By the early 19th century, Belfast was a major port
. It played an important role in the Industrial Revolution
in Ireland, becoming briefly the biggest linen
-producer in the world, earning it the nickname "Linenopolis
By the time it was granted city status
in 1888, it was a major centre of Irish linen production, tobacco
-processing and rope-making. Shipbuilding was also a key industry; the Harland and Wolff
shipyard, which built the RMS Titanic
, was the world's largest shipyard.
Belfast as of 2019 has a major aerospace and missiles industry. Industrialisation
, and the inward migration
it brought, made Belfast Northern Ireland's biggest city. Following the partition of Ireland in 1922, Belfast became the seat of government for Northern Ireland. Belfast's status as a global industrial centre ended in the decades after the Second World War
The name Belfast derives from the Irish Béal Feirsde
, later spelt Béal Feirste (Irish pronunciation: [bʲeːlˠ ˈfʲɛɾˠ(ə)ʃtʲə].
The word béal
means "mouth" or "river-mouth" while feirsde/feirste
is the genitive singular of fearsaid
and refers to a sandbar
or tidal ford
across a river's mouth.
The name therefore translates literally as "(river) mouth of the sandbar" or "(river) mouth of the ford".
The sandbar formed at the confluence (at present-day Donegall Quay) of two rivers: the Lagan
, which flows into Belfast Lough, and the Lagan's tributary the Farset
("mouth of the Farset" might be an alternative interpretation)
This area became the hub around which the original settlement developed.
The compilers of Ulster-Scots
use various transcriptions of local pronunciations of "Belfast" (with which they sometimes are also content)
As lords of Clandeboye
, the O'Neill dynasty
were the local Irish power. In 1616, after the Nine Years War
, the last of the local line, Conn O'Neill (remembered in Connswater River)
was forced to sell their remaining stronghold, the Grey Castle or Castlereagh (An Caisleán Riabhach
in hills to the east of Belfast, together with surrounding lands, to English and Scottish adventurers.
The Early Town
Belfast was established in 1613 as an English town by Sir Arthur Chichester
The inhabitants took Anglican communion at Corporation Church on the quay-side end of High Street. But it was with Scottish Presbyterians that the town was to grow as an industrial port. Together with French Huguenot
refugees, they introduced the production of linen
, an industry that carried Belfast trade to the Americas.
Reluctant to let valuable crop go to seed, flax
growers and linen merchants benefited from a three-way exchange. Fortunes were made carrying rough linen clothing and salted provisions to the slave plantations of the West Indies; sugar and rum to Baltimore and New York; and for the return to Belfast flaxseed from the colonies
where the relative scarcity of labour made unprofitable the processing of the flax into linen fibre.
Profits from the trade financed improvements in the town's commercial infrastructure, including the Lagan Canal
, new docks and quays, and the construction of the White Linen Hall which together attracted to Belfast the linen trade that had formerly gone through Dublin
. Public outrage, however, defeated the proposal of the greatest of the merchant houses, Cunningham and Greg
, to commission ships for the Middle Passage
As "Dissenters" from the established Church
, Presbyterians were conscious of sharing, if only in part, the disabilities
of Ireland's dispossessed Roman Catholic
majority; and of being denied representation in the Irish Parliament. Belfast's two MPs Belfast remained nominees of the Chichesters (Marquesses of Donegall
With their American kinsmen, the region's Presbyterians were to share a growing disaffection from the Crown
Among surviving elements of the early pre-Victorian town are the Belfast Entries
, 17th-century alleyways off High Street, including, in Winecellar's Entry, White's Tavern (rebuilt 1790); the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing)
Church (1781–83) in Rosemary Street (whose members led the abolitionist charge against Greg and Cunningham);
St George's Church of Ireland (1816) on the High Street site of the old Corporation Church; and the oldest public building in Belfast, Clifden House (1771–74), the Belfast Charitable Society poorhouse
on North Queen Street.
The Industrial City
High Street, c. 1906
Rapid industrial growth in the nineteenth century drew in landless Catholics from outlying rural and western districts, most settling to the west of the town. The plentiful supply of cheap labour helped attract the English and Scottish capital to Belfast, but it was also a cause of insecurity. Protestant workers organised to secure their access to jobs and housing, gave a new lease of life in the town to the once largely rural Orange Order
. Sectarian tensions were heightened by movements to repeal the Acts of Union
(which followed the 1798 rebellion) and to restore a Parliament
. Given the progressive enlargement of the British electoral franchise, this would have had an overwhelming Catholic majority and, it was widely believed, interests inimical to the Protestant and industrial north. In 1864 and 1886 the issue had helped trigger deadly sectarian riots.
Sectarian tension was not in itself unique to Belfast: it was shared with Liverpool and Glasgow, cities that following the Great Famine
had also experienced large scale Irish Catholic immigration. But also common to this "industrial triangle" were traditions of labour militancy. In 1919, workers in all three cities struck for a ten-hour reduction in the working week. In Belfast—notwithstanding the political friction caused by Sinn Féin
's electoral triumph
in the south—this involved some 60,000 workers, Protestant and Catholic, in a four-week walk-out.
In a demonstration of their resolve not to submit to a Dublin parliament, in 1912 Belfast City Hall
unionists presented the Ulster Covenant
, which, with an associated Declaration for women, was to accumulate over 470,000 signatures. This was followed by the drilling and eventual arming of a 100,000 strong Ulster Volunteer Force
. The crisis was abated by the onset of the Great War
, the sacrifices of the UVF in which continue to be commemorated in the city (Somme Day
) by unionist and loyalist organisations.
