36 Hours in Belfast

Avoided, underrated or just plain forgotten, Belfast is a city that’s been fighting a bad reputation for half a century. A visit today, however, is an eye-opening experience in the best possible way. Belfast has been coming into its own in the last few years, developing a vibrant restaurant scene, award-winning architecture — the Royal Institute of British Architects gave the MAC, a sleek arts venue, a National Award in 2013 — and a new cosmopolitanism, although fried breakfasts and a heightened awareness of sectarian conflict are still an integral part of most residents’ days. The friendliness of the people is what’s most appealing in this small and very walkable city, from smiling servers to talkative bartenders to helpful strangers on the street. Visit Belfast to soak up good vibes, to eat well and to drink unstintingly. It’s a city that’s at its best when enjoyed from behind a pint glass.

Friday

1. Lunch with a view | 1:30 p.m.

Kick off the weekend with lunch at Robinson & Cleaver, a new restaurant housed in what was a 19th-century linen warehouse and department store. The “Taste of Ulster” sharing boards, with selections of smoked salmon, grilled mackerel, Oakwood cheese and wheaten bread, are perfect for sampling locally produced fare. Find a spot on the terrace, which looks directly out onto the ornate Edwardian City Hall. To its right is the imposing Scottish Provident Building, a late-Victorian sandstone edifice that’s currently metamorphosing into a high-end business center. Lunch for two around £30, or $44, at $1.47 to the pound.

2. Botanics and background | 3 p.m.

After lunch, stroll through Belfast’s Botanic Gardens, 28 acres of green lawns and trees near Queens University. Stop at the Palm House, an elegant Victorian greenhouse with a curved iron and glass structure that’s just as gorgeous as the abundance of exotic plants growing inside. Emerge from the gardens at the Ulster Museum (free admission), a well-designed space with exhibits on Northern Irish history, art and natural history, and one that offers a comprehensive background on the country’s heritage.

3. Crown jewel | 5:30 p.m.

The Crown Liquor Saloon is a treasure: a Victorian gin palace that’s been beautifully restored by its owner, the National Trust. Everything from the snugs — semiprivate tables sequestered by mid-height walls — to the red granite bar to the antique bell system for summoning staff looks like it’s straight out of a period movie. Order a pint of Guinness here (£3.90) and it comes with a shamrock traced in the head. The Crown manages to sit on the fence of sectarian feuds: While the name sounds decidedly Loyalist, there’s a mosaic of a crown decorating the ground outside the entryway upon which Republican clientele can happily step. Look up the street to see the Europa Hotel, known for a time as “the most bombed hotel in Europe.” The Europa was hit dozens of times during the Troubles, though it kept its doors open throughout.

4. From the sea | 7:30 p.m.

Though Ireland’s an island, all too often its best seafood is exported and the remainder overpriced at home. The Mourne Seafood Bar, though, has built a reputation over eight years on serving top-quality, locally caught fish and seafood that doesn’t cost the earth. Book ahead for dinner in this city center restaurant and feast on oysters brought straight from nearby Carlingford Lough, along with fresh langoustines, salmon, lobster and more elaborate tidbits like poponcini peppers stuffed with crab mayonnaise and watercress salad. Dinner for two, around £70.

Saturday

5. Breakfast of champions | 10 a.m.

The debate over where to get the best “Ulster fry” in Belfast is never-ending, but Bright’s is a top contender. This no-frills restaurant serves up the basics (fish and chips, eggs and beans) to locals who crowd in, three generations to a table. Push past the herd of strollers in the entryway and order the “Bright’s fry” (£3.50), a plate packed with eggs, sausages, potato bread, soda bread, bacon and black pudding, along with grilled mushrooms and tomatoes as a (meaningless) gesture toward health consciousness. Pair this with plenty of tea from the ubiquitous workaday steel pots and you’ll be set up for the day, as they say.

6. Taxis and Troubles | 11 a.m.

While the Troubles may seem like a part of Belfast’s past, Troubles tourism is alive and well. Visiting the areas most affected is essential for understanding the city’s fraught history. Ninety-minute “black taxi tours” (around £30 for up to three people, additional fee for more) take passengers through the Falls and Shankill Roads, Catholic and Protestant, respectively, and still strongly sectarian. Drivers also deliver a running commentary on the Troubles, and explain the significance of the numerous political murals that so clearly divide the neighborhoods. The Irish nationalist Bobby Sands is a staple of the Catholic murals while terrifying images of paramilitaries in balaclavas holding machine guns are popular in Loyalist areas. Many companies run black taxi tours; stop by the Visit Belfast Welcome Center on Donegall Square for brochures. The companies are much of a muchness — they all cover the same areas and advertise themselves as impartial, although individual taxi drivers, most of whom were born and bred in one of these neighborhoods, will make their politics quite clear.

