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Belfast Travel Guide: Top 40 Things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland

Last updated: December 18, 2023 - Written by Jessica Norah 16 Comments

Belfast is the capital and largest city in Northern Ireland, and there are so many things to do in Belfast! Belfast is probably best known for being where the RMS Titanic was built as well as for the violence and suffering here during The Troubles in the later part of the 20th century.

However, today the city offers a lively historic city center, the famous Titanic Quarter, fun pubs, excellent museums, hundreds of street murals, beautiful gardens and green spaces, Victorian architecture, and a growing tourism industry.  Belfast  is perhaps not as well-known as Dublin to international travelers, but the reward of visiting here is a less crowded city where experiences feel more authentic. 

We’ll share our guide to Belfast attractions, highlighting all the top things to do in Belfast, from central Belfast to the surrounding area. We’ll also share information about how to get there, when to go, public transport options, where to stay, day trip ideas, and other travel information.

Cathedral Quarter Duke of York things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Table of Contents:

Basic Info on Visiting Belfast 

Before we share all the things to do and see in Belfast, we wanted to give you all the basic information you’ll need to plan your trip including how to get to Belfast, best times of year to visit, and where to stay.

Where is Belfast?

Belfast is the capital and largest city in Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. It is situated alongside the River Lagan on the northeast coast of the island of Ireland.

Note that politically the island of Ireland is divided between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom whereas the Republic of Ireland is not and is a separate country.

Getting to Belfast

There are multiple options for getting to Belfast.

By Plane.  Belfast has two airports, Belfast International Airport and George Best City Airport , both of which have flights from a number of domestic and international destinations, primarily within the UK and western Europe. If there is no direct flight, you can get connecting flights from other cities in the UK such as London, Manchester, Edinburgh, or Glasgow.

If you fly into Belfast International Airport, the airport is a short shuttle bus ( Airport 300 service ), taxi ride , or private transfer from Belfast.

If you fly into George Best City Airport, you can take a short shuttle bus ( Airport Express 600 Service ), train ride (it is about a 12 minute walk to the station or you can take the airport shuttle to Sydenham train station), taxi ride , or private transfer into the city.

Alternatively, you can fly into Dublin Airport which has a lot more international connections and then get a bus or train or drive to Belfast. It takes about 2 hours by car or 2.5 hours by bus from the airport. If you are in Dublin, you can also take a train from Dublin to Belfast which takes about 2 hours 15 minutes.

By Train. Belfast can be reached by train from within the island of Ireland, including the cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Galway. You can save money on fares by booking train tickets in advance. Check routes, fares, and schedules on Irish Rail .

By Bus. If you are in the UK or Ireland, there are daily coach connections to Belfast from a number of cities. Routes from England, Scotland, and Wales all include ferry transport. You can check Translink and National Express for coach connections. 

By Car. For drivers, Belfast is about 70 miles from Derry/Londonderry (about 1 hour, 30 minutes), 105 miles from Dublin (about 2 hours), 260 miles from Cork (about 4 hours, 15 minutes). If you are coming from England, Scotland, Wales, or continental Europe, you’ll need to get a ferry to reach Belfast.

By Ferry. Ferries to Belfast regularly depart from Liverpool (England), Cairnryan (Scotland), and the Isle of Man. The main ferry company we recommend is Stena Line . Check out their ferry routes and schedules here .

Getting around Belfast

Belfast has a good public bus transport system run by Translink . Metro is the name of the main bus service for all of Belfast. 

Driving in and around the city is also fairly easy although finding parking in the central area can be difficult at times although there are several paid public parking structures. Walking or using a bus is recommended for reaching central locations.

There are also, of course, taxis and Uber (mostly operates to and from aiport). Taxi tours are also very popular ways to see the city with a driver guide.

Bikes are available to rent through the city’s bike share program , and kiosks are available in many popular tourist areas.

There’s also the City Sightseeing Bus which is a hop-on, hop-off bus that will take you to all the highlights in the city and provides commentary so you can learn a bit more about the city and the sites you see. It stops near most of Belfast’s major attractions including the Titanic Museum, St. George’s Market, Botanic Gardens, and the Shankill Road wall murals.

Belfast Street Mural street art things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Currency Used in Belfast?

Belfast is part of the United Kingdom so the pound sterling (GBP) is the legal currency. This is the same currency used throughout the rest of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland).

Note that if you travel south and visit the Republic of Ireland (e.g., Dublin), you will need to get euros as the euro is the official currency of the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom whereas the Republic of Ireland is not.

Best time of year to visit Belfast?

The best time of year to visit depends a lot on what you want to do. If you are looking for the warmest weather, you’ll want to travel in summer between June and August. April is often the month with the least chance of rain, humidity, and crowds.

Our favorite times of year to travel in Northern Ireland are May, June, and September. The weather is generally decent, the days are long, and the attractions are not too crowded.

Although note that most attractions in Belfast are rarely that crowded. The exception is the attractions in the Titanic Quarter which can be pretty crowded in summer. Other popular sites in Northern Ireland like the Giant’s Causeway are also very busy in the summer months. 

If you want to go to a certain event or festival (e.g., concert, Christmas markets, Belfast International Arts Festival ), then we’d recommend you can check the events calendar and plan around those dates!

However, any time of the year is a good time to visit Belfast as most attractions are open year round. Generally, it will be warmer in summer and colder in winter, but predicting the weather is impossible as it can be sunny in January or cool and raining in August.

We’d suggest just checking the weather forecast before you visit, and be prepared for variable weather by bringing plenty of layers and rain gear no matter when you plan to visit.

things to do in Belfast Ireland travel guide

How many Days should I Spend in Belfast? 

This depends primarily on how much time you have and what you want to do. But I would recommend spending at least 2 full days and nights in Belfast to get a good taste of the city (see our 2 day Belfast itinerary for ideas).

If you just have a day, you’ll still be able to see a few of the city’s highlights. Just be sure to plan your time ahead or join a tour to mae the most of your time. 

If you are visiting Belfast because of an interest in the RMS Titanic , then we recommend checking our Belfast Titanic attractions guide . This article includes a suggested 2 day itinerary that includes all the city’s main Titanic and maritime attractions.

For those who have more than a couple of days, there are also several excellent day trips you can take from Belfast as well and we’ll highlight a few of these at the end of the article. If you have longer than a couple of days, you can easily spend a week here and not run out of things to do. 

To figure out how many days to spend in Belfast, I would suggest using this post which lists all the main highlights and things do in Belfast to create a list of places you want to visit. I would then figure out how many days it will take you to see all the Belfast attractions you want (e.g. 3-5 attractions per day), and that should give you a good answer.

Discount Passes in Belfast?

There is no must-have pass for Belfast but there are a couple of discount passes that may help you save money, depending on what you want to do and how you plan to get around Belfast.

Belfast Visitor Pass

Belfast does have a city Visitor Pass which offers free public transport around the city, which includes unlimited travel on all Metro buses, NI Railways, and Ulsterbus services. It also includes the Airport Express 600 services to and from George Best Belfast City Airport (but not the Airport 300 service to Belfast International Airport). You can buy a pass valid for 1, 2, or 3 days.

The pass also includes discount offers on a number of restaurants, attractions, and shops in Belfast. Currently with the pass you can discounts on entry to Titanic Belfast, Crumlin Road Goal, Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, W5 Odyssey, Belfast Zoo, and Belfast City Tours. You can check out the latest discount offers here  to decide if it is a good pass for you.

You can purchase the Belfast Visitor Pass in person from Visit Belfast Welcome Centre (9 Donegall Square North), Belfast airport tourist information desk (at both airports), or at any Translink station in Belfast. Or you can purchase it online before your trip.

National Trust Touring Pass

If you plan to travel throughout the UK and visit several historical or cultural attractions, you might save money with a National Trust Touring Pass which allows for free entry to over 300 stately homes, gardens, castles, and historical attractions in the UK. The pass is good for a select amount of days and includes sites across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

A few of the most popular sites covered by the pass in Northern Ireland are Carrick-a-Rede, Castle Ward, the Giant’s Causeway, and Downhill Demesne and Hezlett House.

Accessibility in Belfast

If you or a travel companion has reduced mobility or is traveling in a wheelchair or mobility scooter, check out the accessibility page on the Visit Belfast website. It provides information on accessible public transport, attractions with step-free access and wheelchair accessibility, wheelchair hire, locations of accessible public toilets, etc.

Safety Issues in Belfast?

Northern Ireland is generally considered a safe place to travel, and we haven’t had any safety concerns during our visits.

However, it is no secret that not too long ago, Belfast resembled a bit of a war zone and was not a place many tourists had on the top of their list from the 1960’s to the end of the 1990’s. The Troubles brought a lot of division, hardship, and violence to Belfast and much of the rest of Northern Ireland. Those scars remain today and there are still divisions, but sectarian violence is now rare.

However, rioting does occasionally break out over political and religious issues as it has recently in March and April 2021 . Although most marches and protests are peaceful, we recommend just avoiding any protests, gatherings, or marches if you see them taking place.

As with any place, we always recommend protecting your valuables, protecting yourself against pickpockets, and being aware of your surroundings at all times. Take the normal precautions you would in any other city.

Where to Stay in Belfast?

Belfast has many lodging options, ranging from budget to upscale, and you should not have a problem finding an option that suits your style and budget. Belfast’s tourism industry is also growing rapidly and there are several new hotels planned to open in the next year or two, and lots of good deals.

If you are looking for lodging, then we’d recommend you check out the Belfast accommodation listings on Booking.com which lists a large variety of hotels , apartments , guesthouses , and hostels . 

We recommend staying in a central location, especially if you have limited time in the city, so you are within walking distance (or a short bus ride) from the city center.

Alternatively, if the Belfast Titanic museum and other Titanic Quarter sites are your prime reason for visiting, then you might want to stay in the Titanic Quarter so you can easily walk to all the sites in this area. Although you can walk to the Titanic Quarter from central Belfast, it takes 25 to 35 minutes depending on where you are located.

Here are some specific hotel recommendations:

Accommodation in City Centre / Cathedral Quarter Area

  • Bullitt Hotel – This lively centrally-located 4-star hotel offers 3 room types to suit almost any budget. The hotel also has a bar, a cafe, a restaurant, a popular rooftop bar area, and 24-hour desk service. It is a 2 minute walk to the Cathedral Quarter and about a 8 minute walk to St. Georges market or the Belfast City Hall. We spent 4 nights here and can definitely recommend it if you are looking for a central hotel!
  • The Merchant Hotel – If you are looking for a 5-star historical luxury hotel, The Merchant, located in a beautiful 1860 building, should definitely be high on your list. Centrally located in the Cathedral Quarter, the hotel offers all the luxury amenities you would expect, including a restaurant, bar and lounge, spa, hot tub, and a rooftop gymnasium.
  • Jurys Inn – This 4-star hotel offers spacious rooms, breakfast buffet, bar, and restaurant. We have always found that this Dublin-based chain provides good value for the money. Located near Belfast City Hall and the Opera House, it is just a 5 minute walk from the Great Victoria Street rail station.
  • easyHotel – This well-rated budget hotel offers no-frills but comfortable rooms and a 24 hour staffed desk. A great central option for those on a tighter budget.
  • Belfast International Youth Hostel – This hostel offers the best location if you are looking for a centrally located hostel. Hostel offers both private shared and private dormitory rooms, an on-site cafe, linens, a communal kitchen, a breakfast menu, self-service laundry, and even free parking.

Accommodation in Titanic Quarter

  • Titanic Hotel – This 4-star hotel sits within a historical building that was once the Harland and Wolff headquarters and drawing offices (the company that designed and built the RMS Titanic !). A beautiful historical property that offers Art Deco themed rooms, Titanic memorabilia, bar, restaurant, and room service. Only a 2 minute walk to the Titanic Belfast museum.
  • Premier Inn – This 3 star hotel offers king sized beds and an on-site bar and grill. It is a 7 minute walk to the Titanic Belfast museum.
  • CK Serviced Apartments – These well-reviewed serviced apartments are great for those looking for a self-catering option in the Titanic Quarter. There is an on-site restaurant, grocery store, cafe, and private parking available. They are only a 7 minute walk away from the Titanic Belfast.
  • The Bullitt Hotel and the Hilton (next to the waterfront) are across the river but are both within a 25 minute walk (or 12 minute bus ride) of Titanic Belfast.

We’ve also stayed in an apartment in Belfast during our first visit to Belfast which was great value for money. You can see the local listings on Vrbo here .

You can also take a look at this list of Airbnb alternatives for more apartment rental options.

Bullitt Hotel things to do in Belfast Ireland travel guide

Where to find more Information? 

If you are looking for a good sample Belfast itinerary, check out our 48 hour Belfast itinerary which should help give you a good starting point. We also have a suggested 2 day Belfast Titanic itinerary for those interested primarily in Titanic and maritime-related attractions.

Belfast makes an excellent base for exploring Northern Ireland, and you can see our guide to the best day trips from Belfast  for some inspiration. If you are looking for a drive along the coast, see our guide to a suggested  Causeway coastal route road trip .

Game of Thrones fans will love exploring the filming locations for the show in Northern Ireland. You can read about many more filming locations in our guide to Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland here . We also have a detailed guide to  visiting the Dark Hedges .

If you are looking for a printed (or digital) guidebook, there are few that just focus on Belfast and Northern Ireland, such as  this one by Lonely Planet , but most cover the whole island of Ireland, such as  these ones . Just be sure to get a recent edition.

If you are also heading to Dublin, you can check out our 2 Day itinerary and 3 Day Dublin itinerary as well as our Dublin street art guide  and Dublin Pass review .

Once in Belfast, you can get information from local experts, pick up maps and brochures, and make bookings at the Visit Belfast Welcome Centre located at 9 Donegall Square North. This is also a visitor center for Northern Ireland so has information for Belfast as well as the rest of the country. You can also call them at +44(0)28 9024 6609 or email them at [email protected].

If you are looking for additional information about planning your trip to Belfast, you can check out the official Belfast city’s tourism website and the Discover Northern Ireland tourism website . If your travels are taking you further afield into Ireland, we also recommend the official Ireland tourism website  which covers the entire island of Ireland. 

Titanic Belfast RMS Titanic Museum things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Top Things to do in Belfast: Central Belfast

There are many things to do in Belfast and many are conveniently located within central Belfast. We are roughly categorizing central Belfast as encompassing the areas that are often referred to as Belfast City Centre, the Cathedral Quarter, and the Linen Quarter. Once here, you can reach anything within this general area within a 20 minute walk or less. 

The Belfast City Hall is the center point of the city and nearby is the Visit Belfast Welcome Centre, which is a great place to start your tour of the city. The Cathedral Quarter, named for St. Anne’s Cathedral, is the city’s historic trading quarter and is packed with Victorian architecture, cobbled streets, and quirky pubs and restaurants. The Linen Quarter is the area south of Belfast City Hall and was an area once dominated by the linen industry in the 19th century and includes a lot of old architecture, restaurants, and the Grand Opera House.

We are also including the Titanic Quarter, the former shipbuilding area formerly known as Queen’s Island where the RMS Titanic was built, within this section since most visitors plan to visit the Titanic Belfast museum. The Titanic Belfast can be reached by walking via a 30 minute walk across the bridge from the Belfast city center area. All of the attractions in the Titanic Quarter can be reached within a 45 minute walk, a 20 minute public bus ride, or by the hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses.

All the attractions in this first section are located within a 25 minute public bus ride from Belfast City Hall (Donegall Square) although most are within a 10 to 20 minute walk.

Use this list of things to do in Belfast to choose the attractions of interest to you and put together your own personalized Belfast itinerary!

Belfast City Hall Donegall Square things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Sightseeing Bus or Walking Tour

A walking tour or sightseeing bus is always a good way to get a feel for a city and see some of its highlights. We often like to do these on our first day in a new city. Most of these start from the city center area.

Walking tours are a great way to explore a certain area of the city or focus on a specific topic. Available tours focus on highlights, the Titanic Quarter, architecture, whiskey, Queen’s University, the Troubles, and other topics. You can see a list of walking tours here and more walking tours here .

Bike tours around the city are also possible, such as these ones , and even these beer bike tours where you can bring your own alcoholic drinks to enjoy while pedaling a 16-set bike and listing to guide.

For food and drink tours also see  Taste and Tour  which offers gin, whiskey, beer, and food walking tours around central Belfast.

There are two hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses in Belfast, the City Sightseeing buses and the City Tours buses. These buses each stop at 20 to 30 different places and make it easy to reach and visit many of the city’s most popular attractions.

In Belfast, you also have Black Cab tours which are a popular way to see the city and most of these tours focus on the political history of Belfast and its street murals. We cover these tours in greater detail later in the article.

If you prefer boat tours, you might consider this boat sightseeing tour which takes you past the Titanic Quarter.

Belfast City sightseeing bus things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Belfast City Hall

Belfast’s City Hall was built after Queen Victoria granted Belfast city status in 1888 to reflect its growth in terms of population, economy, and industry. The building, which sits in the center of Donegall Square, was designed by Irish architect Alfred Brumwell Thomas in the Baroque Revival Style and it was completed in 1906. The City Hall is a great centerpiece for the city as well as a functioning government building that serves as the headquarters of the Belfast City Council.

Inside the building, there is a free public exhibition space that you can visit. The exhibition was much larger than we expected and currently encompasses 16 different rooms! It tells the history of Belfast through information, photos, and artifacts, and it explores the city’s government, people, famous events, industries, diversity, festivities, and much more.

It is also possible to take a free guided tour of City Hall. A guided tour includes information about the history and government of Belfast and visits to many of the grandest and most important areas and rooms in the building, including the Grand Staircase, Principal Rooms, the Reception Room, and the Chamber. One of the interesting features of the building is the large number of stained glass windows, most of which are original to the building and date to 1906.

Tours are given on a first come, first serve basis and you need to register for them at least 10 to 15 minutes before the stated tour time. So we’d recommend going at least 20 to 30 minutes before the tour time to get a spot. The guided tours of City Hall last around 1 hour, and run at various times throughout the day, depending on the time of year. You can see the tour times on the  official website here .

Outside, there is a large park and gardens area around the building that is a popular place for people to meet and gather. During our last visit, it was being used for a family event and outdoor cinema screenings.

There are also a number of statues and memorials worth seeing around the City Hall building, including the grand 11-foot statue of Queen Victoria, the Belfast Cenotaph , and a 9/11 plaque. You’ll also find the Titanic Memorial Gardens here, which includes a memorial statue as well as a list of all those who perished in the disaster.

Belfast City Hall chamber things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

St. Anne’s Cathedral

St Anne’s Cathedral , also known as Belfast Cathedral, is an Episcopalian (Anglican) cathedral and one of the best known churches in Belfast. It was consecrated in 1904 and serves two separate dioceses with two Bishop’s Seats.

A former smaller church, consecrated in 1776, was also called St. Anne’s and stood here until the new and much larger cathedral was built. The old St. Anne’s had become too small to accommodate the large number of people moving to Belfast during the Industrial Revolution and a second Anglican church, St. George’s Church (located on High Street), was completed in 1816. It too was not enough and so a new St. Anne’s was built.

The church’s foundation stone was laid in 1899, but the church was rebuilt and expanded a number of times over the next 100 years to reach its present day form. The most interesting recent development was the addition of a stainless steel spire, called the Spire of Hope, to the church in 2007. A church spire was not originally added to the church because the church could not support the weight. The spire is usually illuminated at night.

Inside the church there are a number of elements you can check out if you decide to explore the church. These include the Good Samaritan Window (the only remaining piece of the 1776 St. Anne’s Church), mosaics on the roof of the baptistery and Chapel of the Holy Spirit (St. Patrick is depicted), and the Titanic funeral pall.

There is only one tomb in the cathedral, which is the tomb of Lord Edward Carson , an important 20th century unionist political leader in Ireland. He is one of only a few non-royal people to ever receive a British state funeral.

There is a small fee to visit as a tourist. Visits are self-guided but guided tours can be arranged in advance. Belfast Cathedral is an active church and there are regular worship services and events.

St. Anne's Cathedral Belfast Cathedral things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

St. George’s Market

St. George’s Market is one of Belfast’s oldest attractions, and it is believed that a weekly market has been held in this location since 1604. The current Victorian building was built between 1890 and 1896, and today it holds markets each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Since its refurbishment in 1997, it has won a number of awards in the UK and Ireland.

The market vendors include fresh produce and food stuff, arts and crafts, souvenirs, spices, clothing, books, jewelry, and more. The market is particularly well-known for its number of fish and seafood vendors. The market also has food stalls selling prepared food, sandwiches, coffee, and snacks. On most days, there is live music from local artists and bands. The market is a popular and lively place to go on weekends.

Markets are held on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. You can find the latest hours here . A free market shuttle bus runs every 20 minutes, 11am – 3pm, to and from the market from locations in central Belfast (Friday and Saturday only).

The market changes each day it is open with different vendors, although some are there all three days. The venue is also used to host a range of events throughout the year, including musical performances and charity events.

St. Georges Market covered market things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Grand Opera House

The Grand Opera House was built in 1895 by famous English theater architect Frank Matcham . The Grand Opera House has become a city landmark and is well-known for its beautiful interior. It is the only Victorian theater still remaining in Northern Ireland.

Originally, the theatre could seat over 2,500 guests and it hosted a number of operas, plays, musicals, and pantomimes. It was later used for variety shows throughout the early 20th century. In the 1950’s it was converted into a cinema and then in 1972, it closed. The building was almost demolished in the 1970’s during The Troubles, but was saved and reopened as a theater in 1980.

Today, the Grand Opera House is still running as a theater although today it only seats 1,000 people. Current performances include musicals, plays, dances, family shows, recitals, ballets, pantomimes, operas, and educational talks.

You can also book a theatre tour of the Grand Opera House. Guided tours include a behind-the-scenes tour of the Grand Opera House to learn about the history, day-to-day life of the staff and actors, and to tour the various rooms and areas of the theatre. Tours last about 1 hour, and are normally given on weekends about twice a month.

You can check the performance schedule, check tour times, and book tickets here .

Grand Opera House Belfast things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Albert Memorial Clock

The Albert Memorial Clock is a sandstone clock tower that was built as a memorial to Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. It is located at Queen’s Square in the center of Belfast and was built by Irish architect W.J. Barre and completed in 1869. Today, the Albert Memorial Clock is a popular local landmark in Belfast

The clock tower is 113 feet high and includes a number of intricate carvings. The main feature is a statue of Prince Albert wearing his Knight of the Garter robes. The clock’s bell weighs 2 tonnes. The clock tower has sustained damage by both German WW2 bombs and IRA bombs.

