Camping Around Nicaragua

Backpacking in Belfast

Belfast – Why Not?

Belfast High Street

For decades, a trip to Belfast was largely out of the question. The city attracted little investment, had no tourist infrastructure of which to speak, and plenty of trouble brewing within the city limits. Now, there is a whole host of reasons to visit Belfast, making it not only a great city break destination but also the perfect stopover whilst backpacking in Ireland. In short, when you tell your mates you’ll be stopping off in Belfast when backpacking in Northern Ireland their response is no longer likely to be, "Why?" but, "Why Not?"

Belfast – Why?

Stormont

The city of Belfast has come out of the shadows of the troubles and emerged as a vibrant, slightly edgy place, with more soul than London and a local population that remains largely sheltered from the outside world. With an atmosphere that is formed by a unique blend of Irish and British cultures and the shift from one of the most dangerous places in Europe to the safest, Belfast is bursting with colour, sights and sounds.

For the backpacker, Belfast is also a great place to go if you want a taste of both Ireland and the United Kingdom in one stop. It’s undoubtedly much cheaper than an equivalent trip to London or Dublin, and there has been a huge influx of investment in previous years to upgrade tourist facilities and infrastructure, ensuring that even those on the tightest budget will find something to suit.

Belfast Peace Lady

Cheap Accommodation in Belfast

The range of accommodation is now excellent in Belfast, with 5* hotels and boutique establishments catering to the thousands of tourists from the UK, U.S. and Spain who visit on a 'cultured city and shopping break' every year. For us lowly backpackers, there’s also plenty of choice in the city at great prices.

Hostels

There’s of course the award-winning Belfast International Youth Hostel, with its range of facilities and location in the student quarter in an area full of cheap eateries, bars and clubs. There are also a range of smaller, independently-run hostels, including Paddy’s Palace on the Lisburn Road, a great boutique and shopping area, or Arnies Backpackers which is located near the beautiful Queen's University. Prices for all of the above hover at around £10 a night and the facilities are just what you would expect for any major city in the UK.

Getting Around Belfast on the Cheap

The great thing about Belfast is that it is, in local parlance, a “great wee city.” “Wee” is the operative word here, and you’ll hear it used liberally in all conversations to describe anything small or quick: “I’ll just take a wee look”; “I’ll have a wee cup of tea.” Being 'wee' means you’ll be able to check out all the major sites in Belfast on foot without having to dwindle your travel budget on a metro pass like you would in London. You’ll be able to traverse the city centre in ten minutes, max. And a walk from the Queen's University area to the centre will take you about twenty.

Belfast Carson Statue

Eating Out on a Budget in Belfast

Back in the day, Belfast was a sorry sight, with a deserted city centre patrolled by army vehicles. Now, the city is full of international restaurant chains, fast food outlets and, of course, excellent local establishments. Modern Irish cuisine with a twist of Europe is served in the best restaurants in town, at a pretty price too.

For the backpackers on a budget, Belfast can be tricky to navigate. The city lacks the same immigrant communities that tend to bring with them cheap market stalls and restaurants as in London, and competition is not as fierce as on the mainland. But it is possible to eat out on a budget in Belfast, if you know where to look.

Try China China near University Road for an all-you-can-eat takeaway buffet for £3.50 during the day, or £7 in the evenings. Small pubs, such as Ryan's or The Bot, in the same area, also offer great early-bird deals, and you can’t go wrong with a traditional Ulster fry-up in one of the greasy spoons on the Cregagh Road or the streets edging out of the city centre. Stick to the student areas around Queen's and Botanic Avenue for cheap eats and great atmosphere.

Belfast Industrial

Free Things To Do in Belfast

Summer is the best time of all to visit this buzzing city – the bars that are located down quaint alleyways spill out onto the streets and Belfast City Council puts on plenty of activities for the whole city. And if you’re on a budget, you’ll still find lots of free things to do in Belfast.

Visit the amazing and completely refurbished Ulster Museum, access to which is completely free, before taking a stroll in the wonderful Botanic Gardens next door. Climb Cave Hill (it’s just like Table Mountain in Cape Town!) for some great views over the city and a visit to Cave Hill Park and Heritage Centre. Take the 4A bus from the city centre (cost about £1.70) and get off at the fabulous Stormont Estate, the seat of local government and the perfect place for a picnic on a summer's day.

Have a well-earned pint at the beautifully-restored Victorian-era Crown Liquor Saloon, which is right opposite the famous Europa Hotel (formally the most bombed hotel in Europe!), before checking out the wonderful St Anne's Cathedral in the newly developed Cathedral Quarter. This area is the local council's target for redevelopment and boasts some excellent bars and pubs.

Finally, marvel at the beautiful Queen's University and head to the fab Victoria Square shopping mall and take the lift to the top of the glass dome for a complete panorama, including a view over the famous Samson and Goliath cranes that built the ill-fated Titanic!

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