In 1921, as the greater part of Ireland seceded as the Irish Free State
, Belfast became the capital of the six counties remaining as Northern Ireland
in the United Kingdom. In 1932 the devolved parliament for the region was housed in new buildings at Stormont
on the eastern edge of the city. In 1920–21, as the two parts of Ireland drew apart
, up to 500 people were killed in disturbances in Belfast, the bloodiest period of strife in the city until the Troubles
of the late 1960s onwards.
Aftermath of the Blitz in May 1941
Belfast was heavily bombed
during World War II
. Initial raids were a surprise as the city was believed to be outside of the range of German bomber planes. In one raid, in 1941, German bombers killed around one thousand people and left tens of thousands homeless. Apart from London, this was the greatest loss of life in a night raid during the Blitz
The Blitz and post-war redevelopment
In the spring of 1942, the German Luftwaffe
appeared twice over Belfast. In addition to the shipyards and the Shorts Brothers
aircraft factory, the Belfast Blitz
severely damaged or destroyed more than half the city's housing stock, devastated the old town centre around High Street, and killed over a thousand people.
At the end of World War II
, the Unionist Government undertook programmes of "slum clearance" (the Blitz had exposed the "uninhabitable" condition of much city's housing) which involved decanting population out of mill, and factory, constructed terraced streets into new peripheral housing estates.
Added in the 1960s were road schemes, including the arterial M1-M2 Westlink
which ploughed over the dockland community of Sailortown
and severed the streets linking north and west Belfast to the city centre.
The cost was borne by the British Exchequer
. In what the Unionist
government understood as its reward for wartime service, London had agreed that parity in taxation between Northern Ireland and Great Britain should be matched by parity in the services delivered.
In addition to the public construction, this provided for universal health care, comprehensive social security, and "revolutionised access" to secondary and further education.
The new welfare state
contributed, in turn, to rising expectations; in the 1960s, a possible factor in new and growing protest over the Unionist government's record on civil and political rights,
Belfast has been the scene of various episodes of sectarian conflict between its Catholic and Protestant populations. These opposing groups in this conflict are now often termed republican
respectively, although they are also loosely referred to as 'nationalist
' and 'unionist
'. The most recent example of this conflict was known as the Troubles – a civil conflict that raged from around 1969 to 1998.
Belfast saw some of the worst of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, particularly in the 1970s, with rival paramilitary groups formed on both sides. Bombing, assassination and street violence formed a backdrop to life throughout the Troubles. In December 1971, 15 people, including two children, were killed when the Ulster Volunteer Force
(UVF) bombed McGurk's Bar
, the greatest loss of life in a single incident in Belfast.
Loyalist paramilitaries including the UVF and the Ulster Defence Association
(UDA) said that the killings they carried out were in retaliation for the IRA campaign
. Most of their victims were Catholics with no links to the Provisional IRA.
A particularly notorious group, based on the Shankill Road
in the mid-1970s, became known as the Shankill Butchers
The Provisional IRA
detonated 22 bombs within the confines of Belfast city centre on 21 July 1972, on what is known as Bloody Friday
, killing nine people.
The British Army, first deployed on the streets in August 1969, was also responsible for civilian deaths. In the deadliest event, known as the Ballymurphy massacre
, between 9 and 11 August 1971 members of the Parachute Regiment
killed at least nine civilians. A 2021 coroner’s report found that all those killed had been innocent and that the killings were "without justification".
During the Troubles the Europa Hotel
suffered 36 bomb attacks becoming known as "the most bombed hotel in the world".
In the 1970s and 1980s it was one of the world's most dangerous cities,
with a homicide rate around 31 per 100,000.
In all, over 1,600 people were killed in political violence in the city between 1969 and 2001.
In 1997, unionists
lost overall control of Belfast City Council for the first time in its history, with the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
gaining the balance of power between nationalists
and unionists. This position was confirmed in four subsequent council elections, with mayors from Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic and Labour Party
(SDLP), both of whom are nationalist parties, and the cross-community Alliance Party regularly elected since. The first nationalist Lord Mayor of Belfast was Alban Maginness of the SDLP, in 1997.
Northern Ireland Assembly and Westminster
is home to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
As Northern Ireland's capital city, Belfast is host to the Northern Ireland Assembly
, the site of the devolved
legislature for Northern Ireland. Belfast is divided into four Northern Ireland Assembly
and UK parliamentary
constituencies: Belfast North
, Belfast West
, Belfast South
and Belfast East
. All four extend beyond the city boundaries to include parts of Castlereagh
districts. In the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections in 2017
, Belfast elected 20 Members of the Legislative Assembly
(MLAs), 5 from each constituency
. Belfast elected 7 Sinn Féin
, 5 DUP
, 2 SDLP
, 3 Alliance Party
, 1 UUP
, 1 Green
and 1 PBPA
In the 2017 UK general election, Belfast elected one Member of Parliament
(MP) from each constituency to the House of Commons
at Westminster, London. This comprised 3 DUP and 1 Sinn Féin. In the 2019 UK general election
, the DUP lost two of their seats in Belfast; to Sinn Féin in North Belfast and to the SDLP in South Belfast.
Aerial view of Belfast.
Satellite image of Belfast with Lough
Belfast is at the western end of Belfast Lough and at the mouth of the River Lagan giving it the ideal location for the shipbuilding industry that once made it famous. When the Titanic
was built in Belfast in 1911–1912, Harland and Wolff
had the largest shipyard in the world.
Belfast is situated on Northern Ireland's eastern coast
at 54°35′49″N 05°55′45″W
. A consequence of this northern latitude is that it both endures short winter days and enjoys long summer evenings. During the winter solstice
, the shortest day of the year, local sunset is before 16:00 while sunrise is around 08:45. This is balanced by the summer solstice
in June, when the sun sets after 22:00 and rises before 05:00.
In 1994, a weir
was built across the river by the Laganside Corporation
to raise the average water level so that it would cover the unseemly mud flats which gave Belfast its name
(from Irish Béal Feirste
'The sandy ford at the river mouth').