It is Belfast’s own “leaning tower of Pisa” as the tower leans due to being built on reclaimed marshy land. The clock tower started to lean soon after it was built and the tilt has worsened over time. In 2002, a restoration project was undertaken by the city to try to strengthen the foundation and to clean and restore the leaning monument.

Albert Memorial Tower things to do in Belfast Ireland travel guide

Metropolitan Arts Centre (The MAC)

The MAC, Belfast’s Metropolitan Arts Centre, was opened in 2012 and is a public art center that includes three major art galleries. The exhibitions vary throughout the year and most are free to visit, but some do have a fee. The focus of the art is generally modern, contemporary, and experimental pieces and performances. You can see what’s on during your visit by visiting the  art exhibition page .

The MAC also regularly has events and workshops, including art classes, art shows, performances, and family-friendly activities. You can see the  full event listing here .

The MAC has an all-day café bar serving coffee, tea, snacks, hot meals, and alcoholic drinks.

The MAC Metropolitan Arts Centre things to do in Belfast Ireland travel guide

North Ireland War Memorial Museum

The  Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum  is a small museum that covers Northern Ireland’s involvement in World War II. The informational exhibits cover the Belfast Blitz, the roles of women during the war, the Ulster Home Guard, and the presence of a large number of American forces in the area. There are uniforms and medals on display as well as a memorial screen.

It is a small museum fit into one large room, but it is thoughtfully done and well-organized and primarily run by local volunteers. We really enjoyed our visit. Highlights were listening to some of the recordings by people who lived during the war, the lovely stained glass window, and learning more about the Belfast Blitz of 1941.

Belfast was initially thought to be out of the range of Nazi bombers so the military and residents were unprepared for air attacks when they first started happening, resulting in a lot of damage and deaths.

The Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum is free to visit although donations are greatly appreciated. It is centrally located in the Cathedral Quarter near St. Anne’s Cathedral.

The Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Crown Liquor Saloon

The Crown Liquor Saloon, better known as the Crown Bar, is the most famous pub in Belfast. The pub was opened around 1826 by Felix O’Hanlon as The Railway Tavern but it would be its renovation and renaming in 1885 by the Flanagan family that would turn it into the pub we know today. It was known as one of the most beautiful Victorian era gin palaces in the world.

It is ornately decorated and still retains many of its original fixtures and decorations (most of which have been restored) including tiled mosaics, original gas lamp features, stained glass, a granite bar top, snugs, heated footrests behind bar, and carved wooden ceiling. It is now owned by the National Trust who helps protect it but it is run as a pub by Mitchells & Butlers.

The place is a very popular stop for tourists and the bar attracts a number of famous visitors. Famous visitors have included Brad Pitt, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and most of the cast of Game of Thrones .

The pub has a full bar menu and serves both lunch and dinner. There is also an upstairs dining area. It is a popular place so if you plan to stop and eat here, I’d recommend booking a table in advance. You can see the menus and contact info  here .

Crown Liquor Saloon Crown Bar things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Belfast Black Cab Tours

The Black Cab tours of Belfast are one of the most popular things to do in Belfast for tourists. The use of taxis in Belfast grew during The Troubles when the cabs were used to transport locals and visitors during the Troubles as they were considered much safer than city buses which were sometimes bombed or attacked by snipers. Also many buses were stolen, burned, and used for barricades in certain parts of the city, resulting in limited public transit.

So more taxi drivers were needed during this period. Many drove defunct bus routes and most drivers operated only in Loyalist/Unionist/Protestant neighborhoods or only in Republican/Nationalist/Catholic areas. For the most part, Protestant drivers picked up Protestant passengers and Catholic drivers picked up Catholic passengers. Both used the same London black taxi models. Following the Good Friday agreement in 1998, the need for taxi services by locals decreased as public transit became safer and more available.

Today, many of the now iconic black taxis are still used to give visitors tours of the city. Most of the cab tours focus on the political history, the Troubles, and the political murals so this is one of the best ways to find out more about the political struggles in Belfast. However, you can also do tours that also include general neighborhood tours and those that focus on general history and culture.

Some of the Troubles focused tours may also stop at places like the Eileen Hickey Irish Republican History Museum and/or the Shankill Bombing Memorial, which are both located not far from the Peace Wall. If these are sites of interest, let your driver know.

Most drivers were also drivers during the Troubles and can share stories about what it was like during that time. Drivers try to provide objective and neutral information; however, as you can imagine this is a difficult thing since many were on one side or the other of the struggle. Most people in Belfast lost family and/or friends during the Troubles. There are many “versions of the truth” about certain events out there.

We did a black cab tour with Touring Around Belfast and had the pleasure of having one of the best known Belfast black cab drivers Billy Scott as our driver guide. Billy is a Blue Badge guide (highest qualification in UK) and was friendly, informative, and made the tour fun. He would stop often and join us in the back seat to give us history and information about places and share relevant stories. He knows so much about Belfast, the Troubles, and the city’s attractions, and is a man that is always up for some great craic.

We had a 2 hour tour scheduled with Billy, and he let us decide what parts of the city we wanted to visit and what we wanted to see and learn about. We asked for a tour that was equally focused on politics as well as general history/culture. We also didn’t know the city well so asked to see some of the highlights of the main city neighborhoods.

It was a great introduction to Belfast, its main neighborhood and attractions, and the Troubles. We saw parts of several neighborhoods including Cathedral Quarter, Queen’s Quarter, the Linen Quarter, Sailortown, and the Titanic Quarter. We also visited the Peace Wall and saw a large number of political murals in both traditionally Loyalist and Republican neighborhoods, including along Falls and Shankill Roads. Most of the tour was in the cab but we were also given the opportunity to get out and walk around a bit at a few of the stops.

We definitely recommend considering a black taxi tour if this is your first time to Belfast or if you want to learn more about the Troubles. It is best to book a cab tour in advance.

We booked with Touring Around Belfast , but there are also several other options including  this tour focused on the political murals and these cab tours .

Black cab taxi tour Billy Scott things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Victoria Square Shopping Centre

Victoria Square is a centrally located public square and the area is a popular place for shopping and dining. The Victoria Square Shopping Centre is a 4-storey shopping mall and leisure complex opened in 2008. It contains a number of stores, restaurants, a spa, and a cinema. There is also a viewing platform within the central glass dome that offers a good panoramic view of the city.

Outside on Victoria Square is the Jaffe Memorial Fountain that was erected in 1874 by Otto Jaffe as a memorial to his father Daniel Joseph Jaffe. Otto Jaffe was Belfast’s first Jewish Lord Mayor and his father had been a local linen merchant who had helped fund the building of Belfast’s first synagogue at Great Victoria Street.

Victoria Square Shopping Centre dome viewing platform things to do in Belfast Ireland travel guide

Explore the Waterfront Area

The waterfront area is located along the River Lagan. Here you’ll find a number of sculptures, bridges, Sinclair Seaman’s Church, the old Customs House, the Barge Museum, and Waterfront Hall (a large entertainment venue).

If you have some time to explore this area, we’d suggest walking the Maritime Mile, which is an outdoor trail that is about 1 mile long, connecting a number of maritime sites. There are information panels along the way. It starts at the City Quays and then continues along across the river to the Titanic Quarter, ending at the HMS Caroline and Titanic Dock . You can find out more about it here .

A pedestrian footbridge, built in 2015, crosses the River Lagan and connects the Waterfront area to the Titanic Quarter.

At the Belfast Harbour offices in Corporation Square, you can stop to visit the Heritage Room exhibition at the Belfast Harbour offices in Corporation Square. The exhibition focuses on Belfast’s maritime history and includes artifacts and artwork.

Outside the AC Hotel is the first of the six Games of Thrones large stained glass windows that were placed here in 2019 to celebrate 10 years of the show’s filming. Each depicts an iconic scene from the show. You can see all 6 by following the Maritime Mile trail along the waterfront.

If you just have a short time, two of our favorite things to stop and see here are the Salmon of Knowledge and the Beacon of Hope.

Salmon of Knowledge

The Salmon of Knowledge, better known as the Big Fish, is a large sculpture of a salmon along the waterfront. It was made by local artists John Kindness. It is located at the meeting point of Belfast’s two major rivers, the River Farset (from which Belfast gets its name) and the River Lagan.

The Salmon of Knowledge is a mythical creature figuring in the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology. It is said that the Salmon of Knowledge gained all the world’s knowledge after it ate hazelnuts from a holy tree. If caught it could grant universal knowledge to whoever eats it. In one story, it is eaten by  Fionn mac Cumhaill who gains universal wisdom.

The Big Fish sculpture is covered in printed ceramic tiles, and each one tells a different story related to the city’s history. Tiles include all types of information and images, from historical images to drawings from local school children.

Salmon of Knowledge Big Fish Belfast waterfront things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Beacon of Hope

The Beacon of Hope, or Thanksgiving Square Beacon, is a large stainless steel and bronze sculpture of a lady holding a large ring, which is meant to symbolize thanksgiving. The woman has a globe at her feet which celebrates peace and harmony, and which is marked with the global cities that have been significantly associated with the people and industries of Belfast.

It sits within Thanksgiving Square near the entrance to the Victorian era Queen’s Bridge. It was made by artist Andy Scott in 2006.

The Beacon of Hope Thanksgiving Square Beacon things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Belfast Barge Museum

The Belfast Barge Museum is a small museum set on a barge that tells the story of Belfast’s industrial heritage and maritime history.

The MV Confiance is a former cargo barge that was purchased in 2006 and sailed to Belfast, and turned into a museum, event space, and a café. It is moored in the River Lagan in Belfast’s waterfront area.

There is a small fee to visit the Belfast Barge Museum. You can find out more information here .

Belfast Barge Museum things to do in Belfast Ireland travel guide

Titanic Belfast Museum

The Titanic Belfast is the most popular attraction in Belfast and a must-see for most visitors. It is a huge attraction where visitors are self-guided through a series of galleries to learn the history of the RMS Titanic .

Belfast was chosen as the site for the Titanic visitor attraction because the RMS Titanic was built in Belfast’s dockyards by local shipbuilding firm  Harland & Wolff . Other famous ships built here include the RMS Olympic and HMS Belfast (currently docked as a museum ship in London). The shipyard continued to build ships until 2003 and today is focused on making offshore wind turbines.

When you visit the museum, you follow a self-guided path (audioguides are available to rent for a small fee) that begins with information about Belfast in the 20th century. Then you continue to follow a path that takes you through a series of galleries that tells you about shipbuilding in Belfast, the building of the RMS Titanic , the launch of the Titanic , its maiden voyage, its sinking, and the aftermath of the tragedy.

There are lots of informational panels, models, photographs, replica interiors of the Titanic , artifacts, and interactive exhibits to enhance the experience. One of the galleries is explored while on a mini-car ride. There are of course references to James Cameron’s famous 1997 film Titanic as well. The final room allows visitors to see video footage and photographs of the Titanic as she now lies at the bottom of the ocean.

If you have any interest in the RMS Titanic or shipbuilding, we highly recommend a visit here. Visitors often spend 1.5 to  2 hours exploring the museum, but leave more time if you are a huge Titanic fan and/or if you plan to eat here.

There is a large gift shop, a grab-and-go cafe, and a restaurant on site. There is also the Hickson’s Point pub located just outside the building.

The Belfast Titanic museum operates a timed ticketing system, with entrances every 15 minutes from opening time. At last check, pre-booked timed tickets were required due to the COVID-19 pandemic safety precautions.

Of all the things to do in Belfast, this is the most popular attraction so we recommend you  get your ticket in advance here  to avoid standing in and line, and coming early to avoid the crowds. Tickets bought online also include your entrance to the SS Nomadic , which is located next to the Titanic Museum.

If you are planning to visit here, we recommend checking out our Titanic sites in Belfast guide as it covers visiting the Titanic Belfast and several other attractions in and near Belfast.

We also recommend leaving some time to explore the area just outside of the Titanic Belfast building. You can see the Titanic and Olympic slipways and the Titanic sculpture by Rowan Gillespie, both are located next to the building. Also next door is the Titanic Hotel which occupies the former Harland & Wolff Headquarters and Drawing Offices where the designs for Titanic were completed.

Titanic Belfast RMS Titanic Museum things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

The  SS Nomadic was built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast as a tender boat to serve White Star Line passenger ships such as the RMS Titanic and the RMS Olympic in places where the ships were too large to dock. The ship launched in April 1911, and the SS Nomadic is now the last surviving White Star Line ship in the world.

On April 10, 1912, the SS Nomadic was used to ferry first and second class passengers, their luggage, and ship supplies onto the RMS Titanic from Cherbourg Harbor in France. Many of the most famous passengers sailed on the SS Nomadic to reach the Titanic, included John Jacob Astor IV and his wife, Margaret Brown, and Benjamin Guggenheim.

The SS Nomadic was also used as a passenger ship tender for the RMS Olympic and later for Cunard ocean liners. During WWI and WW2, the ship was used as a minesweeper and troop transport ship. She was retired from service in 1968, and later was used as a floating restaurant ship on the Seine River in Paris for almost 30 years.

In 2006, the Northern Ireland government purchased the SS Nomadic and brought the ship back to Belfast to be restored and turned into a ship museum. Following extensive restoration, the SS Nomadic was opened to visitors in June 2013.

Today, you can tour the beautifully restored ship and learn all about its construction, uses, restoration, and history. The SS Nomadic was built by the same company at the same time as the Titanic so is the closest you can get to having a sense of what it was like on the grand ill-fated ship.

We’d recommend visiting this in conjunction with the Belfast Titanic museum, as you can purchase an entry ticket  that will get you access to both the Titanic Belfast and SS Nomadic on the same day. The two attractions are only a short walk apart.

If you plan to only visit the SS Nomadic , you can normally also book a ticket online on their website or purchase one in person at the ship. However, these individual tickets have not been available since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and it is unclear when and if they will be sold again. So for the time being you need to  purchase a combination ticket  if you want to visit.

SS Nomadic Belfast Titanic Quarter things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

W5 Science & Discovery Centre

The W5 Science & Discovery Centre is an interactive science center that is designed to inform and entertain children and families. It contains over 250 interactive exhibits spread across four exhibition areas that are designed for children to be able to be active and engage in hands-on learning and discovery. There is also a daily program of live science demonstrations, talks, and shows.

There is a coffee shop on-site serving sandwiches, soup, snacks, coffee, and drinks.

There is a fee to enter the W5 Science and Discovery Centre. Tickets can be purchased on-site or online in advance.

The W5 is located within the larger Odyssey Pavillion within the Titanic Quarter. There is parking on-site, or you can get here via public bus or the hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses. The W5 is about a 25 minute walk from Belfast city center or a 10 minute walk away from the Titanic Belfast museum.

In addition to the W5, the Odyssey Pavillion is also home to the SSE Arena which is home to the Belfast Giants (ice hockey team), a multi-plex cinema, a bowling alley, a sports bar, a pizza place, a Segway company, and a coffee shop.

NOTE: In 2020, the W5 and the Odyssey Pavillion businesses closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As of July 2021, many of these have not reopened ane some have closed permanently. The W5 is currently being “reimagined” and is expected to reopen in the autumn of 2021.

W5 Odyssey Pavillion Belfast Titanic Quarter things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

HMS Caroline

The HMS Caroline was a light cruiser built in Birkenhead, England in 1914 for the British Royal Navy. She served during WWI, including during the Battle of Jutland , which was the largest naval battle of the war, and is now the sole survivor from that battle.

In 1924, the HMS Caroline was moved to Belfast Docks to form the headquarters for the Ulster Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. She would serve as a depot ship and strategic operations base for convoy protection during WWII.

The HMS Caroline would serve as part of the Ulster Division of the Royal Navy reserve until 2009 and was decommissioned in 2011. The ship was restored and opened as a ship museum in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter in 2016.

Today, you can do a self-guided tour of the HMS Caroline and learn about her construction, history, and the living and working conditions on board through exhibits, films, recreated historic spaces, and interactive touch screen displays. Start at the Dockside Museum (small museum next to the ship) to learn about the people who served on the ship and then board the ship. There are also nice views of the harbor from the decks of the ship.

There is a small café and a gift shop on the ship. You can purchase tickets on-site or in advance online. You can save a little money by booking your tickets in advance .

The HMS Caroline sits in the Alexandra Graving Dock right next to the Titanic Pump House. It is about a 15 minute walk away from the Titanic Belfast museum. There is parking located here for visitors, and you can also reach it via public bus or the hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses.

HMS Caroline light cruiser things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Samson & Goliath Cranes

Samson and Goliath are two large shipbuilding cranes owned by Harland and Wolff, and they are situated within the Titanic Quarter in the Harland & Wolff shipyard. They were built in 1969 and 1974 at a time when Harland & Wolff was still one of the largest shipbuilders in the world. They were named after the Biblical figures of the same name.

These were obviously not used in the construction of the Titanic. However, an enormous steel gantry, called the Arrol Gantry, was created in 1908 over the slipways for the Olympic and Titanic. It was also a dominant feature in the Belfast skyline for decades and was in use until the 1960’s.

You can’t get too close to the cranes as they are in an active and private industrial area, but they are easy to spot. The two yellow cranes with the H&W logo dominate the skyline and can be seen from many parts of the city.

Although Harland & Wolff are not much involved in shipbuilding and the two cranes are rarely used today, they have remained as they have become popular symbols of the city of Belfast. They are now sort of protected by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, and it is hoped they will continue to remain in Belfast.

Samson and Goliath gantry cranes H & W things to do in Belfast Ireland travel guide

Titanic Walkway

The Titanic Walkway is a 500 meter (0.3 mile) walkway on Victoria Wharf which connects the Titanic Slipways to the HMS Caroline . The maritime walkway was first opened in 2018 as a way to make it easier for pedestrians to visit some of the popular attractions within the Titanic Quarter.

The walkway goes along the water and docks. Notable attractions along the route include the Titanic Belfast, Titanic and Olympic Slipways, Mew Light, public art (including a couple of the Games of Thrones windows), the HMS Caroline , and the Titanic Dock and Pump House.

From the walkway, you can also see the Titanic Exhibition Center (giant conference center) and Titanic Studios (filming studios where Games of Thornes was filmed). You’ll also see the Samson & Goliath cranes in the distance.

The Mew Light, or the Great Light, is the world’s first and largest hyper-radial Fresnes lighthouse lens. It was first used at Tory Island Lighthouse in 1887 and later moved to Mew Island in 1928. It was removed from Mew Island in 2014, and has been restored and situated along the Titanic Walkway. Panels around the light tells about its history and how it works.

The Titanic Walkway is a great way to connect a visit to the Belfast Titanic to either the HMS Caroline and/or the Titanic Pump Room & Dock. To start the walk, just head outside the Titanic Belfast museum and head towards the water to visit the Olympic and Titanic Slipways, then head northeast along the walkway towards the HMS Caroline .

If you want a different perspective of the Titanic Quarter, consider a River Lagan boat cruise which allows you to see all the Titanic Quarter sites from the water with onboard commentary. In the summer, there is also the chance to see seals.

Mew Light lighthouse optic Titanic Walkway things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Titanic Dock & Pump House

The Titanic Dock and Pump House is a great place to visit to get a better sense of the large scale of the RMS Titanic. This was where the Titanic sat in dry dock before her sea trials and maiden voyage in April 1912.

The White Star liners RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic were the largest ocean liners ever built at the time, and so larger dry docks had to be built for them. This is where the ships were fitted out and completed in dry dock after being constructed at the slipways across from the Titanic Belfast museum.

Construction on the Titanic began in 1909 and took 3 years. The Thompson Graving Dock, often now called the Titanic Dock, was where the Titanic was fitted out and completed in 1912. The adjacent dock pump house, now called the Titanic Pump House, was used to pump out water from the Thompson Graving Dock as well as the Alexandra Graving Dock (where the HMS Caroline now sits).

Visitors can do a self-guided tour of the Titanic Pump House as well as the Titanic Dock. Walking around and climbing down into the Thompson Graving Dock gives you a good sense of the massive size of these ocean liners as the whole footprint of the graving dock would have been the size of the ship’s hull. Informational placards tell you about its construction, fitting out, the lives of the dock workers, and how the pump room worked.

There is a small fee to visit the Titanic Pump Room & Titanic Dock, payable in Cafe 1404 which is also where you can access the sites. If you’d rather have a guided experience, you can book a guided tour of the dock and pump room or join a walking tour which includes the visit here.

The Titanic Pump House and Dock is located about a 1 minute walk from the HMS Caroline and a 10 minute walk from the Titanic Museum.

Titanic Dock & Pump House Thompson Graving Dock things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Check out the Street Murals

The street murals in Belfast are well-known worldwide and it is a popular city for street art enthusiasts. Even if you are not interested in street art, you are bound to run into some of the city’s street murals as they are everywhere.

Initially, most of the street murals were political and related to The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and were created by people with a variety of perspectives from both sides. Most of the more politically focused murals are further from the city center with many located around the Peace Wall.

There are still a large number of political street murals that you can see and these are the primary focus of many Black Cab and street art tours in Belfast. Some serve as memorials to people who were killed or incarcerated during the Troubles. We saw a number of these murals on our Black Cab tour, which a great way to explore them as they are spread apart.

Within the city center, there is still a lot of street art to see but the majority is not strongly political or religious in nature. Although some do tackle serious topics, you’ll also find street murals of dogs, famous people, fairies, local landmarks, dragons, and monkeys. Some are created by relatively unknown local artists and some are by more famous artists like Smug, and there have been local initiatives that have helped fund legal street art in Belfast.

We did a street art walking tour that primarily focused on the non-political murals with Seedhead Arts . But there are a variety of street mural tours in Belfast including walking tours such as this one and Black cab tours such as this one .

See our guide to street art in Belfast for more information about finding and appreciating Belfast’s and a photo essay of some of the popular murals.

Bobby Sands mural street art things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Check out some Evening Entertainment

There is always something going on in Belfast and whether you are looking for a play, stand up comedy act, art exhibit, or just a local band at a pub, you’ll likely find something happening in Belfast. You can find out what’s happening by asking around, visiting the Visitor Center, checking a local newspaper, and/or checking out this page and this website .

We already mentioned the Grand Opera House earlier, but two of Belfast’s others main centrally-located concert and entertainment spaces are the Ulster Hall and Waterfront Hall. If you are looking for a concert, play, comedy show, or festival, I’d check out what’s happening at each of these venues during your visit.

