FOR DECADES, TOURISTS largely avoided Belfast, put off by the violent sectarian struggle known as the Troubles. From the late 1960s until a ceasefire was declared in 1994, the largest city in Northern Ireland resembled a war zone, but in the 25 years since, it has undergone something of a renaissance.
Thanks to an injection of cash from the British government and the European Union, a wave of shopping centers, hotels, bars and restaurants changed the face of the city. Now home to around 600,000 people, the city of Belfast proves an attractive destination for travelers who want to eat, drink and make merry in a place where history is never far from the surface.
Donegall Square serves as the traditional central hub of a city divided into areas known as quarters. One of the best for visitors is the Cathedral Quarter, where the charming streets house great pubs and restaurants. In this historic central district you will find The Muddlers Club, a widely renowned restaurant tipped to be the next Belfast establishment to receive a prestigious Michelin star. Nearby, the local favorite Coppi serves Italian-style tapas known as cicchetti. Wherever you eat, make sure to try some seafood; the cold, deep waters off Belfast provide a huge range of delicious marine treats, and it would be a shame to miss out.
The area is known for its traditional architecture and features plenty of old-school pubs where you can spend time getting to know the locals. Check out Bittles Bar, an old pub housed inside a distinctive red-brick flatiron building, as well as Whites Tavern, in operation since the 17th century. Victorian-era gin palaces are also a calling card of the city, with the Crown Liquor Saloon arguably the most spectacular example. Settle into one of the snugs to admire the stained-glass windows and mosaic floors over a drink.
For a taste of old-school Belfast, explore the winding streets of the Cathedral Quarter and listen for the sounds of traditional music from the pubs. It’s the beating heart of a city that has been through a lot but lived to tell the tale.
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