A new Belfast International Youth Hostel is due to open April 1 in a convenient central location in Northern Ireland's capital. The 128-bed hostel, at 22 Donegall Road (from the United States, phone 011-44-232-324733), is near Queen's University, the Ulster Museum and the Botanic Rail Station. Two- and four-bedded rooms start at $11.75 per night. Three family rooms, each with six beds, are also available.
The hostel's central location--and the fact that it will be open 24 hours, with a security officer on duty--is a boon for backpackers who arrive in off-hours. Belfast lacks public luggage-storage facilities due to its political problems.
The old Belfast youth hostel, which is closing at the end of this month, was about 2 1/2 miles outside the city.
Security may well be on the minds of novice visitors to Belfast. According to the authors of the 1994 edition of "Let's Go: Ireland" (Harvard Student Agencies; $15.99), "Belfast is actually safer for tourists than most American cities. The city center, the 'Golden Mile,' and the university area to its south rarely see any trouble." They warn, however, that West Belfast, "full of joblessness, anger and amazing political art, should only be seen by day."
The 384-page guidebook also advises travelers of areas in which not to walk or hitchhike at night, and warns them to avoid taking photos of the military, to cross borders only at approved checkpoints and to avoid big cities when large marches are scheduled.
Those who travel to any Irish port by sea can often get discounts with their student, youth or youth hostel membership card. There are ferry services directly to Belfast from Liverpool, England, and to Larne (five miles from Belfast) from Stranraer, Scotland.
Two lines--B & I and Sealink--offer members of Hostelling International a 25% discount. B & I also offers a 25% discount to International Student Identity Card holders and a 50% discount to students who purchase a special Travelsave stamp from the Irish Student Travel Service.
Last fall, the Youth Hostels Assn. of Northern Ireland (YHANI) and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board introduced a new computerized booking system for the seven YHANI hostels in Northern Ireland. It's now possible to go into any tourist information center in Ireland and, for a small fee, make a reservation for a bed in any YHANI hostel.
Outside of Belfast, the fee for a bed averages about $9 per night. Although most guests are under 25, there are no age restrictions.
Northern Ireland is barely 85 miles from north to south and slightly wider east to west. One of the country's most popular tourist sites is the Giant's Causeway. Formed by volcanic activity, it consists of 38,000 tightly packed columns, some of them 40 feet tall, which form stepping stones to the sea.
The following hostels, all of them inspected by the tourist board, are situated near the Giant's Causeway:
* YHANI Whitepark Bay Youth Hostel, Whitepark Road, Ballintoy, is seven miles from the Causeway. It has 44 beds, and rates start at $8.75.
* McCool's Independent Youth Hostel, 5 Causeway View Terrace, Portruksh, actually has a view of the Causeway. It has 14 beds, and rates start at $9.
* Causeway Coast Independent Hostel, 4 Victoria Terrace, Portstewart, has a direct bus link to Giant's Causeway from the hostel. Beds start at $7.35.
For more information on YHANI facilities and "Go As You Please" packages, including transportation and lodging in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, contact YHANI, 56 Bradbury Place, Belfast BT7 1RU, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom; tel. 011-44- 232-324733, fax 011-232-439699.
For information on seven-day "Go As You Please" cycling holidays throughout Ireland, using farmhouse accommodations ($180 per week) or youth hostels ($114), contact Rent A Bike, 58 Lower Gardiner St., Dublin 1, Ireland.
For more information on budget accommodations in Northern Ireland, or a 1994 travel planner, contact the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, 551 Fifth Ave., Suite 701, New York 10176; tel. (212) 922-0101.