Opened in 1862, Ulster Hall was by designed by William J. Barre. A wide variety of notable performances and events have been held here from readings by Charles Dickens to rock concerts by AC/DC and Iron Maiden to political talks by Lord Randolph Churchill and Lord Carson. Ulster Hall underwent a larger restoration in 2007, and it houses one of the few surviving functioning classic English pipe organs.

Belfast Waterfront is a multi-purpose entertainment and conference center located on the waterfront. It opened in 1997 and is used for a number of purposes, including concerts, theatre shows, stand-up comedy, business conferences, and other events. It is a key venue for Belfast International Arts Festival events.

You can see what’s on during your visit at both Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall  here .

evening entertainment things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Try the Local Drinks in Belfast

Belfast is a great place to have a drink. The city is probably best known for beer and whiskey, but gin is currently a very popular spirit in the city as well. Craft breweries and new distilleries are opening up around Northern Ireland and it is an exciting time to sample some of these new arrivals.

If you are looking for craft beers on tap, a few brewery names to look out for are Hilden, Sheelin, Hercules Brewing (known for their Yardsman beers), Whitewater, and Farmageddon. Northern Irish gins include Shortcross, Jawbox, and Copeland.

The most popular Northern Irish whiskey brand is Bushmills, but Echlinville and Rademon Estate also produce whiskey. Head to The Friend at Hand whiskey shop in the Cathedral Quarter to learn more about Irish whiskey and purchase a bottle, the store says it has the largest collection of Irish whiskey.

We actually did a really fun gin tour around central Belfast with a company called Taste and Tour that included 7 generous drinks and some nibbles in several locations. Gins included famous international brands as well as local ones. The company also does whiskey walks, beer crawls, and food tours around Belfast.

If you are looking for a few suggestions for a place to drink, here are several places we’ve been:

  • The Crown Bar – An elaborately decorated Victorian era gin palace that is a local landmark and popular tourist stop. Full bar and restaurant. Reservations recommended if you want to sit and eat.
  • Muriel’s Cafe Bar – Muriel’s is the place all the locals tell you to go if you want a cocktail. But you can get everything at the small quirky bar from a traditional pint to a range of craft gins. Also serves food.
  • John Hewitt Bar –  A traditional style bar with live music and full range of drinks. Owned and operated by the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre.
  • The Duke of York –  This traditional pub has been a staple of the Cathedral Quarter for over 200 years. It was rebuilt after being flattened by a bomb in 1972 during the Troubles. The pub is a local institution and is popular with tourists. It has interesting furniture and decorations and is filled with local memorabilia related to brewing and distilling. It also has colorful outdoor murals.
  • Sweet Afton Bar & Brewery  – A bar and restaurant in the Linen Quarter serving classic favorites and local craft beers. They also serve a few American craft beers.
  • Sunflower Public House – If you are looking for a simple pub, the Sunflower Public House may be your spot. The corner pub is probably best known for keeping its security cage around its front door which became a common occurrence during The Troubles. Good place for a pint and often has live music.
  • Babel Bar:  If you’re looking for a rooftop bar, the Babel Bar in the Bullitt Hotel is a great choice. One of the few rooftop bars in Belfast. Also a second bar located in the hotel courtyard. Full range of drinks and cocktails.
  • The Cocktail Bar – If you are looking for a classy bar and don’t mind the higher price of drinks, The Cocktail Bar at The Merchant Hotel is likely the place for you. This Victorian era luxury hotel is a beautiful setting for a drink. Hotel also has a jazz bar, a classic pub, a champagne lounge, and other dining spots.
  • Whites Tavern : If you like old historical taverns, Whites Tavern may be the place for you. This tavern has been serving drinks since 1630. Serves hearty pub food and regularly has live music.
  • Bittles Bar.  Found near Victoria Square, this curiously shaped pub is not dissimilar to the Flat Iron building in New York. Built in 1868 and has been service great beer ever since.

If you are looking to experience a local brewery, we’d recommend a trip just outside Belfast to Lisburn (10 miles away) where you can visit Hilden Brewery , Ireland’s oldest independent brewery. Hilden is a well-known craft brewery and you can sample the beers, take a tour of the distillery, and eat in their restaurant.

Belfast Gin Tour things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Sample the Irish Food

The dish most associated with Northern Ireland is Ulster fry. An Ulster fry is the Northern Irish version of the British “full breakfast” that you’ll find throughout the UK and Ireland. It normally includes fried eggs, sausage, back bacon, soda farl, tomato, black pudding, and potato bread. White pudding, hashbrowns, fried mushrooms, and baked beans are also normal accompaniments. Served with tea or coffee and eaten in the morning for breakfast.

You’ll find many of the dishes common throughout Ireland and the UK in Northern Ireland so dishes like Irish stew, bangers and mash, Sunday roasts, and fish and chips are common. Potatoes have long been important to Ireland so you’ll find potato dishes like colcannon (mashed potatoes with cabbage or kale), potato bread, boxty (potato pancake), and champ (mashed potatoes with spring onion, cheese, and butter). Seafood dishes are common particularly fried eel and salmon.

Agriculture is a major industry in Northern Ireland and you can find a lot of locally grown, raised, and produced food products. These are easy to find at St. George’s Market as well as in local grocery stores and on the menus of local restaurants in Belfast. Some to look out for are dairy products (Abernethy butter, milk, cheese, ice cream), local seafood (salmon, eels, oysters), breads (soda bread and potato bread in particular), Bramley apples (as well as apple juice, jam, and cider), and locally raised meats (beef, pork, venison).

If you have a sweet tooth, a popular Northern Irish candy is Yellowman which is a chewy honeycomb toffee-like candy.   Aunt Sandra’s Candy Factory is a popular local spot to buy handmade candies, chocolates, and fudge.

Ulster Fry things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Things to do in Belfast: Beyond Central Belfast

If you have more than a day or two in Belfast, you may have time to explore beyond central Belfast and the Titanic Quarter. Your choices of things to do in Belfast beyond the central area are varied and include museums, gardens, parks, a zoo, political sites, and a Victorian prison.

We particularly recommend the Queen’s Quarter area which includes Queen’s University, the Ulster Museum, and the Botanic Gardens. The Crumlin Road Gaol will appeal to those who enjoy touring old prisons. The Cave Hill Country Park includes hiking trails, the Belfast Zoo, Belfast Castle, and a children’s playground. The Peace Wall is a popular stop for seeing the political murals, usually during a Black Cab tour. There are also plenty of green places around Belfast for hiking, walks, and even wildlife viewing.

Most of these attractions are located within the city of Belfast but some lie in areas just outside Belfast. Most can be reached by public bus within 30 to 40 minutes, and some can be visited using the hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses. All are located within a 30 minute drive fo the city center, and some are less than a 10 minute drive from the city center.

The first physical divides or peace lines were built in 1969 after the outbreak of riots in Northern Ireland and the beginning of the Troubles. The walls, fences, and other barriers were used to divide predominately Ulster/Protestant/Unionist areas of a neighborhood from predominately Loyalist/Catholic/Nationalist areas of a neighborhood.

The initial walls were meant to be temporary measures to help protect people on both sides, but they became bigger, longer, and more sturdy over time. Today there are over 40 wall structures, called peace lines or peace walls, stretching for miles in Belfast. These are primarily in the residential areas in the northwest areas of Belfast. They also exist in a few other towns and cities in Northern Ireland such as Londonderry/Derry.

Interestingly, the number of Peace Walls has not decreased since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, but have actually increased. Some of the walls have gates which allow access during daylight hours but these gates are closed after dark. They are sometimes policed, but not so much these days. Sectarian violence has significantly decreased, but many residents still find the walls comforting and many people in these neighborhoods have grown up with the walls.

In recent years, the walls and political murals painted along or near the walls have become tourist attractions. Most black cab tours stop here as ours did. Visitors have the opportunity to write their own message on the Peace Wall, which has been covered in murals, as well as signed by famous people including the Dalai Lama and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

There is a large movement to remove the Peace Walls in the near future, and the government hopes the walls will be removed by 2023 in cooperation with people on both sides of the wall.

Peace Wall Peace Line street murals things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Crumlin Road Goal

The HMP Crumlin, better known as the  Crumlin Road Gaol , is a former prison that opened in Belfast in 1846. For over 150 years, it was one of Northern Ireland’s main prisons, and is today the only surviving Victorian era prison in Northern Ireland.

At the time the prison was built, it was one of the most up-to-date prisons of its time and was designed to house up to 500 prisoners. However, in later years, during the Troubles, there were so many people sent to prison that it was forced to hold many more than this, resulting in cramped conditions. The Crumlin Road Gaol closed in 1996 as a prison, and following an extensive restoration project, was opened as a visitor attraction in 2012.

Visits are timed and guided. Guides lead you through the major parts of the prison and explain the entry process for new inmates. The tour includes a visit to the cell blocks, the tunnel which linked the prison with the courthouse over the road, and the execution chamber. Seventeen prisoners were executed on site by hanging, with the last execution taking place in 1961.

The knowledgeable guides on the tour share lots of information about the history of the prison, its architecture, and notable inmates. The regular tours lasts about 75 to 90 minutes. There are also sometimes specialty tours offered such as paranormal tours and night tours of the prison.

There is a fee to tour the prison, and tour times can be booked in advance online or on site. It’s definitely worth booking your tour in advance, as this is both cheaper and will also guarantee the time you want. Tours run about every 30 minutes.

There is a gift shop and an on-site coffee shop where you can get sandwiches and drinks.

HMP Crumlin Road Goal prison things to do in Belfast Ireland travel guide

Stormont Estate – Northern Ireland Parliament

The Northern Ireland Parliament buildings are located on the Stormont Estate. The Northern Ireland Assembly, the legislative body for Northern Ireland, was established under the Belfast Agreement 1998 (Good Friday Agreement). Before being used for government purposes, the estate belong to Reverend John Cleland.

The main Northern Ireland Assembly building was designed by Sir Arnold Thornely and is 365 feet wide (one for each day of the year) with six floors and six front pillars (one for each NI county). It was completed in 1932.

The public can visit the Parliament buildings during most of the year, Monday to Friday. Tours are free and last about 1 hour. The tours include stops to learn about the history and architecture of the buildings and to see the Great Hall, the Senate Chamber, and the Assembly Chamber. The public can also sit in on Assembly debates and committee meetings. See latest tour times here .

Outside, you can admire the building and wander along some of the walking nature paths around the parkland. There are several statues and memorials, and there is also a picnic area, fitness area, and children’s play area.

There is a coffee shop and gift shop within the main building. The Members’ Dining Rooms are also open to the public for meals and afternoon tea, reservations are recommended.

The Stormont Estate has parking and can also be visited by public bus or by using the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus. There is no fee for visiting the Stormont Estate or Parliament Buildings; however, you will need to go through a security check at the gate and airport-style security to gain entrance to the building.

Stormont Parliament Northern Irish Assembly things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

C.S. Lewis Square

The C.S. Lewis Square is a square located in East Belfast dedicated to the Belfast author Clive Staples Lewis . C.S. Lewis is most famous for his children’s fantasy book series The Chronicles of Narnia series as well as his Christian apologetic adult nonfiction books such as Mere Christianity .

The square contains a number of large bronze sculptures depicting characters from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe  including Aslan, The Beavers, and The White Witch. The sculptures were made by Northern Irish artist Maurice Harron and are situated in a place not too far from Lewis’s birthplace. This is a fun place to bring any fan of the Narnia series!

Fans of C.S. Lewis may also want to see other sites related to Lewis in the area, including this birthplace on Dundela Avenue (Blue Plaque marks spot), Little Lea (family home on Circular drive), St Mark’s Church (where he was baptized and grandfather was rector), Holywood Arches Library (“The Searcher” statue), Belmont Tower, and Campbell College. You can follow a self-guided trail or book a local tour guide.

Next to C. S. Lewis Square is the EastSide Visitor Centre which is a great place to stop to learn more about the city’s attractions and things to do in East Belfast, including self-guided walking trails and walking tours. The local Greenways (walking and cycling routes on disused railway lines) also run right past here. The Centre also has a coffee bar called JACK Coffee Bar which features locally sourced food, products, and artwork.

The square is can be reached by public bus about 20 minute from center. There is parking available nearby.

Aslan statue C.S. Lewis Square Narnia statues things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Queen’s University

Queen’s University was chartered in 1845 and opened in Belfast in 1849. It was built to encourage university education for Catholics and Presbyterians at the time as Trinity College in Dublin was at that time an Anglican university. 

There are some beautiful buildings in terms of architecture on the Queen’s University campus, particularly the Lanyon building designed by English architect Charles Lanyon. You can check out the Naughton Gallery , an art gallery with both permanent and temporary exhibitions, which offers free public admission. You might also want to see what’s playing at the Queen’s Film Theatre , a popular independent cinema. 

Queen’s University is situated next to the Botanic Gardens in Queen’s Quarter, which is a lovely area of Belfast. It is a university student area with lots of coffee shops, independent retail stores, small entertainment venues, and the excellent Ulster Museum. A great place to wander around and explore.

Lanyon Building Queen's University things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens are located in south Belfast within the Queen’s Quarter near Queen’s University. The gardens were originally started as a private park in 1828 but became a public park in 1895. The gardens were one of the most popular Belfast attractions in the Victorian era, and structures in the garden have recently undergone major renovations.

Two of the main features of the gardens are the Palm House conservatory and the Tropical Ravine House. The Pam House is a curvilinear cast iron Victorian glasshouse designed by Charles Lanyon and built by Richard Turner, and display a range of tropical plants. The Tropical Ravine features a sunken ravine and includes a number of the oldest seed plants around today, as well as banana, cinnamon, bromeliad, and orchid plants. There is also a rose garden.

The Botanic Gardens is an important venue for concerts, festivals, and other local events, The Ulster Museum which sits near the main entrance to the gardens. The gardens are a popular place for students of next door Queen’s University to take walks and study.

The Botanic Gardens are open to the public during daylight hours and free to visit. The Palm House and Tropical Ravine have more limited hours.

Botanic Gardens things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Ulster Museum

The  Ulster Museum  is Belfast’s largest museum and one we highly recommend taking the time to visit. The museum has over 1 million objects in its collection which include items related to art, history, and natural science. The museum is located near the main entrance to the Botanic Gardens.

We really enjoyed our time in this museum as there is a bit of everything so just about everyone can find a section of the museum to enjoy. There were dinosaur bones, Neolithic stone axes, jewels, fine art, meteorites, and history exhibits detailing ancient and recent history including the partition of Ireland and the Troubles. If you want relative objectivity in relation to Belfast history, this is probably the best place to find it.

The museum has a number of permanent exhibitions, but also has changing temporary exhibitions. When we visited one of the exhibitions was a massive Game of Thrones Irish linen tapestry that tells the full story of the TV series and sewed locally. The GoT linen is not currently on display but you can see it and learn more about it here .

The museum has an on-site coffee shop which serves hot food and drinks. There is also a cloakroom with lockers that can be rented for £1.

The museum is free to visit, although donations are greatly appreciated.

Ulster Museum things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Museum of Orange Heritage

The Museum of Orange Heritage is a museum and interpretive center that covers the history, culture, and traditions of the Orange Order, also known as the Loyal Orange Association. If you want to  learn more about the Orange Order, this is a good place to do it. However, it is a good idea to be aware of the religious, cultural, and political significance of the order before you choose to visit.

If you are not familiar with the Orange Order , they are a Protestant fraternal organization that is strongly associated with the Ulster loyalists and British unionism. The main stated goal of the order is to protect and promote Protestantism, although opponents have criticized the group for being anti-Catholic. The group is probably best known for their marches and parades, known as Orange walks, particularly those that take place on July 12th. Some of these walks have been controversial.

Their history dates back to 1795 and it is from King William III, the Prince of Orange, that the organization gets its name. King William III was a Protestant king who defeated the Catholic king James II in the Williamite-Jacobite War in Ireland in the 17th century. The first Orange Order societies formed to commemorate King William III’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690.

The museum includes informational and interactive exhibits, and includes artifacts including items owned by King William II. Obviously, the information is going to have a pro-Loyalist bias given its being presented by the society. A good counterpoint if you are planning to visit is the Eileen Hickey Irish Republican History Museum.

The center also has a research and genealogy facility for those wanting to research their family history within the Orange Order.

The museum is located at Schomerg House in the Castlereagh area of Belfast and is generally open Monday through Saturday. It is a 15 to 20 minute bus ride from the town center.

William of Orange street mural Museum of Orange Heritage things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Eileen Hickey Irish Republican History Museum

The Eileen Hickey Irish Republican History Museum is a small museum in West Belfast dedicated to the history of the Republicans in Ireland since the 1960’s. It is situated in the Conways Mill Complex and the mill dates back to 1842. The museum focuses a lot on internment and imprisonment experiences during the Troubles.

The museum is named after Eileen Hickey, a woman who herself was imprisoned in Armagh in the 1970s, and a large portion of the artifacts were collected by her. The museum includes informational exhibits and a number of objects related to the Troubles, particularly related to internment during that time.

The Eileen Hickey Irish Republican History Museum obviously has a Republican (Nationalist / Catholic) bias and focuses on the more positive aspects of the Republican side. But it does have some inclusive information and objects as well. So just know this when you visit and it can be a good counterpoint to a visit to the Museum of Orange Heritage.

The museum is free to visit although donations are greatly appreciated. Some black cab tours stop here.

There are several parking spaces here for drivers. You can also get here by public bus but there is no bus stop super close by (10 to 15 minute walk away). I would recommend stopping here as part of a Black Cab tour or Troubles related tour as it is not far from the Peace Wall.

Irish Republican Belfast Street Art murals things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

RSPB Window on Wildlife (Belfast Lough Reserve)

The Belfast Lough Reserve is an area of grassland, lagoon, and mudflats that is considered a special place for local wildlife. It is protected and maintained by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), a bird charity in the UK. There are four components of the reserve: Belfast’s Window on Wildlife, Harbour Meadows, Holywood Banks and Whitehouse Lagoon.

The area provides a place for local birds and wildlife as well as migrating bird species. Over 100 bird species have been observed here and species that are regularly seen include wigeons, teals, oystercatchers, Arctic terns, curlews, and godwits. There are also konik ponies and small mammals who live here.

The public can best learn about the species and have a chance to observe them by visiting the RSPB Window on Wildlife . It is a small center run by staff and volunteers that provides information on local and migrating species and an area with a large window where you can view species in the lagoon and mudflats surrounding the center. There are also a couple of hides and the staff sometimes offers guided walks during certain times of the year.

At the center, you can borrow binoculars to see more from the window and staff can help point out different birds. When we visited we saw several bird species as well as rabbits. The staff member we talked to was very friendly and this place seems a world away from downtown Belfast!

There is a small charge to visit the center and use the shelters. It is free for RSPB members.

RSPB Window on Wildlife Belfast Lough Reserve things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Cave Hill Country Park

Cave Hill, also written as Cavehill, is a large hill formed by basalt lava flows that overlooks Belfast. It has long been a popular spot for local and tourists, and some believe that the hill with its “Napoleon’s Nose” rock formation was the inspiration for the giant in Jonathan Swift’s famous book Gulliver’s Travels .

Cave Hill Country Park is known for its caves, rock formations, ring fort remains, walking and hiking paths, and for being the site of the Belfast Zoo, Belfast Castle, and a large playground. It is a great place if you want to get out of Belfast, do some hiking, and get some nice views over the city (you can see all the way to Scotland on clear days). Given the attractions located here, it is easy to make a whole day of it out here.

The hiking trails are well-signed and range from relatively short and easy to longer and more strenuous. The trails take you near many of the landmarks in the park, including Belfast Castle, Napoleon’s nose, caves, McArt’s fort, Devil’s Punchbowl, and Volunteer’s Well stream, and interpretive signs help point out features, geology, and history.

Cave Hill Country Park is about a 5 mile (8 km) drive out of central Belfast. You can also get here via public bus from Belfast.

Cave Hill Country Park things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Belfast Zoo

The Belfast Zoo  is located on the outskirts of Belfast on the slopes of Cavehill, encompassing 55 acres and has over 1,000 animals from over 100 different species. The zoo offers daily zookeeper talks, feeding times, and other activities.

The zoo opened in 1934 and is one of the most popular paid attractions in Belfast. It suffered a lot during the Belfast Blitz and the 2018 family-friendly film Zoo  focuses on the true story of the “elephant angel” who cared for a baby elephant during WWII.

In addition to the animals, the zoo also recently opened a new children’s playground called the Adventurers’ Learning Centre. The zoo is also home to the 1930’s  Art Deco Floral Hall, once a popular dance and music venue. The Floral hall was shut and became derelict during the Troubles, but there are plans to refurbish and reopen it as an event space in the future.

The zoo has two cafes on site which serve hot food and drinks as well as a picnic area. There is also a large visitor center and a gift shop.

Most of the zoo and its facilities are wheelchair accessible; however, the zoo is situated on the side of Cavehill so many parts are uphill and some of the paths are steep. There are wheelchairs for free rental and a zoo-mobile vehicle, which can be reserved in advance with the zoo.

The zoo can be reached by public bus from central Belfast, and the zoo offers free parking for visitors. You can purchase tickets on-site or in advance.

giraffe family Belfast Zoo Northern Ireland things to do in Belfast Ireland travel guide

Belfast Castle

Belfast Castle was commissioned in the 19th century by George Hamilton Chichester, the 3rd Marquess of Donegall and was designed by Charles Lanyon and his son. If you’ve been to Scotland, the castle may look familiar as it was built in Scottish baronial style. There was an original Belfast Castle built in the 12th century by Normans and it sat not far from where the Belfast City Hall stands today.

Only a small portion of the castle is open to visitors today as much is used as space for offices, conference and event rooms, and dining. It is a popular wedding and conference venue today.

But if you are in visiting Cave Hill Country Park, Belfast Castle is definitely worth a stop. Can be a good place to stop before or after a hike or a visit to the nearby Belfast Zoo. Also close to the Fortwilliam Golf Club.

There is a small exhibit inside about the history of Belfast Castle worth taking a look at. There is also a restaurant and cafe where you can get a meal, coffee, or drink. Outside, the formal garden are beautiful and offer nice views over the city, and they also have cat statues!

Belfast Castle Cave Hill Country Park things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Ulster Folk Museum & Transport Museum

The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum is two separate museums with the Ulster Folk Museum and Transport Museum being located at different but adjacent sites. You can purchase admission to each museum separately, or buy a dual ticket to visit both museums.

