As the leaves on the trees turn golden, red and orange, autumn is the perfect time to visit Belfast. Time Out’s Yolanda Zappaterra and Jan Fuscoe embarked on a mini break to Belfast and discovered a city full of gems. With its amazing food scene and nightlife, plus easy access to the glorious landscapes and coast of Co Antrim, Belfast is the must-do weekend break this autumn. Here are five Belfast highlights to get you started.
1. Sample some magic (or dance, or comedy, or cabaret) this autumn
Celebrating its tenth birthday this year, the adventurous Black Box performance space offers an eclectic mix of music, cabaret, theatre, spoken word, comedy and even magic shows. As the autumn nights draw in and the temperatures fall, its main space offers an intimate, warm and friendly bolthole, and the Green Room bar-café next door is a great place to chat to artistes and grab a slice of pizza with a pint – Friday happy hour offers pints of Guinness for just £2.80, and you can get a bottle of Heineken and a slice of pizza for £4 – or try one of the changing craft beers among its 13 taps.
2. Indulge yourself with one of the best meals you’ll eat all year
The warm lighting and riverfront setting draw people in droves into local man Stephen Toman and Brittany-born Alain Kerloc'h’s Michelin-starred Ox restaurant, but it’s the incredible seasonal food, genial service and laidback ambience that keep them here for hours. Go for one of the five-course tasting menus or order à la carte for the very best of Northern Ireland’s local, seasonal produce, from Mourne Mountain lamb and Belfast Lough lobster to veggies that taste heavenly. This autumn, the menu focuses on such delights as hay-baked celeriac and Skeaghanore Duck. Next door, the Ox Cave Wine bar features suitably autumnal colours in an intimate, warm space.
3. Tuck into a very special Sunday lunch at Aether and Echo
The pretty, understated interior of this fantastic pub belies a hip approach to night-time revelry – and daytime revelry too; the weekly Unholy Gospel Brunch, held on Sundays from 1pm until 4pm, is a gorgeously soulful affair fronted by Cormac Neeson from County Down rockers The Answer. Grab one of the lovely booths for excellent food and drink or at night head for the club space upstairs. Either way, you’ll have a grand time at Aether and Echo.
4. Indulge in some original Christmas shopping
It’s never too early to start your Christmas shopping, so this autumn why not get a headstart on yours with some great gifts from local makers and producers? Set up by silversmith and jeweller Linzie Rooney in 2013 as ‘somewhere to spend the day with like-minded people,’ Studio Souk sells original work by some 80 local artists and designers. It’s an Aladdin’s Cave of wonder, with many of the makers working in huts in the upstairs space. The ceramics, prints, woollens and produce just scream ‘buy me’, and the prices are affordable enough to do just that.
5. Get lost in a beguiling forest filled with autumnal colours
In the understandable rush to the Giant’s Causeway or famous 'Games of Thrones ®' locations on the Antrim Coast, it’s easy to bypass the quieter but bountiful wonders of another 'GOT' location; Glenariff Forest Park in the Glens of Antrim. Just an hour’s drive from the city, this beautiful area includes four waymarked trails of between one and 15 km which offer thundering waterfalls, rocky gorges, small lakes and 900ha of towering spruces, conifers and pines. And on the outskirts of the park, the Laragh Lodge Restaurant offers a short-cut to one of the best waterfalls in it, as well as homemade cake and tea (or a beer).
Visit timeout.com/tourbelfast for our full city guide, and to enter our special competition to win a mini-break to Belfast for two people.