10 brilliant Belfast pubs
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.
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.
Kelly’s Cellars 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.
Tucked away up a narrow cobbled lane in one of the oldest parts of the city, the Duke of York is a bright, cosy relic 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 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.
Located in one of Belfast’s oldest buildings, The Dirty Onion offers an authentic bar experience with a modern twist! Enjoy traditional music sessions in the evenings as you relax with your drink beside a peat fire, or step outside into the trendy beer garden (one of the biggest in Belfast) and relax while sampling a delicious craft beer or spirit. Head upstairs and you’ll find Yardbird, a cosy rotisserie chicken restaurant, offering perfectly cooked tasty chicken and brilliant sharing options. With its winning combination of old and new, this place is not to be missed!
Squeezed into a red-brick flatiron-shaped building, Bittles is a rare find – a pub whose outside is as extraordinary as its inside. 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.
Laying claim to being the oldest bar in Belfast, White's 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.
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, it's 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!
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.
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. 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.