The area of Belfast Local Government District is 42.31 square miles (109.6 km2
The River Farset
is also named after this silt
deposit (from the Irish feirste
meaning "sand spit"). Originally a more significant river than it is today, the Farset formed a dock on High Street until the mid 19th century. Bank Street in the city centre
referred to the river bank and Bridge Street was named for the site of an early Farset bridge.
Superseded by the River Lagan as the more important river in the city, the Farset now languishes in obscurity, under High Street. There are no less than twelve other minor rivers in and around Belfast, namely the Blackstaff, the Colin, the Connswater, the Cregagh, the Derriaghy, the Forth, the Knock, the Legoniel, the Loop, the Milewater, the Purdysburn and the Ravernet.
, a basaltic hill overlooking the city
The city is flanked on the north and northwest by a series of hills, including Divis Mountain
, Black Mountain
, thought to be the inspiration for Jonathan Swift
's Gulliver's Travels
. When Swift was living at Lilliput Cottage near the bottom of Belfast's Limestone Road, he imagined that the Cavehill resembled the shape of a sleeping giant safeguarding the city.
The shape of the giant's nose, known locally as Napoleon's Nose
, is officially called McArt's Fort probably named after Art O'Neill, a 17th-century chieftain who controlled the area at that time.
Hills overlook the city on the southeast.
As with the vast majority of the rest of Ireland, Belfast has a temperate oceanic climate
in the Köppen climate classification
), with a narrow range of temperatures and rainfall throughout the year. The climate of Belfast is significantly milder than most other locations in the world at a similar latitude, due to the warming influence of the Gulf Stream
. There are currently five weather observing stations in the Belfast area: Helen's Bay
, Stormont, Newforge, Castlereagh, and Ravenhill Road. Slightly further afield is Aldergrove Airport.
The highest temperature recorded at any official weather station in the Belfast area was 30.8 °C (87.4 °F) at Shaw's Bridge
on 12 July 1983.
The city gets significant precipitation (greater than 1mm) on 157 days in an average year with an average annual rainfall of 846 millimetres (33.3 in),
less than areas of northern England or most of Scotland
but higher than Dublin
or the south-east coast of Ireland.
As an urban and coastal area, Belfast typically gets snow on fewer than 10 days per year.
The absolute maximum temperature at the weather station at Stormont is 29.7 °C (85.5 °F), set during July 1983.
In an average year the warmest day will rise to a temperature of 25.0 °C (77.0 °F)
with a day of 25.1 °C (77.2 °F) or above occurring roughly once every two in three years.
The absolute minimum temperature at Stormont is −9.9 °C (14 °F), during January 1982,
although in an average year the coldest night will fall no lower than −4.5 °C (23.9 °F) with air frost being recorded on just 26 nights.
The lowest temperature to occur in recent years was −8.8 °C (16.2 °F) on 22 December 2010.
The nearest weather station for which sunshine data and longer term observations are available is Belfast International Airport
). Temperature extremes here have slightly more variability due to the more inland location. The average warmest day at Aldergrove for example will reach a temperature of 25.4 °C (77.7 °F),
(1.0 °C [1.8 °F] higher than Stormont) and 2.1 days
should attain a temperature of 25.1 °C (77.2 °F) or above in total. Conversely the coldest night of the year averages −6.9 °C (19.6 °F)
(or 1.9 °C [3.4 °F] lower than Stormont) and 39 nights should register an air frost.
Some 13 more frosty nights than Stormont. The minimum temperature at Aldergrove was −14.9 °C (5.2 °F), during December 2010.
Areas and districts
The townlands of Belfast
are its oldest surviving land divisions and most pre-date the city. Belfast expanded very rapidly from being a market town to becoming an industrial city during the course of the 19th century. Because of this, it is less an agglomeration of villages and towns which have expanded into each other, than other comparable cities, such as Manchester
. The city expanded to the natural barrier of the hills that surround it, overwhelming other settlements. Consequently, the arterial roads along which this expansion took place (such as the Falls Road
or the Newtownards Road
) are more significant in defining the districts of the city than nucleated settlements. Parts of Belfast are segregated
by walls, commonly known as "peace lines
", erected by the British Army
after August 1969, and which still divide 14 districts in the inner city.
In 2008 a process was proposed for the removal of the 'peace walls'.
In June 2007, a £
16 million programme was announced which will transform and redevelop streets and public spaces in the city centre.
Major arterial roads (quality bus corridor
) into the city include the Antrim Road
, Shore Road
, Holywood Road, Newtownards Road, Castlereagh Road, Cregagh Road, Ormeau Road
, Malone Road
, Lisburn Road
, Falls Road
, Springfield Road
, Shankill Road
, and Crumlin Road, Four Winds.
St Anne's Cathedral
Belfast city centre is divided into two postcode districts, BT1
for the area lying north of the City Hall, and BT2
for the area to its south. The industrial estate and docklands BT3
. The rest of the Belfast post town
is divided in a broadly clockwise
system from BT3
in the north-east round to BT15
, with BT16
further out to the east and west respectively. Although BT
derives from Belfast
, the BT postcode area
extends across the whole of Northern Ireland.
Custom House Square is one of the city's main outdoor venues for free concerts and street entertainment. The Gaeltacht Quarter
is an area around the Falls Road in west Belfast which promotes and encourages the use of the Irish language
The Queen's Quarter
in south Belfast is named after Queen's University
. The area has a large student population and hosts the annual Belfast International Arts Festival
each autumn. It is home to Botanic Gardens
and the Ulster Museum
, which was reopened in 2009 after major redevelopment. The Golden Mile
is the name given to the mile between Belfast City Hall and Queen's University. Taking in Dublin Road, Great Victoria Street
, Shaftesbury Square
and Bradbury Place, it contains some of the best bars and restaurants in the city.
