Belfast

ABOUT THE CITY

Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland. It is the largest city in Northern Ireland and the province of Ulster, and the second-largest city on the island of Ireland.  Belfast is located on Northern Ireland’s eastern coast.

Belfast remains segregated by walls (known as “peace lines”) erected by the British Army after August 1969, which still divide fourteen neighborhoods in the inner-city. In June 2007, a multi million dollar program was announced which will transform and redevelop streets and public spaces in the city center.

Once you settle in, make a visit to one of the many parks in Belfast.  The most popular park is Botanic Gardens in the Queen’s Quarter. Built in the 1830s and designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, Botanic Gardens Palm House is one of the earliest examples of a curvilinear and cast iron glasshouse.

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    About Belfast

    With its compact size, picturesque location between mountain and coast and fascinating history, Belfast in  Northern Ireland is a defiant city that has emerged from decades of strife into a vibrant, buzzing destination. At the center of Belfast is the triumphant Victorian City Hall, both the focal point of the city and its best orientation point. Around the City Hall is Donegall Square, the heart of the city, and one of the few green spaces in the center of Belfast.

    In front of the City Hall lies the main shopping district. This part of the city center is very compact and can easily be explored on foot. Donegall Place and Royal Avenue run down from the City Hall, and the shopping area stretches out to Victoria Street in the east, King Street in the west and up to North Street in the north.

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    History

    Belfast began life as a cluster of forts built to guard a ford across the River Farset, which nowadays runs underground beneath the High Street. The Farset and Lagan rivers form a valley that marks a geological boundary between the basaltic plateau of Antrim and the slaty hills of Down: the softer red Triassic sandstones from which their courses were eroded are responsible for the bright red color of Belfast’s brickwork.

    Belfast developed slowly at first and, indeed, its history as a city does not really begin until the seventeenth century. A Norman castle was built here in 1177, but its influence was always limited, and within a hundred years or so control over the Lagan Valley had reverted firmly to the Irish, under the O’Neills of Clandeboye, who had their stronghold to the south in the Castlereagh Hills.

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    Fast Facts

    Population: 277,459

    Area : 115 sq km (71 sq mi)

    Elevation: 266 ft / 81 m

    Government Type: Constitutional Monarchy

    Internet Country Code: .uk, .ie

    Currency (code): Pound Sterling (GBP)

    Official language: English

    Time Zone: UTC0

    Calling Code: 44 (country) 28 (city)

    Climate

    Northern Ireland’s climate is temperate and maritime; most of its weather comes from the southwest in a series of low-pressure systems bringing the rain and clouds that often lend character to the landscape. Because Northern Ireland is near the central track of such lows, it often experiences high winds. In the north and on the east coast, particularly, severe westerly gales are common. Annual rainfall decreases from west to east, although the hills accentuate the amount to some 80 inches (2,000 mm) in parts of the west, and there is as little as 32.5 inches (825 mm) at Lough Neagh and the extreme southeast. A relatively dry spring gives way to a wet summer and a wetter winter. Daily conditions generally are highly changeable, but there are no extremes of heat and cold. The region is exposed to the ameliorating effects of the North Atlantic Current, a northeastward extension of the Gulf Stream. Average January temperatures vary from 38 °F (3.3 °C) on the north coast to 35 °F (1.7 °C) in the east; in July temperatures of 65 °F (18.3 °C) are common. In late spring and early summer the east has slightly lower temperatures accompanied by coastal fog. These mild and humid climatic conditions have, in sum, made Northern Ireland a green country in all seasons.

    Avg Temp
    Month High Low
    Jan 45°F (7°C) 40°F (4°C)
    Feb 45°F (7°C) 41°F (5°C)
    Mar 48°F (9°C) 43°F (6°C)
    Apr 51°F (10°C) 44°F (7°C)
    May 57°F (14°C) 49°F (9°C)
    Jun 60°F (16°C) 53°F (12°C)
    Jul 63°F (16°C) 56°F (13°C)
    Aug 63°F (17°C) 55°F (13°C)
    Sep 59°F (15°C) 52°F (11°C)
    Oct 52°F (11°C) 47°F (8°C)
    Nov 47°F (8°C) 42°F 6°C)
    Dec 45°F (7°C) 41°F (5°C)

