Student cities: studying in Belfast
Belfast is Northern Ireland’s cultural and political capital, and university life is in its geographical centre. The campus of Queen’s University Belfast is within the city’s Golden Mile of pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants and music haunts. Naturally, the zone is a good source of part-time student jobs too.
Belfast is home to Titanic Studios where the massively successful Game of Thrones TV series is shot. And the city is only a short distance away from other Game of Thrones locations across Northern Ireland including Winterfell, The Wall, The King's Road and Dragonstone. The name of the studio also commemorates the ill-fated RMS Titanic, which was built in Belfast.
Free and cheap stuff to do in Belfast
There are a couple of particularly good views of Belfast. One is from the ‘dome’ of Victoria Square Shopping Centre. The other involves taking the Metro bus on a cloudless day and climbing above the skyline at Cave Hill Country Park. Explore Belfast on foot or by bike and you cross a tapestry of parkland and history that takes in a fair bit of Titanic-related sculpture and memorabilia, grand government buildings and historic mills on its rural fringes.
You won’t be short of sports and leisure facilities. In particular, the city has good amenities for ice hockey, rugby, swimming, cycling, golf, ten-pin bowling and running. Belfast has hosted the World Ice Hockey Championships.
For a more leisurely time chill out in the Botanic Gardens – or take some friends, a book or iPad and study al fresco. The excellent Ulster Museum with its art and archaeological exhibits is in the grounds.
The Belfast Mela is one of events and festivals that take part in the gardens throughout the year. Mela is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘gathering’ or ‘to meet’ or a ‘fair’. Belfast is by no means unique in hosting a festival of music, food, fashion and dance based around culture from the Indian sub-continent but its Mela is huge with tens of thousands joining in the fun.
There are further free festivities at the Halloween Monster Mash – an all-hallows event on a scale most cities don’t attempt. It’s a firework display with street theatre and live music. The 2016 event had some movie-related vehicular guests in the shape of the DeLorean car from Back to the Future, the Ecto-1 car from Ghostbusters and Bumblebee from Transformers. Festival of Fools is a four-day fiesta of comic performance featuring stand up, sketches, plays, mime, clowning, puppet shows and magic.
Other events and festivals include Belfast Fashion Week, the Cinemagic film and television festival, the Tall Ships Races and Belfast Guitar Festival, which celebrates every guitar genre from flamenco to indie/grunge. Belsonic is a more traditional music festival whose acts have included Biffy Clyro and Queens of the Stone Age.
St George’s Market has won a ‘best large indoor market in the UK’ award and is popular with students. It has bags of atmosphere as well as bags of lovely fresh produce on offer. It also hosts music gigs throughout the year.
The Victoria Centre is Belfast’s newest shopping centre. It’s very state of the art and includes the dome mentioned above where – at the top of four storeys – you get a great view of the city.
Ormeau and Lisburn roads are where you’ll find the trendy boutiques and restaurants.
Belfast has over 400 pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants plus many cinemas and theatres.
A few of the city’s oldest pubs have interiors that are works of art. Kelly’s Cellar built in 1720 is one example; the 200-year-old coaching inn called The Crown is another. The latter is so much of a historical time-piece it was bought by the National Trust to be its only working pub. Both pubs have ornate tiled floors, tons of mirrors and carefully crafted mahogany panels on the walls.
Aether & Echo also has a historic interior. But this pub has turned itself into a trendy cocktail bar. It’s a somewhat quirky place whose wordy pitch to the public talks about ‘social libation… combining the divinity of belle époque and the squalor of Irish charm… to present and deliver a lost age of wonderment and invention’!
There are plenty of regular pubs and bars popular with students and these include Harry’s Bar, the Kitchen Bar, The Parlour, VBar, and Hatfield House with an original interior by the craftsmen who fitted out the Titanic.
In terms of live music, big, mainstream events are in the Waterfront Hall and the Arena but the cool venues include Limelight and Oh Yeah. The latter is more of a place for good, local bands and smaller touring acts; the Limelight has staged bigger artists such as Tom Odell, James Blake and Primal Scream. It also has neatly themed DJ nights such as the pop/rave/indie/hip hop/rock night that mingles circus performers with the crowd. Belfast also has plenty of mainstream nightclubs, such as the Box.
For the stage, head to the MAC, Lyric Theatre and Duncairn Centre for Culture & Arts; Queen’s Film Theatre is excellent for arts films and independent cinema.
Moving to Northern Ireland
If you’re considering moving to Belfast from outside Northern Ireland for your university education, be aware that its laws aren’t quite the same as those in England and Wales, or in Scotland, so your rights will be different. Make sure you also factor in the time and cost of getting back home, especially in emergencies when you’re not able to get a good deal by booking ahead.
If you’re looking for work experience
Belfast has had a lot of business investment in recent years and it shows. All industries and professions are represented, particularly media, law, finance, leisure, government, healthcare and IT.