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Norah Casey explores Belfast, a city rising triumphantly from the past, with new hipster
bars, cool hotels, a great restaurant scene and some incredible street art.

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Published by Harmonia Norah, 2018-11-06 11:41:58

Belfast 2018

Norah Casey explores Belfast, a city rising triumphantly from the past, with new hipster
bars, cool hotels, a great restaurant scene and some incredible street art.

48 Hours in
“There’s an energy about Belfast and a rawness, that while rooted in its past, is more about the future”
Norah Casey explores Belfast, a city rising triumphantly from the past, with new hipster bars, cool hotels, a great restaurant scene and some incredible street art.
Belfast is the real deal. There is no hiding its violent and turbulent past. The walls tell their own story in the segregated communities of the Falls Road and Shankill. I wrote my own message on the Peace Wall after witnessing first-hand the gable-
end tributes to martyrs and heroes proclaimed by both sides. From walls that spoke of violence, hard lines and harsh messages, I was walking along the dividing wall now with messages of hope and reconciliation, from world leaders like the Dalai Lama and Bill Clinton. I wrote: “Love and peace always.” What else could you wish for a community that has been through so much conflict.
New art is now flourishing on the city walls and the musical creativity born out of the Troubles is evolving in
Belfast’s pubs and clubs. There’s an energy about Belfast and a rawness, that while rooted in its past is more about the future. Investment and economic progress has transformed the city, with former no-go areas transformed into must-go ones. Victoria Square, the Cultural, Cathedral and Titanic Quarters and the Laganside with the new Odyssey complex, and the Waterfront Hall are alive with buzzy bars, great eateries, art galleries, modern museums, food markets and boutique shopping (especially on the Lisburn Road). The Titanic Museum, which opened in 2012, continues to act as a magnet for tourism and a new £28 million Titanic Hotel opened last year. The Giant’s Causeway continues to be the top tourist draw and there are plans
for another attraction – potentially a museum of the city.
Tourism, property prices and employment are soaring – this is a city on the move with 2.26 million room nights sold in 2017. No wonder The Guardian voted it its favourite UK city. There are lots of great things about Belfast far beyond the political issues that dominate the headlines.
The iconic yellow Samson
and Goliath shipbuilding gantry cranes that were built at the start
of the Troubles when bombings, assassinations and violent street scenes became part of Belfast life stand guard over the Lagan. Strolling around the Cathedral Quarter it is hard to imagine those times but the memories add a depth to Belfast and a wonderment at the resilience of the

city’s inhabitants who, for the most part, just want to live life like everyone else, but more so because that normality was hard fought.
Day one
One of the highlights of our weekend in Belfast was afternoon tea at the Titanic Suite, an exquisite replica of the grand dining room from the famous liner.
We sipped Champagne, nibbled sandwiches and beautiful sweet treats with a vista of the sweeping staircase where you could imagine a beautiful young couple might descend. There were some lovely touches to this experience: the china, all replicas from the Titanic, the silver-wear, glasses and lamps and the old fashioned quartet playing in the background. The staff were not only welcoming and attentive (a
Grand Café
The Observatory
shout out to Jack and Shannon) but they looked the part too. It was a wonderful little escape for an hour or so and not hard to conjure the scene on board the Titanic, when the dining room was packed with elegant ladies and gentlemen.
The Titanic experience is spectacular and very different to other exhibitions. There are special effects, immersive experiential rides, full-scale reconstructions and interactive features across the nine galleries. The exhibition takes you from the construction of the Titanic in the early 1900s through to her launch and maiden voyage. The most poignant elements are of course the devastation and aftermath of her sinking, including the discovery of the wreck.
St. George’s Market is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This 19th-century building is packed with local Belfast produce including seafood, fruit, vegetables, and a chance to sample local staples like crusty Belfast baps, wheaten farls, soda and griddle breads. On Saturday and Sunday the market also has great crafts and antiques.
The Grand Central Hotel
I stayed at one of the latest stars of Belfast’s hotel scene, the 23-storey Grand Central Hotel right in the heart of the city. Costing £54 million, The Grand overlooks the entire city with stunning views from the nearby City Hall out to the Titanic Quarter and beyond to the brooding Black Mountain. We stayed on the 22nd floor which was magical, and right above us was the coolest and highest cocktail bar in Ireland. The Observatory, not only has those incredible views, the view inside is pretty cool too. It’s busy, so book in advance to enjoy afternoon tea or evening drinks. The Grand Central Hotel has spared little expense on interior décor with beautiful art deco features from the grand entrance through to the open spaces and the bedrooms. The colour palette of moss greens, taupes and creams take their hue from the fields and mountains that surround the city, while tweeds and woollens blend with linens and silks in luxurious clean lines. I loved it and probably snapped about 100 images just of the fabrics, colours and mixes alone (inspiration for my new forever home!). A few minutes walk takes you to City Hall, shopping at Donegall Place, round the corner from Niall McKenna’s amazing James St restaurant or to the doorstep of Michael Deane’s fabulous food hub on Howard Street where you will find Eipic (with the Michelin Star), Love Fish and the one we dined in (great steaks), The Meat Locker (just missing Eric Cantona).

