Belfast is the administrative capital and largest city of Northern Ireland; by population, it is the 18th largest city in the United Kingdom and second largest on the island of Ireland.
The city of Belfast has a population of 286,000 and lies at the heart of the Belfast Urban area, which has a population of 483,418 and the Belfast Metropolitan Area, which has a population of 579,276. Belfast was granted city status in 1888.
Belfast has been a centre for the Irish linen industry (earning the nickname ‘Linenopolis’), tobacco production, rope-making and shipbuilding. The city’s main shipbuilders, Harland and Wolff, which built the well-known RMS Titanic in 1911/1912, propelled Belfast onto the global stage in the early 20th century as the biggest and most productive shipyard in the world. Belfast played a key role in the Industrial Revolution, establishing its place as a global industrial centre until the latter half of the 20th century.
Today, Belfast remains a centre for industry, as well as the arts, higher education and business, is a legal centre, and is the economic engine of Northern Ireland.
Lay of the land
Belfast is located at the western end of Belfast Lough and at the mouth of the River Lagan, making it an ideal location for the shipbuilding industry that once made it famous.
The city is flanked on the north and northwest by a series of hills, including Divis Mountain, Black Mountain and Cavehill, thought to be the inspiration for Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. When Swift was living at Lilliput Cottage near the bottom of the Limestone Road in Belfast, he imagined that the Cavehill resembled the shape of a sleeping giant safeguarding the city. The shape of the giant’s nose, known locally as Napoleon’s Nose, is officially called McArt’s Fort, probably named after Art O’Neill, a 17th-century chieftain who controlled the area at that time. The Castlereagh Hills overlook the city on the southeast.
Queen’s University Belfast was founded in 1845 – with roots going back to 1810 – and is a member of the Russell Group, an association of 20 leading research-intensive universities in the UK. It is one of the largest universities in the UK, with over 25,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students spread over 250 buildings, 120 of which are listed as being of architectural merit. It offers over 300 academic programs and all university degree levels.
The University of Ulster, created in its current form in 1984, is a multi-centre university with numerous campuses around Northern Ireland. Its Cathedral Quarter campus in Belfast focuses on Art and Design and Architecture. The university’s overall course provision covers arts, business, engineering, information technology, life and health sciences, management, and social sciences. Courses have a strong vocational element and the majority include a period of industrial or professional placement.
Belfast Metropolitan College is a large further education college with several campuses around the city. Formerly known as Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education, it specializes in vocational education. The college has over 53,000 students enrolled on full-time and part-time courses, making it one of the largest further education colleges in the UK.
Lots to do in Belfast!
Belfast is one of the most visited cities in the UK, and the second most visited on the island of Ireland. There are numerous popular tour bus companies and boat tours running throughout the year, and affordable transportation within the city and to places of interest farther afield.
Belfast’s friendly people go that extra mile to make sure you have a memorable visit. On offer are some of the coolest nightclubs, superb shopping and enough eateries to satisfy every taste and budget.
There’s also no shortage of local and international artists and bands that stop by to perform at fantastic venues like Belfast Waterfront and the world-class Odyssey Arena. You’ll also find fascinating walking, bus and taxi tours, cultural escapes, scientific exhibitions and literary inspirations. After all, Belfast is the city that inspired the Chronicles of Narnia and Gulliver’s Travels.
Here are some of the top sights to see while you are in Belfast:
- Cave Hill
- Queen’s University
- Incredible architecture
- Ulster Museum
- Linen Hall Library
- Belfast Castle
- Botanic Gardens
- Saint Anne’s Cathedral
- Music venues galore
- And endless restaurants, bars, bistros – something for every taste!