Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital and the epicentre of its tourist industry, has experienced a tourism boom over the last decade, with visitors staying in the city itself or using it as a base from which to explore other parts of Northern Ireland.
The city centre has a lot to offer, as do the unique tourist attractions on the outskirts like Crumlin Road Jail and Titanic Belfast. And yet, Belfast has rarely been viewed as a city that lends itself to tourists wandering aimlessly beyond the confines of the city centre proper. Part of that is logistical, as large residential areas hug the boundaries of the city, and part of it is a legacy of The Troubles, with some regions close to the city seen as no-go areas.
However, as Belfast grows in size in confidence, much of this is changing, and several neighbourhoods adjoining the city are worth visiting. Perhaps most notably, there is the Ormeau Road district. It’s one of the main traffic routes into the city, but it’s also a residential area with a growing number of restaurants, bars and shops. Here’s a quick guide to the up-and-coming district:
Where is it?
Ormeau Road starts on the south side of the city, around a few minutes walk from Central Station and City Hall. It runs about two miles in a straight line, hugging and, ultimately, crossing the Lagan River that acts as a border between County Antrim and Down. The district ends close to Forestside Shopping Centre, which offers free – and more abundant – parking compared with the city centre. The No. 7 Metro service runs from the city centre through Ormeau every 10 minutes or so during peak times.
Ormeau offers such a diverse atmosphere, catering for all tastes. For instance, Lower Ormeau connects to large student district termed the Holylands, giving the bars a lively but raucous atmosphere. Further up as the road crosses the Lagan, you can visit the Ormeau Park, which will often host music festivals in the summer. The Killers, Lionel Richie and Green Day have all played Ormeau Park in the last few years. Past the bridge, you’ll find a range of boutique cafes and independent shops. Towards the end of the road, you’ll find some big bar complexes like the Errigle Inn, and some decent restaurants. The Upper Ormeau Road is quite close to the Kingspan Stadium – home of Ulster Rugby.
Top picks for eating
The Guardian’s food critic, Jay Rayner, described Bia Rebel’s ramen as being “deserving of poetry”, and it’s becoming something of a Belfast institution. Be aware, though – it gets busy, and there aren’t many seats. Close by is the excellent General Merchants, which serves up wonderful lunches. Macau, Bengal Brasserie and Gaze are all good options if you want Asian cuisine at a reasonable price. Bars like the Pavillion and the Errigle also serve hearty pub grub.
The Public Wi-Fi is a bit iffy in the area, but most cafes will have free connections strong enough to let you stream videos, visit a website to play casino games or do whatever it is you do on your smartphone. There isn’t much value in getting a Day Pass on the Metro service, but it’s worth getting a single ticket to the Upper Ormeau, and then work your way down back towards the city centre.
What we don’t like
Ormeau Road isn’t exactly a well-kept secret these days, and it can get really crowded on sunny days and weekends. If you can avoid taking a car on your trip, then do so as parking can be limited and the traffic highly congested. Talks are underway to pedestrianise more of the area, but that could be years away.