If you want to head to the countryside or the beaches on your trip, it's worth hiring a car at the airport. Hertz offers Smith members a 10 per cent discount and free gold membership.
Fly to George Best Belfast City Airport if you can - from there, it's only a 10-minute cab ride into town, and there are regular trains and Airlink buses to the city centre, too. British Airways (www.ba.com) and Flybe (www.flybe.com) head there from all major UK regional hubs. City Jet flies from London City (www.cityjet.com); BMI Baby flies from Heathrow (www.bmibaby.com).
Trains to the city centre leave from the airport every half an hour during the day, for about £1.20. Belfast is well connected with the rest of Northern Ireland, and there are regular cross-border services to Dublin - the journey takes about two hours. Visit www.nirailways.co.uk for details.
UK country code: +44. Northern Ireland: 028. Belfast: 90.
Most modern novels touch on the Troubles in some way. While Brian Moore's Lies of Silence is a gripping suspense novel, Robert McLiam Wilson offers a lighter, comic take in Eureka Street, which focuses on two friends, one Catholic, one Protestant. This Human Season by Louise Dean is full of blood, sweat, tears and smoking. That Which Was by Glenn Patterson is also an insightful read.
Do go / Don't Go
April to September are the months to pick if you want to enjoy the best of the weather. January is the bleakest month.
There's great gourmet cooking with local produce to be had here, but make sure you have an Ulster Fry for breakfast at least once: expect black and white pudding and soda bread to be a big feature. While steak is still ever-present on restaurant menus, these days it's more likely to come with a mango and chilli salsa.
With much of the city pedestrianised, and with a compact centre, it's great to navigate on foot; for trips beyond the city centre, it's easy to grab a black cab (just hail one on the street), especially at your hotel. Alternatively, Value Cabs is a reliable minicab company (+44 (0)28 9080 9080).
Tip up to 15 per cent for a good meal, but make sure they haven't added that 'discretionary' 12.5 per cent for you already.
Perhaps pack an umbrella. Many of the murals dating from the Troubles are being repainted with less provocative imagery, so bring a camera to record these historic artworks before they're gone for good.
Belfast has a booming arts scene, and the Belfast Festival, every October/November, is Europe's second-biggest arts festival. Gallery hounds will find satisfaction strolling around the Cathedral Quarter; Belfast Exposed (www.belfastexposed.org) specialises in photography and is highly recommended. Our favourite space is the Ormeau Baths Gallery (www.ormeaubaths.co.uk) hosting Irish and international artists and quirkily located in the former Victorian baths. The Naughton Gallery at Queen's University (www.naughtongallery.org) is a cutting-edge visual-arts platform, with ever-changing displays.
The Crown Liquor Saloon on Great Victoria Street (+44 (0)28 9027 9901; www.crownbar.com) is notable for being one of only two pubs in the UK owned by the National Trust. Its listed Victorian interiors feature original gas lamps and carved wooden snugs with imposing etched-glass panels.
High street habitués stick to the city centre; more selective spenders head along the Lisburn Road, aka the 'Diamond Mile', for a boutique-shopping day with a village feel. St George's Market in the city centre is a Belfast landmark. Renovated to its former Victorian glory, it hosts fantastic weekly shopping extravaganzas: on Fridays you'll find everything from soap to shark steaks at the Variety Market; on Saturdays, the City Food and Garden Market woos visitors with its delicious displays of regional and European produce, flowers and live music.
Head to the Cave Hill Country Park and climb the 368-metre peak looming over Belfast. You'll see all of the city's glorious sprawl and on a clear day, you'll get a glimpse of Scotland on the horizon, too. Jonathan Swift took his inspiration for Gulliver's Travels from here. If you squint up at it from below, it does look a little like a sleeping giant.
Inside the Victorian Palm House at the Botanic Gardens (+44 (0)28 9032 4902), the Tropical Ravine is a unique, sunken gully of tropicana that runs the length of the building, with a balcony either side for viewing the triffid-like flora. The one to watch is the Dombeya, which flowers every February.
January Out to Lunch is a fringe festival of lunchtime music, theatre and comedy in the Cathedral Quarter (www.cqaf.com). March Belfast Film Festival showcases an edifying programme of international flicks with social and political merit (www.belfastfilmfestival.org). May Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival offers the best in new theatre, comedy, music, literature, circus performance, visual arts and more (www.cqaf.com). July-August Europe's largest community arts festival, Féile an Phobail, gives Glastonbury a serious run for its money (www.feilebelfast.com). September-October Open House Festival brings traditional roots and acoustic music to the Cathedral Quarter (www.openhousefestival.com). October The Belfast Festival at Queen's is Europe's second-biggest arts festival, with opera, stand-up comedy and live performances (www.belfastfestival.com). November Cinemagic is an international children's film festival (www.cinemagic.org.uk).