    Utilities

    Electricity

    Northern Ireland Electricity

    www.nie.co.uk

    Energia

    www.energia.ie

    ESB Independent Energy

    www.esbie.ie

    Airtricity Energy Supply

    www.airtricity.com/northern_ireland

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    Housing

    Buying

    There are a number of ways in which you can find a property to buy, including estate agents, property listings in local newspapers, and development companies. Before deciding how much to spend on a property, you need to be sure you will have enough money to pay for all the additional costs. These include survey fees, valuation fees, Stamp Duty Land Tax, land registry fee, local authority search, mortgage fees, and VAT. You should also take into account the running expenses of the property you wish to buy, including heating bills and insurance costs. You will also have to pay a deposit on exchange of contracts, up to 10% of the purchase price, a few weeks before the purchase is completed and the money is received from the mortgage lender.

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    Economy

    Northern Ireland’s economy is closely bound to that of the rest of the United Kingdom. Although historically the economic links between Northern Ireland and its closest neighbor, the republic of Ireland, were remarkably underdeveloped, trade between the two has grown substantially. Compared with the rest of the United Kingdom, the economy of Northern Ireland has long suffered, largely a result of political and social turmoil. To spur economic development, in the 1980s the British and Irish governments created the International Fund for Ireland, which disburses economic assistance to the entire island, with significant resources going to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland also receives economic assistance from the European Union.

    Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland, its urban heart and its engine for economic growth. It is one of the top five fastest growing regional economies of the UK. US investors such as the All State Corporation, Liberty Mutual and Citigroup have joined major investments from HBOS, Abbey and Prudential to create a Belfast financial services cluster. Another emerging cluster is mobile telecoms where specialist technologies have been developed by local companies such as Aepona and Mobile Cohesion. Life and Health Technology is another sector showing significant growth, supported by the NI Bioengineering Center at the University of Ulster. Belfast’s economic growth has been accommodated through an expansion of the central business district to reclaim former industrial sites along the city’s waterfront.

    By Car

    If you’ve brought a car into Belfast, it’s best to leave it parked and take public transportation or walk around the city. If you must drive and want to park your car downtown, look for a blue P sign that shows a parking lot or a parking area. Belfast has a number of “control zones,” indicated by a pink-and-yellow sign, where no parking is permitted. In general, on-street parking is limited to an area behind City Hall (south side), St. Anne’s Cathedral (north side), and around Queen’s University and Ulster Museum.

    Traffic in Northern Ireland drives on the left, as in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Speed signs are shown in miles per hour, not kilometers. The speed limit is 30mph in towns and cities unless signs show otherwise. On country roads (single carriageway), the limit is 60mph; on dual carriageways, trunk roads and motorways, 70mph, unless signs show otherwise.

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    Public Transportation

    Train

    Belfast is the hub for Northern Ireland Railways (also known as Translink) with two principal rail stations: Great Victoria Street Station, on Great Victoria Street, and Belfast Central Station, on East Bridge Street. Most trains depart from Belfast Central. The three main routes in the North’s rail system are north and west from Belfast to Derry via Ballymena; east to Bangor, tracing the shores of Belfast Lough; and south to Dublin via Newry. For example, the Irish Rover pass is for use both in the Republic of Ireland and in the North.

    Bus

    Ulsterbus

    www.translink.co.uk

    Ulsterbus runs daily scheduled service from Belfast to major cities and towns throughout Northern Ireland. From the Laganside Bus Center, Donegall Quay, Belfast, buses leave for destinations in the North, including Belfast International Airport and the Larne ferries, as well as the Republic. Bus service in the North is thorough and will get you to the most remote destinations.

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    Air Transportation

    Belfast International Airport

    www.belfastairport.com

    Belfast International Airport is located centrally within Northern Ireland and is also convenient to the border regions of the Republic of Ireland.  Belfast city center is just 20 minutes away by car.

    By Bus

    Airporter operates an hourly coach service to/from the North and Northeast. For current schedule information and fares contact Airporter at 028 7126 9996 or log on to www.airporter.co.uk

    By Taxi

    The International Airport Taxi Company, official taxi operator for the airport, are available for hire outside the right hand door of the airport Exit lobby.  Only taxis approved by BIA are permitted to use the taxi rank.  A list of sample fares is displayed in the exit hall of the terminal building.  The fare to Belfast City Center is approximately £25.00. For bookings, contact the Belfast International Airport Taxi Company at 44 28 9448 4353.