The Ulster Folk Museum focuses on telling the story of the people and culture of Northern Ireland from the past to present, with a focus on the early 1900s. The museum is spread out across over 20 buildings set up to resemble a traditional village which includes a number of dwellings of the early 1900’s as well as replicas. These include thatched cottages, farm houses, schools, churches, shops, a mill, workshops, and more. There are also costumed guides, daily demonstrations, and activities such as open-hearth cooking, needlework, weaving, and craft demonstrations.

The Transport Museum focuses on the history of transport in Ireland from its early history to the modern era, from horse-drawn carriages to airplanes. One of the big draws to the museum is that it contains the largest railway collection in Ireland, and includes steam locomotives, passenger carriages, and a large amount of memorabilia. Other popular exhibits include pogo sticks (invited in Northern Ireland), a DeLorean DMC-12 car (the manufacturing plant was in Northern Ireland), a vertical take-off airplane, and a Titanic exhibition which includes some original artifacts. 

If you plan to visit both museums, be sure to purchase the dual ticket to save money on admission fees. There is a cafe on-site in the Ulster Folk Museum which serves snacks and drinks.

The Ulster Folk Museum & Transport Museum are situated in the town of Cultra which is about 7 miles (11 km) east of Belfast. There is free parking on-site for visitors, the museums can be reached by bus from Belfast (30 to 40 minute ride), or you can take a train (nearest stop is Cultra Halt).

Ulster Folk Museum & Transpot Museum Cultra Belfast Northern Ireland things to do in Belfast Ireland travel guide

Minnowburn is a natural area of meadows and woodland around the Lagan River on the southern edge of Belfast. It is a perfect place for a walk, family picnic, or gentle hike in a bucolic setting.

Terrace Hill is a popular spot to get a view across the Lagan Valley and to have a picnic, and the trail here is dotted with sculptures and has a garden on top. The garden was built by Frederick Russell who wanted a garden to go with Terrace Hill mansion (circa 1856). The Russell family had earned their money from the linen industry and later the flour industry.

This area is now maintained by the National Trust and is a lovely place to come if you want a bit of an escape from the city. There are a few main trails and paths here that you can follow, some that  run through the small village of Edenderry. It is easy to spend a few hours here on a nice day.

If you are looking for a nice gentle hike, we can recommend the Giant’s Ring trail. It is an easy 2.2 mile circular trail that takes you along the riverbank and through woodland and farmland, and past the Giant’s Ring. The Giant’s Ring is a Neolithic henge earthen monument, believed to have been constructed around 2700 BC.

Located about 4 miles outside of Belfast. No great public transit connections, although there are bus stops within a 15 minute walk of Minnowburn.

Giant's Ring Minnowburn hike things to do in Belfast Ireland travel guide

Sir Thomas & Lady Dixon Park

Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park is a 128 acre park located in South Belfast. The park consists of woodland, meadows, fields, a walled garden, formal rose gardens, and a Japanese garden. There is also a children’s playground and there is a coffee shop located in the former stables. The park is a popular place for local families and walkers.

The park was laid out around Wilmont House, a Victorian house originally built for James Bristow, but later purchased by Sir Thomas Dixon and Lady Edith Stewart Dixon . The Dixons would leave the house and park to the city of Belfast and it is currently maintained by the Belfast City Council.

The Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park is particularly known for its formal gardens and roses. Its roses are world famous and each year the roses attract thousands of visitors. The annual highlight here is Rose Week, a weeklong event where there is a flower show, games, concerts, puppet shows, family events, food vendors, and more. We attended Rose Week in 2018 and it was a lot of fun.

The park is located about 6 miles from Belfast city center and there is free parking available. You can also reach it by public bus with stops within a 5 minute walk of the park.

Sir Thomas & Lady Dixon Park rose garden things to do in Belfast Ireland travel guide

Belfast Map of Top Belfast Attractions

The map below shows the locations for each of the mentioned main things to do in Belfast, including the centrally located and nearby attractions. You can use this to help guide and plan your itinerary. We recommend trying to group together locations that are close together.

Click  here   or on the map below for a closer look and to see exact locations:

Belfast Map of top attractions things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland

Things to do in Belfast: Day Trips from Belfast

Run out of things to do in Belfast? If you have more time in Northern Ireland and want to venture further afield, there are lots more things to do within a 1 hour to 2 hour drive of the city.

If you are looking for a day trip or quick overnight trip, our top recommendations depending on your interests would be to drive along a section of the Causeway Coastal Route, visit the Giant’s Causeway, do a whiskey tour, explore Saint Patrick Country, do a Game of Thrones tour of filming sites, or visit a few of the many castles and historic homes in Northern Ireland.

We have some of our favorites below, and we also have a complete guide to the best day trips from Belfast here .

Giant’s Causeway

The  Giant’s Causeway  is the most famous natural attraction in Northern Ireland and its only UNESCO world heritage site. The Giant’s Causeway is a geological feature, which consists of approximately 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns that form a staircase-like pathway out to sea. It has been featured in a number of films, TV commercials, and advertisements.

The site is managed by the National Trust, and there are a number of visitor services here including parking, a shuttle bus, an exhibition center, a gift shop, and a cafe. Although it is free to visit the site if you arrive on foot or by bicycle, there is a fee and ticket needed to park, visit the exhibition center, get the audioguide, use the shuttle bus etc. It is definitely worth it to get a ticket to take advantage of these services.

Entry is free for National Trust members. If you are planning on visiting both the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, you might consider investing in a  National Trust Touring Pass . This will give you free access to both these attractions, as well as many other National trust properties across Northern Ireland and the UK.

You can drive (about 1 hour and 20 minute drive from Belfast), take public transit, or join a group or private tour from Belfast (or Dublin) to visit the Giant’s Causeway. You can see a number of available day tours to the Giant’s Causeway here and here .

Giant's Causeway Belfast day trip things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Causeway Coastal Route

The  Causeway  Coastal Route is a scenic tourist driving route that winds approximately 120 miles from Belfast to Londonderry (or Derry). Most of the route is along the coast with lots of scenery as well as a number of Northern Ireland’s top attractions.

Some of the most popular stops along the Causeway Coastal Route are the Giant’s  Causeway , Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle, and Bushmills whiskey distillery. Just off of the route are also popular stops like the Glenariff Nature Reserve, Rathlin Island, and  the Dark Hedges .

Most of the route is accessible to all drivers, but there is a narrow and windy section that is not suitable for those driving in larger vehicles and campervans. Many of the attractions, depending on the time of the year, can be visited by public transit. I would not recommend this as a day trip if you want to do the full route, but you can visit a few of the highlights on a day trip.

Many people see parts of the route as part of a day tour from Belfast so they can avoid renting a car and don’t have to worry about drinking if stopping for whiskey tasting. Day tour options include tours such as this full day tour  from Belfast.

We have driven the Causeway Coastal Route twice and really enjoyed it! See our guide to the highlights of the Causeway Coastal Route to help plan your own trip.

Causeway Coastal Route things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Learn about Saint Patrick

If you are interested in the history, life, and religious beliefs of Saint Patrick, there are a number of sites within Northern Ireland associated with the saint. Saint Patrick was born in Roman Britain and came to Ireland first as a slave of Irish pirates and later as a Christian missionary. He would become a bishop in Ireland during the 5th century and is often regarded as the founder of Christianity in Ireland.

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. He is a venerated saint in a number of Christian religious faiths including in the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Church, and the Lutheran Church. Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17th, is observed in Ireland (and in many other countries) as a religious and cultural holiday, celebrating his life and the arrival of Christianity into Ireland.

A few important places associated with Saint Patrick in Northern Ireland are The Saint Patrick Centre in Downpatrick (an informative and interactive exhibition about Saint Patrick’s life and legacy, a good starting point!), Down Cathedral (where Saint Patrick is believed to be buried) and Struell Wells in Downpatrick, Slemish Mountains (where Saint Patrick is believed to have been forced to work as a slave), and the two Saint Patrick’s cathedrals of Armagh.

Counties Down and Armagh are the two counties that are collectively known as Saint Patrick’s Country and have the most St. Patrick’s related sites. For more places associated with Saint Patrick, see this list of sites . Most of these places are located within a 1 hour drive of Belfast.

If you are looking for one place to go to learn more about Saint Patrick, I’d recommend heading to Downpatrick as there are several sites in and around the town associated with the saint. If you visit Downpatrick and are looking for a guide, this very good value 2-hour walking tour may be of interest.

If you are looking for a day tour, there are not many that are focused on Saint Patrick, but this group day tour  from Belfast includes a visit to The Saint Patrick Centre, Down Cathedral, historic ruins of Monasterboice, and Dublin. There is also this private day tour by minivan from Belfast which focuses on Downpatrick sites and County Down.

Saint Patrick mosaic things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Games of Thrones Tour

The popular American HBO TV series Game of Thrones (2011-2019) was filmed primarily in Belfast at Titanic Studios, but also in a number of real-world locations around Northern Ireland. Over 20 filming locations have been used in Northern Ireland, most of them outdoors, to represent different locations such as Winterfell, Lordsport Harbour, Dothraki Grasslands, Kingsroad, Robb Stark’s camp, and the forest of the direwolves.

Note that some filming locations are on private land and are not accessible, but most are open to the public. The locations have included Tollymore Forest, Cushendun Caves, Murlough Bay, the Dark Hedges , Ballintoy Harbour, Larrybane, Castle Ward, Inch Abbey, and Downhill Strand.

You see this list of the Games of Thrones filming sites in Northern Ireland to help you plan your itinerary.

You can visit many of these locations on your own, or you can join a tour. If you want to be amongst other fans and learn more behind-the-scenes information, there are many Game of Thrones themed tours that leave from Belfast and focus on GoT sites and attractions. Many also include the chance to use props and dress up like characters from the Game of Thrones for photos. Some are even led by those who worked on the show.

Here are a few tour options to consider:

  • This full day tour includes 9 stops which include Dark Hedges, Ballintoy Harbor, Larrybane, and Cushenden Caves. Also visits the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge.
  • This GoT day tour includes filming locations such as Dark Hedges, Carnlough Harbour, Cusheden Caves and Dunluce Castle. Tour also includes the Giant’s Causeway and a view of the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge.
  • This full day GoT tour includes visits to Castle Ward, Inch Abbey, and Tollymore Forest.
  • This private guided day tour includes a guide who was an actors or extra in the Game of Thrones series

The Dark Hedges Northern Ireland

Go Whiskey Tasting

Ireland is well known for its whiskey and one of the most famous and oldest distilleries in Ireland is located in Northern Ireland. Along with Jameson in Dublin, Bushmills is one of the brands most associated with Irish whiskey worldwide.

Bushmills was established in 1784, although the first license to distill whiskey on the current site was granted back in 1608! Today, Bushmills is one of Ireland’s best selling Irish whiskey brands, offering both blended and single malt whiskeys. The whiskey is produced on the Bushmills Distillery site using water from Saint Columb’s Rill, a tributary of the River Bush.

Old Bushmills Distillery is a very popular place to visit and you can take a tour of the distillery to see how and where the whiskey is made, do a tasting, visit the gift shop, and/or have a meal here. Public tours are on a first come, first serve basis unless you are in a group of 15 or more so we recommend arriving at least 20 minutes before you want to do a tour. The distillery is about a 1.5 hour drive from Belfast city center.

Another whiskey distillery Echlinville Distillery , opened in 2013, also offers public tours and tastings. Be sure to make a reservation in advance if you wish to visit here. Echlinville was the first Northern Irish distillery to be granted a distilling license in almost 125 years! The distillery is located about a 50 minute drive from Belfast city center.

There are a number of distilleries expected to open throughout Ireland in the next several years, so if whiskey is a strong interest, I’d do some research on any recent openings. Just note that most distilleries when they first open are not offering their own whiskey yet.

If you do not have a car, you can reach Bushmills Distillery by bus or by a combo of bus and train. You can also book a private transfer or join a group tour that stops at the distillery, like this one .

Just note that most group tours only allow time for you to do a quick tasting, not a distillery tour.

Old Bushmills Distillery things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

Castles, Palaces, and Country Homes

The UK is known for its many castles, palaces, and stately homes, and Northern Ireland has several that are open to the public to visit. Most are located within a 1 hour drive of Belfast. Some are only open seasonally so do check dates and hours before planning your visit.

Here are several to get you started:

  • Carrickfergus Castle – A 12th century castle built for Sir John de Courcy alongside the Belfast Lough (3 sides are surrounded by water). Today it is one of the best preserved medieval buildings in Northern Ireland. This castle saw a lot of action and was besieged  by the Scottish, Irish, English, and French and was used by the military until 1928. There is a fee to visit.
  • Castle Coole – A 18th-century neo-classical mansion and landscape park in Enniskillen that was built for the Corry family. The property is now owned and managed by the National Trust but many of the contents of the mansion are still owned by the Earl Belmore (Corry family) who still lives on the estate. The house is open to the public in the summer months and the estate is open year-round. There is a fee to visit.
  • Castle Ward – An 18th century mansion house built for Lord Bangor and his wife, known for having two different exterior architectural sides on each side (one side Palladian, one side Georgian Gothic). Estate also has a medieval tower house, farmyard, and gardens, and was home to the Ward family from 16th century until the estate was given to National Trust in 1952. Also a Game of Thrones filming location and there is a GOT archery experience offered here. There is a fee to visit.
  • Dunluce Castle – A 15th century castle ruin perched alongside the sea that was lived in by the MacDonnell family until around 1690. Castle ruins are a popular stop for visitors on the Causeway Coastal route. There is a fee to visit.
  • Hillsbourgh Castle – An 18th century Georgian house build for the Hill family. It is now an official government residence in Northern Ireland and managed by the Historic Royal Palaces. It is currently used as the residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the official residence of the British Monarch and other member of the British royal family when visiting the region. Fee to visit and best to book in advance if you want to visit the house interior as tickets numbers and tour times are limited.
  • Mount Stewart – A grand 19th-century neoclassical mansion house and garden in County Down built for the Marquesses of Londonderry. Now owned and managed by the National Trust. The property is well-known for its beautiful interiors, large collection of art and furniture, family memorabilia, and its world-class gardens. If you love gardens, we recommend visiting here in the late Spring or Summer months to see them in their full glory. Fee to visit.

Note that Castle Ward, Castle Coole, and Mount Stewart are all National Trust properties so members get free entrance. If you are planning to visit these, or other Trust properties in Northern Ireland such as the Giant’s Causeway or Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, you may save money with a National Trust Touring Pass .

Hillsborough Castle royal palace Northern Ireland things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland travel guide

So there is our list of things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland!  Have you been to Belfast? If so, any favorites among the above or places you’d add to this list? If you haven’t visited yet, which of these Belfast attractions would make it on your Belfast itinerary?

As always, feel free to ask us any questions you may have about things to do in Belfast or planning a trip to Northern Ireland!

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A travel guide to the top things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland as well as suggestions on getting around, where to stay, and day trip ideas. Belfast is probably best known for Belfast Titanic (Titanic museum), street murals, and The Troubles, but there is a lot to do and see in Belfast. It also has a lively historic city center, the famous Titanic Quarter, fun pubs, excellent museums, beautiful gardens, and Victorian architecture. #Belfast #NorthernIreland #Belfasttravel #Titanic #travel

**Disclosure: We partnered with Discover Northern Ireland who helped us plan the logistics of our second trip to Belfast, and who also covered our accommodation and arranged some of our visits to local attractions in order for us to share our experiences as travel writers. However, as always, this article contains only our own honest thoughts and opinions. You can read more in our Ethics Code about how we accept work.**

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Evie mason Post author

December 21, 2023 at 3:50 am

I stumbled upon a fantastic Belfast itinerary that highlighted the must-visit spots in the city, and it really made my trip planning a breeze. So many helpful hints and great attractions reviewed here. The mention of the Visit Belfast Welcome Centre at Donegall Square was invaluable–helped me snag some discounts for my sightseeing tours and even a bike tour around the city.

Jessica & Laurence Norah Post author

December 21, 2023 at 3:11 pm

Glad that you had such a wonderful visit to Belfast and that our Belfast Travel Guide was helpful to you in planning your trip. Sounds like you got a chance to do visit a lot of attractions and do a lot of tours, and glad you were able to find some discounts on a couple of your tours!

Best, Jessica

Janell Richison Post author

August 27, 2019 at 10:23 am

I love this site, and it is so informative, thanks so much. I am planning a trip in the very near future, after finding out my ancestry is far from what I thought it was, which I thought was just African and French, turned out to be anything but that. I did two test, and both came back with ties to England, Ireland, Scotland, and Finland, i.e. on the European side, and AMD (Age Macular Degeneration, being the only hereditary ailment, with a low risk, which is common in Ireland). In Ireland, the lineage points to Belfast, only; in Scotland, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Fife; in England Merseyside, Manchester, Wales, Lancashire, and Country Durham. That being said, is it possible to visit all of these places from Belfast? My twin and I would love to kill three birds with one stone. Any suggestions?

August 27, 2019 at 12:41 pm

Glad you are enjoying our travel blog! It is exciting to learn more about one’s genealogy and then go visit the places where one’s ancestors lived.

So it looks like your lineage points to all four countries of the UK: England, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Wales is its own country (not part of England), but both are part of the UK. So that’s a lot of places to try to visit. How much time do you have? I’d recommend at least 2 weeks if you are trying to visit all these places.

Also note that some places you list are cities like Edinburgh and Manchester, but others are counties or regions like Lancashire and Fife, whereas one is an entire country (Wales). So unless you have a lot of time, you would want to narrow those places down to where you’d actually want to visit. For example, maybe you want to visit St. Andrews in Fife and Liverpool in Merseyside. Maybe you want to visit Cardiff and Snowdonia National Park in Wales.

Then I’d decide how you plan to get around. Are you wanting to get around by public transportation, join a tour (or series of tours), or drive yourself? Or some combination of those?

So yes, there are ferries that you can take from Belfast to Scotland as well as England. But you could not use it as a base to visit the other places as they are too far away. But it would be a good beginning or ending point for your trip.

If you want to try to see all (or most of these places) I’d probably recommend flying into London and leaving out of Belfast. Or flying into Belfast and leaving out of London.

Happy to help more once you have an idea of how much time you have and how you’d like to travel around the UK.

Tamara W Post author

July 22, 2019 at 8:33 pm

I love your site! It is very well organized. I’ve spent some time in Northern Ireland on two separate occasions and can vouch for all you have said about the people (the best that I’ve ever met….but I must include Dubliners, as well) and how they do not know their own land as well as they would like. I would like to add that the Mourne Mountains are GORGEOUS and about an hour’s cab drive (but trains go there as well).

My favorite spot is all the way down to the border to Rostrevor for Kilbroney Nature Park overlooking Carlingford Lough. Stunning landscape and views in summer when the heather is in bloom! Beautiful hiking with very good facilities. Also, there is a LOT to do in Bangor which is a 20-minute cab drive (trains and busses also will take you there) from Belfast City Center. In Bangor you will see the marina, the excellent North Down Museum, Bangor Castle and more. Birthplace of Christianity in Ireland! For C.S. Lewis fans, the Old Inn in Crawfordsburn nearby is where many literary authors used to hang out, and where C.S. Lewis took his friends and honeymooned with his wife Helen Joy Davidman. There is a statue to Amy Carmichael, missionary to southern India and founder of Dohnavur Fellowship there, at Hamilton Road Prebyterian Church, as Amy’s family was significant in Millisle where she was from, and then Belfast as well.

In Belfast, you can see her church and mission that is still going in the Shankill district (“The Welcome Evangelical Church” and its new facility for the disabled “The Amy Carmichael Center” next door). Down the road from the Mission is a statue of the mill worker girls called “shawlies” that Amy helped and the old mill where they worked is across the street from the statue. The Welcome church was built just for the mill girls so they could go to church. There are a HOST of C.S. Lewis sites: The Shand Theatre, Campbell College, St. Mark’s (where his grandfather was rector and there is a red door with a lion door pull that played a large part of Lewis’s Aslan imaginings), his home Little Lea on Circle Street, his mural on the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour of Belfast, etc. I had more fun with the extremely friendly cab drivers showing them where these places are and what these Belfastians did that they were not aware of. They were happy to learn about it!

I am looking at your Dublin itinerary and will keep coming back as I am planning a third trip out to extend the trip. Glenlara Elite Travel did a WONDERFUL tour of the Antrim Coast if anyone is interested. Frances is an excellent tour guide and made our trip just amazing. Cave Hill park is one of my favorite in-town hikes. Also St. George’s Market in downtown for shopping.

July 23, 2019 at 3:50 am

Hi Tamara, So glad you are enjoying our posts on Dublin and Belfast and thanks for providing some of our favorite places in Northern Ireland. We have mainly explored Belfast and surround and then along the coast, but there is definitely much more to see in Northern Ireland and you have listed a number of places we have not been like Bangor. We will have to go there on our next visit! Yes, Cave Hill is nice place to hike in Belfast and we list a few places you might want to try next time if you haven’t been in our Belfast itinerary.

We agree that Dublin is great as well and plenty to do there and in the surrounding area! Wishing you a wonderful return to Ireland & Northern Ireland!

Bea Post author

December 31, 2018 at 2:41 am

I am very keen to visit Northern Ireland this year! Looks like I have great things to look forward to 🙂

January 1, 2019 at 1:28 pm

Hi Bea, Yes, there is lots to do and see in Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland. Just let us know if you have any questions as you plan your trip. Best, Jessica

Anisa Post author

December 30, 2018 at 12:24 pm

I have wanted to go to Belfast for a few years now but haven’t made it yet. This is a great guide, so comprehensive as always. The Titanic Museum is top of my list, but I also want to go to Giants Causeway. Hopefully, I can find a weekend to fit it in soon. Happy New Year to you both

December 30, 2018 at 4:43 pm

Hi Anisa, Hope you can a chance to visit Belfast soon. Have a wonderful New Year’s! Best, Jessica

Lolo Post author

December 30, 2018 at 3:03 am

Quite an extensive guide to Belfast you have here! There definitely seems to be way more things to do than I originally knew about! I’m especially interested in the Opera House! Saved for later! Happy Holidays!

December 30, 2018 at 6:29 am

Hi Lolo, Yes, if you like opera houses, the Grand Opera House is the only Victorian theater remaining in Northern Ireland. It will be getting a facelift in 2020 😉 Best, Jessica

Anda Post author

December 29, 2018 at 3:53 pm

Excellent travel guide, like always! I’m going to bookmark this for our future travel plans. My husband and I always wanted to visit Ireland and if we make it there we’ll definitely want to see Belfast. Having so much useful information in one single post will make my life so much easier. I usually have to search the web for hours and hours, before I am able to put together a decent itinerary. Thanks for sharing this, Jessica. I wish you and Laurence a wonderful New Year!