7. Cathedrals and craft beer | 1 p.m.

Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter is the trendiest neighborhood in town, its cobbled streets now home to bustling restaurants, pubs and arts venues. Begin with a visit to St. Anne’s Cathedral (admission, £5), a turn-of-the century Romanesque building with two quirky features: the 1,000 colorful hassocks hand-embroidered by churchgoing women since 1950; and the Spire of Hope, a 76-meter stainless steel spike that punctures the roof and was added in 2007. Nearby, tucked away on tiny Commercial Court, is Hadskis, which opened in late 2013 with a focus on local ingredients. Sit at the long bar overlooking the open kitchen for a lunch of pheasant, pearl barley and horseradish with a side of champ (an Irish spin on mashed potatoes), washed down with a Headless Dog or Titanic Quarter — both craft beers from the Northern Irish Hilden Brewing Company. Lunch for two, around £50.

8. Architecture and the arts | 4 p.m.

One of the shining examples of the new, more sophisticated Belfast, the MAC (Metropolitan Arts Center), which is free (performances require tickets), is a stunning asymmetrical tower of brick and volcanic stone housing seven stories of high-ceilinged galleries and cleverly designed reading nooks. It’s the ever-changing roster of exhibitions and live performances that’s the real enticement, however. Pop in to see the latest visual art exhibitions or check out the frequent experimental live performances (theater, music and dance). The MAC is well situated in the Cathedral Quarter overlooking St. Anne’s Square, which has emerged as a restaurant hot spot.

9. Drinks at the Duke | 5:30 p.m.

At the other end of Commercial Court from Hadskis is the Duke of York pub, where a young Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, tended bar in the 1960s. Outdoor drinking is a growing trend in Belfast, and the Duke claims a charming stretch of alleyway with brick walls, window boxes and benches. It’s a local haunt, and it’s worth walking across the alley to the parking lot to check out the mural of local celebrities. If the weather’s not conducive to sitting outdoors, take your Guinness (£3.70) inside, where the walls and ceiling are plastered with old-fashioned advertisements for stout and whiskey.

10. Seasonal Menu | 7:30 p.m.

Sitting pretty at the top of the Belfast culinary scene is OX, which opened in March 2013 to great fanfare. The former tile shop has massive plate glass windows that look out onto the River Lagan, and a menu that matches the décor in simplicity and modernity. Friday and Saturday nights are tasting menu only: five courses of seasonal dishes with a vegetable focus, like broad bean and radish leaf soup, and Mourne lamb with spelt, girolles and beetroot. With just 40 seats, it’s best to book in advance. Tasting menu for two, around £110.

 

Sunday

11. Tour the Titanic | 11:30 a.m.

Allow several hours for Titanic Belfast (admission, £15.50), which is a 20-minute walk or short taxi ride from the city center in the recently designated Titanic Quarter. The museum’s four wings are designed to look like high-tech ships’ hulls, covered in silver anodized aluminum shards. It opened in 2012 to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the Belfast-built ship (though the locals say, “It was all right when it left here.”). The exhibits are impressively detailed, from the recreated staterooms to the personal histories of builders, waitresses and guests. Don’t miss the compelling beginning exhibits, which describe life in Belfast’s linen mills at the turn of the century. Also essential are the interactive projection of the ship’s plans and the Shipyard Ride, a narrated, amusement park-style ride that’s entertaining and not just for kids.

Belfast - Titanic Belfast

Lodging

A former seed warehouse, Malmaison (34-38 Victoria St.) is a boutique hotel with a funky atmosphere and an abundance of cushy couches, plush cushions and deep colors. Amenities include free wifi, king-sized beds and a bar popular with local luminaries.

The Merchant (16 Skipper St.) boasts a chic Victorian-meets-Art Deco aesthetic accented by bespoke furnishings and a gorgeous old-fashioned bar. Situated in the Cathedral Quarter, it’s a good base for exploring the city.

