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12 Alternative Ways To Explore Belfast

Time to ditch the big red bus.

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1. Take a Bike 'n' Brew Tour

Via Creative Commons / Flickr: vmos

On this tour you literally do hop on your bike and go to the brewery. Instead of exploring the city, you ride through the University Quarter and alongside the Lagan, until you end up at the Hilden Brewery. This is one of the oldest independent breweries in Ireland, and you'll be given a 45 minute tour (as well as a few samples). You could can also have a city orientation, or plump for the Bike 'n' Boat - whichever one you opt for, make sure you're doing it on a sunny day.

Alternative to the alternative: The Titanic Quarter is pretty easy riding, and you could always rent out your own bike if you want to DIY it.

2. Take a Black Cab Tour

Via Creative Commons / Flickr: jenniferboyer

First up - the bus tours are not bad! But you'll learn much more on a Black Cab Tour of Belfast. Jump into one of the traditional black taxis with a local tour guide to learn about the city's past in an unbiased and light hearted way. It's also a much friendlier setting than the open top bus environment.

Alternative to the alternative: Do a walking tour of the murals, either with a guide or on your own itinerary.

3. Spend a night in the Black Box


Black Box is the self proclaimed 'home for live music, theatre, literature, comedy, film, visual art, live art, circus, cabaret and all points in between' in Belfast - and they're right. Whilst you get a mixed bag of acts in this Grade II Listed Building, cheap pints are guaranteed at Happy Hour and you can grab a slice of pizza too. Stand up cabaret and comedy is certainly makes an interesting alternative, if you should ever get bored of Belfast's bars.

Alternative to the alternative: The Empire have a comedy night every Tuesday, you don't have to book in advance and admission is £8 (£6 for students).


4. Go back in time at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum


Fancy a night at the museum? You can stay in one of the model houses in the residential centre of Ulster's Folk & Transport Museum. This is one of those centres where they aim to show you what life was like in the 20th Century, by recreating a model town (churches, banks, and post offices included). There's even a cute Discovery Farm for kids (with real animals, obv), and they occasionally have trad music or Irish dance exhibitions on. It's awesome if you're here for a few days with the family, and want to get out of the city. It's only 10 minutes on the train or bus to Cultra, and if you have a car it's an even shorter journey driving on the A2.

Alternative to the alternative: Over the age of 18 and don't love museums? Cultra Manor is pretty cool to see, as well as Culloden Estate for a leisurely lunch.

5. Watch a Belfast Giants home game

Michael Cooper / Via Facebook: BelfastGiants

Did you know Belfast has an ice hockey team that plays in the elite league? Now you do, and if you're in any way into hockey you should go and see one of the games. See their fixtures here. The Odyssey Arena can hold over 7,000 people, so you can be sure it'll be pretty atmospheric when it's full.

Alternative to the alternative: See if there are any Ulster home games on - failing that, get yourself to a pub showing the rugby and spend the afternoon downing Guinness (that might be the better option anyway).


6. Have afternoon tea in Maryville Tea Rooms


The Lisburn Road is largely ignored on the tourist route, but the Maryville House is just one of the little gems along this road. You can get a standard afternoon tea at one of the bigger names in the city, however Maryville seem to take a little more care over their scones (it's a big deal if you're into afternoon tea). It's a nice way to celebrate special occasions, especially if you want a more intimate, quirky environment.

Alternative to the alternative: Mauds do delicious desserts, waffles and ice creams on the Lisburn Road, and Ten Square do afternoon tea with an alcoholic twist in the city.

7. Take a stroll through Westeros

Via Creative Commons / Flickr: martymcv

Yes, we know it's not "in" Belfast, but if you're staying here it's easy enough to jump onto one of the tour buses. It's obviously directed at those who are obsessed with the HBO series, but if you don't have a clue who Daenerys is, you can still appreciate the views of the coasts & countryside. You can also rent out capes and know, if you're into that.

Alternative to the alternative: If you have rented your own car, it'll definitely work out cheaper to do the self drive tour.

8. Cosy up in Queen's Film Theatre

99.9% of the time it's raining in Belfast, which is why you need cute venues like this. The QFT is snuggled in between college buildings on University Square, and it's a world away from your local commercial cinema. They show indie and European films, as well as new releases and seasonal classics (one night it could be Mean Girls, the next it could be some French flick - check the schedule here). It makes the perfect date night destination, as you're just off Botanic Ave (where all the food is), and the cinema still has that chintzy feel - even though it's modern. There's a bar inside, and the seats are velvety, red, and awfully inviting.

Alternative to the alternative: The Lyric Theatre host plays, musicals and the odd comedy act in Stranmillis - see their schedule here.

9. Hide away in the C.S. Lewis Room


The McClay Library is pretty good, no doubt about that. But very few tourists know about the C.S. Lewis Room. The Narnia inspired reading room is on the first floor at the front of the building, and the glass walls are covered in quotes from the author. It's not really a "must do!", but it's a lovely place to be if you're an early bird with work or reading to do. Sneak in a hot drink and people watch the folks coming in and out of Botanic Gardens. (If you're really into your literature, there's a C.S. Lewis Festival on this November)

Alternative to the alternative: Staying nearer the city centre? The Linen Hall Library is just as tranquil, but there are no Narnia rooms.


10. Drink up at Berts Jazz Bar

Via Facebook: bertsjazzbar

Slip under the radar for a little late night jazz, curtesy of The Merchant Hotel. They own Berts Jazz Bar, and they've channeled art-deco into everything here; from the decor to the cocktail menu. They do have some really good jazz acts on every now and then - check out their entertainment schedule here.

Alternative to the alternative: If you'd prefer something a little less glossy, The John Hewitt Bar serves up local ales, ciders and spirits, with a side of live music.

11. Picnic on Helen's Bay Beach

Belfast is definitely not known for its beaches, but the closest one (Helens) is only 3 miles away. You can even do a coastal walk if you get off the train at Holywood, and walk up to Bangor (another small village outside of Belfast - don't worry, there's a chippy). We'd definitely recommend that you visit this one during the summer months.

Alternative to the alternative: Stroll around Cave Hill Country Park and find Belfast Castle.

12. Complete the Gr8 Escape

Matyashov Stanislav Sergeevich / Via Facebook: thegr8escape

Can you craic the code? But no, really, this is great craic. There are several rooms you might be put in, which you then have to attempt to escape from using clues or hints (if you need them). As you can imagine it's great for big groups, and it's usually used for "team building" - but really it's just lots of fun. Especially if you fancy yourself a bit of a Sherlock.

Alternative to the alternative: Play the Escap3d Game in Dunmurry (it's a similar deal).