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Colin Rice's Belfast
No Alibis // Maven // Jumon
words – colin rice
location – edinburgh, united kingdom
At boom saloon, we’re incredibly privileged to collaborate with a community of hundreds of talented creatives all around the world, stretching from Ecuador to Egypt, China to Canada, Austria to Angola. Our strong relations have afforded us a wealth of insider insights into the best places to visit, eat and stay, all around the world. Now, we want to share this information with you as we work with our community to map the world and share their best recommendations of how to enjoy destinations both near and far. Our version of a city guide, delivered interactively and in real time – curated for all to enjoy and presented as a savable Google Map for our members to save and bookmark a wealth of future adventures.
For many people, Belfast conjures a number of preconceived notions, biases or even headlines. The city, since it was settled in 1770, has seen more than its fair share of conflict and turmoil. It has been reinvented numerous times, changing hands of power frequently. It has witnessed countless bloodshed, suffered by both the city and its people. Even today, ramifications can still be felt. However, Belfast has also been given an opportunity many cities have not: the opportunity to decide on its own identity.
Belfast has become, and continues to be, a city full of life – a symbol of peace and prosperity, of resilience and fortitude. It has been rebuilt, literally and figuratively, since The Troubles, and is now built upon a uniting of two sides, choosing the future over the past. It is home to many who strive to forge a brighter path for following generations, and has become a place well worthy of a visit – not least in thanks to the following must-see destinations.
Home to two cosy theatres showcasing the very best independent and international films to grace the silver screen, the Queen’s Film Theatre [QFT] is the top spot for film buffs and escapists. The Brian Friel Theatre can also be found inside the building, hosting everything from the wildest amateur productions to star-studded professional performances.
Set in a dingy, closely quartered store, [not unlike the gumshoe detective offices found in the noir novels that inspired the shop’s name] No Alibis is a bookshop like no other. Dominated by crime fiction, it also stocks everything from YA to non-fiction, as well as the most loved contemporary and classic literature. The staff curate the store’s stock, picking books they themselves have enjoyed and shining a spotlight on the best Irish writing. Furthering this, No Alibis are dedicated to aiding creatives by running their own micro-publishing house called No Alibis Press, and hosting frequent writer meet-and-greets and live readings.
Belfast is known for its playwrights, including the likes of Brian Friel, Lisa McGee and Seamus Heaney, so is unsurprisingly known for its theatres, too. The MAC is more than just a theatre, however; it provides perhaps the most atmospheric gallery and performance space you can find on the entire island. The MAC often hosts free exhibitions from local and international artists, as well as offering a beautiful events venue where many of the city’s best events take place.
Nestled down unassuming residential streets you’ll find this cornucopia of style and character. Maven is the most creative homewares store in all of Belfast. It is home to inventive furniture and homewares full of character, unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else. Every product is hand-picked by the Maven sisters, showcasing their eye for design and their creative flair.
Sure, the performances are great – including many of Ireland and Northern Ireland’s finest writing and acting talent, both well alive and long dead – but the real reason you’re paying a visit to the Lyric is their café. When they’re not serving popcorn or tickets for that evening’s performance, the Lyric’s café is one of the best spots to relax in the city – as well as being the café with the best view in all of Belfast. Sip your coffee or tea while overlooking the River Lagan in this peaceful, much loved haunt.
Japanese for ‘incantation,’Jumon weaves a spell on its diners with its temptingly delicious Asian-fusion food. The chefs blend Asian inspiration with experimental techniques to give you an experience you can’t get anywhere else in the city. They source unique ingredients for their dishes and utilise classic Japanese techniques in novel ways. And they offer plenty of vegan options to boot. Set in a stylish, atmospheric restaurant with a comfortable interior, this is the ideal spot to grab an interesting bite to eat.
C. S. Lewis is a name that needs no explanation. However, a location that’s easy to overlook is The Lampost Café, the city’s Narnia themed coffee shop. Offering plenty of hot drinks and quick bites to eat, the real charm of this spot is the fantastical ambience. Come for the coffee, stay for the cosy. Located in the area of Belfast where Lewis was raised, you can also find many Narnia themed spots, such as C. S. Lewis Square and the replica wardrobe in the McClay Library, nearby.
One of the crown jewels of Belfast, and Green-Flag-Award-Winner, the Botanic Gardens are an essential visit. Established in 1828, the grounds are bursting with history. Hosting music festivals, outside art exhibits, food festivals and Christmas events, the gardens are a meeting place for people of the city all year round. Taking a walk through the parks is the best way to clear your head, and paying a visit to the Victorian Tropical Ravine – a humidity controlled greenhouse containing some of the oldest seed plants found today – is the perfect way to spend an afternoon. The Gardens are a 2-for-1 visit as they’re also home to the classic cubist architectural mishmash that is Ulster Museum: a worthwhile stop on its own.
For the trendsetters and out there dressers, Fresh Garbage houses the most weird and wonderful fashion statements in all of Belfast. Forget the high street, this store specialises in kitschy, one-of-a-kind pieces to elevate any wardrobe. Well known as a hub for subcultures throughout the years, and for outfitting everybody from punks to goths to hippies, you’re sure to find a host of fashion gems waiting to be discovered.
Whether it’s an indie band you’ve heard whisperings of, or a local comedienne making waves across the web, The Empire houses the best of the best. With its atmospheric bar and performance venue, there’s no better way to spend an evening than hanging out with friends or catching a gig under the historical Empire roof. A beautiful building well worth the visit alone, it’s best experienced with good tidings and a couple of friends.
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