‘Ello city-lovers! Former Traveler intern Ally Burguieres is studying in Belfast, Ireland, right now, and shares some tips on what to see and do in her adopted city.
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Belfast, Ireland is My City
The first place I take a visitor from out of town is the St. George’s Market on Friday: It’s full of food, treasures, and local goods.
To escape university students I head to the Irish countryside!
If I want to hear the Irish language I go Falls Road or the Irish mass held every Sunday in City Centre.
For complete quiet, I can hide away in The Linen Hall Library, where it smells like fresh coffee and old books.
If you come to my city, get your picture taken with City Hall in the background, it’s an ornate grey stone building.
If you have to order one thing off the menu from Maggie May’s it has to be the Ulster Fry: a breakfast of fried things including but never limited to: tomatoes, soda bread, potato bread, pancake, bacon, and eggs. People will ask if you’ve tried it!
When I crave banana and Nutella crepes I always go to the St. George’s Market on Saturday to buy one from the French crepe man.
Primark is my one-stop shop for great cheap clothes–I just bought a much-needed scarf and mittens for 2GBP!
When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to the SOS Bus–it is a volunteer-run bus that stops near the University and gives out free tea, coffee, chocolate, and pastries from 12 a.m. – 3 a.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The SOS is my favorite, but the city is loaded with “sober up” stands on the weekends. All free.
For a huge splurge I go to The Belfast Welcome Centre where they sell Irish jewelry, souvenirs, and local art (it can be expensive but worth it).
Photo ops in my city include The Belfast Eye (aka “The Big Wheel”) and the best vantage points are from in front of City Hall or, if you’re brave, on The Eye itself (I’m not brave, but there is an emergency button that will alert them to let you off if you don’t like it).
If my city were a celebrity it’d be Robert Downey Jr. because he had some difficulty in the past but now he’s cleaned up and is spectacularly sweet and attractive.
The most random thing about my city is that it has “crisps” (aka potato chips) in almost every flavor imaginable: Thanksgiving Dinner, Sweet Chili Chicken, Crispy Beef, Chili and Chocolate; the list goes on. They’re currently doing a trial run of Fish and Chips, Hoisin Duck, and Cajun Squirrel (seriously).
My city has the most pub-loving men.
My city has the most immune-to-the-cold (judging by their outfits on a freezing night out) women.
My favorite jogging/walking route is the paved path along the river Lagan, which leads from Queen’s University to City Centre and beyond.
For a night of dancing, go to The Stiff Kitten. Or, for live music, check out Kelly’s Cellars. It’s an Irish bar with a fireplace and frequent “sessions”–gatherings where patrons bring their own instruments and play classic Irish tunes.
Malone Road (where there is an open-late “chippy” [aka fish and chips place] every 10 steps and curry and burger places, too) is the spot for late-night eats.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they ask “what’s the craic?” when they want to know if you’ve had any recent fun or have any planned for the immediate future. They’ll also ask if you want a “wee cuppa” (aka small cup of tea) and then answer their own question by saying, “Ach! Sure you do!” (Ha! Of course you do.).
In the spring you should enjoy the bright sunshine as much as possible.
In the summer you should see the entire island (Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Donegal, Dundrum, Sligo, etc) and walk outside as much as possible.
In the fall you should visit the Botanic Gardens and watch the leaves turn.
In the winter you should bring a toasty-warm raincoat and get ready for plenty of Irish humor about the terrible weather.
The houses in South Belfast are my city’s hidden gems. You can take the bus out to see them. They range from huge mansions to tiny cottages, but they are all beautiful and there are plenty of well-tended gardens.
For a great breakfast joint try The Other Place on Botanic Ave. I highly recommend both the Ulster Fries and Banana Pancakes.
Don’t miss the Belfast Festival in October.
Just outside my city, you can visit countless farms with sheep and cows, or Stormont, where Parliament used to be housed. Today it’s the headquarters of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Also check out Belfast Castle.
If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live on a sunny farm or in the Amazon jungle.
The best book about my city is John Conroy’s Belfast Diary: War as a Way of Life. Belfast has overcome its troubles and is healing from the past, but this book will help anyone understand the nature of the conflict and the lessons to be learned from “The Troubles.”
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is a traditional Irish jig without words, even though most stores, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs play American and sometimes British pop music.
If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum–lots to see and do!
An ironic pride in having built The Titanic could only happen in my city.
My city should be featured on your cover/site because it has been through profoundly difficult times yet the people are welcoming, artistic, fun-loving, and vibrant. Belfast has a great spirit.
Photos: Ally Burguieres