The cosmopolitan city of Dublin is a must-see for travellers, but don’t forget about Belfast. reports: AARON LANGMAID

Nobody was entirely sure if he was checking in or checking out. The only certainty was this 30-something bloke, fitted out in a tight, red vinyl jumpsuit, shaved head, heels and make-up, was out to get some attention. But the hostel receptionist was having none of it. To her, this was undoubtedly just another day in Dublin. Barely taking her eyes from the reservations screen, she passed the glamour-puss a street map and sent him on his way while an entire lobby of lugged-up backpackers practically fell over themselves as they came to terms with the scenario before them.

Granted, we’d picked the gayest weekend of the year to visit but even beneath the vale of the annual pride parade, there was a distinct feeling that in Dublin, pretty much anything goes. London can have its punk-rock-Goth-Camden nymphos – Dubliners seem to do it louder, larger and with a lot more lager.

It’s a city where folk seem unphased by the extremities of life and while some visitors manage less than a couple of days here, others seem strangely attracted to all the quirkiness Dublin has to offer.

The city’s finest offering, albeit an expensive one, is the CBD’s party strip Temple Bar. This is an area too often declared an economic black spot on any backpacking agenda. Enjoying a pint here can cost you anything up to a fiver and fast-food attendants will barely raise an eyebrow when requesting €12 for a hotdog and a Coke. But it is undoubtedly the city’s, cultural hub – a place visitors can come to enjoy the best in live music and lager and all within walking distance of reasonable hostel accommodation or that hotel Bono bought.

It’s as expensive as any European destination but at the very least, is worth checking out if only for the cheap thrill of watching a mohawked leather-clad lesbian pull up beside a cat-food-purchasing pensioner in the local grocery store.

Dublin has become the type of cosmopolitan city spread where honeymooners can enjoy a layered latte on the banks of the Liffey -while a block back a group of sauced-up travellers jump off their bar stools screaming allegiance to Johnny Rotten.

And among all that there are all the historical aspects that make a visit to Dublin all the more appealing.

But just as Dubliners seem to be enjoying the notoriety of the city they’ve helped evolve, Belfast is emerging as a close favourite among backpackers.

For too long this city has suffered from the weight of its violent civil disputes and accompanying stereotype. But talk to local guides and they speak of a city which has, in the past three years, cleaned up its act – and in doing so, discovered a cosmopolitan edge which is attracting travellers across all markets.

While for most backpackers a trip to Belfast would almost certainly include a black cab tour detailing the suburban warfare that, for too long, deterred many from visiting here, there are a growing number of characteristics that are proving just as popular and far more constructive for the future. It would appear that more budget travellers are suddenly realising that the North – despite having the pound as currency – is cheaper than the Republic in almost every aspect. And that’ll pay dividends for any night out in the capital. Belfast’s traditional pubs and bars are easiest found on walking tours but it’s the city’s hidden clubs and underground offerings that are fast giving Dublin a run for its money.

There are loads to choose from and most are concentrated close together in areas like Shaftesbury Square, Lisburn Road or in the City Centre. But whatever the venue, there’s somewhat of a less pretentious vibe on the dance floors here than in, say, London, where the same clubs and bars tend to attract folk from similar gene pools.

In Belfast, for this visitor at least, there seemed to be a unified approach to partying. Where it didn’t necessarily matter what you were wearing or where you were from – as long as you could hold your lager and didn’t mind sharing the dance floor with an increasing band of travellers who’ve finally discovered Belfast for themselves.