December 29, 2018 at 4:57 pm

Hi Anda, Yes, I had been working on this post for a while and I actually took some places off the list that we visited as there were just so many. We were really surprised how many thing we have done there!

If you go to Ireland, I hope you get a chance to visit, there are lots of neat things to see/do in Belfast and Northern Ireland in general. All of Ireland is great of course (we still have much more to see ourselves!) but I do have some special feelings towards Belfast.

In many parts of the UK, people still look at you a bit strange if you say you are going to go spend time in Belfast as most people lived through The Troubles and you did not go to Belfast “for fun”. But we really have loved our two visits. On a few of the tours we did, we were the only people not from Ireland as so many Irish people told us that they never really had the chance to explore their own city growing up and they are excited about all the new things that are available now. It was really nice to be able to hear their stories and hear about how much they’ve seen the city change. It is great to hear about positive change and to see so many derelict buildings getting a second life.

Wishing you and your husband a wonderful 2019!!

Jill Post author

December 29, 2018 at 2:44 pm

I’m visiting Ireland for my first time next year and I’m so excited. Unfortunately, due to time constraints I won’t be visiting Northern Ireland but I am sure I will be back. I’ve heard such wonderful things about Belfast that I know I will visit it someday!

December 29, 2018 at 4:37 pm

Hi Jill, Ireland is a great country to explore and I am sure you’ll have a great trip. If you are going to Dublin, we do have a 3 day Dublin itinerary that may be useful in planning your time there. Northern Ireland will still be there next time, we’d recommend a week to see many of the highlights. Northern Ireland is easy to combine with a trip to the rest of Ireland as well as Scotland as well as there are regular daily ferries between the two 😉 Happy travels! Jessica

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Belfast Travel Guide

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The North’s largest city by some distance, with a population of some 270,000 in the inner city rising to 600,000 across its wider metropolitan area, Belfast has a pace and bustle you’ll find nowhere else in Northern Ireland. For many, however, the city will always be remembered as the focus of the Troublesthat dominated Northern Ireland’s politics for almost three decades from the late 1960s and scarred so many lives. Indeed, as the North continues to come to terms with the aftermath of the peace process, instigated by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the city remains in some ways on a knife’s edge, always expecting some new predicament to emerge.

Some history

Accommodation in belfast, eating in belfast, belfast drinking and nightlife, lgbt travel information for belfast, sports and outdoor activities in belfast, donegall square, the entries and around.

  • Belfast's Cathedral Quarter

The Laganside

The golden mile, south belfast, west belfast, belfast’s murals, belfast and the titanic, east belfast, george best, the botanic gardens.

In appearance Belfast closely resembles Liverpool, Glasgow or any other industrial port across the water, and, similarly, its largely defunct docklands– in which, famously, the Titanic was built – are undergoing massive redevelopment. Though the city centre is still characterized by numerous elegant Victorian buildings, there’s been an enormous transformation here, too, not least in the greater prosperity of the shopping streets leading northwards from the hub of Belfast life, Donegall Square. Yet economic improvement is not reflected in every aspect of Belfast life. Some areas of the city display obvious economic decline, most notably North Belfast and the once-thriving so-called Golden Mile (now little more than a silver two hundred yards at each end). On week-nights the city centre can resemble a ghost town, though there’s no doubt that Belfast continues to thrive culturally. Theatre and the visual arts are flourishing, and there are plenty of places to catch the city’s booming traditional-music scene.

A couple of days are enough to get a feel for the city, although it is a good base from which to visit virtually anywhere else in the North. In the city centre, concentrate on the glories resulting from the Industrial Revolution – grandiose architecture and magnificent Victorian pubs – and the rejuvenated area from Ann Street to Donegall Street now known as the Cathedral quarter. To the south lies Queen’s University and the extensive collections of the Ulster Museum, set in the grounds of the Botanic Gardens. A climb up Cave Hill, a couple of miles to the north, rewards you with marvellous views of the city spread out around the curve of its natural harbour, Belfast Lough. The River Lagan flows towards Belfast Lough along the eastern side of the city centre and offers riverside walks, and is also the focus for the most radical development in the last few years, the Laganside, focused on the Waterfront Hall and the Odyssey Complex across the water. In East Belfast, across the river beyond the great cranes of the Harland & Wolff shipyard, lies suburbia and very little of interest apart from Stormont, the former Northern Irish parliament and home to the modern Assembly. The city’s once-formidable security presence and fortifications are now virtually invisible, but the iron blockade known as the Peace Line still bisects the Catholic and Protestant communities of West Belfast, a grim physical reminder of the city’s and country’s sectarian divisions – and there are certain flashpoints such as the Short Strand in East Belfast and North Belfast’s Ardoyne area that it is still inadvisable to visit.

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Belfast began life as a cluster of forts built to guard a ford across the River Farset, which nowadays runs underground beneath the High Street. An Anglo-Norman castle was built here in 1177, but its influence was limited, and within a hundred years or so control over the Lagan Valley had reverted firmly to the Irish, under the O’Neills of Clandeboye. In 1604, Sir Arthur Chichester, whose son was to be the First Earl of Donegall, was “planted” in the area by James I, and shortly afterwards the tiny settlement was granted a charter creating a corporate borough. It was not until the end of the seventeenth century though that Belfast began to grow significantly, when French Huguenots fleeing persecution brought skills which rapidly improved the fortunes of the local linen industry – which, in turn, attracted new workers and wealth. Through the eighteenth century the cloth trade and shipbuilding expanded tremendously, and the population increased tenfold in a hundred years. With economic prosperity, Belfast became a city noted for its liberalism: in 1791, three Presbyterian Ulstermen formed the Society of United Irishmen, a gathering embracing Catholics and Protestants on the basis of common Irish nationality, from which sprang the 1798 Rebellion.

However, the rebellion in the North was quickly and ruthlessly stamped out by the English, and within two generations most Protestants had abandoned the Nationalist cause. Presbyterian ministers began openly to attack the Catholic Church, resulting in a sectarian divide that as time drew on became wider and increasingly violent. At the same time, the nineteenth century saw vigorous commercial and industrial expansion, and by the time Queen Victoria granted Belfast city status in 1888, its population had risen to 208,000, soon exceeding that of Dublin.

Book tickets and tours in Dublin

With Partition came the creation of Northern Ireland with Belfast as its capital and Stormont as its seat of government. Inevitably this boosted the city’s status, but also ensured that it would ultimately become the focus for much of the Troubles. Though its fortunes now reflected the status of the British economy, Belfast mainly fared well, despite major German bombing raids during World War II. However, the economic status of the Catholic population was deliberately maintained at a low level by the Stormont government, largely consisting of Protestant landowners and businessmen, which saw no reason to challenge existing sectarian employment, housing and policing policies – all fuel to the fire which was to follow.

For 25 years from 1969, Belfast witnessed the worst of the Troubles and, by the time the IRA declared a ceasefire in 1994, much of the city resembled a battle site. Then followed a sea change in the city’s fortunes as Britain and the EU funded a revitalization programme costing billions of pounds. Major shopping centres were built, swish hotels, bars and restaurants seemed to spring up almost overnight, and buildings such as the Waterfront Hall and Odyssey complex have fundamentally altered the city’s skyline. Young Belfast partied like never before – and to some extent still does – while the atmosphere of the whole city centre changed irrevocably.

Nevertheless, Belfast remains a city divided and all evidence suggests that sectarian attitudes are hardening, especially among young people, some of whom, though not old enough to remember the Troubles, regard the Orange Order marching season as an opportunity to confront both their “opposing” community and the police with bricks and petrol bombs. Yet while the peace is fragile, there is still optimism for the future as seen in the ambitious centenary celebrations that commemorated the launch of the Titanic, a product of Belfast’s once thriving docklands.

Belfast has a broad range of accommodation, especially at the top end of the market. However, there’s still a relative dearth of budget places. Much of the city’s accommodation is concentrated around Great Victoria Street and south of the centre in the university quarter, particularly on and around Botanic Avenue and in the network of streets running between the Malone and Lisburn roads. Many hotels and guesthouses are geared towards business travellers and so frequently offer significant reductions for weekend breaks; most hotels offer free wi-fi.

Eating out in Belfast is very much a movable feast with new places popping up and others vanishing or relocating. There are plenty of options for food during the day in the centre and at the southern end of the Golden Mile, ranging from new cafés (many of which in the city centre stay open until 8.30pm on Thurs nights) to traditional pubs (which generally only serve lunch but in some cases continue providing food until 9pm).

Most of the city’s well-established restaurants are around Donegall Square or in the university area. Bear in mind that they are often fully booked on Friday and Saturday evenings, so reserving a table’s essential unless you’re prepared to eat early. There is a fair choice of cuisine, from modern Irish and European, with French and Italian especially popular, to a smattering of Indian and East Asian restaurants. Standards are generally high and often exceptionally good value for money. The choice is limited for vegetarians but many places include veggie options on their menus.

Belfast has numerous excellent pubs concentrated in the city centre and the club and music scenes continue to thrive on Fridays and Saturdays, although Sundays can be quiet, with many bars closing early or remaining shut all day. To tap into the city’s pulse, your best bet is to wander around the Entries or up and around Donegall Street, while there’s plenty of action at each end of the Golden Mile. For the latest information on what’s going on, the monthly listings freesheet The Big List is essential, though the Belfast Telegraph also features extensive, if somewhat disorganized, listings.

As always in Ireland, the pubs are the heart of the city. The liveliest in the evenings are on Great Victoria Street, on and near Donegall Street, and around the university, and if you start drinking at the famed Crown Liquor Saloon you can manage a substantial pub crawl without moving more than a few hundred yards. Several of the finest pubs also offer regular traditional music sessions, usually free with your pint. If you’re short of time, you could always join the Historical Pub Tour, covering six of Belfast’s best-known bars. For pub reviews, check wwww.belfastbar.co.uk.

As well as the traditional music on offer in pubs, Belfast also benefits from a thriving indie and rock scene. There are always good up-and-coming bands playing in the city, just waiting to get noticed and the number of visiting international performers has increased dramatically since the opening of the Waterfront Hall and Odyssey Arena. Rock venues may charge between £5 and £20 depending on the act’s reputation. Pre-booked tickets for the biggest names will usually cost much more – between £15 and £75.

Clubs and DJ bars

Belfast’s club scene isn’t what it was ten years ago, but there are still plenty of dance dens, as well as pre-club DJ bars around. Check The Big List for who’s on when; you’ll find most venues run different clubs on different nights. Venues are scattered fairly evenly around the city centre; students – not surprisingly – tend to dominate those closest to the university area. Admission may be free early in the week (and at some places all week) and as low as £2 or £3 up to Thursday nights, while weekend prices are usually around £5 to £15. Many places stay open until 1am Monday to Thursday and till 2am on Fridays and Saturdays.

Classical music, opera and theatre

Almost all classical-music concerts take place in the Ulster or Waterfront halls, while opera fans are catered for by the Grand Opera House. Most of Belfast’s theatres are concentrated in the south of the city. Although the choice is relatively limited, there is still enough to please most tastes.

The main resource of Belfast’s gay scene is Queerspace, part of Cara-Friend, 9–13 Waring Street (wwww.queerspace.org.uk), a collective that aims to serve the needs and raise the profile of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community of Belfast and Northern Ireland; it holds weekly drop-in sessions on the afternoons of the first and third Saturdays of the month (3–6pm). Alternatively, there’s wwww.gaybelfast.net which provides plenty of information on entertainment and nightlife. Helplines include Cara-Friend (t028/9032 2023; Mon–Wed 7.30–10pm) and Lesbian Line (t028/9023 8668; Thurs 7.30–10pm). Belfast’s Gay Pride (wwww.belfastpride.com) week begins on the last Saturday in July.

The number of gay bars and venues has increased substantially over the last few years and the majority are geared towards men (check wwww.gaybelfast.net/scene.htm for listings) though there are occasional lesbian club nights organised by The Glory Box (wwww.gloryboxgurlz.com).

Though watching, discussing and betting on sport is as much of a pastime in Belfast as anywhere else, you’ll find very few locals expressing particularly passionate opinions about the city’s teams and players, with the notable exception of boxing. Indeed, when people watch sport here, it’s usually the televised variety, and attendances for most events are relatively small, an indifference that applies equally to the North’s national teams. Nevertheless, if you’re interested in attending a match of whatever kind, there are plenty of opportunities, and the Belfast Telegraph usually has the details.

The Northern Ireland football (soccer) team has enjoyed little success on the international stage over the last twenty years, but lit a blaze of glory in the summer of 2005 when it defeated England 1–0 in Belfast, reignited by a 3–2 victory over Spain the following year. Internationals are played at Windsor Park (the home ground of the Linfield club) near the Lisburn Road (buses #9A and #9B to Lower Windsor Avenue). The biggest club sides in Belfast – paradoxically enough – are Glasgow’s Celtic and Rangers, generally supported respectively by Catholics and Protestants, as well as Liverpool and Manchester United.

Since football is the Belfast sport, success at either hurling or Gaelic football has been lacking, and County Antrim (which in this case includes Belfast for sporting purposes) has never won either All-Ireland Senior Final. You can see both sports most weekends at Roger Casement Park, on Andersonstown Road (buses #10A, #10B, #10C and #10D).

The provincial rugby-union team, Ulster, plays its games at the Ravenhill Grounds, Ravenhill Park (bus #78), and features in both the Celtic League and the Heineken Cup. Perhaps the most popularly attended matches are the ice-hockey games at the Odyssey Arena, featuring the Belfast Giants.

The core of Belfast is the stately, though often traffic-clogged, Donegall Square. In its centre stands the City Hall, a vast, Neoclassical bulk. Completed in 1906 and made of bright white Portland stone, its turrets, saucer domes, scrolls and pinnacle pots are all representative of styles absorbed by the British Empire. In front stands an imposing statue of Queen Victoria, the apotheosis of imperialism, her maternal gaze unerringly cast across the rooftops towards the Protestant Shankill area. At her feet, sculpted in bronze, stand proud figures showing the city fathers’ world-view: a young scholar, his mother with spinning spool and his father with mallet and boat, the three of them representing “learning, linen and liners”, the alliterative bedrock of Belfast’s heritage.

The predominantly pedestrianized streets north from Donegall Square lead you into downtown Belfast. The main shopping street, Donegall Place, continues into Royal Avenue and houses familiar chain-store names. Castle Place, off Donegall Place, was once the hub of Victorian Belfast, and the grand old department stores here, in creams, pinks and browns, have been transformed into a plethora of voguish shops, though happily only the ground-floor frontages have been converted, leaving the lofty grandeur of the storeys above undisturbed.

East along Castle Lane or Castle Place leads to Ann Street and the High Street, interlinked by the narrow alleyways known as the Entries. You’ll stumble across some great old saloon bars down here, like The Morning Star in Pottinger’s Entry, with its large frosted windows and Parisian-café-like counter, and White’s Tavern in Winecellar Entry, which dates from the seventeenth century. Crown Entry was where the Society of United Irishmen was born, led by the Protestant triumvirate of Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken and Samuel Nielson. Nielson also printed his own newspaper in this area, the Northern Star; heavily influenced by the French revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, the newspaper’s inflammatory material led to his being hounded out of town.

From the High Street, a similar set of Entries used to run through to Waring Street to the north, but was destroyed by bombing in World War II. Still, this end of the High Street, with the River Farset running underground, is the oldest part of the city, its atmosphere in places redolent of the eighteenth century.

Belfast's Cathedral Quarter

The area north of Waring Street has seen much redevelopment in recent years, with plenty of new restaurants and bars opening up – some of which offer a wide range of entertainment, such as the excellent John Hewitt – leading to its acquisition of the term Cathedral quarter to suggest a Parisian ambience, though one as far removed from the Left Bank as it’s possible to imagine.

A couple of hundred yards up Donegall Street you’ll find the most monolithic of all the city’s grand buildings, the Protestant St Anne’s Cathedral, a neo-Romanesque basilica started in 1899, but not fully completed until 1981. Entrance is via the huge west door, immediately to the right of which is the baptistery, with an intricately designed representation of the Creation on its ceiling consisting of 150,000 tiny pieces of glass. Most significant, however, is the cathedral’s only tomb, marked by a simple slab on the floor of the south aisle, which contains the body of Lord Edward Henry Carson (1854–1935). The symbol of Partition, he’s seen either as the province’s saviour or as the villain who sabotaged Ireland’s independence as a 32-county state.

Lord Edward Carson

Lord Edward Carson is a name that Northern Ireland has never forgotten. A Dubliner of Scots-Presbyterian background, he took the decision in 1910 to accept the leadership of the opposition to Home Rule, which in effect inextricably allied him to the Ulster Unionist resistance movement. Yet, though this association is about the only thing for which he is remembered, his personality and integrity went far deeper than this. He abhorred religious intolerance, and behind the exterior of a zealous crusader was a man who sincerely believed that Ireland couldn’t prosper without Britain and only wished that a federalist answer could have involved a united Ireland. Nonetheless, this was the same man who, as a brilliant orator at the bar, and in the role he loved the most, brought about the humiliating destruction of Oscar Wilde at the writer’s trial in 1895.

On Donegall Quay is the ambitious Laganside development project, the first component of which to be completed was the Lagan Weir, designed to protect the city against flooding. Millions of pounds have been pumped into dredging the river to maintain water levels and revive the much depleted fish population – successfully it seems: there was salmon fishing on the weir’s inauguration day. However, little can be done to restore the river’s erstwhile crucial role in the successful development of the city as a centre for industries as diverse as linen, tobacco, rope-making and shipbuilding – a glance across the river to the Harland & Wolff shipyard confirms that the last-named still survives.

If the sea air’s twitching your nostrils, head a few hundred yards further north towards the ferry terminals, where you’ll find the restored Harbour Office and nearby Sinclair Seamen’s Church on Corporation Square. The latter is yet another Lanyon design, but it’s the contents that are most intriguing. Sailors must have felt truly at home among the cornucopia of maritime equipment – an old-fashioned wooden wheel, the bell from HMS Hood, assorted navigation lights and a ship’s prow for a pulpit.

The most obvious changes to the city’s skyline can be seen from almost any river viewpoint: further south along Oxford Street sits the glittering two-thousand-seater Waterfront Hall concert venue, a housing development and a Hilton hotel.

The Odyssey

Across the river on Queen’s Quay, the massive Odyssey leisure complex features a ten-thousand-seater indoor arena, cinemas and a complex of bars, restaurants and shops. Also here is the Whowhatwherewhenwhy scientific discovery centre, known as W5 with over 150 interactive exhibits, aimed primarily at children. Best of these is the See/Do section in which you can create your own animated cartoon and have a go at composing on a laser harp. From mid-July to August, W5 also runs a series of special workshops for children – the subjects change annually.

The strip of Belfast running south along Great Victoria Street to Shaftesbury Square and thence to the university area and beyond is ascribed the name of the “Golden Mile”, though in its present state its middle is, in truth, mostly a pretty depressing stretch of boarded-up businesses and building sites.

It begins at the grandiose, Victorian Grand Opera House, which sits just a short distance west of Donegall Square at the northern end of Great Victoria Street. At the northern head of the street, almost opposite the Europa Hotel, stands one of the greatest of Victorian gin palaces, the Crown Liquor Saloon. The saloon has a glittering tiled exterior resembling a spa baths more than a serious drinking institution, while inside the scrolled ceiling, patterned floor and the golden-yellow and rosy-red hues led John Betjeman to describe it as his “many coloured cavern”. Once armed with drinks (and if it’s not too crowded, or lunchtime when they’re reserved for diners only), grab one of the snugs and press the button to receive service. If the snugs are all busy, it’s still a great experience to sit or stand at the bar, with its carved-timber dividing screens, painted mirrors and frieze-decorated oak panelling.

Before heading into the university quarter, sidestep off Great Victoria Street into Sandy Row, which runs parallel to the west. A strong working-class Protestant quarter (with the tribal pavement painting to prove it), it’s one of the most glaring examples of Belfast’s divided world, wildly different from the city centre’s increasingly cosmopolitan sophistication, yet only yards away. In Blythe Street and Donegall Road, off to the west, are some of the murals that characterize these sectarian areas (see Belfast’s murals). Sandy Row used to be the main road south and, although hard to credit today, it was once a picturesque stretch of whitewashed cottages.

Towards the Golden Mile’s southern extremity lies the university area, the focal point for South Belfast’s attractions (wwww.visitsouthbelfast.com). You’re likely to spend much of your time in the area, since it boasts plenty of eating places, pubs and a range of accommodation. Near Queen’s University are the lush Botanic Gardens, within which sits the vast Ulster Museum, displaying everything from dinosaur bones to contemporary art. Heading south from here along Stranmillis Road it’s a relatively short step east to the Lagan Towpath, running several miles southwest to Lisburn, while a detour along the way leads to the Neolithic earthwork known as the Giant’s Ring.

The university quarter

Towards the Golden Mile’s southern extremity lies the university quarter. You’re likely to spend much of your time in the area, since it boasts plenty of eating places, pubs and a range of accommodation. Just south of Shaftesbury Square stand three churches – Moravian, Crescent and Methodist – whose distinctive steeples frame the entrance to the university quarter. From here, leading up to the university buildings, the roads are lined with early Victorian terraces that represent the final flowering of Georgian architecture in Belfast. The Upper Crescent is a magnificent curved Neoclassical terrace, built in about 1845 but sadly neglected since; it is now used mainly for office space. The Lower Crescent, perversely, is straight.

Queen’s University is the architectural centrepiece of the area, flanked by the most satisfying example of a Georgian terrace in Belfast, University Square, where the red brickwork mostly remains intact, with the exception of a few bay windows added in the Victorian era. The university building itself was constructed in 1849 as a mock-Tudor remodelling of Magdalen College, Oxford, to a design by Lanyon, and houses a visitor centre, which provides information about the university, hosts a series of art exhibitions, and runs guided tours. Across the road from here is the Students’ Union, a white 1960s design. The Italianate Union Theological College, nearby on College Park, also by Lanyon, was temporarily the site of the Northern Ireland Parliament until 1932 when Stormont was built. A little further south down University Road, the university bookshop is especially good for Irish history and politics and has particularly impressive fiction, drama and poetry sections.

