Belfast Life and Travel Tips
(Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK)
Belfast is a wonderful city to visit at any time of year and this part of Northern Ireland has a huge amount to offer tourists. Northern Ireland weather is best during the summer months, and this is a particularly popular time in Belfast, although the city does not really have an 'off-season'. The city is even busy throughout the winter, when the weather is at its coldest.
Good manners are welcome everywhere in Belfast and expected by most locals throughout Northern Ireland. The Irish are quite tolerant of most things, but visitors are expected to abide by certain codes of behaviour and general etiquette.
These include standing in line, waiting your turn, avoiding barging, shoving and general confrontation in Belfast. In many public places, such as trains and buses, the Irish tend to speak quietly and generally consider shouting and speaking loudly in these situations to be offensive. Locals expect their privacy to be respected and simple things like apologising if you bump into someone is greatly appreciated.
Belfast is at its quietest from January to mid-March and this is probably the only time when hotels reduce their prices and hotel rates to attract more tourists.
There are a number of tourist information offices and outlets throughout Belfast and these provide useful tourist information, such as brochures, maps, opening hours and directions. The main tourism office in Belfast is situated at Donegall Place.
Belfast Welcome Tourist Information Centre
Address: 35 Donegall Place, Belfast, BT1 5AD, Northern Ireland, UK
Tel: +44 (0)28 9024 6609
Open hours: Monday - 09:30 to 17:30, Tuesday to Saturday - 09:00 to 17:30
Irish Tourist Information Office
Address: 53 Castle Street, Belfast, BT1 1GH, Northern Ireland, UK
Tel: +44 (0)28 9032 7888
Open hours: Monday to Friday - 09:00 to 17:00, Saturday - 09:00 to 12:30
As in any large city, always maintain an awareness of your surroundings in Belfast and try to blend in and not stand out as a tourist. Although crime levels in Belfast are low, look like you know where you are going and be particularly careful with hand baggage. Wear a bag or camera across your body, or even consider using a concealed money belt.
Pubs and Dining
Pubs in Belfast are full of charm and character. They are warm and friendly and often serve fine food. Long after your visit, it is quite likely it will be the lasting impressions of the pubs that you remember the best.
The traditional image of basic Irish cuisine is usually little more than potatoes, bacon and boiled cabbage, but nothing could be further from the truth. These days, the standards of cooking in Belfast are usually remarkably high, but unfortunately the prices are often high also. However, there are some very reasonably priced restaurants in the city that are worth looking out for.
Pubs and wine bars in Belfast are most often places to meet and be seen, though each has its own standing in the local community, with some being frequented by business people, locals, celebrities and others by visitors and tourists. Most pubs are friendly places - if there is a good mix of people you can be sure that it is a good public house, otherwise, just close the door and find another nearby.
The Republic of Ireland is officially bilingual and almost all of the road signs have names in both English and Irish. English is spoken almost everywhere, but now and again you may find road signs only in Irish, so a map is vital on long excursions.
Tipping in Belfast is quite discretionary, with taxi drivers usually being given a 10% gratuity or thereabouts - although this is not essential. Irish restaurants often include service charges and these are always clearly stated on the menus, otherwise a gratuity of around 10 to 15% is usually expected in recognition of prompt and courteous service. Hotel staff in Belfast, such as luggage handlers, happily accept a small tip. Generally, no other public service workers expect tips. You should always pay tips in cash, as this way you can be sure that the person it is intended for receives it fully.
Places of Worship
The first-time visitor to Belfast cannot help being struck by the number of churches. A good many belong to the Church of Ireland and several are attached to other Protestant denominations, such as Presbyterian and Methodist. Many churches are also Roman Catholic, reflecting the city's strong Christian belief.
In many buildings and public transport in Belfast, rules restrict smoking and this is usually indicated by no-smoking symbols in prominent places. Pubs and bars welcome customers who wish to relax with a drink, but restrict smoking to outside.
Smoking in Ireland is not as fashionable as it once was, so it is always worth exercising discretion and sensitivity when selecting a place in which to smoke. The best advice would be not to smoke unless others around you do so.
Tips for Using the Euro
The Euro is made up of eight coins and seven paper notes and was introduced on January 1, 2002. The 12 members of the European Union - Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal
, and Spain - planned the event for more than a decade, determining a conversion rate for each country's national currency. The colourful Euro bills, which include holograms and shades of green, yellow, blue, mauve, and orange, are identical across the Euro area. Coins have one common and one national side, but they can be used in any of the 12 countries, regardless of the country of issue. Old currencies are no longer accepted, although they can still be converted to Euros in central banks.
When leaving Ireland, US and Canadian visitors and entitled to a refund of value-added-tax (VAT) which is currently 20% of the purchase price of most goods in Belfast and 12.5% of those outside the luxury category. Most outlets and department stores operate a scheme called 'Cashback' which enables US and Canadian visitors to collect currency rebates at Belfast airports when leaving the country. Alternatively, refunds can be claimed from individual stores after leaving the country. VAT paid on accommodation, car rentals, meals and similar services is not refundable.
Pharmacies and Chemists
Pharmacies in Belfast are generally open from at least 09:00 until around 18:00 and supermarkets often have in-store chemists. Drugstores will usually open until 18:00, although some may stay open until later, and these usually have a pharmacy counter for dispensing prescriptions. Drugstores in Belfast are like mini-supermarkets, with a wide range of products on sale.