Situated in the Emerald Isle’s northeast—just a two-hour drive from Dublin—Belfast is transforming itself into a must-visit destination. Recent multi-million-pound renovations to its city centre, called the Cathedral Quarter, have filled the restored Victorian buildings with Michelin-starred restaurants, pubs and shops. Size-wise, the capital of Northern Ireland may be small, but it’s crammed with fun—or, as the locals say, craic.
Morning: Start your day by exploring the Titanic Quarter, a former dockyard famous as the birthplace of the ill-fated ocean liner. The area is undergoing a revitalization with the addition of shops, restaurants and parks, and is home to Titanic Belfast, a museum featuring replicas of passenger suites.
Afternoon: Cross the River Lagan pedestrian bridge to the Cathedral Quarter for lunch at Taylor & Clay. This cozy spot is known for wood-fire-grilled dishes such as Himalayan salt-aged ribeye. After lunch, take a stroll through the area’s streets—amongst the oldest in the city—to see pubs and shops covered in museum-worthy street art and architectural gems, like the Victorian-era Customs House.
Evening: Down the street, snag a table at the Michelin-starred OX to indulge in the five-course tasting menu. The menu changes frequently to make use of seasonal produce, but past dishes have included lobster with peas, radishes and pickled mussels, and chateaubriand steak with bone marrow, chard and horseradish.
Morning: Take McComb’s Coach Travel’s full-day Game of Thrones bus tour. Not just for fans of the HBO series, the tour follows the Causeway Coastal Route—one of the prettiest drives in the world—to filming sites like the Cushendun Caves and Ballintoy Harbour, a tiny fishing village with picturesque limestone bricks jutting into the North Atlantic Ocean.
Afternoon: The tour stops for pub grub—like bangers and mash—at Fullerton Arms in Ballintoy and then continues to the ocean-spanning Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the shore is covered in ancient hexagonal basalt columns (created by the rapid cooling of lava millions of years ago). The next stop is the Instagram-worthy Dark Hedges, a road lined with beech trees curving into a scenic tunnel.
Evening: The tour ends back in Belfast, near the ornate 1820s Crown Liquor Saloon. Grab a seat in one of its carved-mahogany booths and wash down the Irish lamb stew with Bushmills Whiskey (distilled nearby). Finish the night by catching a musical performance at the nearby 150-year-old Ulster Hall.
Morning: Let guide Billy Scott whisk you around in his black cab to some of Belfast’s historic sites, including the Crumlin Road Gaol (a storied prison), the Stormont Parliament Buildings and Belfast Castle. You’ll also stop at the peace walls: barbedwire-topped barriers towering several metres high and covered in political murals. The walls, built in the late 1960s during a period in Northern Irish history known as the Troubles, still separate neighbourhoods today.
Afternoon: End your black cab tour with a classic lunch of beer-battered fish and chips at The Barking Dog, located in the southern Queen’s Quarter. Afterwards, walk to the free Ulster Museum to see its 77-metre-long, medieval-inspired Game of Thrones tapestry and Neolithic stone axes.
Evening: Back in the Cathedral Quarter, dine at The Muddlers Club. This restaurant serves seasonal dishes like mackerel with dill and apple, and a banana, caramel and rum dessert. Before heading back to your room, cross the street to the Dirty Onion Pub for free bodhrán (Irish drum) lessons and a well-deserved Guinness.
A Guide to Belfast, Northern Ireland, from a Game of Thrones Makeup Artist
Belfast, Northern Ireland, has hosted HBO’s award-winning fantasy drama Game of Thrones (GOT) since it began seven seasons ago. With the show’s final season set to air in late 2018, this is the year to visit its magical landscapes. Here, Northern Irelander and GOT makeup artist Katrina Doran shares a few of the best local spots for fans to visit.