Belfast has a vibrant nightlife and it has come a long way since the dark days of the 1970’s. It is important to get today’s nightlife scene in perspective, compared to what it was like just a couple of decades ago, it has exploded, in the more positive sense of the word! For many years, Belfast city centre effectively became a ghost-town or no-man’s land, after the shoping district shut their bomb-proof doors at the end of the day. During the 1970s’ and the 1980s, the city centre was effectively sealed off by massive security gates and military patrols, which strongly discouraged nightlife. With the IRA and INLA bombing economic targets and Loyalist sectarian killers stalking the streets, everyone but the most foolhardy or blissfully drunk Belfast citizens, avoided the city centre pubs after dark.
Until the late 1980’s, the majority of Belfast’s citizens kept very much to their own demographic areas. However, it was not all doom and gloom, as people tended to make the best of it and within the likes of West or East Belfast, a whole network of social clubs, pubs and nightclubs catered for their respective, highly segregated, clientele.
Throughout even the darkest days of the ‘Troubles’, pubs and clubs in the University district of South Belfast, provided the only religiously mixed, slightly Bohemian, cross-community nightlife. Not surprisingly, it was in the South Belfast area that the city’s nightlife boom took off in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. With the removal of the massive security gates that cordoned off Belfast city centre, pubs in the main shopping area, which previously called last orders in the early evening, began to regularly open late. Night clubs, restaurants, music pubs and coffee houses steadily colonised the mean streets, starting from the Lisburn Road in the South of the city and stretching right into the previous no-go areas of the city centre. With the advent of the first Republican and Loyalist Ceasefires in 1994, Belfast nightlife experienced a massive injection of confidence.
Belfast’s pubs are hugely popular and within the city centre area, they will have a mixed clientele, where visitors are welcomed. Many pubs have entertainment licenses which allow them to stay open until 1am most nights of the week including Sunday. Kelly’s Cellars, Robinsons and the Crown Bar in Belfast city centre are popular with visitors and locals alike. Generally speaking, local Belfast people will have their local pubs in their own respective areas for early evening drinking, while city centre pubs are for entertainment based socialising, later in the evening.
There are a plethora of restaurants, coffee houses and eateries in all parts of Belfast, with the highest concentration being along the Golden Mile, which stretches from the city centre to the University district in South Belfast. Many of the city’s pubs will provide pub-grub or have a restaurant area under the same roof.
There are nightclubs and themed venues to suit all tastes on the city’s musical spectrum, from Hardcore Dance music to Indie, Folk music to Jazz and Blues! There is a vibrant Gay scene in Belfast, with many LGB venues concentrated around the city’s Cathedral Quarter. The city’s now trendy Docks area is a Mecca for eclectic musical tastes with a host of Dance music nightclubs, Folk music pubs and a host of live Singer-Songwriter type music venues.
There are several large entertainment complexes in Belfast, including the Odyssey complex, which has multiple cinemas, pubs, restaurants, ice hockey stadium, pubs and nightclubs all under the one roof. The Odyssey and the nearby Waterfront Hall along with the Kings Hall and Ulster Hall, are the main concert arenas in the city, with world class acts appearing regularly in these large capacity venues. There are several theatres in the city including the Lyric, the Old Museum Arts Centre and the Grand Opera House, to name but a few.
There are very few areas of Belfast that would be off-limits to visitors at night and West Belfast, which was once a war-zone, that in places looked as if it had been bombed from the air, is now home to some of the best music venues in the city. West Belfast has a vibrant club and pub music scene, with live acts appearing most nights of the week. The Culturlann, just off the Falls Road, is the epicentre of the Irish language cultural revival and with a theatre, art galleries, restaurant and fully licensed club, is a popular venue for international visitors.
Belfast, like all Irish cities is renowned for it’s welcoming people and statistically, it is one of the safest destinations in Western Europe. Despite the recession, Belfast people are serious about partying and having a seriously good time, perhaps as an after effect of the recent conflict, which in the past kept the city’s population corralled within their own tightknit communities. As the local saying goes, there’s no excuse for not having a good night in Belfast!