Since the Good Friday Agreement
in 1998, the nearby Lisburn Road has developed into the city's most exclusive shopping strip.
Finally, the Titanic Quarter
covers 0.75 km2
(185 acres) of reclaimed land adjacent to Belfast Harbour
, formerly known as Queen's Island
. Named after RMS Titanic
, which was built here in 1912,
work has begun which promises to transform some former shipyard land into "one of the largest waterfront developments in Europe".
Plans include apartments, a riverside entertainment district, and a major Titanic-themed museum.
In its 2018 report on Best Places to Live in Britain, The Sunday Times
named Ballyhackamore, "the brunch capital of Belfast", as the best place in Northern Ireland.
The district of Ballyhackamore has even acquired the name "Ballysnackamore" due to the preponderance of dining establishments in the area.
City quays panorama
is the tallest building in Belfast and Ireland.
The City Hall was finished in 1906 and was built to reflect Belfast's city status, granted by Queen Victoria
in 1888. The Edwardian
architectural style of Belfast City Hall influenced the Victoria Memorial
, India, and Durban
City Hall in South Africa.
The dome is 173 ft (53 m) high and figures above the door state "Hibernia
encouraging and promoting the Commerce and Arts of the City".
Among the city's grandest buildings are two former banks: Ulster Bank
in Waring Street (built in 1860) and Northern Bank
, in nearby Donegall Street (built in 1769). The Royal Courts of Justice
in Chichester Street are home to Northern Ireland's Supreme Court
. Many of Belfast's oldest buildings are found in the Cathedral Quarter
area, which is currently undergoing redevelopment as the city's main cultural and tourist area.
Windsor House, 262 ft (80 m) high, has 23 floors and is the second tallest building (as distinct from structure) in Ireland.
Work has started on the taller Obel Tower
, which already surpasses the height of Windsor House in its unfinished state.
The ornately decorated Crown Liquor Saloon
, designed by Joseph Anderson in 1876, in Great Victoria Street is one of only two pubs in the UK that are owned by the National Trust
(the other is the George Inn, Southwark
in London). It was made internationally famous as the setting for the classic film, Odd Man Out
, starring James Mason
The restaurant panels in the Crown Bar were originally made for Britannic
, the sister ship of the Titanic
built in Belfast.
The Harland and Wolff shipyard has two of the largest dry docks
where the giant cranes, Samson and Goliath
stand out against Belfast's skyline. Including the Waterfront Hall and the Odyssey Arena
, Belfast has several other venues for performing arts. The architecture of the Grand Opera House
has an oriental theme and was completed in 1895. It was bombed several times during the Troubles but has now been restored to its former glory. The Lyric Theatre
, (re-opened 1 May 2011 after undergoing a rebuilding programme) the only full-time producing theatre in the country, is where film star Liam Neeson
began his career.
The Ulster Hall
(1859–1862) was originally designed for grand dances but is now used primarily as a concert and sporting venue. Lloyd George
and Patrick Pearse
all attended political rallies there.
Parks and gardens
Sitting at the mouth of the River Lagan where it becomes a deep and sheltered lough, Belfast is surrounded by mountains that create a micro-climate conducive to horticulture. From the Victorian Botanic Gardens in the heart of the city to the heights of Cave Hill Country Park, the great expanse of Lagan Valley
to Colin Glen, Belfast contains an abundance of parkland and forest parks.
Parks and gardens are an integral part of Belfast's heritage, and home to an abundance of local wildlife and popular places for a picnic, a stroll or a jog. Numerous events take place throughout including festivals such as Rose Week and special activities such as bird watching evenings and great beast hunts.
Belfast has over forty public parks. The Forest of Belfast is a partnership between government and local groups, set up in 1992 to manage and conserve the city's parks and open spaces. They have commissioned more than 30 public sculptures since 1993.
In 2006, the City Council
set aside £8 million to continue this work.
The Belfast Naturalists' Field Club
was founded in 1863 and is administered by National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland.
With an average of 670,000 visitors per year between 2007 and 2011, one of the most popular parks 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
Other attractions in the park include the Tropical Ravine, a humid jungle glen built in 1889, rose gardens and public events ranging from live opera broadcasts to pop concerts. U2
played here in 1997. Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park
, to the south of the city centre, attracts thousands of visitors each year to its International Rose Garden.
Rose Week in July each year features over 20,000 blooms.
It has an area of 128 acres (0.52 km2
) of meadows, woodland and gardens and features a Diana, Princess of Wales
Memorial Garden, a Japanese garden
, a walled garden
, and the Golden Crown Fountain commissioned in 2002 as part of the Queen's Golden Jubilee
is owned by Belfast City Council. The council spends £1.5 million every year on running and promoting the zoo, which is one of the few local government-funded zoos in the UK and Ireland. The zoo is one of the top visitor attractions in Northern Ireland, receiving more than 295,000 visitors a year. The majority of the animals are in danger in their natural habitat. The zoo houses more than 1,200 animals of 140 species including Asian elephants
, Barbary lions
, Malayan sun bears
(one of the few in the United Kingdom), two species of penguin, a family of western lowland gorillas
, a troop of common chimpanzees
, a pair of red pandas
, a pair of Goodfellow's tree-kangaroos
and Francois' langurs
. The zoo also carries out important conservation work and takes part in European and international breeding programmes which help to ensure the survival of many species under threat.
Belfast experienced a huge growth in population in the first half of the 20th century. This rise slowed and peaked around the start of the Troubles with the 1971 census showing almost 600,000 people in the Belfast Urban Area.
