There was a time when the name Belfast raised an immediate red flag to visitors, but these days, the town's highly publicized political unrest has greatly subsided. Curiosity-seekers can still find elaborate murals and other relics from turbulent times lingering in certain neighborhoods, but for the most part, Belfast is now safer than many other European capitals, and its new image is one of both progress and hospitality.
If you've been to Dublin, the differences between that city and Belfast may seem striking. Belfast, of course, is part of Northern Ireland, which itself is part of the United Kingdom; the Republic of Ireland is part of... just the Republic of Ireland.
So British influence seems to have coated Belfast with a more polished veneer and a Victorian elegance that's evident in the town's shops, restaurants and even its pubs. The omnipresent Irish charm still exists, but Belfast also projects a cosmopolitan flair that's rarely seen elsewhere on the Emerald Isle. The glittering row of boutiques lining the Golden Mile, Belfast's premier shopping district, is more reminiscent of Paris or Milan, while a new wave of trendy restaurants now offers visitors haute cuisine in addition to local favorites. The city has come a long way since the days of security checkpoints and armored patrols, and Belfast now appears poised to shed its unfortunate past and take its place among Europe's new hot spots.