10 brilliant Belfast pubs

Duke of York, Belfast

When it comes to nightlife in Belfast, old embraces new and new invigorates old, as traditional pubs welcome craft beers, and cocktail bars reawaken former industrial spaces

1 Crown Liquor Saloon

Stepping into the Crown for the first time is almost overwhelming. The fabulously ornate late 19th century tiles, stained glass and carved wood are all thanks to the skill of Italian craftsmen, hired to work on the pub after they had finished working on churches being erected in Belfast at the time. Cosy up in one of the booths built for Victorian drinkers who didn’t want to be seen, and sample the pub’s excellent craft beers and delicious, unpretentious good food.

2 The Perch

Clank up five storeys in an old-fashioned lift and you’re decanted into an airy space of old skylights, brick walls, tiles, patterns, birdcages and big potted plants – this is The Perch. It’s like a groovy, mad Victorian conservatory, right in the middle of the historic Linen Quarter. Take a seat (if you’re lucky) at the rectangular island bar or head outside and snuggle under a blanket with a hot toddy (whiskey) in winter, or something ice-cool in the summer. A DJ, great beers, cocktails and a nightclub downstairs... the perfect mix for partying or chilling.

3 Kelly's Cellar

Kelly’s Cellar has been a Belfast stalwart since 1720. Traditional music sessions four days a week host some of the island’s finest players. If the whitewashed walls and low arches could talk, they might whisper of plots and intrigues: the United Irishmen met here to plan the 1798 rebellion. According to legend, one of them, Henry Joy McCracken even hid behind the bar to escape a soldiers’ search. With Irish-speaking staff, a huge range of whiskeys and craft beers, as well as perhaps the best pint of Guinness in Belfast, you’ll be in for the night.

4 Duke of York

Tucked away up a narrow cobbled lane in one of the oldest parts of the city, the Duke of York is a bright, cosy emporium of the city’s past, with a jumble of mirrors, advertisements, bottles, beer trays, shining brass work and wonderful tiles. Remarkably, this version of the pub was in fact rebuilt in 1974, but the recreation of 1950s life is almost magical. Music fans will adore the fact that rock band Snow Patrol played their first gig in this very spot. Settle down for the evening with a couple of names from the astonishing whiskey collection.

5 Aether and Echo

What was once a staid pub has been given an inspired 21st century update – Aether and Echo serves up the perfect setting for some imaginative and exciting cocktails – the skilled staff can whip up a twist on the classic negronis and daiquiris. The Victorian bones of the space have been retained, but the booths have been freshened up with airy white paint, while the high ceiling has become the backdrop for a statement lightbox installation. The result is a cool and relaxing space that can handle the crowds of drinkers who come flocking.

6 Bittles Bar

This pub’s outside is as extraordinary as its inside. Squeezed into a red-brick flatiron-shaped building, Bittles is a rare find. The walls of the lounge feature paintings of Ireland’s literary and sporting heroes. The pub, founded in 1868, used to be called "The Shakespeare" in honour of its theatrical connections, and now you can enjoy a drink beside Samuel Beckett, James Joyce and football hero George Best. The pub is famed for its beers, ciders and whiskeys, and later in the evening the older clientele make way for a younger crowd.

7 Whites Tavern

Laying claim to being the oldest bar in Belfast, Whites Tavern is certainly one of the most atmospheric. There has been some sort of hostelry here since 1630, so the place breathes history. Amid the whitewashed brick walls, dark panelling and open fire it’s easy to imagine 18th century ne’er-do-wells muttering at the next table. With live music and delicious food on offer, and even films screened in the courtyard in summer, this is a real find.

8 The John Hewitt

Named for the late poet and Belfast native John Hewitt, this homely bar is a bastion of amazing live music. With performers lighting up the stage every night of the week, this is a prime spot for the foot-tapping one-of-a-kind sessions that Belfast is rightfully famous for. A warm and inviting interior helps you feel right at home – it's also run by the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre, with all the funds raised going to promoting their work towards equality and inclusion in the city's community. Enjoy a few delicious drinks and help do some good at the same time!

9 Bullitt Bar

If you like your pubs themed around classic Hollywood movies, you'll love the Bullitt Bar. Yes, THAT Bullitt - Steve McQueen, San Francisco, epic car chase – can now be experienced in the heart of Belfast. This courtyard bar is part of the Bullitt Hotel (low on frills, big on style) and prides itself on its wide selection of cocktails and craft beers, not to mention its very own Bullitt brew, a refreshing lager with a delicate apple nose. Nicely situated within walking distance the trendy Cathedral Quarter and the city centre, it exudes the kind of effortless, laid-back cool that would make McQueen proud.

10 Sunflower

On a corner that has housed a pub for more than 100 years is Sunflower – a slice of Belfast's social history tucked into the Cathedral Quarter. The first thing you notice is the security grille on the door – a relic of a time long gone from the city’s psyche, and merely present as an act of preservation. The Sunflower is described as “a thriving love letter to folk music and craft ale”, and offers impressive craft beers, a short menu during the day and live music every night.

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