Belfast, the historic capital of Northern Ireland, is now firmly established as a city break destination. Ross Bentley takes a whistle-stop tour


Belfast City Hall, with the Belfast Wheel


Almost seven million people took a trip to the Belfast in 2006, according to the latest figures from the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau.


This status is reflected in the product available in Belfast, which has gradually gone upmarket over the past decade. So much so that earlier this year the Visitor and Convention Bureau and Belfast City Council launched its Luxury Belfast campaign, designed to make the city appeal to discerning visitors.


In conjunction, luxurybelfast.com has been launched to provide agents with information on the top-end shopping and dining experiences in Belfast, as well some of the plushest places to stay, such as Malmaison and The Radisson SAS.


The site features a ‘perfect diversions’ section, with descriptions of activities such as golfing at the Royal Belfast and days out at Down Royal Racecourse.


Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau director of marketing Susie McCullough said: ‘We have an exciting range of tourism products in Belfast, with outstanding five-star properties offering indulgent treats.’


Here is Travel Weekly’s guide to a 24-hour break in the city.


10:00: Open-top bus tours


Make your way to Donegall Square and buy a ticket for the open-top bus tour.


Leaving every 45 minutes, the hour-long trip is the best way to get a quick overview of the city, while the informative and amusing guides will give you an understanding of Belfast’s history.


Tickets cost £10 and last 24 hours, enabling passengers to hop on or hop off at one of the 19 stops.


Places of interest worth a short stop include the Titanic Quarter – the boatyards where the doomed oceanliner was built, and whose massive cranes Samson and Goliath still stand.


Also don’t miss the Shankill Road and Falls Road area in west Belfast, where impressive wall murals harking back to the city’s troubled past still adorn the side of buildings.


11:00: The Cathedral Quarter


Jump off at the Cathedral Quarter – just north of the city centre – to explore an area undergoing huge development but still offering a wealth of history.


St Anne’s Cathedral, built in the 18th century, now boasts a modern 72 metre-tall steel ‘Spire of Hope’ that is illuminated at night.


The 113ft-tall Albert Memorial Clock is also nearby. The top of the tower leans four feet off the perpendicular and is known as Belfast’s ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’.


12:00: Boat tours on the Lagan


A short stroll down Queen’s Square from the Albert Clock will bring you to the banks of the Lagan, Belfast’s main river, which snakes its way down the east of the city.


During the summer, boat tours depart from here at 12pm and 2.30pm, offering a chance to view the city from the water.


Foodies may want to hop off for a visit to nearby St George’s Market – Belfast’s historical covered market – which is open Fridays and Saturdays (Friday 6am-2pm and Saturday 9am-3pm). Saturday is a good day to stroll around enjoying the deli delights and live music.


13:00: A drink at the Crown Bar


Stop at Belfast’s most famous pub – the Crown Bar – on Great Victoria Street near the centre.


The Crown is deemed so important it is now a National Trust property. With its ornate interior of brightly coloured tiles and glass, it’s a wonderful setting in which to down a pint of Guinness. Stay for lunch and enjoy one of the finest high-Victorian saloons in the UK.


14:30: The Botanic Gardens


Travel south towards Queens University to find the Botanic Gardens. Don’t miss the restored Victorian Palm House, which provides a balmy climate even on a cold day.

On the edge of the gardens is the Ulster Museum, which is closed for refurbishment until 2009.

Queens University – one of the oldest in the UK – is worth a visit to see its magnificent main hall.

15:30: Shopping


Near the Botanic Gardens is Lisburn Road, famed for its ‘Golden Mile’ of boutique shops, cafes and bars.

Back around Donegall Square visit nearby Royal Avenue and the recently developed £400 million Victoria Square centre to get your shopping fix.

17:00: The Belfast Wheel


Make your way back to Donegall Square for a ride on Belfast’s latest tourist attraction, the Belfast Wheel.

Located at the east side of City Hall, it offers the chance to get the city into perspective with spectacular views from a height of 200ft.

The wheel is not a permanent fixture and will only be in operation until November 2008. Tickets cost £6 for adults and £4 for children.

18:00: Dinner around Donegall Square


Stay for a pre-dinner drink and an early bite to eat in Donegall Square.


Apartment is renowned for its cocktails, while The Grill Room and Bar at boutique hotel Ten Square also serves drinks and early dinners in a luxury setting.


Celebrity chef Paul Rankin’s award-winning Cayenne on Shaftesbury Square is also recommended.


20:00: Entertainment


Following a £10 million extension, the Grand Opera House on Great Victoria Street remains Northern Island’s premier venue for theatre, musicals, opera, ballet and touring shows.


The Black Box in the Cathedral Quarter is a good music venue and the Belfast Waterfront a top spot for concerts and comedy.


22:30: Nightlife


If you still have the energy for a sing-song and another pint of Guinness there is only one place to go: Fibber McGee’s on Great Victoria Street, where traditional Irish music is played every night.


The John Hewitt on Donegall Street also hosts a variety of live music throughout the week.


Trendier clubs with DJs include the Stiff Kitten on Bankmore Square and the Potthouse on Hill Street.