The Ulster Museum

Within the Botanic Gardens is the Ulster Museum which reopened in 2009 after a long redevelopment programme. Retaining its original eighty-year old shell, the Museum now incorporates a bold modernist design and sheds light both literally and figuratively on subjects from the North’s troubled history to Ireland’s geological past. The grand open-plan ground floor, which also features a much-improved café, introduces some of the museum’s themes via its “Window on the World” displays which include everything from an impressive dinosaur skeleton to an Alexander McQueen dress. From here it’s best to head up to the third floor to explore the art exhibits. The undoubted highlights here are the modern art collection (featuring Francis Bacon’s macabre Head II, Bridget Riley’s unnerving Cataract IV and Stanley Spencer’s parochial The Betrayal), and the stunning landscapes and rural scenes by painters such as Belfast’s Sir John Lavery, plus Turner’s highly symbolic Dawn of Christianity.

The second floor features the “Nature Zone”, depicting the Earth’s origins and Ireland’s development up to the Ice Age. Far more engrossing are the first floor’s history galleries which begin with Neolithic remains and Bronze Age finds (including a remarkable three-foot wide decorated shield), before taking a detailed look at the medieval period – two exhibits to look out for here are the somewhat skew-whiff stone inauguration chair of the O’Neills of Clandeboye and the silver gilt arm-reliquary supposedly created to house St Patrick’s hand. The Armada gallery includes plenty of relics from the ill-fated Girona which sank off the Antrim coast in 1588, while the Ascendancy section includes a remarkable rag-bound tally-stick, used to record the number of prayers said during the then illegal outdoor Catholic service, as well as highlighting the effects of the Great Famine.

From here the exhibits quicken up a pace, especially when focusing upon the War of Independence and the North’s resistance to Dublin rule, before looking at Belfast during World War II and concluding with a disappointingly bland space devoted to The Troubles.

For an unsurpassable overview of the whole city and lough, a climb up Cave Hill, to the north, is a must. Several paths lead up from Belfast Castle’s estate to the hill’s summit – a rocky outcrop known as “Napoleon’s Nose”. From here you can’t help but appreciate the accuracy of the poet Craig Raine’s aerial description of the city in his Flying to Belfast as “a radio set with its back ripped off”. Cave Hill was once awash with Iron Age forts, for there was flint (for weapon making) in the chalk under the basalt hill-coverings. In 1795, Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken and other leaders of the United Irishmen stood on the top of Cave Hill and pledged “never to desist in our efforts until we have subverted the authority of England over our country and asserted our Independence”.

Though the nexus of the Troubles for 25 years, today West Belfast is as safe as anywhere else in the city to visit. However, there’s little of architectural note among the mainly residential streets and most of the “sights” are associated with the area’s troubled past. Much of the old terraced housing has been replaced in recent years by rows of modern estates, but it’s impossible to miss examples of the partisan mural paintings that decorate walls and gable ends in both Catholic and Protestant areas. Tourist information about the area is available from the West Belfast Tourist Information Point.

The Troubles in West Belfast

The Troubles in West Belfast have their origins in the nineteenth century, when the city’s population expanded dramatically as people flocked from the countryside to work in the booming new flax and linen industries. Many of these migrants were crammed into jerry-built housing in the grids of streets which still today define this part of the city. Conditions were deplorable and did nothing to ease tensions between Catholic and Protestant residents. There were numerous sectarian riots – the worst was in 1886, during the reading of the Home Rule Bill, when 32 people died and over 370 were injured – leading to the almost inevitable definition of two separate neighbourhoods, as Protestant and Catholic families alike began to migrate to more secure surroundings.

In 1968 and 1969, this division was pushed to its limit when, across the city, sectarian mobs and gunmen evicted over eight thousand families from their homes, mainly in Catholic West Belfast. The Royal Ulster Constabulary, or RUC, called for government assistance, and British troops arrived on the streets on August 15, 1969. A month later the makeshift barrier dividing the Catholic Falls from the Protestant Shankill had become a full-scale reinforced “peace line”. British intervention may have averted a civil war, but it failed to prevent an escalation in sectarian conflict. Indeed, the army soon came to be viewed as an occupying force and a legitimate target for a reviving IRA, though local sympathies for its aims were much diminished by the 1972 Bloody Friday bombings. In return, Loyalist paramilitaries sought to avenge Republican violence, often through indiscriminate killings, such as the atrocities carried out by the Shankill Butchers in the 1970s, so called because they used butchers’ knives to first maim then murder their Catholic victims. These in turn sparked Republican “tit-for-tat” attacks against Loyalists and commenced a cycle which finally reached its nadir with the Shankill Road bombing, a botched attempt to blow up Loyalist paramilitary leaders supposedly meeting above a fish shop on the Shankill Road in 1993, which instead killed customers and the shop’s owner.

Over the next 25 years, West Belfast remained the major battleground of the Troubles. The busy Westlink motorway separates West Belfast from the rest of the city, and at the height of the conflict the various overhead bridges and roundabouts were used by the police and army as virtual border crossings to control access to and from the area.

From the city centre, Divis Street, a westward continuation of Castle Street, leads to the Falls Road, which heads on for a further two miles west past Milltown Cemetery and into Andersonstown. The first part of the Falls Road is known as the Lower Falls where most of the land to the left (south) consists of modern red-brick terraced housing estates. The right-hand side of the road is more of a hotchpotch and features some of the local landmarks: the bright blue swimming baths and the DSS (the Department of Social Security, known as “the Brew” – a corruption of “bureau”), cooped up in an awning of chicken-wire. Down Conway Street (by the DSS), stands the old Conway Mill, revitalized by a concerted community effort. Inside you can investigate the wares of the numerous small businesses and local artists who operate from here, as well as an art gallery and a small exhibition depicting the mill’s history. All the way along the Falls Road you’ll spot, blocking the ends of the streets to the right, walls of iron sheeting. These comprise the “Peace Line”, and directly behind them is the Protestant working-class district of Shankill.

Further west lie the red-brick and more recent buildings of the Royal Victoria Hospital, at the junction with Grosvenor Road. During the Troubles, the Royal, as it’s known locally, received international acclaim for its ability to cope with the consequences of the violence. Just beyond it, in a disused Presbyterian church at 216 Falls Rd, is the Cultúrlann MacAdam Ó Fiaich, a cultural centre for Irish-speakers, housing an extensive bookshop (also selling traditional-music CDs), an excellent café and a thriving theatre, often the host to musical events. Although you are unlikely to hear it being spoken on the streets or in most pubs, the Irish language is flourishing in Catholic areas of Belfast and throughout the North.

The Protestant population of West Belfast lives in the area abutting the Falls to the north, between the Shankill Road and the Crumlin Road. As with the Falls, there’s little here of special interest, apart from an array of Loyalist murals (some even including web addresses). Along the Crumlin Road, in particular, are a number of evocative sites symbolizing the worst years of the Troubles. From the Westway you’ll pass between the courthouse and the notorious Crumlin Road Gaol, the two connected by an underground tunnel; former inmates include Éamon de Valera, Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley and it closed in 1996. The gaol is currently being refurbished with a view to reopening in 2011 with visitors’ tours and occasional cultural events planned. Despite many other obvious signs of redevelopment and renovation – the most apparent being the recently constructed leisure centre – the area is in decline, its population shrinking in inverse proportion to the Catholic population on the other side of the Peace Line.

As much a marker of an area’s allegiances as painted kerbstones or fluttering flags and bunting, the politically inspired murals of Northern Ireland are among the most startling sights not just in Belfast, but of the whole country. This ephemeral art form, which recycles the images and slogans of the Troubles, characterizes the violent struggles of the last few decades. Though many have been in place now for a decade, some of the slogans and murals mentioned here may have vanished by the time of your visit: new murals are painted over old ones or the houses they adorn are demolished. A detailed archive of Northern Ireland’s murals is maintained by the University of Ulster at wcain.ulst.ac.uk/mccormick and another large collection of photographs can be found at wwww.belfast-murals.co.uk.

Loyalist murals

For most of the twentieth century, mural painting in Northern Ireland was a predominantly Loyalist activity. The first mural appeared in East Belfast in 1908 and, like many of its successors, celebrated King Billy’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne. Loyalist murals have tended to use imagery symbolic of power, such as the clenched scarlet fist, known as the Red Hand of Ulster, or flags, shields and other heraldic icons. However, the Loyalist response to the Troubles translated into what is now the most common form of painting, the militaristic mural. If King Billy appears at all, it is often with a guard of balaclava-clad, weapon-toting paramilitaries, accompanied by a threatening slogan. Inspired by the desire for “no surrender” and preservation of the status quo, Loyalist mural-painting is certainly less dynamic and diverse than its Republican counterpart. A typical example, on Hopewell Crescent in the Lower Shankill, shows two masked gunmen crouching beside a clenched red fist which is surrounded by the Union Flag and the flags of Ulster, the UFF and UDA – part of the slogan reads “Lower Shankill UFF. Simply the best.”

Recently, Loyalist murals have sought to undermine Sinn Féin’s role in the peace process by attacking the IRA – a striking five-panelled example on the Shankill Road recalls a number of IRA bombings of Loyalist targets and carries the slogan, “30 Years of Indiscriminate Slaughter by So-Called Non-Sectarian Irish Freedom Fighters”.

The greatest concentration of Loyalist murals is to be found on and around the Shankill Road, especially the Shankill Estate, to the north, and Dover Place, off Dover Street, to the south. Other areas are Sandy Row and Donegall Pass in South Belfast, and Newtownards Road, Martin Street and Severn Street in East Belfast.

Republican murals

Republican murals were at first limited to simple sloganeering or demarcation of territory, the best-known example being the long-standing “You are now entering Free Derry” in that city’s Bogside district. As with much else in Republican politics, however, the 1981 hunger strikes had a significant influence. Murals in support of the ten hunger strikers abounded and the (usually smiling) face of Bobby Sands – the IRA commander in the Maze prison who led the strike – remains an enduring image. Murals soon became a fundamental part of the Republican propaganda campaign and an expression of the community’s current cultural and political concerns, though militaristic images have never really dominated Republican murals as much as they have done Loyalist ones. Prominent themes have been resistance to British rule, the call for the withdrawal of troops and questioning the validity of the police.

More recently, however, Republican muralists have turned increasingly to Irish legends and history as their sources of inspiration and the only militaristic murals tend to be found in flashpoints such as the Ardoyne. Equally, artists have paid tribute to other international liberation movements, as in a striking series of murals on Divis Street just before the beginning of the Falls Road. Further Republican murals can be found nearby on Beechmount Avenue, on Lenadoon Avenue in Andersonstown, and on New Lodge Road in North Belfast.

Belfast has numerous festivals throughout the year and a full calendar can be found at www.belfastcity.gov.uk/culture/festivals.asp .

  • Guinness Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival wwww.belfastnashville.com.The North’s love of country music is reflected by this citywide weeklong event in late February, featuring local talent and major US names.
  • St Patrick’s Day wwww.belfastcitygov.co.uk/events. Carnival parade on 17 March, followed by a major open-air concert in Custom House Square.
  • Titanic Made in Belfast Festival wwww.belfastcity.gov.co.uk/events. More than a week of events early in the month celebrating the city’s maritime culture.
  • Belfast Film Festival t028/9024 6609, wwww.belfastfilmfestival.org. The second half of April sees a host of left-field movies and related events with screenings in cinemas, pubs, clubs and other venues.
  • Festival of Fools www.foolsfestival.com. Five-day international street theatre festival, held over the first weekend in May, with events around the city centre.
  • Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival wwww.cqaf.com. Lively arts festival, featuring Irish and international acts, spread over ten days in early May.
  • Belfast City Carnival www.belfastcarnival.com . Annual themed festival in mid-June centred around a parade and live music in Donegall Square.
  • Orange Order Parades Orange Order Lodges throughout Belfast commemorate the Battle of the Boyne with parades on 12 July.
  • Féile An Phobail wwww.feilebelfast.com. Week-long music and dance festival at the beginning of August based in West Belfast.
  • Belfast City Blues Festival wwww.belfastcityblues.com. Three days of 12-bar honky-tonk and foot-stomping riffs at the end of August.
  • Open House Festival wwww.openhousefestival.com. Rock, folk and traditional music festival held at various venues around the Cathedral Quarter early in September.
  • Belfast Festival at Queen’s wwww.belfastfestival.com. Fortnight-long event held in late October which claims to be Britain’s second-biggest arts festival after Edinburgh.

Much of Belfast’s waterside heritage is associated with English engineer Edward James Harland (1831–1895) who together with his German-born assistant Gustav Wilhelm Wolff (1834–1913) founded the Harland and Wolff shipbuilding company here in 1861. Starting from a small shipyard on Queen’s Island, the company grew rapidly and over the following decades had gained a reputation for innovations such as iron (rather than wooden) decks and flatter, squarer hulls designed to maximise capacity. The firm continued to flourish after Harland‘s death and Wolff’s retirement, most notably when it constructed three steamships for the White Star Line – the Olympic, the Britannic and, most famously, the Titanic. Completed in 1912, the Titanic, then the world‘s largest passenger-carrying steamship, sank on April 14 of the same year, just four days into her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, having collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic. More than 1500 of the 2200-plus passengers and crew drowned, a tragedy that continues to hold a macabre fascination today.

East Belfast’s skyline is dominated by the Samson and Goliath cranes which tower above the Harland & Wolff shipyard. The shipyard is the city’s proudest international asset – the ill-fated Titanic was built here – and is said to possess the largest dry dock in the world: over 600m long and 100m wide. Unfortunately, the area is very security-conscious and access is impossible without making a formal application.

East Belfast is trying hard to draw interest to its few attractions: there are notable murals at Freedom Corner near the beginning of the Newtownards Road, and the area does have some well-known scions. The theologian and author of the Narnia chronicles, C.S. Lewis, was born in Dundela Villas, and there’s a plaque commemorating him at Dundela Flats, which stand on the site where the house once stood, off Dundela. Another plaque on Burren Way in the Cregagh estate commemorates the childhood home of the late footballer George Best. And Van Morrison fans might get a thrill from seeking out his birthplace, a private house (with no public access) at 125 Hyndford St, off Beersbridge Road, and the many streets that feature in his songs (Cyprus Avenue, Castlereagh Road and others).

Maradona good, Pele better, George Best (popular Belfast sporting adage).

Born in East Belfast in 1946, George Best became (and remains to this day) Northern Ireland’s most celebrated footballer. Rejected by local clubs, he was signed by Manchester United, then as now England’s glamour team. Making his debut aged 17, Best starred in the 1964-65 and 1966-67 Championship-winning teams, cementing his reputation as a dazzling, jinking and goal-scoring winger. His good looks, long hair, gift of the gab and love of the high life also led to his acquisition of the sobriquet “the fifth Beatle”. Further fame was assured when United beat Benfica 4–1 in the 1967 European Cup Final, Best scoring one of the goals and running the Portuguese team’s defence so ragged before a vast televised audience that his award of European Footballer of the Year was a foregone conclusion.

The latter half of the 1960s saw Best’s celebrity lifestyle (by then he owned nightclubs and boutiques and had dated at least one Miss World) consumed by gambling, alcoholism and chasing women. He walked out of United in 1974, and after that his footballing career declined rapidly, taking in spells in the US and Australia. Alcohol addiction led to a stint in prison in 1984, after which Best was found guilty of drunk driving and assaulting a police officer. By 2002 his health was so poor that he underwent a liver transplant, but continued to drink after its success and eventually succumbed to multiple organ failure in November 2005.

Some 100,000 mourners lined the streets of Belfast as Best’s coffin travelled to his funeral service at Stormont. Belfast City Airport was subsequently renamed in his honour and, in 2006, the Ulster Bank issued one million £5 notes bearing his picture – the entire issue was rapidly snapped up for keepsakes. The great sadness of Best’s football career was that, despite 37 caps for Northern Ireland, he never appeared in a major international competition such as the World Cup) but he inspired a host of young footballers and, indeed, numerous jokes, not least his own oft-quoted remark: “I spent a lot of my money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”

Four miles east of the centre, off the Newtownards Road, is Stormont, the home of the Northern Ireland Parliament until the introduction of direct rule in 1972, and now housing the Assembly created by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. You can’t visit the house itself, unless invited by an Assembly member, but it’s an impressive sight, a great, White Neoclassical mansion crowning a rise in the middle of a park (with adjacent cricket field) at the end of a magnificent long, straight drive. You can wander freely in the grounds, a popular place for a walk. Also here, though obviously not open to the public, is Stormont Castle, the office of the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Just below Queen's University are the popular Botanic Gardens, first opened in 1827 and well protected by trees from the noise of the surrounding traffic. Within the gardens is the Palm House, a hothouse predating the famous one at Kew Gardens in London, but very similar in style, with a white-painted framework of curvilinear ironwork and glass. It was the first of its kind in the world, another success for Lanyon, who worked in tandem on this project with the Dublin iron-founder Richard Turner. The nearby Tropical Ravine is a classic example of Victorian light entertainment – a hundred-year-old sunken glen chock-full of “vegetable wonders” extracted from far-flung jungles and replanted for the delight of the visiting Belfast public.

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The Irish Road Trip

27 Best Things To do In Belfast In 2024

By Author Keith O'Hara

Posted on Last updated: January 24, 2024

27 Best Things To do In Belfast In 2024

Take every guide on the best things to do in Belfast with a pinch of salt (including this one).

When it comes to what to do in Belfast, there’s  endless  options, so crowning any one of the many Belfast attractions as ‘the best’ does the rest a disservice.

Belfast is Norther Ireland’s capital – it’s home to mighty hikes, like Cave Hill, exceptional tours, like Crumlin Road, and a brilliant food and pub scene.

In the guide below, you’ll discover what  we  think are the best places to visit in Belfast, based on 10+ visits to the city.

Table of Contents

The best things to do in Belfast

what to do in Belfast

Click to enlarge map

Northern Ireland’s capital is seen by some as a place that’s only good as a drinking destination, but that couldn’t be further than the truth.

With the likes of the Black Cab Tours, Titanic, Divis Mountain and more, there’s plenty of places to visit in Belfast to keep you entertained.

1. Black Cab Tour

Belfast Black Cab

Photos via Shutterstock

A Black Cab Tour is up there as one of the best things to do in Belfast City. On a Black Cab tour, you’ll be brought on a trip around Belfast by a seasoned guide that’ll masterfully take you through the city’s turbulent past.

The Black Cab tour will take you past many of Belfast City’s murals , which are arguably the most well known politicly themed murals in Europe and depict the city’s dense history and culture.

You’ll also see the Belfast Peace Walls and be taken through the now-infamous Shankill Road and Falls Road .

This is a perfect tour for those of you wondering what to do in Belfast when it’s raining, as you can just chill in the car for the duration.

2. Cave Hill Country Park

Cavehill Walk

Cave Hill Country Park offers magnificent panoramic views across Belfast from a number of different vantage points.

Now, the Cave Hill walk is between 2.4m/1.3km and 4.5m/7.2km and varies from handy to hard depending on the trail you choose.

It’s said that Cave Hill’s most famous feature, known as Napoleon’s Nose, was the inspiration for Jonathan Swift’s novel, Gulliver’s Travels.

You’ll often see a visit here at sunrise listed as one of the most romantic things to do in Belfast for couples by the big US travel guides.

3. The Crumlin Road Gaol

Crumlin Road Gaol

The Crumlin Road Gaol , which dates back to 1845, closed it’s doors as a working prison in 1996 and is now a popular tourist attraction (currently number 2 for fun things to do in Belfast City on TripAdvisor).

The story here begins at a time when women and children were held within its walls through to the political segregation of republican and loyalist prisoners and ultimately to its closure.

Walking through the building you can’t help but feel a chill at times. It’s most notable when you’re standing at the tunnel that used to connect the Gaol to the Crumlin Road Courthouse.

If you’re looking for unique things to see in Belfast, a visit to the gaol is well worth doing (especially on a rainy day).

4. Titanic Belfast

Titanic Experience

Photos by Chris Hill via Tourism Ireland

A visit to Titanic is arguably one of the most popular things to do in Belfast City Centre. It’s within the walls of Titanic Belfast that you’ll find the monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage.

The attraction opened in 2012 on the exact site where the former Harland & Wolff shipyard was based (you can see the Harland & Wolff cranes nearby) in the city’s Titanic Quarter.

The building itself is an architectural masterpiece and offers some top-class photo opportunities from every angle.

The Titanic Experience spans over nine magnificent galleries that draw together special effects, dark rides, full-scale reconstructions and interactive features that tell the story of the Titanic in great depth and detail.

5. Divis and Black Mountain

Divis Summit Trail

Those that fancy escaping the city for a while will be treated to a spectacular view out over Belfast (and every county in Ulster, in fact) from up Divis Mountain .

There’s a specifically designed 3-mile/4.8km loop walk on Divis Mountain that was designed to maintain the condition of the mountain slope while providing handy public access.

Difficulty wise, it’s moderate, but if you’re wondering what to do in Belfast that’ll treat you to glorious views without having to travel far, get yourself here!

6. Belfast Castle

Belfast Castle

Our next stop takes us to one of the most impressive castles in Northern Ireland – the fairytale-like Belfast Castle on the lower slopes of Cave Hill country park.

The castle and its grounds are called home by a whole host of wildlife, from long-eared owls, sparrow-hawks and Belfast’s rarest plant, the town hall clockto.

The first Belfast Castle was built by the Normans in the city center in the late 12th century.

A second castle, made out of stone and timber, was later constructed by Sir Arthur Chichester, Baron of Belfast, on the same site in 1611. Here’s a guide to visiting.

7. The Botanic Gardens

Botanic Gardens

Although the Botanic Gardens are in fact in the city, it’ll feel like you’re a million miles away from the hustle and bustle. 

The Botanic Gardens were established as a private park in 1828, it wasn’t until 70 years later that they were fully opened to everyday people.

The big attraction here is the Palm House. It was built in the mid-1800s and was one of the first curvilinear glasshouses in the world. Head in here for a stroll and chillllllll for a bit.

Related reads:  Check out our guide to the best hotels in Belfast and the funkiest Airbnbs in Belfast (or, if you’re feeling fancy, the finest 5 star hotels in Belfast ).

8. The Belfast bus tour

Belfast Bus Tour

If you’re wondering what to do in Belfast that’ll ensure you see all the main attractions without having to walk to each of them, the bus tour is worth considering.

That’s where tours like this one (4.5/5 from 700+ reviews) come in handy. This is a 1 or 2-day hop-on/off tour that takes in the best Belfast attractions.

