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Belfast is a city on the rise having only just recovered from three tumultuous decades of religious and political violence. Remarkably, the scars of the past are really only evident to those who are looking for them. The plethora of new developments and tourism enterprises has breathed new life into the capital of Northern Ireland. The surrounding areas just outside of Belfast are just as exciting and easily accessible to travellers with a hired vehicle.
Who to Book With
Car rental companies in Belfast include the reputable Avis, Budget and the locally operated Dooley Car Rentals. All of these agencies, and many others, can be found at Belfast International Airport and at several other locations in the city. While most of these companies offer quite competitive rates, booking online can often be markedly cheaper and lead to great deals.
Best time to go
The high season in Belfast is during the summer but particularly between the months of May to September. During this time travellers should expect sharp spikes in prices and steep competition for accommodation and car rentals. Winter brings with it rainy conditions which tend to impair driving quality a bit.
Need to Know Essentials
Remember to present the following documents when collecting your rental car:
- Proof of deposit and the credit card used to pay the deposit
- A valid driver’s licence or an International Driver’s Permit
- A comprehensive insurance policy, which is often available for purchase when making the booking
Driving in the city centre is not really necessary as many sites can be seen on foot and the city is equipped with an efficient public transport system. Travellers wanting to explore the outskirts of the city are definitely advised to hire their own vehicle. The roads in this part of the country are very well maintained and even though there are few motorways, three to be exact, they are sufficient for a day trip or two.
Parking in the city is quite a hassle for many drivers as most areas are restricted in some way. In the city centre particularly, drivers are only permitted to park if they have a valid parking ticket. Even then, ticket-holders can only park their vehicles between the hours of 08:00 and 18:00. Vehicles found after 18:00 face being fined, and even towed. There are, however, many large parking complexes at which drivers can choose to pay an hourly or daily rate. These often amount to less than paying for a street parking ticket.
The city centre is quite compact and many travellers prefer to explore its landmarks by foot. That said, there are also several reliable public transport options for those who prefer to move around speedily. Whether by train, bus or taxi, travellers will surely be able to make their way around the city. For reaching the outer areas of Belfast and surrounds, though, a car is still best.
The city has an efficient railway network operated by NI Railways. The main routes in the city are between Central Station and Great Victoria Street, and a trip to anywhere between these two destinations is between £1 and £2. Travellers can choose to use the express or the regular service which are available on all lines. Single tickets can be purchased from any station before the journey but season passes and special tickets can also be purchased online from NI Railways’ website.
Another popular option in the city is the bus, which to the confusion of many a traveller, is called the Metro. Bus tickets, which range from £1 to £1.60, can be purchased from the driver, who will have change. Tickets can also be bought from official Metro kiosks, which also give out handy route maps free of charge. Travellers who are in town for a while should consider purchasing the Smartlink Travel Card which lasts for five or ten journeys and is a considerably cheaper option.
The final public transport option is, of course, the local taxi service. Local taxis can be recognised as the black vehicles with yellow number plates. These can simply be flagged down from the pavement and are generally metred. Alternately, travellers can choose to use the share taxis operating exclusively in West and North Belfast. These have fixed routes and fixed stops but are definitely much cheaper. Travellers can also book private taxis for specific occasions, the most popular of which are Fona Cab and Value Cabs.
Belfast is a city of many wonders and travellers will find that the outskirts are just as appealing, if not more, than the city centre. There are myriad scenic routes and unexplored landmarks only a few hours outside of the CBD and with a hired car, day trips are made easy.
Located on the northern edge of Belfast is Cave Hill, by far the best vantage point from which to admire this great city. The hill stands at over 350 metres and from it visitors can see everything from Belfast Lough to Scotland. The hill is affectionately called Napoleon’s Nose by locals who are adamant that it looks just like the famous ruler’s snout.
Belfast to Derry - If a relaxing drive is all you’re looking for then look no further than the drive between Belfast and Derry. The walled city of Derry is linked to Belfast by the Causeway Coast, a UNESCO listed site. The causeway is lined with basalt columns, which were formed by cooling lava millions of years ago, and is quite a site indeed.
Botanical Gardens - Nature-lovers will be pleased to know that the Botanical Gardens are located not too far away from the city centre. The gardens are home to some unique species of flora and many species of bird. Inside the gardens is the popular Palm House, an exotic plant enclosure which is home to some unique and even carnivorous greenery.