Belfast is now booming in a way few could have predicted even 10 years ago. It continues to grow in popularity as a tourist destination – whether it be rowdy stag and hen parties, young backpackers or those interested in the city’s modern history. The one thing all will want on their trip is a drink. These are the best places to get them.
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A stone’s throw from the city’s main thoroughfare, Royal Avenue, Kelly’s dates back to 1720. Completely at odds with the surrounding modern buildings, the pub was a meeting place for Henry Joy McCracken and the United Irishmen – the leaders of the 1798 Irish Rebellion. Traditional Irish music sessions often feature, and in the summer, drinkers spill out onto the adjoining square.
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The Belfast Empire
The building used to be a Victorian church, but alternative forms of worship have been going on at the Empire since 1987. The regular woody bar occupies the space underneath the church, while upstairs bands and DJs regularly play gigs. If God really is a DJ keep your eye out for a set at the Empire.
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The oldest pub in Belfast, dating back to 1630, and one with plenty of character to boot. It feels like it was built in a field several hundred years ago and Belfast grew up around it. A big open fire and traditional meals take you well out of the city atmosphere.
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The one pub in Belfast that is in every tourist guide, the Crown is indeed worth a stop. A recent refurbishment has brought the original artwork and mosaics hurtling back to life and the private booths mean you can lock yourself away from the hustle and bustle of Belfast. A true character pub.
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The John Hewitt
On the edge of the city's cathedral quarter, the John Hewitt was opened in 1999 by the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre to raise funds. It has become a focus for community workers, artists and all sorts of political activism, in the tradition of its namesake who was a poet, socialist and Freeman of Belfast.
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This tiny bar in the cathedral quarter crams a lot into its available space. If you can get a seat you're doing well, but the easy-going atmosphere and quirky theme work really well. Expect Spanish niknaks, retro music memorabilia and interesting drinks.
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The official title of "Gin Palace" might be a touch grandiose, but with its four bars, Lavery's manages to combine pub, club, venue and pool hall with surprising success. Regulars have been rubbing shoulders with students for years at its prime university location.
Sandwiched between the Limelight and the Spring and Airbrake venues, Katy Dalys is a no-frills but solid, regulars pub with occasional singer-songwriter performances. It opens up on special nights so you can meander between the three venues for a variety of music.
The Duke of York
Hidden down one of the narrow alleys of the cathedral quarter, the Duke of York was where a young Gerry Adams poured pints in the late 1960s. There are, however, many more reasonable reasons to visit a bar that has all the best virtues of a Belfast pub. It gets packed at the weekends when disco nights are held upstairs.
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