 

Source

36 Hours in Dublin by the New-York Times

Video link

After decades of tumultuous change, a more refined wave of affluence has reached Dublin, where visitors will find a restaurant renaissance, musical creativity and a glorious sense of history.
Video by Fritzie Andrade, Max Cantor, Chris Carmichael and Aaron Wolfe on November 12, 2014. 

Dublin’s been through tumultuous change in recent decades, from the Celtic Tiger years, when BMWs were de rigueur, to the post-crash depression, when the cacophony of incessant building suddenly went silent. Today, signs of economic recovery are emerging, but it’s a more refined wave of affluence than what the flashy boom years had to offer. The city is finding a new way to exist — neither ostentatious with wealth nor bowed down under debt. A hugely popular bike share program has replaced the “beamers,” craft beer is gaining precedence over elaborate cocktails, and Dublin restaurants are undergoing a creative renaissance that prioritizes imagination and Irish ingredients over heavily stylized and overpriced dishes. Throughout it all, from its centuries-old pubs to its Georgian architecture to the stately Trinity College at its center, the city has retained its glorious sense of history.

Friday

1. ­Begin in the Bog | 3 p.m.

National Museum of Ireland

The National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street (free admission) is worth multiple visits, thanks to a well-signed archaeological collection that provides an excellent background for a visit to Ireland. Bronze Age gold jewelry dug up during turf cutting, Viking swords and medieval farming tools are all on display in this handsomely decorated Palladian structure that dates back to 1890. The stars of the show, however, are the “bog people” — preserved corpses of men who were killed (presumably sacrificed) and tossed into peat bogs during the Iron Age. The preservative qualities of the bogs ensured that the bodies are in remarkable condition — one still has nearly a full head of curly hair.

2. ­ Craft on Draft | 5:30 p.m.

The craft beer scene has exploded in the last few years, with bottles of Irish-made lagers, ales, stouts and ciders now standard issue at almost every city watering hole. For one of the biggest selections of craft brews, head to Against the Grain, an unpretentious pub on Wexford Street with hundreds of offerings, including Irish-made bottles from O’Hara’s, Eight Degrees Brewing and Mac Ivors. The pub is owned by the Galway Bay Brewery, which produces its own range of delectable drafts.

3. ­ French-Irish Cuisine | 8 p.m.

The Green Hen, a much-lauded restaurant on buzzy Exchequer Street, has won many admirers with its combination of French atmosphere and Franco-Irish cuisine made with locally sourced ingredients. Try the pan-fried duck breast, which comes with a purée of parsnips and a celeriac mash, and be sure to order a side of bread, a moist, dark version of classic Irish wheaten bread, made with Guinness and black treacle. Dinner for two, about 80 euros, or about $100, at $1.21 to the euro.

4. ­Late-Night Tipple | 10:30 p.m.

Down the street from the Green Hen is Fallon & Byrne, a hybrid food hall, deli, restaurant and wine shop, housed in a former ­telephone exchange, that specializes in high-quality produce and artisanal food. The basement houses the wine cellar, a chic and convivial space where you can pull bottles off the shelves lining the walls and enjoy them at the communal tables scattered around the cozy room, along with a menu of bar snacks like cheese, crostini and oysters.

Saturday

5. Medieval Cathedral | 10:30 a.m.

Much of Ireland’s history can be read in Christ Church Cathedral, which dates back to circa 1030. William of Orange came here to give thanks after he ensured the Protestant ascendancy at the Battle of the Boyne; it houses Strongbow’s tomb; and parts of the television series “The Tudors” were filmed inside (admission, 6 euros). The medieval crypt is full of treasures, including a mummified cat and rat discovered stuck in an organ pipe (so iconic they rate a mention in James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake”). The belfry tour (4 euros; 11:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m.) provides a beautiful view from the top and an up-close look at the flying buttresses, as well as the chance to try bell-ringing. If you want to go even farther back in time, get the combination ticket (13.25 euros) that includes the Dublinia museum, the Viking “experience” connected to Christ Church by bridge, where hokey but entertaining exhibits impart an extraordinary amount of information about Dublin’s beginnings as a Viking settlement.

Christchurch

6. Bikes by the Bridges | 1:30 p.m.

Dublin got a bike share program in 2009, and its enormous popularity (it’s now one of the most successful such programs in Europe) has led to the creation of a number of city center bike lanes and a cycling-friendly culture. Grab a bike from one of the many stations (locations at dublinbikes.ie; 5 euros for a three-day ticket after which every ride of 30 minutes or less is free) and cycle down the banks of the Liffey River, which slices through the city. Stop at one of Dublin’s famed bridges, each of which tells a story: the Ha’penny (the city’s first pedestrian bridge; payment to cross was once a halfpenny), the O’Connell (a part of Dublin life since 1794, said to be unique in Europe for being wider than it is long), and the newest, the Rosie Hackett (named for a trade union activist involved in the 1913 Lockout and the 1916 Easter Rising, and the first to be named after a woman since 1792).

