Northern Ireland is a cross between the UK and Ireland for entertainment, with accessible bars, largely informal dining, and plenty of Irish craik. While perhaps not as heavily endowed as Dublin, Belfast is loaded with pubs nonetheless. Guinness and Irish whiskey is available everywhere, and if in Lisburn, be sure to try the real ale Hilden.
Bars and Pubbing in Northern Ireland
Belfast is bustling at night and you don’t have to walk far to stumble across a traditional pub or modern bar with terrace onto the street. All other cities and towns in Northern Ireland have a pub culture, especially Londonderry and Enniskillen, where you can slurp a Guinness and dine on hearty pub grub. Pubs typically stay open until 1:00 a.m. on the weekend, and often close before midnight in the week. Clubs get going after 11:00 p.m. to around 2:00 a.m.
For traditional singing, Irish–style, look to Belfast and Londonderry, where folk bands draw in the crowds at popular nightspots. You’ll no doubt hear Van Morrison being played out at many a tavern and the latest dance tunes at pumping Belfast nightclubs. All cities have the theater, too, with the Lyric Theatre in Belfast putting on regular entertainment.
Popular bars in Belfast include the historic Kitchen Bar (36 Victoria Sq., Belfast), the Northern Whig (2-10 Bridge St., Belfast) for a touch of European sophistication, Robinsons Bar (Great Victoria St., Belfast) for traditional music, and the Scratch Nightclub (5 Lower Crescent, Belfast) for dancing. The oldest pub in town is White’s Tavern (off High St., Belfast), a cozy place hailing from 1630. Consider the Belfast Pub Crawl for a whirlwind look at some of Belfast’s finest.
Elsewhere, Londonderry also has good pubbing options, especially along Waterloo Street, just outside the famous walls. This hilly street has lots of pubs, including the highly rated Peadar O’Donnell’s (63 Waterloo St., Derry). You can’t miss it; it’s the very yellow one! Blakes of the Hollow (6 Church St., Enniskillen) is one of the top spots in Enniskillen, with several drinking areas.
Dining and Cuisine in Northern Ireland
Belfast wins hands down for eating, with more restaurants than anywhere else in Northern Ireland. Derry also has a good choice, but Belfast has numerous options, including quality eating in swish hotels and standalone eateries.
The Michelin star Deanes Restaurant (36 Howard St., Belfast) has some of the best eating in Northern Ireland, while RBG Belfast (4 Clarence St. West, Belfast) has some of the best hotel-based eating at the Park Inn Hotel. A bit more laid-back, but also having fantastic food, is The King’s Head (829 Lisburn Rd., Belfast). It has a large restaurant, gastro pub, and lounge.
In Derry, the Mandarin Palace (Strand Rd., Londonderry) is noted as having some of the top Chinese food. It’s quite expensive, though. If you find yourself in Bangor, be sure to try the swanky Jeffers by the Marina (7 Gray’s Hill, Bangor). It’s open all day, but is especially good for breakfast.
Expect fish and chips, pies, and lots of other UK (and indeed Irish) goodies. Hearty stews can be found in every pub and on every restaurant menu. Look out for the local version known as ‘champ’, which features creamed potatoes. The ‘Ulster fry’ breakfast—eggs, sausages, and ham—is common in hotels, guesthouses, and cafés. Also keep an eye out for shellfish and dried seaweed.