Since then, the inner city numbers have dropped dramatically as people have moved to swell the Greater Belfast
suburb population. The 2001 census population in the same Urban Area had fallen to 277,391
people, with 579,554 people living in the wider Belfast Metropolitan Area
The 2001 census recorded 81,650 people from Catholic backgrounds and 79,650 people from Protestant backgrounds of working age living in Belfast.
The population density in 2011 was 24.88 people/hectare (compared to 1.34 for the rest of Northern Ireland).
As with many cities, Belfast's inner city is currently characterised by the elderly, students and single young people, while families tend to live on the periphery. Socio-economic areas radiate out from the Central Business District
, with a pronounced wedge of affluence extending out the Malone Road and Upper Malone Road to the south.
An area of deprivation is found in the inner parts of the north and west of the city. The areas around the Falls Road
and New Lodge
(Catholic nationalist) and the Shankill Road
(Protestant loyalist) are among the ten most deprived wards in Northern Ireland.
A loyalist mural in Belfast
Despite a period of relative peace, most areas and districts of Belfast still reflect the divided nature of Northern Ireland as a whole. Many areas are still highly segregated along ethnic, political and religious lines, especially in working-class neighbourhoods.
These zones – Catholic
on one side and Protestant
on the other – are invariably marked by flags
. Segregation has been present throughout the history of Belfast but has been maintained and increased by each outbreak of violence in the city. This escalation in segregation, described as a "ratchet effect", has shown little sign of decreasing.
The highest levels of segregation in the city are in west Belfast with many areas greater than 90% Catholic. Opposite but comparatively high levels are seen in the predominantly Protestant east Belfast.
Areas where segregated working-class areas meet are known as interface areas
and sometimes marked by peace lines
When violence flares, it tends to be in interface areas.
Since the expansion of the European Union, numbers have been boosted by an influx of Eastern European immigrants
. Census figures (2011) showed that Belfast has a total non-white population of 10,219 or 3.3%,
while 18,420 or 6.6%
of the population were born outside the UK and Ireland.
Almost half of those born outside the UK and Ireland live in south Belfast
, where they comprise 9.5% of the population.
The majority of the estimated 5,000 Muslims
and 200 Hindu
living in Northern Ireland live in the Greater Belfast
On Census Day (27 March 2011) the usually resident population of Belfast Local Government District (2014) was 333,871 accounting for 18.44% of the NI total.
This represents a 1.60% increase since the 2001 Census.
On Census Day 27 March 2011, in Belfast Local Government District (2014), considering the resident population:
- 3.23% were from an ethnic minority population and the remaining 96.77% were white (including Irish Traveller);
- 48.82% belong to or were brought up in the Catholic faith and 42.47% belong to or were brought up in a 'Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related)'denomination; and
- 43.32% indicated that they had a British national identity, 35.10% had an Irish national identity and 26.92% had a Northern Irish national identity.
Respondents could indicate more than one national identity
On Census Day 27 March 2011, in Belfast Local Government District (2014), considering the population aged 3 years old and over:
- 13.45% had some knowledge of Irish;
- 5.23% had some knowledge of Ulster-Scots; and
- 4.34% did not have English as their first language.
On Census Day 27 March 2011, considering the population aged 16 years old and over:
- 25.56% had a degree or higher qualification; while
- 41.21% had no or low (Level 1*) qualifications.
Level 1 is 1–4 O Levels/CSE/GCSE (any grades) or equivalent
On Census Day 27 March 2011, considering the population aged 16 to 74 years old:
- 63.84% were economically active, 36.16% were economically inactive;
- 52.90% were in paid employment; and
- 5.59% were unemployed, of these 43.56% were long-term unemployed.
Long-term unemployed are those who stated that they have not worked since 2009 or earlier
- The Belfast City Council area in the 2011 census
Percentage Catholic or brought up Catholic
Most commonly stated national identity
Percentage born outside the UK and Ireland
When the population of Belfast town began to grow in the 17th century, its economy was built on commerce.
It provided a market for the surrounding countryside and the natural inlet of Belfast Lough
gave the city its own port. The port supplied an avenue for trade with Great Britain and later Europe and North America. In the mid-17th century, Belfast exported beef, butter, hides, tallow and corn and it imported coal, cloth, wine, brandy, paper, timber and tobacco.
Around this time, the linen trade in Northern Ireland blossomed and by the middle of the 18th century, one fifth of all the linen exported from Ireland was shipped from Belfast.
The present city however is a product of the Industrial Revolution
It was not until industry transformed the linen and shipbuilding trades that the economy and the population boomed. By the turn of the 19th century, Belfast had transformed into the largest linen producing centre in the world,
earning the nickname "Linenopolis
Belfast harbour was dredged in 1845 to provide deeper berths for larger ships. Donegall Quay was built out into the river as the harbour was developed further and trade flourished.
The Harland and Wolff
shipbuilding firm was created in 1861, and by the time the Titanic
was built, in 1912, it had become the largest shipyard in the world.
plc is a British aerospace company based in Belfast. It was the first aircraft manufacturing company in the world. The company began its association with Belfast in 1936, with Short & Harland Ltd, a venture jointly owned by Shorts and Harland and Wolff. Now known as Shorts Bombardier it works as an international aircraft manufacturer located near the Port of Belfast.
The rise of mass-produced and cotton clothing following World War I
were some of the factors which led to the decline of Belfast's international linen trade.
Like many British cities dependent on traditional heavy industry, Belfast suffered serious decline since the 1960s, exacerbated greatly in the 1970s and 1980s by the Troubles. More than 100,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost since the 1970s.
For several decades, Northern Ireland's fragile economy required significant public support from the British exchequer
of up to £4 billion per year.
After the Troubles
The Waterfront Hall. Built in 1997, the hall is a concert, exhibition and conference venue.
Other major developments include the regeneration of the Titanic Quarter
, and the erection of the Obel Tower
, a skyscraper set to be the tallest tower on the island.
