From the late 1960s to the late 1990s, tourists avoided Belfast. At the time of the Troubles, violence in the capital city of Northern Ireland was frequent and unpredictable. But recently Belfast was voted one of the safest cities in the United Kingdom and a friendly welcome awaits visitors today. In its quest to draw tourists from every corner of the world in time for the 2012 centennial of the voyage of the Titanic, which was built here at Harland and Wolff shipyards, dizzying development is apace. The city has reinvented itself and there is no more opportune time to visit.
The city center of Belfast is easy to navigate on foot. Start your tour at city hall in Donegall Square, which can serve as your main point of reference as you explore the surrounding areas. To the east is the scenic River Lagan, while nearby is the Cathedral Quarter with Saint Anne's Cathedral at its center. South of the city, you will see Belfast's premier institution of higher learning, Queen's University, which is also close to the Botanic Gardens, where the Palm House showcases carnivorous plants among its displays. Check out the Ulster Museum while you're in the area as well. For a sweeping view of the city and the coast, head to Cavehill, where a leisurely stroll can be enjoyed on the walking trails of Cavehill Country Park. Make sure to have a look inside Belfast Castle. If you have kids along, take them to the Odyssey Complex, where they'll enjoy the many interactive exhibits. Green spaces worth exploring include Mount Stewart House and Gardens and Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park with its landscaped countryside and its 20,000 rose bushes.
Whether you're craving American, English, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Mediterranean, seafood, fast food (or even Irish food), the restaurants of Belfast will cater to your mood. Most restaurants are gathered around Dublin Road, Botanic Road and the Golden Mile, which stretches between City Hall and Queen's University. There are also eateries in Dunbar Street, Botanic Avenue, Bradbury Place, Belfast Cornmarket and the northern portion of Donegall Square.
Shopping is concentrated around downtown and Donegall Place, Royal Avenue and the Fountain area, where many shopping malls and department stores can be found. Popular department stores are Debenhams and British stalwart Marks and Spencer. Belfast's CastleCourt Shopping Center houses over 70 shops.
7-21 Bradbury Place
Visitor Centre, University Rd
229 Upper Newtownards Road
613 Lisburn Road