Land of the giants
spot) next to City Hall. Then, fanning out along Donegall Place and Royal Avenue, it still possesses the odd quirky shop that isn’t part of a major chain or design dynasty.
The glass-roofed Castlecourt Centre on Royal Avenue, complete with fountains and cafés, is the largest covered shopping area in the city, and there are a number of other smaller arcades in the surrounding side streets. Probably the best of these is Queen’s Arcade, with a slew of jewellers and some small, specialist boutiques.
In addition to the city-centre malls and restaurants, there is also a chance to sample something slightly different by heading towards the bars, clubs and restaurants near the student quarter around Queen’s University.
Well worth a visit here is the traditional Beatrice Kennedy restaurant, which modestly describes itself as “a Belfast institution”, but comes up with the goods in the shape of hearty Sunday lunches which can, if necessary, be walked off at the nearby free-admission Botanic Gardens.
Billed as a “diminutive Kew gardens”, and complete with a Victorian palm-house built in the 1830s, the gardens also play host to the Ulster Museum, which includes an impressive top-floor gallery showcasing the works of Irish and British painters.
If you feel like escaping the city, and venturing out into the nearby countryside, day-trips fall into two main categories — the many attractions within easy striking distance and a few which are further afield but well worth the extra effort.
Belfast Castle, the Cave Hill Country Park and Bangor by the sea can all be reached in under 30 minutes. The legendary Mountains of Morne are around an hour away to the south of the city and the historic Giants Causeway is about a 90-minute drive in the opposite direction.
Murphy’s law, of course, dictates that of these, the most impressive is the furthest away, in the shape of the fascinating and spectacular Giant’s Causeway on the north-east coast. A world heritage site, it is a nature reserve with 15 miles of footpaths providing a perfect platform to take in the truly breathtaking views.
The quickest way to get to the Causeway from Belfast is via inland roads that take under two hours. But a longer route out of the city — along the coastal roads — really does repay the extra effort and the additional 30 minutes or so.
Along the way there are views of majestic cliffs and inaccessible bays bound up in myths and legends stretching back for thousands of years, along with much talk of shipwrecks and giants taking haven in some of the quaint fishermen’s cottages that are dotted around the area.
If you are looking for something a lot more luxurious in the way of accommodation but still want to capture the benefits of rural Belfast, you
Northern ireland’s magnificent parliament building, Stormont Castle