Over the course of the tour, you’ll see Titanic Belfast, Albert Memorial Clock, the Cathedral Quarter and Northern Ireland War Memorial, Stormont and the political murals.

9. Traditional pubs

Bittles Bar

Photo left: Silvia Franceschetti (CC BY-SA 3.0). Others via Bittle’s Bar on FB

There’s some brilliant nightlife in Belfast, once you know where to look. In our guide to the best pubs in Belfast , you’ll find loads of old-school pubs worth nipping into.

Some, like the brilliant Bittles Bar, is an attractions in itself, thanks to its unique exterior.

If you fancy something a bit different, there’s everything from nightclubs to cocktail bars on offer. Here’s some guides to hop into:

  • Live Irish music in Belfast
  • Cocktail bars in Belfast
  • Nightclubs in Belfast

10. Belfast’s history walking tour

belfast walking tours

It’s rare you see any tour rack up 1,000+ nearly 5/5 reviews, but this 3-hour walking tour that costs around €26 has achieved just that.

The tour takes you through the city’s vast history and along both sides of the Peace Line near the Falls and Shankill Roads.

You’ll hear stories from both the Loyalist and Republican communities and get an insight into how the conflict affected by sides.

If you’re wondering what to do in Belfast to get an insight into the city’s past, this is well-worth doing.

11. St. George’s Market

George's Market

©Tourism Ireland photographed by Chris Hill

No day of successful exploration has ever been fulfilled on an empty stomach. Doubly so when there’s a hangover present…

One of the best things to do in Belfast, or any city for that matter, is to start the day off in style with a solid feed.

The second you step foot inside St. George’s Market you’ll feel your stomach give an approving rumble as the aroma from fresh produce hailing from every corner of the earth wafts over you.

Interestingly enough, there’s been a Friday market here since 1604 and every week over 240+ traders take to the market every Friday to Sunday.

11. The Ulster Museum

Ulster Museum

Photos via Ulster Museum on FB

The Ulster Museum offers something for art lovers (see our guide to art galleries in Belfast for more artsy stuff!), history buffs, kids, and the curious.

The collections that you’ll find here will take you across Ireland and to all corners of the world.

You’ll come face to face with dinosaurs, get up close and personal with an Egyptian mummy, and dive into discovery zones.

An afternoon spent here will be packed to the brim with fine art, archaeology, ethnography, treasures from the Spanish Armada, local history and so much more.

The best part? It’s completely free! This is another handy one for those of you wondering what to do in Belfast when the weather’s crap!

12. Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Hall first opened its doors way back in 1906. The construction of the building came about after Queen Victoria gave Belfast ‘ City Status ‘ in 1888.

The building, constructed beautifully from Portland stone, is one of the most significant buildings in the city’s history.

It’s worth stopping by just to gawk at the building itself. The grounds around the building are full of monuments and statues that detail the history of both Belfast and the building itself.

Traveller Tip : There are free public tours of Belfast City Hall available from Monday to Saturday, led by an experienced guide.

13. Stormont Estate

Stormont Estate

Stormont Estate is well worth a visit if you’re looking for a stroll. And you’re spoiled for choice with trails here (the History, Woodland, and Environment trails)

The extensive Stormont Estate is home to a lush woodland park where entry is free, and it’s open to the public year-round.

The estate is also home to the Government of Northern Ireland (see the differences between Northern Ireland vs Ireland ) and several historic buildings whose history you can explore while you’re visiting.

14. St Anne’s Cathedral

Anne’s Cathedral

St Anne’s Cathedral was built at the beginning of the 20th century on the site of the old St Anne’s parish church.

The cathedral is home to countless works of art, mesmerizing mosaics that depict St. Patrick and historical relics.

When visiting, spend some time admiring the detailed façade of the church. You’ll get a good look at the 130-foot pointed Spire of Hope that rises from the glass ceiling in the cathedral’s roof.

When you move inside, you’ll be able to look up at the spire from below, thanks to the clear glass ceiling that it stands upon.

Related read:  Check out our guide to the best things to do in Northern Ireland (hikes, walks, historic sites and more).

15. The Grand Opera House

Tourism Northern Ireland

Photos of Grand Opera House via Tourism Northern Ireland

Next up is another handy spot for those of you looking for things to do in Belfast at night! Belfast’s Grand Opera House opened just before Christmas in 1895.

The building, which was magnificently designed by the most prolific theatre architect of the period, Frank Matcham, boasts a majestic Victorian auditorium that’ll catch your attention as much as what’s going on on stage.

There’s a packed schedule of shows taking place here throughout the year. A handy place to head to if you’re wondering what to do in Belfast when it’s raining.

16. The SS Nomadic

SS Nomadic

The SS Nomadic was the original tender ship to the Titanic, and it was built alongside the now-infamous vessel in 1911.

In April 1912, the Nomadic successfully transferred the first and second-class passengers from the shallow dockside in Cherbourg out to the Titanic, which was moored in deeper water nearby.

Stretched out over four decks a visit to Nomadic will immerse you in over 100 years of authentic maritime history via a variety of interactive, hands-on, technical and traditional storytelling methods.

17. The Cathedral Quarter

Cathedral Quarter

Photos courtesy of Tourism NI via Ireland’s Content Pool

Although the Belfast Cathedral Quarter tends to be popular for nights out, making it one of the livelier places to visit in Belfast, it’s also home to some of the city’s oldest and most beautiful buildings and streets, along with a wide variety of pubs and restaurants.

It’s also in and around the Cathedral Quarter that you’ll discover some of the finest street art in Belfast !

Go for the impeccable architecture, stay for the delicious food and drink. Here’s the best places to eat in the Cathedral Quarter .

18. The murals

The Belfast Murals are some of the best known in Europe and they display important aspects of each community’s history, culture and often bloody past.

The murals come in every shape and size and you’ll find them scattered across the city. You can visit them solo, or you can visit them on a tour (recommended – see below).

It’s also worth mentioning that you shouldn’t seek out the murals late in the evening/at night, as many are located in areas to avoid in Belfast after dark.

19. Colin Glen Forest Park

Colin Glen

Photos via Colin Glen via Ireland’s Content Pool

If you’re in search of fun things to do in Belfast with kids , The Gruffalo Trail at Colin Glen Forest Park is worth checking out.

This is a recent addition to the park and now one of the most popular family-friendly activities in Belfast.

The trail is home to each of the colourful characters from the picture book, The Gruffalo, and they’re brought to life as sculptures along the trail.

The Gruffalo sculptures are scattered throughout the forest along the river, with the highlight being the 8-foot Gruffalo (above). 

Just keep in mind that, as this is one of the more popular family-friendly activities in Belfast, it can get busy.

20. Belfast Zoo

Belfast Zoo

Photos via Tourism NI via Ireland’s Content Pool

Belfast Zoo opened its doors to the public in 1934, making it one of the oldest visitor attractions in Northern Ireland. 

The zoo is home to a whopping 140+ species of animals, many of which are in danger in their natural habitat.

Popular attractions include Asian elephants, Rothschild’s giraffes, California sea lions, penguins, apes, Malayan tapirs, Visayan warty pigs and much much more.

As this is one of the more popular places to visit in Belfast, it’s worth booking your ticket in advance of your trip.

21. Belvoir Park Forest

Belvoir Park Forest

Belvoir Park Forest is one of the most overlooked places to visit in Belfast, in my opinion. This is a working forest within the city that’s connected to Lagan Valley Park.

There’s a short, 1.5 mile ramble here or, if you fancy a longer stroll, you can combine your walk with a visit into the Lagan Valley Regional Park.

Two other great parks around the city are Ormeau Park and Lady Dixon Park .

22. An exceptional food scene

restaurants in belfast

If you’re wondering what to do in Belfast after a long day spent exploring, or if you fancy a  ridiculously good  breakfast or lunch, you’re in luck.

There’s an endless number of great places to eat in the city, from fine dining and dive cafes to pancakes, the best brunch in Belfast and more. Here are some guides to check out:

  • Best Restaurants in Belfast
  • Bottomless Brunch in Belfast
  • Best Breakfast in Belfast
  • Vegan Restaurants in Belfast
  • Best Coffee in Belfast
  • Afternoon Tea In Belfast
  • Sunday Lunch Belfast

23. W5 Belfast

W5 is another handy one for those of you wondering what to do in Belfast with kids on a miserable day. It’s here that they’ll discover 250 exhibits spread across four brilliantly put-together galleries.

There’s the Spacebase (for the 3-7 year-olds), a popular VR Zone and W5’s very own humanoid robot, Robothespian.

There’s also loads of seasonal exhibits and programs for them to get stuck into. There are few kids activities in Belfast that can go toe-to-toe with this place.

24. Victoria Park

Victoria Park

I’d argue that Victoria Park is one of the most overlooked places to visit in Belfast by visiting tourists. You’ll find it in East Belfast, near the airport.

Visitors here can soak up lake views, watch the birds or tackle one of several walking trails (see our guide to the best walks in Belfast for more).

There’s also a football pitch, a bowling green and a BMX track, if you’re looking for more high-energy activities in Belfast.

25. The Belfast Christmas Markets

Belfast Christmas

One of the best things to do in Belfast City in November and December is to make your way to the grounds of mighty Belfast City Hall and wander around the Belfast Christmas markets .

The markets boast a combo of top-notch international cuisine and a curated mix of crafts, bespoke artisan products, and yuletide tipples.

Now, obviously these are only going to be running around November/December time, but if you’re visiting during the summer, City Hall is still well worth a nosey around.

26. Day trips from Belfast

Giants Causeway

If you’ve ticked-off the various Belfast activities mentioned above and below and you fancy exploring some places near the city, you’ve plenty to choose from.

There’s  heaps  of day trips from Belfast that you can head off on (either solo or via an organised tour – more info here ). 

For those with their own transport

  • Causeway Coastal Route (starts 15 mins from the city)
  • Hillsborough Forest Park (25 min drive)
  • Glens of Antrim (45 min drive)
  • The Gobbins (35 min drive)
  • Beaches near Belfast (from 25 mins away

For those who need an organise tour

  • A guided tour of the Giant’s Causeway from Belfast
  • Game of Thrones filming locations tour from Belfast

27. Road trips from Belfast

Overview of the itinerary

Click here for a high resolution map

Starting your Irish road trip in Belfast? We’ve recently published the largest library of Irish road trips guides available anywhere.

One of the starting points is Belfast. You can pick the number of days you have (2 to 21) and then select a route.

Each itinerary takes in the best things to do in Belfast, first, before moving on to another county.

What to do in Belfast: Where have we missed?

I’m sure that we’ve unintentionally left out some brilliant things to do in Belfast City Centre from the guide above.

If you have any things to do in Belfast City to recommend, let me know in the comments section below and I’ll check it out.

FAQs about Belfast attractions

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from what are the best things to do in Belfast at night to what to do in Belfast when it’s raining.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

What are the best things to do in Belfast?

I’d argue that the best Belfast attractions are (outdoor) Divis and Black Mountain and Cave Hill and (indoor) Titanic Belfast and the Black Cab Tours.

What are the best free things to do in Belfast?

We’ve covered several free things to do in Belfast in the guide above, but here’s a few more: Ulster Museum, Belfast City Hall, The Botanic Gardens and Stormont.

What are some fun things to do in Belfast today?

Kick start your day with a feed and then head off on an early morning walk at Divis. Soak up history at Crumlin Gaol then round off the day with a pint in the Cathedral Quarter.

belfast tourism guide

Keith O’Hara has lived in Ireland for 34 years and has spent most of the last 10 years creating what is now The Irish Road Trip guide. Over the years, the website has published thousands of meticulously researched Ireland travel guides, welcoming 30 million+ visitors along the way. In 2022, the Irish Road Trip team published the world’s largest collection of Irish Road Trip itineraries. Keith lives in Dublin with his dog Toby and finds writing in the 3rd person minus craic altogether.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed .

Hilary Avalon

Wednesday 27th of November 2019

Hi, Keith! We are planning our visit for May/June 2020. Do you have an opinion about hiring a tour company to get us out of town to the Giant's Causeway, Dark Hedges, Dunluce Castle and the like, vs. hiring a car and driving ourselves? We are intrepid travelers, but we do like to gawk out the window instead of paying attention to the road, if it won't catch us up in a tourist trap to hop on an organized tour. Thanks in advance for your recommendations on topic. I am so happy to have found your site. So helpful! Plus entertaining! Thank you!

Hilary! How's the form?!

Personally, I'm a fan of driving when possible. I just find it easier. That being said, if you prefer to kick back and look out the window while someone else takes the wheel, there's nothing wrong with that!

I've been using GetYourGuide for trips in Europe (most recently in Budapest), as you can see reviews from others and it's nice and straightforward to book.

I found a tour that leaves from Belfast and that takes in the Giant's Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Old Bushmills Distillery, and Carrickfergus and Dunluce castles... and it's only €23. Here it is .

That probably makes more sense as it ticks all of your boxes bar the Dark Hedges.

Let me know if there's anything else I can help with. We've just published a detailed guide to planning the perfect Ireland itinerary . Hopefully that's of some use to you.

PlanetWare.com

14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Belfast

Written by Andrew Birbeck and Bryan Dearsley Updated Dec 22, 2023 We may earn a commission from affiliate links ( )

Once a powerful ship-building center, bustling Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland and the birthplace of the infamous doomed ocean liner, RMS Titanic . Mention Belfast, and, to a certain generation, images of conflict may spring to mind. It would be wrong, however, to jump to such conclusions these days.

Custom House and River Lagan in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Visit Belfast and evidence of this dramatic rebirth and remarkable transformation is everywhere evident, and visitor numbers continue to increase year-on-year, with good reason. You can expect a warm welcome, a wicked sense of humor, and an enthralling history.

Highlights of a visit include the impressive must-see Titanic Quarter , along with a variety of other points of interest associated with the ill-fated vessel. Excellent shopping experiences can be enjoyed at Victoria and Donegal Squares , along with a variety of restaurants and dining opportunities.

Other fun things to see include discovering the city's superb Victorian architecture and visiting its many noteworthy museums. Be sure to also check out the famous Albert Memorial Clock in Queen's Square.

Whether you're to explore the city or to use it as a base for some fun day trips , be sure to consult our list of the top tourist attractions and things to do in Belfast to help you make the most of your time.

See also: Where to Stay in Belfast

1. Immerse Yourself in Maritime History at Titanic Belfast

2. take in a concert at waterfront hall, 3. explore northern ireland's history at the ulster museum, 4. take a free tour of belfast city hall, 5. explore the botanic gardens, 6. climb aboard hms caroline, 7. pay a visit to belfast cathedral: st. anne's, 8. spend a night at the grand opera house, 9. take a tour of crumlin road gaol, 10. pop into belfast castle, 11. see the animals at belfast zoo, 12. visit stormont, the parliament buildings, 13. shop at st. george's market, 14. take the family to the w5 interactive discovery centre, tips and tours: how to make the most of your visit to belfast, where to stay in belfast for sightseeing.

Titanic Belfast

Billed as "the world's largest Titanic visitor attraction," the distinctive-looking Titanic Belfast opened in 2012 and is a landmark building that pays tribute to the story of the city's rich maritime history. Fresh from a major refurbishment, this distinctive building houses nine interactive exhibitions that show how Belfast has developed from a city that once boasted the most powerful shipbuilding industry in the world into a reborn visitor destination.

More than a century ago, the infamous and ill-fated ocean liner, Titanic , was built at this precise spot. There are guided tours around the slipway and gigantic dry-dock, once the heart of the Harland & Wolff shipyards. The building, which is star-shaped to represent the logo of the White Star Line, houses a number of fascinating artifacts related to the ship, including letters, brochures, and menus.

A particular treat is visiting the fully restored tender to the Titanic , the SS Nomadic , which visitors can board and explore for an additional charge. In fact, a great way to learn more about both vessels is by purchasing a Titanic Belfast admission package that includes the SS Nomadic . In addition to having access to the Titanic exhibition, you'll get complimentary access to the Ocean Exploration Center and the SS Nomadic .

For a special treat, why not consider a stay at the Titanic Hotel Belfast ? Set in a former shipyard building right next to the main attraction, your accommodations feature period-style furnishings and decor and offer a taste of the opulence those traveling aboard the Titanic would have experienced.

Address: 1 Olympic Way, Queen's Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Waterfront Hall

Just over a mile from the Titanic Quarter and overlooking the River Lagan in central Belfast, the Waterfront Hall is a world-class entertainment and conference venue that, in no uncertain terms, reflects the regeneration of the city. Since opening in 1997, the center attracts close to 400,000 concertgoers each year and attracts top musicians and performers from around the world.

When lit up at night, the building is particularly impressive. In fact, many will visit not only for the world-class concerts held here, ranging in style from pop to symphony and opera, but also to dine at the attraction's on-site restaurant, The Arc Brasserie . Somehow, a meal here is all the more magical for the superb panoramic views over the river and beyond.

This world-class venue also hosts an eclectic range of temporary visiting exhibitions, too.

Address: 2 Lanyon Place, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast's Ulster Museum

A five-minute drive from the Waterfront Hall will bring you to The Ulster Museum . Having undergone a major refurbishment in recent years, it's now one of Belfast's must-see attractions. This impressive national museum should be high on the list for any visitor for a number of reasons, not least of all that it doesn't shy away from the city's recent troubled past.

Exhibits include a 2,500-year-old Egyptian mummy, Princess Takabuti, who was unwrapped in Belfast in 1835; the Armada Room; and an impressive gallery of modern art masterpieces. Other highlights include collections of ancient relics, a richly diverse collection of art, history, and natural science exhibits spread over several floors.

Two other excellent attractions fall under the Ulster Museum umbrella and are well worth a visit. The Ulster Folk Museum features fascinating displays and interactive exhibits related to regional traditions and culture, including craft demonstrations. The Ulster Transport Museum features vehicles and other machines with a connection to Northern Ireland and is suitable for all ages.

Address: Botanic Court, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Hall is another important government building that should be included on your Northern Ireland travel itinerary. Located in the city center, this handsome structure was built in 1906 and remains one of the most distinctive landmarks in Belfast's downtown core.

Tourists are welcome to explore the building as part of a guided tour, so popular that they've become one of the top free things to do in Belfast. Please note, though, that tours are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so allow plenty of time in your schedule.

Highlights of these one-hour experiences include seeing a good-sized art display and historic stained-glass windows and an exhibit outlining the city's history. Afterward, you can browse the gift shop or visit the café.

Be sure to also visit the grounds of the City Hall, with its Titanic Memorial Gardens and vast lawns. And pack a picnic or grab a takeout from a nearby eatery as there's plenty of room to spread out for an impromptu lunch. A fun free thing to do at night in Belfast is to walk the grounds, as the building is colorfully illuminated.

Address: Donegall Square N, Belfast, Northern Ireland

The Botanic Gardens

A pleasant way to relax for a few hours, the Botanic Gardens was established in 1828 and has been owned by Belfast City Council since 1895 when it became a public park set on 28 acres.

One of the star attractions here is the elegant Palm House . Designed by Sir Charles Lanyon and containing a diversity of tropical plants, it also includes birds of paradise and lush hanging baskets. Comprised of curved iron and glass, the structure is one of the earliest examples of a glasshouse made in this way and demonstrates how advances in technology at the time allowed horticulturists to grow exotic plants.

The Tropical Ravine was built in 1889 and houses exotic delights such as bromeliad, banana, orchids, and cinnamon, and protects some of the world's oldest seed plants. The gardens are also a popular venue for concerts and festivals, and once hosted a concert by the famed Irish band, U2.

Just north of the gardens is Queen's University with its fine Tudor-style buildings.

Address: College Park, Botanic Avenue, Belfast, Northern Ireland

HMS Caroline

A newer addition to the already excellent collection of attractions in Belfast's Titanic Quarter, HMS Caroline is one of the last surviving vessels to have seen service in both world wars. Recently refurbished, the ship was commissioned in 1914 and patrolled the North Sea, as well as participating in the pivotal Battle of Jutland.

Opened in her present location to the public in 2016, a tour of this floating museum and its visitor center provides a great deal of fascinating information about WW1 and the ship's history.

Highlights include audio-visual displays, tours of the fully-restored sections of the ship, plus educational opportunities that give kids the chance to have some hands-on fun. In addition to a café and gift shop, there's a playground and picnic area on-shore.

Address: Alexandra Dock, Queens Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland

St. Anne's Cathedral

Designed by architect Sir Thomas Drew and begun in 1898, St. Anne's Cathedral is the main church of the Anglican Church of Ireland. Also often referred to as "Belfast Cathedral," it was built in the neo-Romanesque style of the basilican type and has three west doorways adorned with sculpture.

The baptismal chapel features an exquisite mosaic ceiling. Further points of interest are the carved stonework, many fine stained-glass windows, marble tiles on the floor and walls, and delicate woodwork. In the chapel, you'll find the tomb of Sir Edward Carson, leader of the Ulster Unionists, who died in 1935.

Those interested in the Titanic's history will be interested to see the cathedral's own commemoration of the lives lost when the ship sank. Known as the "Titanic Pall," this large indigo-colored tapestry hangs on the cathedral's interior walls. Audio tours are available with admission, and an on-site gift shop sells interesting books related to the cathedral's history.

Address: Donegall Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Grand Opera House

West of the City Hall on Great Victoria Street, the highly ornate Grand Opera House is well worth visiting to take in a show or concert. Dating from 1895, it has seen its share of troubles over the years. In 1972, at the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland, the building was sold to property developers and nearly demolished. Thankfully, due to a campaign, this didn't happen.

Between 1976 and 1980, the structure was extensively restored, including the restoration of the ceiling panels in the main auditorium. A large extension was added in 2006, and these days it hosts musicals, operas, and live performances and is one of the city's true landmarks. Guided tours are available.

Address: 2-4 Great Victoria Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Crumlin Road Gaol

When it closed in 1996, many believed the infamous Crumlin Road prison would never reopen. How wrong they were.

The once notorious jail has quickly become one of Belfast's premier visitor attractions since reopening in 2012. It's now one of the best places to visit to learn about Northern Ireland's history. Fascinating guided tours tell of the women and children who were incarcerated here, as well as the segregation of republican and loyalist prisoners.

You can wander through the underground tunnel that used to connect the jail to the courthouse, sit in the Governor's chair and, rather gruesomely, pay a visit to the condemned men's cell. Guided tours are available, including special themed affairs that even include a show and dinner (Jailhouse Rock, anyone?).