Today, Belfast is Northern Ireland's educational and commercial hub. In February 2006, Belfast's unemployment rate stood at 4.2%, lower than both the Northern Ireland
and the UK average of 5.5%.
Over the past 10 years employment has grown by 16.4%, compared with 9.2% for the UK as a whole.
Northern Ireland's peace dividend
has led to soaring property prices in the city. In 2007, Belfast saw house prices grow by 50%, the fastest rate of growth in the UK.
In March 2007, the average house in Belfast cost £91,819, with the average in south Belfast being £141,000.
In 2004, Belfast had the lowest owner occupation rate in Northern Ireland at 54%.
Peace has boosted the numbers of tourists coming to Belfast. There were 6.4 million visitors in 2005, which was a growth of 8.5% from 2004. The visitors spent £285.2 million, supporting more than 15,600 jobs.
Visitor numbers rose by 6% to reach 6.8 million in 2006, with tourists spending £324 million, an increase of 15% on 2005.
The city's two airports have helped make the city one of the most visited weekend destinations in Europe.
Belfast has been the fastest-growing economy of the thirty largest cities in the UK over the past decade, a new economy report by Howard Spencer has found. "That's because [of] the fundamentals of the UK economy and [because] people actually want to invest in the UK,"
he commented on that report.
Radio 4's World reported furthermore that despite higher levels of corporation tax in the UK than in the Republic. There are "huge amounts" of foreign investment coming into the country.
wrote about Belfast's growing economy: "According to the region's development agency, throughout the 1990s Northern Ireland had the fastest-growing regional economy in the UK, with GDP increasing 1 per cent per annum faster than the rest of the country. As with any modern economy, the service sector is vital to Northern Ireland's development and is enjoying excellent growth. In particular, the region has a booming tourist industry with record levels of visitors and tourist revenues and has established itself as a significant location for call centres."
Since the ending of the region's conflict tourism has boomed in Northern Ireland, greatly aided by low cost.
, a German weekly magazine for politics and economy, titled Belfast as The New Celtic Tiger
which is "open for business".
Belfast is one of the constituent cities that makes up the Dublin-Belfast corridor
region, which has a population of just under 3 million.
Silent Valley Reservoir, showing the brick-built overflow
Most of Belfast's water is supplied via the Aquarius pipeline
from the Silent Valley Reservoir
in County Down
, created to collect water from the Mourne Mountains
The rest of the city's water is sourced from Lough Neagh
, via Dunore Water Treatment Works
in County Antrim.
The citizens of Belfast pay for their water in their rates
bill. Plans to bring in additional water tariffs have been deferred by devolution
in May 2007.
Belfast has approximately 1,300 km (808 mi) of sewers
, which are currently being replaced in a project costing over £100 million and due for completion in 2009.
Power is provided from a number of power stations
via NIE Networks Limited
transmission lines. Phoenix Natural Gas Ltd.
started supplying customers in Larne and Greater Belfast with natural gas in 1996 via the newly constructed Scotland-Northern Ireland pipeline
in Belfast (and the rest of Northern Ireland) were reformed in April 2007. The discrete capital
value system means rates bills are determined by the capital value of each domestic property as assessed by the Valuation and Lands Agency
The recent dramatic rise in house prices has made these reforms unpopular.
Belfast is a relatively car-dependent city by European standards, with an extensive road network including the 22.5 miles (36 km) M2
and M22 motorway
A 2005 survey of how people travel in Northern Ireland showed that people in Belfast made 77% of all journeys by car, 11% by public transport and 6% on foot.
It showed that Belfast has 0.70 cars per household compared to figures of 1.18 in the East and 1.14 in the West of Northern Ireland.
A road improvement-scheme in Belfast began early in 2006, with the upgrading of two junctions along the Westlink
dual-carriageway to grade-separated
standard. The improvement scheme was completed five months ahead of schedule in February 2009, with the official opening taking place on 4 March 2009.
Commentators have argued that this may create a bottleneck at York Street, the next at-grade intersection
, until that too is upgraded.
On 25 October 2012 the stage 2 report for the York Street intersection was approved
and in December 2012 the planned upgrade moved into stage 3 of the development process. If successfully completing the necessary statutory procedures, work on a grade separated junction to connect the Westlink to the M2/M3 motorways is scheduled to take place between 2014 and 2018,
creating a continuous link between the M1 and M2, the two main motorways in Northern Ireland.
are common in the city, operating on a share
basis in some areas.
These are outnumbered by private hire taxis
. Bus and rail public transport in Northern Ireland is operated by subsidiaries of Translink
. Bus services in the city proper and the nearer suburbs are operated by Translink Metro
, with services focusing on linking residential districts with the city centre on 12 quality bus corridors
running along main radial roads,
In April 2008, the Department for Regional Development
reported on a plan for a light-rail system, similar to that in Dublin
. The consultants said Belfast does not have the population to support a light rail system, suggesting that investment in bus-based rapid transit would be preferable. The study found that bus-based rapid transit produces positive economic results, but light rail does not. The report by Atkins & KPMG, however, said there would be the option of migrating to light rail in the future should the demand increase.
The city has two airports: Belfast International Airport
offering, domestic, European and international flights such as Orlando operated seasonally by Virgin Atlantic
. The airport is located northwest of the city, near Lough Neagh, while the George Best Belfast City Airport
, which is closer to the city centre by train from Sydenham
on the Bangor
Line, adjacent to Belfast Lough, offers UK domestic flights and a few European flights. In 2005, Belfast International Airport was the 11th busiest commercial airport in the UK, accounting for just over 2% of all UK terminal passengers while the George Best Belfast City Airport was the 16th busiest and had 1% of UK terminal passengers. The Belfast – Liverpool route is the busiest domestic flight route in the UK excluding London with 555,224 passengers in 2009. Over 2.2 million passengers flew between Belfast and London in 2009.
