Belfast has been called “Maine’s best-kept coastal secret” and “one of the ten coolest small towns” in the country. A city of 7,000 people located in the heart of Maine’s midcoast area, it’s a quirky, humble place that features an active waterfront and a lively arts community. It is also the county seat of Waldo county and a regional center of business & services. Routes 1 and 3 connect Belfast directly to the Maine Turnpike and to Maine’s capital, Augusta. Belfast is served by daily buses south to Boston and Logan International Airport (via Portland) and north to Bangor, the largest city in the region. It has its own small airport and an excellent harbor. Care to see a slice of life in Belfast? Check out this video…
The Colonial is a beautifully restored independent cinema, and perhaps the only movie theater in existence with an elephant on the roof! The Belfast Free Library (recently renovated, and now with free WIFI) often hosts lectures and presentations. Waterfall Arts, a nonprofit arts center, also hosts artists' talks and open mic nights. The Belfast Maskers stage locally-produced plays. There are numerous art galleries: Aarhus, Working Art, Neal Parent, High Street, First Light, Indigo, and more. Much of the year they host a Friday Night Art Walk and receptions, at which you’ll find an amazing range of high-quality local artists. Roots & Tendrils is a hip young music venue. Flying Shoes hosts monthly contradances. There’s the annual Maine Celtic Celebration, held on the waterfront, and New Year’s by the Bay, featuring a wide range of performances and activities for the whole family. During the summer months, you’ll find countless church fairs, grange hall get-togethers and special events throughout the region.
From the Belfast Common (on the waterfront) to the Belfast Dog Park, you’ll find no fewer than ten parks within the city limits. All are described in the some detail on the Friends of Belfast Parks website. The nicely-equipped and very active Waldo County YMCA is located about a mile down the road, and offers a wide range of programs for all ages. Enjoy tooling around on two wheels? The Belfast Bike Club does too! Prefer walking? The Coastal Mountains Land Trust maintains a number of trails and preserves in the Belfast environs. If your tastes run more to digging in the dirt, the Belfast Garden Club might be your cup of tea. And Come Boating! provides opportunities for seafarers of all ages and abilities to get out on the waters of beautiful Belfast Harbor.
Besides the usual assortment of national franchises and mom & pop eateries, there are a number of great places to eat. Chase’s Daily is an elegant farm-to-table vegetarian place, and Darby’s is an artsy pub with great food. Delvino’s offers upscale Italian fare, as well as some Japanese-inspired dishes. The café in the Belfast Co-op serves good, wholesome stick-to-your-ribs food and is a hub of town life. Bay Wrap makes huge, delicious, creative wraps, and Bell The Cat makes fabulous sandwiches. There’s the somewhat-swanky but unpretentious Three Tides Waterfront Bar overlooking the harbor (serving beer brewed next door at the Marshall Wharf Brewing Company), a decent Thai place (Thai Bhurapar), and a working lobster pound (Young’s Lobster Pound). Next door in Lincolnville, Salt Water Farm (overlooking Penobscot Bay) offers guests the opportunity to create local, seasonal dishes with cooking classes and feasts. Primo (Rockland) is a world-class restaurant sitting inside a restored Victorian home, where the freshest possible ingredients are put to imaginative use in dazzling recipes.
Coastal Maine towns are renowned for combining trendy shops with well-established traditional businesses, and Belfast is no exception. On the old-time Main Street that runs from the post office down to the harbor, you’ll find Colburn’s Shoe (established in 1832 and still run by the same family) next door to The Green Store (a general store for the 21st century). All About Games has been called the best toy store in Maine, while Coyote Moon offers stylish clothing and accessories. The Good Table is the place to go for kitchen tools. Just off main street, The Belfast Co-op is a must-see. The oldest and largest food co-op in the state, it will give you a sense of how much beautiful, locally-grown produce one can get here, even in the off-season. Perusing the Co-op also gives you a good read on the general vibe and culture of Belfast.
• The Wider Area
Waldo County is home to many farms and small resource-based businesses like Duck River Fish Farm and Good Karma Farm. At the Keene Dairy on Shephard Road in Belfast, fifth generation farmers offer raw milk in glass bottles to local patrons. Larger businesses such as Bank of America, Robbins Lumber, and Athena Health are key players in the local economy. The Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association, hosts of the wildly popular Common Ground Country Fair, is one of the country’s largest and most active organic gardening associations. Unity College (America’s Environmental College) is also located in Waldo County. Just up the road in Searsport, the Penobscot Marine Museum (on the National Register of Historic Places) provides a glimpse into Maine’s maritime past. In the other direction, the Camden/Rockport area is home to Maine’s Windjammer fleet, and the Camden Snow Bowl offers biking, hiking and skiing with ocean views.