    Car Rentals

    Five rental companies have outlets at Belfast International Airport, the majority of which are based in the arrivals hall.  All are manned to meet arriving scheduled flights, and rentals may be booked in advance by phoning the following numbers or online at the links below:

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    Local Phone Numbers

    011 is the international prefix used to dial somewhere outside of U.S.A., when placing the call in the U.S.A.

    44 is the international code used to dial to Northern Ireland.

    001 is the international prefix used to dial the U.S.A., when placing the call in Northern Ireland.

    For example, dialing from New York to Belfast:

    Dial: 011 44 28 XXXX-XXXX

    How the number is composed:

    011 is the international prefix used to dial somewhere outside of U.S.A.

    44 is the international code used to dial Northern Ireland.

    28 is the local area or city code used to dial Belfast.

    XXXX-XXXX is the local number. Exchange X with your number.

     

    Dialing  from Belfast to New York:

    Dial: 00 1 212 XXX-XXXX

    How the number is composed:

    00 is the international prefix used to dial somewhere outside of Northern Ireland.

    1 is the international code used to dial to U.S.A.

    212 is one of multiple city/area codes in use for New York.

    XXX-XXXX is the local number. Exchange X with your number.

    In Belfast, dial 999 in an emergency, for fire, police, and ambulance. Central hospitals include the Royal Victoria Hospital (028/9024-0503) on Grosvenor Road; Belfast City Hospital (028/9032-9241) on Lisburn Road; and Mater Hospital (028/9074-1211) on Crumlin Road near Antrim Road.

    Television

    All the national UK stations are available in Northern Ireland, together with Republic of Ireland output from RTE (the state broadcaster) and commercial programming.

    Radio

    BBC Radio Foyle 93.1FM

    Covers everything from news and sport to current affairs, with a dash of music and comedy for your enjoyment.

    BBC Radio Ulster 92-95FM

    News, entertainment, music, politics and art – Radio Ulster covers it all.

    City Beats 96.7FM

    Chart music with a smattering of news and sport.

    Newspapers

    Belfast News Letter

    www.newsletter.co.uk

    The Belfast News Letter, founded in 1737, was the first daily newspaper in the British Isles (and is still in business). A morning tabloid paper that is staunchly Unionist.

    Belfast Telegraph

    www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk

    The Belfast Telegraph is a mildly left-wing paper with interesting opinion pieces and good world news coverage. The Sunday edition is called Sunday Life.

    Belfast Times

    www.belfasttimes.com

    Local and global news in a broadsheet format.

    Irish News

    www.irishnews.com

    The Irish News delivers local, regional and national news from the readers’ viewpoint. It is a pro-nationalist newspaper.

    Dining

    Today, the cuisine in Northern Ireland is often fresh, creative, and tastefully presented. Gone are the days of the unimaginative, bland, overcooked meat and potatoes. Fresh seafood such as salmon, trout and shellfish are locally caught and prepared fresh to the table. In addition there is a bountiful supply of fresh locally produced vegetables and meats.

    The best known traditional dish in Northern Ireland is the Ulster fry, a full breakfast consisting of eggs, rashers (bacon), bangers (sausage), soda farls (flatbread), potato bread and tomatoes. Other common components include mushrooms, baked beans, wheat bread and pancakes. Traditional lunch and dinner menus feature sandwiches, vegetable soups, Irish Stew (tender local lamb simmered with potatoes, carrots and onions), and potato dishes such as champ (creamy mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions) and colcannon (mashed potatoes with cabbage). A popular snack is fried dulse, a tangy edible seaweed.

    The usual modern selection of foods common to Western culture can now be found in Northern Ireland as well. Italian, Indian, Chinese, and Thai restaurants have become popular, and it is even possible to find restaurants specializing in vegetarian menus. In tandem with these developments, the last quarter of the 20th century has seen the emergence of a new Irish cuisine based on traditional ingredients handled in new ways. This cuisine is based on fresh vegetables, fish and shellfish, traditional soda bread, a wide range of hand-made cheese, and, of course, the potato. New Irish Cuisine is a gastronomic adventure combining the cream of local produce with flavors from the Pacific Rim and touches of California.

