Hip street food destinations such as Common Market are popular now, but I still think Saint George’s Market, built in the 1890s, is the place to go on a Saturday for a really big Belfast Bap. They have a crispness to them, but stay unbelievably soft inside, and are filled with sausage, bacon and a runny fried egg. I would also encourage any visitor to try the handmade sausage rolls at cafes such as Loaf and The Bobbin: they’re massive, a meal in themselves.
A favourite – and great-value –restaurant is Mourne Seafood: I’ve never had a bad meal there, whether it’s steamed mussels or a daily fish special. And I love Buba, owned by a husband-and-wife-team who focus on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern tapas. The dates wrapped in bacon are amazing, as is the spicy lamb.
The Titanic Quarter has a different feel from other areas, and is home to the Game of Thrones Trail, a series of stained glass installations dotted along the Maritime Mile. I also like the area around Queen’s University and the Botanic Gardens, where it’s a lot more diverse and you get a real feel of the new Belfast that’s coming through. It’s slightly edgy, but gives a real sense of the vibrancy of the city. There are so many new places to eat opened by people who’ve moved here, be they burger bars popular with students or, say, the new Greek restaurant, Tzatziki. Take a walk around the Botanic Gardens – the restored Tropical Ravine is its newest botanical hothouse.
West Belfast has so many things to offer – the people are friendly, and the area is rich with culture. You can walk up from the city centre, take the Glider bus or even book a black taxi tour to see the many political murals along the Falls Road, the Peace Wall on Cupar Way and the International Wall along Divis Street and Northumberland Street), dedicated to human rights and fighting social injustice across the world.
Don’t miss the new James Connolly Visitor Centre in a beautiful building on the Falls Road: it’s an Irish-speaking centre with interactive exhibitions, a cafe, gift shop and regular live music.
Everywhere in Belfast is walkable: you really can cross the city on foot, though the buses are good too. From west Belfast there’s a stunning grassland hike up to Black Mountain, which is home to a wide range of wildlife as well. Both this and rockier Cave Hill make fantastic Sunday morning walks to clear the cobwebs. Black Mountain is a gradual incline while Cave Hill, with its imposing outline, is more of a challenge – but both peaks look down over the city and on to Lough Neagh, and the views are just beautiful.
For Belfast craic, the Cathedral Quarter has everything you need. I met my husband at the Duke of York pub: on a nice evening, everybody’s out on the street. We also hang out, especially during the summer, around Union Street, which is also home to a few LGBTQ+ bars (a new LGBTQ+ club called Libertine has opened nearby).
For cocktails, I love the tiny Muriel’s Bar for its coconut margarita. And for live music, Bert’s Jazz Bar is hard to beat: it’s part of the Merchant Hotel but with separate access from the street.
Where to stay
The Harrison Chambers of Distinction (doubles from £90) on Malone Road is a large, restored townhouse with eclectic, boutique-style rooms and excellent breakfasts. It’s walking distance from everything you need, and beside Blank, an up-and-coming restaurant where the menu is revealed only when you sit down. The Bullitt (doubles from £89) is reasonably priced, right in the city centre, with DJ nights, pop-ups and a relaxed feel.
Maeve Monaghan is CEO of Now Group, a social enterprise supporting people with learning disabilities and autism. It runs Loaf Cafe & Bakery on Grosvenor Road and the Bobbin Cafe at Belfast City Hall