7. Go for a Guinness | 3 p.m. ­

Craft beer may be the new thing, but a pint of “the black stuff” is still required drinking on any trip to Dublin. The enormous Guinness Storehouse museum (admission, 18 euros), set amid the cobbled streets and imposing buildings of the St. James’s Gate brewery, explains how the stout is made and gives the history of the company, along with a selection of the familiar “Guinness is good for you” advertisements. The best part of visiting the storehouse comes near the end, when an employee supervises visitors in pulling a proper pint of Guinness (it’s a strictly adhered-to method involving holding the glass at the correct 45-degree angle and waiting 119.5 seconds before topping it off). Take it up to the top floor Gravity Bar, where the 360-degree view of Dublin is worth lingering over.

8. Restaurant Renaissance | 7 p.m. ­

Forest Avenue is a new addition to Dublin’s booming culinary scene, and it might just have the most exciting food in the city. The owners, John and Sandy Wyer, opened this small, airy spot in November 2013, and it’s been getting rave reviews for its tasting menus. Dishes like a salad of Annagassan crab with smoked salmon and chilled zucchini, and beef carpaccio with smoked oyster mayonnaise, pickles and horseradish quietly impress with their flavor and innovation. Changes appear on the menu weekly, but with food at this high a standard, that’s just more reason to return. Dinner for two, about 120 euros.

9. Beyond ‘Trad’ Music | 9 p.m. ­

Live music is in Dublin’s blood, but just about the only Irish accents you’d hear in a city center pub advertising traditional music are either on the stage or behind the bar. Leave the renditions of “The Fields of Athenry” for the countryside and head instead to the Sugar Club, a central venue with an eclectic calendar of live music and a fun-loving vibe. Anything from indie-folk to soul to country music to hip-hop can be found most nights of the week, along with the occasional high-energy comedy, burlesque or cabaret night.

Sunday

10. ­Go North | 11 a.m.

The “north side” of Dublin (meaning north of the Liffey) has traditionally been more working class than the upscale south side. A stroll around offers glimpses into lives that haven’t changed much in half a century, from the hawkers selling fruit from baby carriages to the elderly ladies pulling their wheeled shopping bags behind them. Begin with a coffee and homemade pastry at Brother Hubbard, a bright and welcoming cafe on Capel Street then stroll down Henry Street, the north side’s main shopping precinct. At O’Connell Street, check out the towering silver Spire of Dublin, built for the millennium and nicknamed, in classic Dublin fashion, “the stiletto in the ghetto.” It’s just up the street from the General Post Office, an earlier incarnation of which was occupied by rebellion leaders during the 1916 Easter Rising. Whether the holes in its pillars are bullet holes from that historic conflict has been long debated, but even the suggestion is enough to stimulate the imagination.

11. ­Gaelic Games | 3:30 p.m.

There are a few “Gaelic games” unique to Ireland, and two of them are played at Croke Park, Dublin’s 82,300-capacity stadium. Gaelic football, which has the highest attendance of any sport in Ireland, is played with a ball similar to a soccer ball that can be picked up as well as kicked, while hurling, possibly the fastest field sport in the world, uses wooden sticks called hurleys and a small leather ball that can reach speeds of 100 miles per hour. The atmosphere at a Sunday afternoon match — matches are played March through September; admission 10 to 15 euros (standing and seated) — spent cheering on teams from all over Ireland in the company of their passionate fans, is unbeatable.

LODGING

The Marker (Grand Canal Square, Docklands) is Dublin’s hottest new hotel, drawing trendsetters to its rooftop bar and tourists to its comfy, colorful, modern rooms. It’s part of the Daniel Libeskind-designed Grand Canal Square in Dublin’s new tech hub.

The Marker Rooftop

Dating back to 1824, the Shelbourne (27 St. Stephen’s Green) is an elegant historic hotel overlooking St. Stephen’s Green. Its Horseshoe Bar is a Dublin landmark; anyone who’s ever been anyone in Ireland has stopped here for a drink.

 

Source