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The capital and largest city in Northern Ireland. Belfast is the second largest city on the island of Ireland and is home to around 300,000 people.
A key port and town of the Industrial Revolution that was known as Linenopolis due to it being the largest producer in the world. Belfast’s docks were bombed heavily during World War II. From the 1960s to the 90s, Belfast was divided by sectarian violence that became known as The Troubles.
Today, this divide has mostly evaporated and turned into peaceful co-existence between Catholics and Protestants. Belfast is still a centre of industry with the ports, docks and shipyards still dominating the economy. Tourists are attracted by its traditional pubs and friendly reception.
For more information about gay rights in the UK, please visit our Gay London City Guide page.
Despite the political scene of Northern Ireland not being the most welcoming towards LGBT individuals, the gay scene of Belfast is vibrant, diverse and surprisingly good for a city of its size. It has a good selection of Gay Bars, Gay Dance Clubs and Gay Saunas.
In summer, Belfast hosts its annual LGBT Pride celebrations – one of the biggest in Ireland. From the end of July to the beginning of August, thousands of revellers converge on the city to celebrate all things LGBTQ. In November, the city also hosts the Outburst Queer Arts Festival.
Belfast has two international airports. George Best Belfast City Airport (BHD)is a small airport 5km from the city centre. It mostly serves destinations on the UK mainland with some European services. Belfast International Airport (BFS)is 30km from the centre and offers more connections, including some transatlantic services.
From Belfast International Airport, you can take the 300 Bus into the city. It runs from 5.35am to 11.20pm every 30 minutes and takes 45 minutes (£7.50). Alternatively, take Ulsterbus 109A to Antrim (£2.40) and then a train to Belfast Great Victoria Street (£5.40). This service is slower however you are rewarded with great views.
From George Best Belfast City Airport, take Metro 600 bus (£2.40) into the city. Services run every 20-30 minutes between 6am and 10pm with journeys taking around 15 minutes. You can also take a free shuttle service to Sydenham railway station where you can take a train (£1.60) to several destinations in the city.
Taxis wait outside the terminal buildings at both airports or can be pre-booked. A taxi from Belfast International Airportwill cost between £25-30 into the city and will take around 40 minutes. From George Best Belfast City Airporta taxi will cost around £10 and take about 15 minutes. Car hire is available at both of Belfast’s airports.
Dublin Airport (DUB) is located 160km south of Belfast and offers a wide range of long-haul connections. There are 24 hour bus connections from Dublin Airport to Belfast city centre with journey times taking around 2 hours. You can alternatively take a train from Dublin city centre.
There is a direct train service from Belfast to Dublin known as the Enterprise. It takes just over 2 hours to get from Dublin Connolly to Belfast Central. It is cheaper to book online and in advance as a ticket purchased on the day will cost you a straight £25 one way. The route is less direct than the bus however there are some great views.
There are 4 main stations in Belfast city centre. The main stations are Belfast Central and Belfast Victoria Street but Botanic and City Hospital stations are useful depending on your final destination. All offer connections to destinations across Northern Ireland.
Bus Éireann offers a service connecting Dublin Busaras to Belfast’s Europa Buscentre. Singles cost €15 and the journey takes around 2 hours. The also offer services to Cork and Galway. Ulsterbus provides services to other cities and towns in Northern Ireland.
There are ferry services from the UK mainland to Belfast. Stena Line offer connections from Stranraer in Scotland to Belfast and Fleetwood near Liverpool to Larne, which has good connections to Belfast by rail and road. P&O Irish Sea Ferries run a service from Troon (Scotland) to Larne and Norfolk Line offer a service from Birkenhead.
In the UK, there are “Sail and Rail” services are available in which you can buy tickets that also encompass ferry crossings. These mostly incorporate the Stranraer-Belfast connection however another popular service involves getting a ferry to Dublin and then taking an onward rail transfer.
Belfast’s city centre is relatively compact and well signposted which makes it relatively easy to get around on foot. You will only really need to use public transport to visit sites away from the city centre or in potential bad weather (it is the British Isles, after all!).
By public transport
Translink operates Belfast’s bus network (known as Metro). Services run along colour coded routes from around 6am to 11pm. Most services pass through Donegall square however buses are frequently late (or don’t show up). start at £1.60 with day tickets costing £3.50. Trains are useful if travelling to certain neighbourhoods/sites.
Taxis are available to hail from taxi ranks from key locations or ordered in advance. Uber operates in the city and can be cheaper than a taxi cab. In North and West Belfast there are shared taxi services, a hangover from the troubles, which provide an inexpensive way of travelling in that area.
For a list of recommended hotels in Belfast, please visit our Belfast Hotels page.
Black Cab Tours– a unique way to find out about Belfast’s turbulent past. Here an experienced driver who lived through the Troubles will take you on a tour of the city, providing an intimate perspective on a dark period of history.
Titanic Experience – One of Belfast’s claims to fame is that it was the birthplace of the most famous ship in history. Here you can find out about the Titanic’s construction and its ill-fated maiden voyage (and yes, you will hear Celine Dion!).
Political Murals – a visually impressive relic of the Troubles. For Unionist murals head to the Falls area and for Republican murals visit the Shankill estate.
Stormont – the home of the Irish Parliament building. The building is an impressive example of Georgian architecture in a dramatic natural setting. Bus services are infrequent here so it may be worthwhile getting a taxi here.
Crown Liquor Saloon – a legendary pub considered to be the most beautiful pub in Northern Ireland. It is a friendly place to grab a pint and traditional, gas-lit surroundings.
St. George’s Market – an Aladdin’s Cave of stalls. Here you can get everything from antique’s to fresh produce. It is also a great place to grab a place to eat.
Grand Opera House – a stunning Georgian Theatre that plays host to local and touring, large-scale productions. There is a small art gallery here and you can also take theatre tours.
Ulster Museum – a fascinating museum where you can take in the unique history of the this part of the United Kingdom.
Belfast gets a lot of rain throughout the year, but because of its proximity to the coast, temperatures seldom drop below freezing. Summers can be pleasant but temperatures tend not to climb to high. Winters are mild and wet. Unlike Dublin, Belfast does not experience large amounts of tourists at any part of the year.
There are several festivals and events all year round. The first Thursday of the month sees the city’s art galleries open late, with music and drinks. Belsonic is an open air festival held in August that attracts big name acts in pop and rock. From October to November, the city also hosts a popular International Arts Festival.
In recent years, the UK has tightened its immigration procedures and introduced the use of biometrics. Full details can be found here. Most visitors from Europe, and countries like USA, Hong Kong SAR, Singapore and Taiwan do not require a visa.
Most other visitors from Asia, South Africa and South America need get a visa before travelling to the UK. You will normally be required to attend an interview at your local UK Embassy.
Entry is normally permitted for a period of 6 months, and you are free to travel anywhere in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. A UK visa is not valid for travel to other European countries.
The official currency of the United Kingdom is pound sterling (£, GBP), commonly known simply as the pound. Exchanging cash into British Pounds in the UK can be expensive. Most Asian travellers get a better rate by exchanging currency before travelling to the UK.
Visa & MasterCard and debit cards are accepted almost everywhere. American Express and Diners cards are widely accepted. The UK uses a ‘Chip and PIN’ system for all payments. If your card has a microchip, expect to be asked to enter your PIN number rather than sign. If you do not have a PIN, expect to be asked to show official photo ID.
Contact-less debit and credit card payments are becoming more popular for smaller purchases in coffee shops, car parks, grocery stores and on public transport.
Banks usually open between 09:30 and 16:00, although many in larger cities or major shopping areas will stay open a lot later.
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