The country of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the UK for short) is made up of four separate and distinct countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
The UK is not the same thing as Great Britain, which is made up of England, Scotland, and Wales. Both the island of Great Britain and the island of Ireland (Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland together) make up the British Isles along with a few smaller surrounding islands.
English is the main language spoken throughout the country though in Northern Ireland you will find much of the population speaks Irish Gaelic as a second language. In Wales, Welsh is the Celtic language spoken and in Scotland, the language spoken is Scottish Gaelic. It is not uncommon to hear a variety of local accents around the UK.
Irish culture is known for its lively pub scene, traditional music and colorful folklore, with these 3 aspects of life often joining together.
Irish pubs are about much more than drink. It is a place you can find people of all demographics coming together to share their tales and bond over life's little worries. You may enter a pub alone and come out with great new friends from backgrounds totally unlike your own.
Traditional Irish music, while historically played in the home and private music venues, can now be found anywhere and everywhere. It is not uncommon to find music being played in the streets, pubs or pretty much anywhere else you can find a place to sit and strum a fiddle or bang some drums.
The local culture is filed with a folklore that is both abundant and eclectic. Everyone knows the tales of the sneaky leprechaun, but do you know the story of the fighting giants running across the ocean? What about the countless myths of the fairies and spirits that wander the countryside?
One of the city's most famous attractions are the political murals that dot the city- some dating back to 1908. These murals portray historical events, political points of interest and past political territories. The murals represent a voice for the community and have changed with the political tides over time.
The best way to see the numerous murals around town is through a Black Taxi Tour. You'll learn about the history and significance of each painted wall through the eyes of a local.
Conveniently located on the campus of Queen's University, the Ulster Museum is the largest and most prominent museum in Northern Ireland. Here you will find relics of Irish and British past, treasures from a 1588 Spanish shipwreck as well as ancient artifacts from Egyptian history.
The most infamous ship of all time was crafted right here in the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast. While the city was once ashamed of the ship for decades, they have recently come to embrace the past and are developing new tourist attractions around the Titanic Quarter. In 2012- the 100th anniversary of the ship- Belfast will be holding a memorial and celebrating the city. Learn more about Belfast's relationship with Titanic here.
Cave Hill & the Belfast Castle
Just north of the city, a short hike up Cave Hill will give you an amazing panoramic views of the city and coast to the east and the Irish countryside with the Mourne Mountain to the south. On a clear day, you may even be able to see Scotland in the distance! See if you can find the caves near the top of the hike for which the hill bears its name. Towards the base of the hill, you will find the beautiful Belfast Castle, dating back to 1870. Use your animal instincts to find the 9 white cats hidden around the castle grounds- portrayed in mosaics, sculptures, garden furniture and more.
Belfast has endless activities for international visitors to enjoy. Listed below are some different cultural activities to do while in Belfast. You can do many of these activities on your own, with friends, or they may be sponsored by ISA. Upon arrival to Belfast, different sponsored cultural activities will be announced throughout your program abroad.
Go to the Opera
Visit the Grand Opera House in downtown Belfast and let your eyes and ears feast on everything this beautiful venue has to offer.
Visit an Art Exhibit
The Ormeau Baths Gallery is the premier exhibit hall in the country, showcasing Irish and international artists in this converted 19th century bathhouse. There are also numerous other galleries around the city, including some very near to Queen's.
Dine at the Oldest Tavern in the City
White's Tavern, which was first established in 1630, is a great place to grab some lunch and people watch alongside the locals. Cozy up to the fire pit on a cool winter's day or enjoy the live music on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Chat with the Locals
Take a seat at any local pub and chat up your neighbor to practice your Gaelic. The traditional pubs scattered around Belfast are a great place to mingle with the locals and get to know a diverse group of people. It is said that in the pubs all walks of life come together and all of the social differences are left at the door. See for yourself if this is true.
Located directly next to Queen's University are the vibrant and colorful Botanical Gardens. Take a Sunday afternoon stroll through the gardens and stop to admire the regional flora. Even in the middle of winter you can feel the tropical air inside the Palm House and the Tropical Ravine.
Jump into the Culture
An Droichead, a cultural center in South Belfast holds concerts, language classes, traditional dance, art exhibitions and Celtic events and workshops all in the name of promoting the local culture and heritage. Get involved for a chance to not only learn about Irish culture but get to experience it first hand.
Classmates Connecting Cultures
Stay connected while you're abroad and share your experience with an organization back home! This program is for ISA students that are interested in applying what they are learning in Belfast in an interactive and creative way. Students collaborate with a U.S.-based organization via blog entries in a structured program facilitated by ISA. Organization types can range from classrooms (elementary through undergraduate) to local businesses, non-profit organizations, your study abroad office, student interest groups and more! Check out what past students have written by visiting the Classmates Connecting Cultures blog. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Share your experience with your friends and prospective ISA students through the ISA blog! Your blogs will be featured on the ISA website for all to see. To learn more about the ISA Blogs, please visit the ISA Blog page.
We also suggest you check out the plethora of other cultural blogs available on the web to learn more about others' experiences in Belfast, cultural happenings, and expat lives.
While nearly 100% of the population of Northern Ireland speaks English, you may have an interest in learning the native Irish Gaelic. The following helpful phrases could serve as a good ice-breakers with your Irish classmates.
Hello - Dia Duit (pronounced dee-ah ghwit)
How are you - Conas atá tú? (pronounced cun-us ah-taw too)
Thank you – Go raibh maith agat. (pronounced gura mie ugut)
Please – Más é do thoil é (pronounced mushayduh-hulyah)
Goodbye – Slán leat (pronounced shlahn lyat)
Cheers - Sláinte (pronounced slaan-cheh)
Beware of translation websites...much can be LOST in translation!