Belfast has a large port
used for exporting and importing goods, and for passenger ferry services. Stena Line
runs regular routes to Cairnryan
in Scotland using its conventional vessels—with a crossing time of around 2 hours 15 minutes. Until 2011 the route went to Stranraer
and used inter alia a HSS (High Speed Service) vessel—with a crossing time of around 90 minutes. Stena Line also operates a route to Liverpool
. A seasonal sailing to Douglas, Isle of Man
is operated by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company
bus service is a new form of transport in Belfast. Introduced in 2018, it is a rapid transit system linking East Belfast, West Belfast and the Titanic Quarter from the City Centre.
Using articulated buses
, the £90 million service saw a 17% increase in its first month in Belfast, with 30,000 more people using the Gliders every week. The service is being recognised as helping to modernise the city's public transport.
Belfast's population is evenly split between its Protestant and Catholic residents.
These two distinct cultural communities have both contributed significantly to the city's culture. Throughout the Troubles, Belfast artists continued to express themselves through poetry, art and music. In the period since the Good Friday Agreement
in 1998, Belfast has begun a social, economic and cultural transformation giving it a growing international cultural reputation.
In 2003, Belfast had an unsuccessful bid for the 2008 European Capital of Culture
. The bid was run by an independent company, Imagine Belfast
, who boasted that it would "make Belfast the meeting place of Europe's legends, where the meaning of history and belief find a home and a sanctuary from caricature, parody and oblivion."
According to The Guardian
the bid may have been undermined by the city's history
and volatile politics.
In 2004–05, art and cultural events in Belfast were attended by 1.8 million people (400,000 more than the previous year). The same year, 80,000 people participated in culture and other arts activities, twice as many as in 2003–04.
A combination of relative peace, international investment and an active promotion of arts and culture is attracting more tourists to Belfast than ever before. In 2004–05, 5.9 million people visited Belfast, a 10% increase from the previous year, and spent £262.5 million.
The Ulster Orchestra
, based in Belfast, is Northern Ireland's only full-time symphony orchestra
and is well renowned in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1966, it has existed in its present form since 1981, when the BBC Northern Ireland
Orchestra was disbanded.
The music school of Queen's University is responsible for arranging a notable series of lunchtime and evening concerts, often given by renowned musicians which are usually given in The Harty Room at the university (University Square).
emerging from the Ritz Cinema, Belfast following their concert, 8 November 1963.
Musicians and bands who have written songs about or dedicated to Belfast include U2
, Van Morrison
, Snow Patrol
, Simple Minds
, Elton John
, Rogue Male
, Katie Melua
, Boney M
, Paul Muldoon
, Stiff Little Fingers
, Nanci Griffith
, Glenn Patterson
, James Taylor
, Fun Boy Three
, Spandau Ballet
, The Police
, Gary Moore
, Neon Neon
, Toxic Waste
, Energy Orchard
, and Billy Bragg
Belfast has a longstanding underground club scene which was established in the early 1980s.
Belfast has the highest concentration of Irish-speakers in Northern Ireland. Like all areas of the island of Ireland outside of the Gaeltacht
, the Irish language in Belfast is not that of an unbroken intergenerational transmission. Due to community activity in the 1960s, including the establishment of the Shaw's Road Gaeltacht
community, the expanse in the Irish language arts, and the advancements made in the availability of Irish medium education throughout the city, it can now be said that there is a 'mother-tongue' community of speakers.[dubious – discuss]
The language is heavily promoted in the city and is particularly visible in the Falls Road area, where the signs on both the iconic black taxis and on the public buses are bilingual.
Projects to promote the language in the city are funded by various sources, notably Foras na Gaeilge
, an all-Ireland body funded by both the Irish and British governments. There are a number of Irish language Primary schools and one secondary school in Belfast. The provision of certain resources for these schools (for example, such as the provision of textbooks) is supported by the charitable organisation TACA.
The city has become a popular film location; The Paint Hall at Harland and Wolff has become one of the UK Film Council's main studios. The facility comprises four stages of 16,000 square feet (1,500 m2
). Shows filmed at The Paint Hall include the film City of Ember
(2008) and HBO
's Game of Thrones
series (beginning in late 2009).
The Northern Ireland national football team
, ranked 23rd in August 2017 in the FIFA World Rankings
plays its home matches at Windsor Park
. The 2017–18 Irish League
are based at Seaview
, in the north of the city. Other senior
clubs are Glentoran
, Harland & Wolff Welders
clubs are: Dundela
, Newington Youth
, Queen's University
and Sport & Leisure Swifts
, who compete in the NIFL Premier Intermediate League
; Albert Foundry
, Colin Valley
, Crumlin Star
, Dunmurry Rec., Dunmurry Young Men, East Belfast
, Grove United
, Iveagh United
, Orangefield Old Boys, Rosario Youth Club
, St Luke's
, St Patrick's Young Men
, Shankill United
, Short Brothers
and Sirocco Works
of the Northern Amateur Football League
and Donegal Celtic
of the Ballymena & Provincial League
In 2007, Pro Wrestling Ulster formed. This is wrestling promotion on the independent circuit, holding events and PPVs in Europa Hotel
and The Mandela Hall
. It runs to this day.
Belfast is home to one of the biggest British ice hockey
clubs, the Belfast Giants
. The Giants were founded in 2000 and play their games at the 9,500 capacity Odyssey Arena, where crowds normally range from 4,000 to 7,000. Many ex-NHL players have featured on the Giants roster, none more famous than world superstar Theo Fleury
. The Giants play in the 10-team professional Elite Ice Hockey League
which is the top league in Britain. The Giants have been league champions
5 times, most recently in the 2018–19 season. The Belfast Giants
are a huge brand in Northern Ireland and their increasing stature in the game led to the Belfast Giants
playing the Boston Bruins
of the NHL
on 2 October 2010 at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, losing the game 5–1.