    Sights

    Belfast Castle

    Northwest of downtown and 120m (394 ft.) above sea level stands Belfast Castle, whose 80-hectare (198-acre) estate spreads down the slopes of Cave Hill. Dating to 1870, this was the family residence of the third marquis of Donegall, and it was built in the style of Britain’s Balmoral castle. After a relatively brief life in private ownership, in 1934 it was given to the city, which used it largely for private functions for more than 50 years before opening it to the public in 1988. It’s a lovely place to visit, with sweeping views of Belfast and the lough. Its cellars contain a nifty Victorian arcade, with a bar, a bistro and a shop selling antiques and crafts. According to legend, a white cat was meant to bring the castle residents luck, so look around for carvings featuring the creature.

    Belfast Cathedral

    The foundation stone on this monumental cathedral was laid in 1899, but it would be more than a century later before it was finally completed, and even now it awaits a steeple. Crisscrossing architectural genres from Romanesque to Victorian to modern, the huge structure is more attractive inside than out, as in the nave the ceiling soars above the black-and-white marble walls and stone floors, and elaborate stained-glass windows fill it with color.

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    Attractions

    Belfast Botanic Gardens & Palm House

    Dating from 1828, these gardens were established by the Belfast Botanic and Horticultural Society. Ten years later they gained a glass house, or conservatory, designed by noted Belfast architect Charles Lanyon. Now known as the Palm House, this unique building is one of the earliest examples of curvilinear cast-iron glass-house construction. It contains a good variety of tropical plants, including sugar cane, coffee, cinnamon, banana, aloe, ivory nut, rubber, bamboo, guava, and spindly birds-of-paradise. If the weather’s fine, stroll in the outdoor rose gardens, first established in 1927.

    Belfast Zoo

    In a picturesque mountain park on the slopes of Cave Hill overlooking the city, this zoo was founded in 1920 as Bellevue Gardens, and modernized completely in recent years. It emphasizes conservation, education, and breeding rare species, including Hawaiian geese, Indian lions, red lechwe, and golden lion tamarinds.

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    Business Hours

    Banks 9:30-4:30 M-F

    Stores 9:30-5:30 M-Sat, 9:30-9:00 Thurs, 1:00-5:00 Sun (some larger stores)

    Convenience stores – 24 hours (some)

    Pubs 11:30-11:00 M-Sat, Sun 12:30-10:00, Thurs-Sat some bars open later.

    Currency & Banking

    Pound Sterling (GBP)

    The pound (symbol: £; ISO code: GBP), divided into 100 pence, is the official currency of the United Kingdom and the Crown Dependencies. The slang term “quid” is very common in the UK. The official full name pound sterling (plural: pounds sterling) is used mainly in formal contexts and also when it is necessary to distinguish the currency used within the United Kingdom from others that have the same name. The currency name — but not the names of its units — is sometimes abbreviated to just “sterling,” particularly in the wholesale financial markets; so “payment accepted in sterling,” but never “that costs five sterling”. The abbreviations “ster.” or “stg.” are sometimes used. The term British pound, used particularly by the U.S. media, is not an official name of the currency.

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    Embassy & Visa

    Embassy

    U.S. Consulate General, Belfast, Northern Ireland

    Danesfort House

    223 Stranmillis Road

    Belfast BT9 5GR

    44 28 9038 6100

    44 28 9068 1301 (fax)

    Monday – Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. All offices are closed on Saturday, Sunday, and American, British and Northern Irish holidays

    Visa

    US Citizens are not required to obtain a tourist visa for visits to the UK. Those entering the country for employment must present a valid work permit at the port of arrival. Work permits are issued by Work Permits (UK), part of the Home Office’s Immigration and Nationality Directorate. A work permit relates to a specific person and a specific job. The work permit scheme lets UK employers recruit or transfer people from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), while still protecting the interests of resident workers in the UK. Work permits also allow overseas nationals to come to the UK for training or work experience. The employer in the UK who wants to employ you must apply for the permit on your behalf. Once the work permit is approved, a visa application will need to be made at the British Embassy or Consulate where the employee is resident. The visa is endorsed in the employee’s passport. For more information on applying for work permits, visit www.ukvisas.gov.uk .

    Healthcare

    Northern Ireland provides free medical care and hospital services through the National Health Service for all people employed or “ordinarily resident” in the United Kingdom. Some NHS treatments have to be paid for (such as dental and optical), although help is available if you are not able to pay. Private medical and dental care is also available, as is private health insurance.

