slip from which the ship was first launched.
Giant’s Causeway is one of the top natural wonders to see not just in Northern Ireland, but the world. It’s often called the 8th wonder of the world and is only 50 miles north of Belfast. What makes Giant’s Causeway so special is its unique formation of rocks that consist of over 40,000 basalt columns stacked next to each other in a myriad of heights right against the sea.
Belfast is quickly becoming a culinary hot spot thanks to a new array of restaurants that offer trendy settings and haute cuisine. That, combined with traditional British taverns and Irish pubs, makes it a fun place to dine no matter what your taste buds are in the mood for. Here are some places to check out during your cruise to Belfast.
Crown Liquor Saloon
This restaurant has the reputation of being the most beautiful pub in Northern Ireland.
St. George’s Market (on May Street)
Head here for a laidback culinary journey through Northern Ireland’s largest indoor market. If you cruise to Belfast on a Saturday, you’ll find a farmer’s market there as well. St. George’s Market is located on May Street near Belfast Central Station.
Now here are the things you need to eat at the above restaurants (or wherever you find it on the menu!):
The Comber Potato
You’ll learn that not all potatoes are made the same after trying the Comber potato, a spud grown in the soil of Strangford Lough in County Down. It stands out from other potatoes due to its nutty flavor. Also making this potato interesting is the fact it has a Protected Geographical Indication, which is handed out to regional food to protect its reputation.
Enhance your meal with some Abernethy butter made from local cream and churned by hand.
Bushmills Whiskey: If you’re a whisky lover, you’ve likely heard of Bushmills Whiskey. This popular distillery is actually located near Belfast right on the Antrim coast. You can tour the distillery and do a tasting.
Yellowman Candy: If you’re looking for something sweet after lunch or for a midday snack, head to Yellow Man Candy, which serves up pulled candy made in the Northern Irish tradition.
Belfast was the focal point of much political unrest during the end of the 20th century due to disagreements over who Northern Ireland belongs to. On one side were the Ulsters, who identified with Great Britain and wanted to keep the country part of the United Kingdom. On the other side of the conflict were the Nationalists, who wanted Northern Ireland to rejoin with the Republic of Ireland, which gained independence in 1920. The unrest between these two sides is referred to as “the troubles”.
Though the troubles have subsided, you can still see murals and other remnants left over from this conflict. Today, you’ll find a progressive city considered to be safer than many of the other European capitals. You’ll also find an international culture hospitable to visitors, many of whom enjoy learning more about the local art and music culture of Belfast.
Belfast is very accessible for those arriving by cruise. Belfast city center is located just three miles north of Belfast Harbour, where large cruise ships dock in Stormont Wharf. The cruise terminal is the largest in Northern Ireland and sees over 155,000 visitors each year. Shuttles that run between Belfast and the city center are usually available every 15 minutes.
When you cruise Belfast, you’ll see that the city is easy to explore by foot. If you don’t want to do much walking, though, there is plenty of public transportation to help you find your way around. Shuttles run between the harbor and city center every 15 minutes. Shore excursions are also a great way to explore Belfast and beyond.
You’ll find an array of upscale boutiques along Golden Mile, which is considered to be Belfast’s premier shopping district for luxury goods.
For high street fashion and other popular brands, head to one of Belfast’s shopping malls, such as Victoria Square Shopping Centre, Kennedy Shopping Centre, or Yorkgate Shopping Centre, all of which are a quick bus or taxi ride away from the port when you cruise to Belfast.
The official currency in Northern Ireland is the British Pound. However, it’s common to see English sterling notes in Northern Ireland as well, and banks in Belfast tend to use both.
If you are dining out during your cruise, Belfast restaurants appreciate tips, with the customary amount to leave being between 10% to 15%.