Academia and science
Arts and media
- Anthony Boyle, actor
- Sir Kenneth Branagh, actor
- Gordon Burns, journalist, TV Gameshow Host
- Ciaran Carson, writer
- Frank Carson, comedian
- Jamie Dornan, actor
- Barry Douglas, musician
- Sir James Galway, musician
- Eamonn Holmes, broadcaster
- Brian Desmond Hurst, film director
- Oliver Jeffers, artist
- C. S. Lewis, author
- Paula Malcomson, actress
- Gerry McAvoy, musician and long time bass guitarist with Rory Gallagher
- Gary Moore, guitarist
- Van Morrison, singer-songwriter
- Doc Neeson, singer-songwriter
- Patricia Quinn, actress
- Roy Walker (comedian), TV Gameshow Host
- Paddy Barnes, boxer, Olympic Games Bronze Medalist
- George Best, football player, Ballon D'or winner
- Danny Blanchflower, football player and manager
- Jackie Blanchflower, football player
- Christopher Brunt, football player
- Craig Cathcart, football player
- P. J. Conlon, baseball player
- Killian Dain, professional wrestler
- Mal Donaghy, football player
- Corry Evans, football player
- Jonny Evans, football player
- Dave Finlay, professional wrestler
- Carl Frampton, boxer
- Craig Gilroy, rugby union player
- Alex Higgins, snooker player
- Paddy Jackson, rugby union player
- Jim Magilton, football player and manager
- Sir Tony McCoy, horse racing jockey
- Wayne McCullough, WBC World Champion Boxer, Olympic Games Silver Medalist, Patron of Northern Ireland Children's Hospice
- Alan McDonald, football player
- Rory McIlroy, golfer
- Sammy McIlroy, football player and manager
- Owen Nolan, hockey player, Olympic gold medalist
- Dame Mary Peters, Olympic sportswoman and gold medalist
- Tommy Robb, Grand Prix motorcycle road racer
- Pat Rice, football player and coach
- Trevor Ringland, rugby union player
- Gary Wilson, cricketer
Belfast has two universities. Queen's University Belfast
was founded in 1845 and is a member of the Russell Group
, an association of 24 leading research-intensive universities in the UK.
It is one of the largest universities in the UK with 25,231 undergraduate and postgraduate students spread over 250 buildings, 120 of which are listed as being of architectural merit.
, created in its current form in 1984, is a multi-centre university with a campus in the Cathedral Quarter
of Belfast. The Belfast campus has a specific focus on Art and Design and Architecture, and is currently undergoing major redevelopment. The Jordanstown
campus, just seven miles (11 km) from Belfast city centre concentrates on engineering, health and social science. The Coleraine
campus, about 55 mi (89 km) from Belfast city centre concentrates on a broad range of subjects. Course provision is broad – biomedical sciences, environmental science and geography, psychology, business, the humanities and languages, film and journalism, travel and tourism, teacher training and computing are among the campus strengths. The Magee
campus, about 70 mi (113 km) from Belfast city centre has many teaching strengths; including business, computing, creative technologies, nursing, Irish language and literature, social sciences, law, psychology, peace and conflict studies and the performing arts. The Conflict Archive on the Internet
(CAIN) Web Service receives funding from both universities and is a rich source of information and source material on the Troubles as well as society and politics in Northern Ireland.
Belfast Metropolitan College
is a large further education
college with three main campuses around the city, including several smaller buildings. Formerly known as Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education, it specialises in vocational education
. The college has over 53,000 students enrolled on full-time and part-time courses, making it one of the largest further education colleges in the UK and the largest in the island of Ireland.
Belfast is one of the most visited cities in the UK,
and the second most visited on the island of Ireland.
In 2008, 7.1 million tourists visited the city.
Numerous popular tour bus companies and boat tours run there throughout the year, including tours based on the popular series Game of Thrones
, which has had various filming locations around Northern Ireland.
, the American travel guidebook series, listed Belfast as the only United Kingdom destination in its Top 12 Destinations to Visit
in 2009. The other listed destinations were Berlin
, Cape Town
(South Africa), Cartagena
(Turkey), the Lassen Volcanic National Park
(Egypt), the Selma To Montgomery National Historic Trail
(US), Waiheke Island
(New Zealand), Washington, D.C. (US), and Waterton Lakes National Park
The Belfast City Council is currently investing into the complete redevelopment of the Titanic Quarter, which is planned to consist of apartments, hotels, and a riverside entertainment district. A major visitor attraction, Titanic Belfast
is a monument to Belfast's maritime heritage on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard, opened on 31 March 2012. It features a criss-cross of escalators and suspended walkways and nine high-tech galleries.
They also hope to invest in a new modern transport system (including high-speed rail and others) for Belfast, with a cost of £250 million.
2017 was a great year for Belfast in terms of tourism with nearly 1.5 million trips being made to the city, generating around 5 million bed nights and incredible tourism revenue of 328 million pounds.
In 2018, Belfast saw six new hotels being opened, with the biggest in Northern Ireland, the £53 million Grand Central Hotel Belfast
officially open to the public. The other hotels included AC Marriot, Hampton By Hilton, EasyHotel, Maldron Belfast City Centre and Flint. The new hotels have helped to increase a further 1,000 bedrooms in the city.
Belfast was successful in attracting many conferencing events, both national and international, to the city in 2018. Over 60 conferences took place that year with 30,000 people helping contribute to a record 45 million pounds for the local economy.
Twin towns – sister cities Belfast City Council takes part in the twinning scheme
and is twinned with the following sister cities:
Freedom of the City
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