Belfast is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland, standing on the banks of the River Lagan on the east coast. It is the twelfth largest city in the United Kingdom and the second-largest in Ireland. It had a population of 345,418 in 2021.
By the early 19th century, Belfast was a major port. It played an important role in the Industrial Revolution in Ireland, briefly becoming 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 & Wolff shipyard, which built the RMS Titanic, was the world’s largest shipyard. Industrialisation, and the resulting inward migration, made Belfast one of Ireland’s biggest cities. Following the partition of Ireland in 1921, Belfast became the seat of government for Northern Ireland. There was major communal violence in the city during partition. Belfast saw further severe violence and numerous bombings during the thirty years of the Troubles from 1969–1998 – and parts of the city remain segregated between Catholics and Protestants.
Belfast is still a port with commercial and industrial docks, including the Harland & Wolff shipyard, dominating the Belfast Lough shoreline. It also has a major aerospace industry and is served by two airports – George Best Belfast City Airport, three miles (five kilometres) from the city centre, and Belfast International Airport fifteen miles (twenty-four kilometres) west of the city. The Globalization and World Cities Research Network listed Belfast as a Gamma + global city in 2020.
A relatively car-dependent city by European standards, Belfast has an extensive road network that includes M2 and M22 motorway routes. Black taxis are common in the city, operating on a shared basis in some areas. Incidentally, 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 twelve quality bus corridors running along main radial roads.
There are several notable sports teams in Belfast playing a diverse variety of sports such as football, Gaelic games (Gelic football and Hurling), rugby, cricket, and ice hockey. The Belfast Marathon is run annually on or around May Day and has attracted over 20,000 participants in the past. The Northern Ireland national football team, ranked 59th as of October 2022 in the FIFA World Rankings, plays its home matches at Windsor Park. Football clubs active in Belfast include: Linfield, Glentoran, Crusaders, Cliftonville, Donegal Celtic, Harland & Wolff Welders, Dundela, Knockbreda, PSNI, Queen’s University, Newington, Sport & Leisure and Brantwood.
There are two universities in Belfast. Queen’s University Belfast was founded in 1845 and is a member of the Russell Group, an association of twenty-four leading research-intensive universities in the UK. It is one of the largest universities in the UK with over 25,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students spread over 250 buildings, 120 of which are listed as being of architectural merit. Ulster University, created in its current form in 1984, is a multi-centre university with a campus in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast.
From a tourism perspective, 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 tour bus companies and boat tours run there throughout the year, including tours based on the series Game of Thrones, which has had various filming locations around Northern Ireland. Frommer’s, the American travel guidebook series, listed Belfast as the only United Kingdom destination in its Top 12 Destinations to Visit in 2009. As a measure, the other listed destinations were Berlin (Germany), Cambodia, Cape Town (South Africa), Cartagena (Colombia), Istanbul (Turkey), the Lassen Volcanic National Park (US), Saqqara (Egypt), the Selma To Montgomery National Historic Trail (US), Waiheke Island (New Zealand), Washington, D.C. (US), and Waterton Lakes National Park (Canada).