    If you cannot pay for NHS treatment, urgent treatment will still be carried out on the NHS, but you will have to return home for continued treatment. If the need is not urgent, NHS treatment may be offered, but not for free. Your entitlement to free NHS treatment depends on the length and purpose of your residence in the UK, not your nationality. If you are entitled to it, you can obtain free treatment immediately. There is no qualifying period.

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    Etiquette

    Business

    Politeness and punctuality are key to good business relations, and initial meetings are often conducted formally and impersonally, becoming more open and social as things progress. Business cards are exchanged at introductions. Dress is formal, with dark suits preferred. Business hours are generally 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday with an hour taken at lunch.

    Dining

    Lunches are customary for business entertainment, while dinners tend to be more of a social event. Avoid talking business unless your Northern Irish counterpart clearly initiates such a discussion.

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    Postal Service

    Royal Mail

    www.royalmail.com

    www.postoffice.co.uk

    Royal Mail is the national postal service of the United Kingdom, with subsidiary services offered by the Post OfficeTM and Parcelforce Worldwide. The main post office in Belfast is the Belfast GPO (General Post Office) at Castle Place, at the intersection of Royal Avenue and Donegall Place. Hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 5:30pm, Saturday 9am to 7pm.

    The cost of mailing a standard letter or postcard is:

    Republic of Ireland Northern Ireland
    Within Ireland 0.48 euro £0.30
    To Britain 0.6 euro £0.30
    To other countries within the EU 0.65 euro £0.42
    To other countries outside the EU 0.65 euro £0.68

    Taxes

    Income Tax

    If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien living or traveling outside the United States, you generally are required to file income tax returns, estate tax returns, and gift tax returns and pay estimated tax in the same way as those residing in the United States. Your income, filing status, and age generally determine whether you must file a return. Generally, you must file a return if your gross income from worldwide sources is at least the amount shown for your filing status in the Filing Requirements table in Chapter 1 of Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad (available at www.irs.gov). The IRS web site has a wealth of information available for the overseas taxpayer. Follow the ‘Individuals’ and ‘International Taxpayers’ links, or search for IRS Publication 54.

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    Local Inforamtion

    Time Zone

    The definition for time zones can be written in short form as UTC±n (or GMT±n), where n is the offset in hours. Here is an example given the local time in Belfast and New York City at 12:00 UTC when daylight savings time is not in effect:

    Belfast Standard Time Zone: GMT/UTC + 00:00 hour = 12:00pm

    NYC Standard Time Zone: GMT/UTC – 05:00 hour = 7:00am

    Belfast is on Western European Time and observes Daylight Savings time from the last Sunday in March to the Last Sunday in October.

    Electricity

    240 volts AC, 50Hz. Square three-pin plugs are standard and the visitor is unlikely to come across the older round three-pin type.

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    Compulsory Education

    Department of Education

    www.deni.co.uk

    Belfast Education and Library Board

    www.belb.org.uk

    While education policy in Northern Ireland has been strongly influenced by trends elsewhere within the United Kingdom, the region’s schools remain distinctive. Notably, the model of education practiced in Northern Ireland continues to be very selective. The majority of examinations sat, and education plans followed, in Northern Irish schools are set by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA). All schools in Northern Ireland follow the Northern Ireland Curriculum which is based on the National Curriculum used in England and Wales. At age 11, on entering secondary education, all pupils study a broad base of subjects which include Geography, English, Mathematics, Science, PE, Music and modern languages. Currently there are proposals to reform the curriculum to make its emphasis more skills based and in addition to those mentioned, Home Economics, Local and Global Citizenship and Personal, Social and Health Education will become compulsory subjects.

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    Higher Education

    Queen’s University Belfast

    University Road

    Belfast

    Northern Ireland

    BT7 1NN

    44 28 90 245133

    www.qub.ac.uk

    Queen’s University Belfast (informally known as Queen’s) was originally part of Queen’s University of Ireland, founded in 1845 to encourage higher education for Catholics and Presbyterians as a counterpart to the Trinity College, Dublin, then an Anglican institution. The university offers academic degrees at various levels and across a broad subject range. It is particularly strong in the following professions: pharmacy, medicine, dentistry, law, accountancy, architecture, engineering as well as pure and applied sciences, the arts and humanities and social sciences. The university recently announced a £259 million investment program focusing on facilities, recruitment and research.

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