Crumlin Road Gaol
Crown Liquor Saloon
We wanted to see the amazing mural at the gable end of this buzzy hangout for music and culture with craft beers, cabaret, film, theatre and art events.
Possibly the best view in Belfast overlooking City Hall, we enjoyed a lazy lunch at this Titanic-inspired French bistro on Donegall Square
The Parson’s Nose
Peel Fashion is an affordable fashion and accessory boutique with a sister store, Peel 2, which sells discounted end-of-line clothes. Liberty Blue specialises in vintage clothing and high street style at reasonable prices.
Déjà Vu has pre-loved clothing
from premium labels such as Gucci alongside high street collections
like Karen Millen. It also stocks high end shoes from the likes of Prada
and Louboutin, and Louis Vuitton handbags. Cubana has interesting catwalk inspired collections and a personal shopper and offer distinctive styles and occasion wear. Please Don’t Tell has a strong reputation for design and style
beyond Belfast and stocks an edit of international designers online and in store.
This bar is famed for being the
most bombed bar in Belfast and was restored to its former Victorian extravagance in 2007. This former Victorian Gin Palace is in a National Trust building and is well worth a visit: the gas-lit interior has beautiful intricate mosaic tiling, stained glass and carved mahogany snugs, we even rang the antique bells for service (nobody came but still).
We went for a stroll through the Belfast Entries which are series of narrow cobblestone alleyways built in the early days of the city between Ann Street and High Street. This feels like the very heart of old Belfast with quirky Victorian taverns and we stopped in one of the oldest, White’s Tavern, which dates back to 1630, with the antiques to prove it. A great spot with open fires and oak beams.
Day 3
Connected by a bleak tunnel to the Crumlin Road Courthouse (soon to
be a luxury hotel), Crumlin Road Gaol has witnessed some of the worst of
the Troubles with the incarceration and segregation of political prisoners including Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams. Closed as a working prison in 1996, it has a grim past that stretches further back to when 17 men were hanged in the execution chamber. Although not for the faint-hearted, it is well worth a visit as an important reminder of our living history.
An iconic security cage surrounds the doorway, a relic from the Troubles,
at this hipster music venue and pub with an eclectic mix of folk gigs, jam sessions, craft beers, pizzas and monthly flea market.
Peel Fashion
North. Great traditional dishes of moules frites and bouillabaisse served in a charming restaurant with a great balcony over looking one
of the finest buildings in the city.
Emporio has been serving the women of Belfast for over 30 years and stocks a range of designer labels from Armani to Caterina Lucchi.
Envoy of Belfast is a vintage and designer combo with labels like Acne Studios.
The Meat Locker

Writing on the Peace Wall
The best way to see Belfast is in the back of a black cab
I’m a big fan of Michael Deane since presenting him with the overall Chef of the Year at the FOOD&WINE Awards through to the many incarnations and evolutions of his food and restaurants. He is the king of Belfast’s food scene and a culinary entrepreneur. It had been way too long since I had visited his food hub on Howard Street, home to his Michelin Star Eipic and sister restaurants, Love Fish and The Meat Locker. I knew my son Dara would
love to try the prime steaks, sourced from the godfather of aged beef, Peter Hannan who ages the meat in chambers lined with Himalayan pink salt bricks. The interior is distinctive with dramatic red walls and white tablecloths, the oversized cow diagram above the open kitchen makes no bones about what the main item on the menu is! The Meat Locker features an Asador grill for perfect steaks and we chose the full flavoured and perfectly cooked Hannan steaks served with beef dripping chips
and Béarnaise: it was worth every calorie. A big hit with the teen and highly recommended for committed carnivores (or occasional ones like me).
Belfast is one of the street art capitals of the world. The walls speak of violence, peace and now regeneration. The Shankill and Falls Road are scarred by the conflict and emblazoned with murals commemorating their heroes, martyrs and the historical moments that defined the decades of violence, lest anyone forget those turbulent years when so many families were left devastated by death and destruction. The segregation and Peace Wall remain but the violence has abated.
A new form of street art has emerged where the next generation are painting the walls with vibrant images and scenes creating surreal urban art in former troubled areas.
Day 3
The Parson’s Nose is a cosy pub and restaurant which is building a loyal following thanks to the talents of Chef Danny Millar (of Balloo House). Dara and I headed there on our way back to Dublin and I’m so glad we did. Hygge, Irish style, with a roaring fire in the front room, quirky art and a winter-warming menu of pies, game, fish, home-made soups (and fantastic wood-fired pizzas). Every table was taken so book ahead.
Highlight Black Cab Tour
The best way to see, hear and feel Belfast is on a black cab tour and the best person to show you around is Belfast’s most famous cabbie, Billy Scott. Not only will you laugh a lot but you will learn a great deal in a couple of hours when Billy unleashes his encylopaedic knowledge at breakneck speed. Learn about Belfast’s famous inventors, historical landmarks, pubs, clubs and restaurants, followed by an open air tour of the political murals of the Falls and Shankill, through to the vibrant street art of the Cathedral District. And did I mention he is funny? Billy could have his own stand-up show. He’s fast, full of gags, veers into anecdotes, asides and nuggets while enthusiastically showing off his city. And he makes it feel like it is the first time he’s delivering this performance when in reality he must have done it thousands of times. You will love it. Billy delivers the political dimensions of the tour with knowledge and balance.

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