LIFESTYLE

Northern Ireland's Cities: Why You Need To Visit Belfast This Summer

02/05/2013 15:10 BST | Updated 15/05/2013 12:15 BST
Alamy

If you’re in need of a cracking city break, a weekend of adventure, culture, atmosphere and fun, make sure you don’t miss out on Belfast. This buzzing city is becoming increasingly popular for weekenders from over the Irish Sea - and it’s not hard to see why.

From the moment you arrive, the energy is palpable. Belfast’s unique bustling pace, its atmosphere and warm spirit: these things leave the visitor in no doubt that this is a city that is most definitely happening. Old shipyards are transforming into luxury waterfront apartments, cutting-edge bars and restaurants are sprouting up, the music and arts scene is flourishing, and with packed out pubs, a massive city centre shopping mall, and one of the biggest arts festivals in the UK, it’s pretty hard not to enjoy yourself.

The city’s famous Titanic Quarter has been spectacularly revamped in recent years. See the offices where the ship was designed, and marvel here at the iconic cranes of the Harland and Wloff shipyard. Don’t miss the Odyssey Arena on the periphery, a huge concert venue and home to the highly successful Belfast Giants ice hockey team as well as a bowling alley and W5, a smart new interactive science discovery centre.

On the other side of the river, in the centre of town, the grand 19th- and early 20th-century buildings have been beautifully restored. You can take a free tour of the outrageously grand City Hall before heading for the upmarket Victoria Square shopping centre, where you can ascend to a glass dome that affords panoramic views of the city.

Other unmissable spots include St George’s Market, where hundreds of stalls cluster beneath its fine Victorian canopy to sell speciality foods, antiques, crafts and clothes. A stop at the nearby Crown Liquor Saloon is perfect for a little liquid refreshment: check out its over-the-top carved, stained-glass and tiled interior, which have made it everybody’s favourite pit-stop.

And when night falls, you won’t be stuck for options either: Belfast loves to party. The Black Box offers live music, film and theatre, The Empire presents the best of Irish comedy and Thompsons Garage presents top DJs.

Over the summer months, numerous festivals and special events are played out in the city’s most photogenic spaces. In Custom House Square, Belsonic (16–26 August), the city’s premier outdoor music festival, has a line up that includes Basement Jaxx, Suede and the Lumineers. The Open House Festival (19–23 June) attracts top performers on the transatlantic folk circuit. Also celebrating cultural roots is the Belfast Mela, in the gorgeous setting of the Botanic Gardens (24–25 August). There’s everything here from Bhangra to Polish electronica, from dance acts to fashion shows, and a food market that encompasses baltis, burritos and blinis.