Address: 53-55 Crumlin Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast Castle

Around six kilometers from the city center along the A2/A6-Antrim Road stands Belfast Castle . There are plenty of events here year-round, and it's a popular wedding venue due to its picturesque location and beautiful historic building.

A castle has existed on this site since the 12th century in many different incarnations. The current structure dates from 1870, although additions and embellishments have taken place since then.

There's a restaurant on-site, along with Cave Hill Visitor Centre. Cave Hill Country Park and the Adventure Playground are well worth exploring, and the grounds are particularly popular for picnics during summer months.

Address: Antrim Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Lemurs at the Belfast Zoo

Around three minutes' drive from Belfast Castle, Belfast Zoo is set on 55 acres with views over Belfast Lough. Home to more than 140 species of animals, this fun family destination was opened in 1934 and is one of the oldest tourist attractions in Northern Ireland. It was extensively upgraded in recent years, and nowadays in excess of 300,000 people visit the zoo annually.

Highlights of a visit include seeing a wide array of animals including ring-tailed lemurs, Asian elephants, monkeys, Malayan sun bears, Sumatran tigers, and Barbary lions. A must-see here is the rainforest exhibit, which brings together tropical plants with fascinating animals such as sloths and fruit bats.

Check the zoo's website for details of its daily animal talks and feeding schedule.

Stormont (Parliament Buildings)

No visit to Belfast, or indeed Northern Ireland, would be complete without at least seeing this grandiose and often controversial building. Known as Stormont, this is the home of the "Power Sharing Executive," or Northern Ireland Assembly . It's also the place where former foes sit down together and carry out the day-to-day business and politics of running the state.

Dating from 1921, it was built to house the then-newly formed government of the Province. It's impossible to miss the statue of Unionist Sir Edward Carson on the front lawn. Despite its controversial legacy, the scenic grounds are popular with day-trippers, joggers, and those simply wishing to escape the city for a while.

The building is open on weekdays for interesting tours of its interior.

Address: 587 Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Fishmonger's stall at St. George's Market, Belfast

No Belfast itinerary is complete without allocating time to do a little shopping, especially if it includes St. George's Market . The oldest covered market in the city, St. George's Market was completed in 1896 and now provides a place to do business for some 300 vendors selling everything from food to art and crafts.

It has also become an important venue for activities other than shopping, including food festivals, art shows, dance events, and even pop and rock concerts. In addition to its regular market hours, there are a number of special events such as the frequent "Twilight Market," popular for its extended evening hours and entertainment.

Address: 12-20 East Bridge Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland

W5 Interactive Discovery Centre

One of the top things to do in Belfast for families is to spend time exploring the W5 Interactive Discovery Centre ; it's also another great excuse to visit the Titanic Quarter.

This state-of-the-art science center consists of over 250 hands-on exhibits, encouraging kids to explore a variety of areas of learning spread across four large areas, including displays related to technology and biology, as well as educational programs, events, and workshops.

Star attractions here are "Climbit," a massive multi-story 3D climbing structure; "RoboThespian," a large robotic character that can be controlled by visitors; and "MED-Lab", a fascinating look inside the human body. A café and gift shop are located on-site.

Address: 2 Queens Quay, Belfast, Northern Ireland

  • Tour the Best of Northern Ireland : With Dublin as your base, it's pretty easy to travel into Ireland in order to see the rest of this beautiful island. A great way to catch the region's top attractions, including the spectacular Giant's Causeway, is by joining a Northern Ireland Highlights Day Trip . After departing Dublin in your luxury coach (with Wi-Fi) you'll be whisked to destinations including Belfast, with time allocated to explore the Titanic Quarters; the Giant's Causeway on the Antrim Coast; and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, with its incredible views.
  • Game of Thrones Highlights : For fans of the hit TV show and novels, the Game of Thrones and Giant's Causeway Full-Day Tour from Belfast is a great way to see some of the series' best film locations. In addition to the remarkable Giant's Causeway, highlights include a guide who's well-versed in the show and the region, on-hand to answer your questions and share the low-down on attractions, including Dark Hedges Road and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, to name but two. Plenty of time is allocated at each stop for photos and exploring, and hotel pickup is provided.

Looking for a top-notch place to rest your head in central Belfast? We recommend these great hotels in the center of Belfast, close to the top attractions and points of interest.

Luxury Hotels :

  • When it comes to choosing a luxury hotel in Belfast, be sure to include the Merchant Hotel on your list. This exquisite heritage hotel offers sophisticated styling, an Art Deco wing, a rooftop gym, an upscale restaurant, a pampering spa, and an evening turndown service.
  • Also worth considering, The Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast is close to all the action and comes with classy rooms, a great breakfast, on-site dining, and valet parking.
  • And check out (or into) the extremely elegant Malmaison Belfast , featuring quality rooms and suites (some with separate living rooms, and even snooker tables), and a fine-dining restaurant.

Mid-Range Hotels :

  • The Europa Hotel - Belfast is a great mid-range priced hotel featuring well-appointed rooms, a piano lounge, and a modern bistro.
  • Consider yourself a hipster (even moderately so)? Then the centrally located Bullitt Hotel is for you. It features bright rooms with rainfall showers, a free breakfast (bagged), a coffee shop, and a great rooftop patio with superb city views.
  • Also trendy, the House Belfast offers comfortable rooms and casual on-site dining.

Budget Hotels :

  • Those seeking a good quality yet affordable stay might want to book into the Holiday Inn Belfast City Centre , popular for its great rates, on-site mini gym, ample breakfast buffet, and friendly multilingual staff.
  • Also popular is the Premier Inn Belfast City Centre (Alfred Street) Hotel , a budget hotel in a great central location on a quiet street that's spotlessly clean.
  • Those comfortable in a hostel-style environment with shared amenities should consider the John Bell House - City Centre (Campus Accommodation) , a seasonal offering that offers great clean rooms at a very reasonable rate.

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

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Day Trips from Belfast : Belfast makes for a great jumping-off point for those wanting to explore some of the top attractions in Northern Ireland , as well as Ireland itself. In addition to the spectacular Giants Causeway, great day trip destinations from Belfast also include Carrick-A-Rede Bridge and Dunluce Castle.

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Ireland Vacation Ideas : Given its location at the top end of the island, Belfast makes a great location from which to explore the top attractions in Ireland , most of which are within easy reach. Must-sees within an easy drive include the Irish capital of Dublin with its many museums and parks. The much smaller community of Sligo is also a great drive, and boasts stunning coastal scenery. Also worth a visit, historic Galway is popular for its large public squares and medieval architecture.

Belfast Map - Tourist Attractions

More on Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Travel Guide

The World Was Here First

The Perfect 1, 2, or 3 Days in Belfast Itinerary

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belfast tourism guide

Belfast isn’t usually top of the list for Irish destinations but this is a gross oversight. Just 1, 2, or 3 days in Belfast can offer you a world of insight into the island’s captivating history but also delivers tons of unexpected gems in and around the city. A typical Belfast itinerary is actually a speedy affair on a bus from Dublin but do yourself a favour and stay a few days to really to know the city and some of the nearby attractions.

Table of Contents

How Many Days in Belfast?

Belfast has many faces and the question of how many days to spend in Belfast should be determined by what you want to gain from the experience.

To even begin to explore the many threads of the political and historical tapestry here, you will need at least 1 day, but compressing 400 years of history won’t be an easy task.

With 2 days in Belfast, you can fill up on an Ulster fry, visit a few pubs, and do all things Titanic related.

Outside the city are also several must-see stops and you will need at least 3 days if you want to see major attractions like the Dark Hedges and Giant’s Causeway on a day trip. 

Between all the historical sights and day trips, you need another whole day on your Belfast itinerary to just appreciate the city for what it is.

Belfast City Hall

Getting To & Around Belfast

Belfast is easily accessible by a variety of transportation options. If you’re arriving by air, you can fly into Belfast International Airport or George Best Belfast City Airport, both of which offer flights to major cities across Europe and the UK.

If you prefer to get to Belfast by train, the city has two main train stations: Great Victoria Street and Belfast Central. Both stations have regular services to Dublin , as well as other cities across Northern Ireland and the UK.

One major thing to remember is to hold on tight to your train ticket if you booked a return trip. You cannot be reissued a ticket and you will have to buy a new one if seats are available. Save yourself the headache and guard it with your life!

Additionally, Belfast is well-connected by bus, with services to Dublin and other nearby cities. You can view bus schedules here.

You can also drive from Dublin to Belfast in about 2 hours and there are also many interesting stops to make along the way. If you need to rent a car for your trip, you can browse Rentalcars.com to compare options.

Once you arrive in Belfast, getting around the city is relatively easy. The Belfast city centre is compact and walkable, so it’s easy to explore on foot.

If you prefer to use public transportation, Belfast has an extensive bus network that covers most of the city. There is also a city bike-share scheme, which allows you to rent bikes from various locations around the city.

Overall, getting to and around Belfast is straightforward and convenient, with plenty of transportation options to suit different preferences and budgets.

Belfast Waterfront

1, 2 or 3 Days in Belfast Itinerary

Day 1 – belfast historic highlights.

The tumultuous history of Belfast and Northern Ireland in general has been well documented and you should spend 1 day in Belfast getting to know both sides of the story.

Black Cab Tour

Taking a black cab tour of Belfast is one of the best ways to learn about the troubles. Your driver cum guide is a local who was personally involved or affected by the unrest that has plagued the country.

They will take you to see the Peace Walls and drive to the famous murals in the residential areas including the famous painting of Bobby Sands.

These tours give you sobering insight into the strife of unionists and loyalists and you will visit the often-overlooked Irish Republican History Museum which delivers a poignant retelling of the civil war. You can book your tour here.

A mural in Belfast

City Hall Tour

Belfast City Hall sits in the centre of Belfast on Donegall Square. One of the best ways to experience this impressive building is through a free guided tour, which offers an insight into the history, architecture, and cultural significance of City Hall.

The tour takes visitors through the various rooms and spaces of the building, including the impressive Great Hall, the Council Chamber, and the elegant Reception Room.

Along the way, you’ll learn about the history of the city, the role of City Hall in local government, and the various events and ceremonies that take place here throughout the year.

Crumlin Road Gaol

Every major city across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has a historic prison to visit. In Belfast, you can go to Crumlin Road Gaol.

The prison was in operation for over 150 years and was the site of many important events in Northern Ireland’s troubled history.

Visitors can take a guided tour of the prison, which includes the old cells and the execution chamber, and learn about the prison’s history and the lives of the inmates who were held there.

Parliament Building Tour

If you’re interested in politics and history, a tour of the Northern Ireland Parliament Building is a fascinating experience. Located in the Stormont Estate on the outskirts of Belfast, the building is home to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

During the tour, you’ll learn about the history of the building and the role it plays in the political and cultural life of Northern Ireland.

You’ll visit the impressive Senate Chamber and Assembly Hall, where the country’s politicians debate and make decisions, and see the beautiful artworks and artefacts that decorate the building.

While you are there, pop into the café to enjoy a deliciously warm scone as you drink in the views from the top of the hill.

Northern Ireland Parliament Building

Day 2 – Titanic, Markets & More!

If you have 2 days in Belfast, spend this time sinking your teeth into classic tourist attractions and getting to know the best local haunts.

The Titanic Belfast

This is one of the main attractions and a top place to visit that pulls people to Belfast and it is worth every ounce of its tourist trap glory.

The impressive iceberg-shaped building sits on the very site where the iconic boat was built and takes you on the journey from conception to construction, its launch, and ultimately to its final resting place at the bottom of the ocean.

This is one of those museums where you are constantly impressed by how much they could have created with only a little.

We all know the story of the Titanic (sans Jack and Rose) but this experience takes you on an immersive journey through the shipyard and there are recreations of the cabins and lifeboats as well as a glass floor projection of the shipwreck that will have you reaching for your seasickness meds. You can pre-book tickets here.

The Titanic Belfast

St. George’s Market

St. George’s Market is one of the oldest and most popular attractions in Belfast. This historic indoor market has been a fixture of the city since the 19th century, and it’s still a vibrant hub of activity today.

Visitors can explore the market’s stalls, which sell everything from fresh produce and seafood to handmade crafts and souvenirs.

There’s also a food court where visitors can sample a range of local and international cuisines, making this an excellent lunch stop. If you’re interested in learning more about the food in Belfast, you can take a food tour.

The Victoria Square Dome

The Victoria Square Dome is a striking modern landmark that dominates Belfast’s skyline. This glass dome is part of the Victoria Square shopping centre and it is a quick and free thing to do in Belfast.

Take a lift to the top of the dome to be rewarded with panoramic views of Belfast and the surrounding countryside.

C.S. Lewis Square

C.S. Lewis Square is a charming public space that’s dedicated to the life and work of the famous author and theologian. The square is located in East Belfast and features a range of sculptures and installations that celebrate Lewis’s most famous works, including The Chronicles of Narnia.

Visitors can explore the square’s gardens and take in the sculptures, which include a life-sized depiction of Aslan the Lion.

Head to the pub

No visit to Belfast would be complete without a proper visit to a pub. Bittles Bar is one of the best pubs in Belfast to visit. It is intimate, colourful, and historic and you will be surrounded by paintings of famous figures from local history.

This is one of many fantastic pubs you can find on your trip to Belfast and there are countless that are great options. You’re sure to find some great, cosy vibes and a cool pint of Guinness wherever you choose to visit.

Day 3 – Causeway Coast 

There is a popular circular route from Belfast that takes you north, through the Glens of Antrim, along the coast, and back through the countryside.

You can visit these locations independently if you rent a car, which will give you the flexibility to skip some stops, spend more time at others or even visit Belfast Castle on your way out.

Otherwise, you can book a day tour such as this full-day tour or this full-day tour for a cost-effective and comprehensive experience that will quickly fill the third day in the Northern Irish capital.

Regardless of the option you choose, his day trip is perfect if you’re spending more than just a weekend in Belfast.

The Giant's Causeway

Giant’s Causeway

Samuel Johnson famously said that this natural wonder was “worth seeing, yes; but not worth going to see.” Oh, how wrong he was.

The Giant’s Causeway is a collection of hexagonal basalt columns paving a fabled path into the stormy Atlantic. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site but it is surprisingly not too overrun with tourists (not all the time anyway). 

You can pay to enter through the visitor’s centre, however, it is actually free to visit the Causeway itself if you don’t park at or access the visitor’s centre.

There is a shuttle bus available, too but the walk down to the Causeway is lovely and downhill so save your money for the ride back up. Keep in mind that there are numerous longer walking trails at the Giant’s Causeway and you can easily spend a few hours here enjoying all it has to offer – especially if you like to hike around and get spectacular views.

Don’t just clammer around and take a few selfies. Grab a seat on one of the stones away from the crowd and take a second to soak it in.

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle is a medieval ruin perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. This historic site offers stunning views of the coastline and the surrounding countryside, as well as a glimpse into Northern Ireland’s rich history.

Visitors can explore the castle’s ruins and learn about its colourful past, which includes sieges, battles, and legends of ghosts and smugglers.

Dunluce Castle

Ballintoy is a picturesque harbour village on the North Coast of Northern Ireland that was also used as a filming location for Game of Thrones.

Visitors can explore the village’s quaint streets and colourful buildings, or take a walk along the harbour wall to enjoy views of the ocean and surrounding cliffs. The nearby Ballintoy Church is as cute as it gets, and the village is also home to several historic buildings and ruins.

Bushmills Distillery

Bushmills Distillery is one of the oldest whiskey distilleries in Ireland, and it’s located in the town of Bushmills, just south of the Giant’s Causeway.

The distillery has been producing its famous Irish whiskey for over 400 years, using traditional methods that have been passed down through generations of master distillers.

Visitors can take a guided tour of the distillery, learn about the history and craft of whiskey production, and sample some of the distillery’s award-winning whiskeys. The tour takes you through the various stages of the whiskey-making process, from the malting of barley to the ageing of the spirit in oak casks.

If you are strapped for time, simply pop into the cosy tasting room and sample some of their finest malts, the perfect way to cap off a day of exploring.

Dark Hedges

The Dark Hedges is another popular day trip destination that could be ruined by Instagrammers but if you time it just right it could be showstopping.

This beautiful avenue of beech trees has become famous in recent years due to its appearance in the hit TV series Game of Thrones and even if you aren’t familiar with the show, the eerie beauty of the avenue is undeniable.

Take a leisurely stroll along the avenue, admiring the stunning natural arches created by the intertwined branches. It is beautiful in all seasons and transforms from a lush leafy lane in the summer to the haunting, almost skeletal-looking King’s Road that was depicted in the series.

The Dark Hedges is located near the town of Ballymoney, and it’s easily accessible by car or bus from Belfast.

The Dark Hedges

Where to Stay in Belfast

Harpers Boutique B&B – This boutique bed and breakfast located in the Queen’s Quarter of Belfast is a great choice if you want a clean and comfy place to stay. They have a number of stylish and comfortable rooms on offer and a great breakfast included in the price each morning. Click here to see their availability

The Warren Belfast – This centrally-located hotel is the perfect choice if you’re after a luxurious stay while exploring Belfast. Situated in the heart of the Queen’s Quarter, there are countless plush rooms available, great amenities, and a filling breakfast included in the room rate. Click here to see their availability

Central Belfast Apartments: Citygate – If you’d like your own self-catering accommodation while visiting Belfast, then these apartments are an excellent option. They have a range of fully-furnished flats to choose from, a central location and there is also free on-site parking for guests to use. Click here to see their availability

Vagabonds – The perfect choice for budget and solo travellers, this centrally-located hostel is the perfect base in Belfast. They have both dorm beds and private rooms available, clean facilities and excellent common areas to meet other, like-minded travellers. Click here to see their availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Belfast hotels!

Whether you only have 1 day in Belfast or a few to spare, there is more than enough to do in town to fill your time. Strike a balance between historic sightseeing and fantastical attractions on your Belfast itinerary to fully appreciate all the city has to offer.

Are you planning to visit Belfast? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

belfast tourism guide

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About Lizzie Fitzgerald

Lizzie is a writer for The World Was Here First. She loves travelling and discovering new places but also often finds herself returning to her favourite destinations. She has a particular affinity for Greece where she has visited countless islands and destinations on the mainland.

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10 things every Belfast local knows

David McElhinney

Jul 24, 2022 • 6 min read

Irish musicians perform while seated on a table at the John Hewitt pub in Belfast.

Read on for everything you need to know, including the local lingo, before you visit Belfast © Steven Raymer / Getty Images

Belfast has boomed in the 21st century thanks to its vibrant arts scene, a culinary culture that has given rise to Michelin-recognised restaurants, a thriving television-and-movie industry that’s caused some to dub it the “Hollywood of Europe”, and gentrification projects celebrating local heritage in once-neglected neighborhoods. 

Though the capital of Northern Ireland is now a safe and increasingly popular place to travel, it was embroiled in violent sociopolitical conflict from 1968 to 1998. Peace has continued unabated since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, yet some still hold entrenched views over whether Northern Ireland should remain a part of the UK or join the Republic in a united Ireland.

This is the conversational topic you should avoid when visiting – it's a complex subject and respecting that fact is appropriate. This is especially important if you plan on venturing into areas around the city’s fractured peace lines. But don’t let this deter you – Belfast is a wonderful tourist destination and the locals are incredibly warm, funny and welcoming.

So, if you want to visit Belfast like a pro, keep the following 10 tips in mind.

Group of friends at the Crown Liquor Saloon Belfast

The Belfast dialect is unique

The Belfast brogue is often praised for being one of the most pleasant accents in the Anglophone world. But you’ll notice the local vernacular is rife with slang, linguistic quirks and dialectic phrases that don’t always follow an obvious logic.    

“Craic” (pronounced as crack), means “fun” or “a good time”. If someone says “What’s the craic?” it means, “How’s it going?”. “What about ye?” or simply “Bout ye?” carries the same meaning. 

You’ll become well acquainted with the words “aye”, meaning “yes”, and “wee”, meaning “small”. People may use odd grammar, like “I says” or “Here’s me” when talking about something they said in the past tense. Many finish their sentences with a reaffirmation; a holdover from Belfast’s Celtic language routes. As an example: “I'm from Belfast, so I am.”   

If you frequent pubs, as Belfast natives are wont to do, you may encounter the word sláinte (pronounced “slawn-che”), meaning “cheers” in Irish Gaelic. In present company, you’re okay to repeat it, but be wary of using it elsewhere as the Irish language can be a conversational hot potato in unionist neighborhoods. 

Make restaurant reservations, particularly on the weekend

As Belfast’s restaurant scene has grown in stature, so have the waiting lists for its premier eateries. If you plan on sampling the Michelin-star fare – OX , Deanes EIPIC , and Muddlers Club currently make up the roster – make sure you book your weekend reservations early. The same applies to other fine dining options and the most popular theater shows in the city.  

Fine dining dish from James St Restaurant, Belfast City Centre

Tipping is recommended, but not mandatory

Tipping 10 to 15% is usually standard in Belfast restaurants, especially during dinner times. There is no obligation – if you find service unsatisfactory, forgoing a tip is down to your own discretion – though Belfast’s competitive restaurant scene has fostered a workforce of high-quality front-of-house staff, knowledgeable sommeliers, and career waiters that usually merit a few extra quid (pounds) for their service skills. Also bear in mind, that some restaurants will include a gratuity on the bill.

Sundays can be sleepy

Because of its Christian roots – and the sanctity of the Lord’s day of rest – it was once common to see tourists wandering around Belfast city center on Sundays wondering why everything was shut. Though this has changed somewhat in recent years, there remains a stipulation that shops of 280 sq meters or more can only sell goods between 1pm and 6pm. Restaurants, bars and amenities stores may be open, but business hours will likely be affected. Most businesses will also shut down on religious holidays, such as Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. Make sure to check in advance before venturing forth in spontaneity.

Always prepare for the possibility of rain

Northern Ireland’s climate is defined as “temperate”, with summer humidity, heavy winter snowfall and weather disasters exceedingly rare. That said, given Belfast’s northern latitude and coastal location, rain is never off the table. Carrying a rain jacket, umbrella or extra layer, even in the summer, is a good idea.   

Use sterling, not euros

Though Northern Ireland shares a porous border with the Republic of Ireland, which is in the Eurozone, pounds sterling is the traded currency. It’s also worth noting that Belfast is financially digitized, meaning you can use contactless payments in most bars, restaurants and shops.   

Touring Around Belfast gives visitors an insight into Belfast the city, its history, its murals and its people while driving the city in a classic black cab.

Use guided tours when visiting certain neighborhoods

Belfast’s street art is among the most powerful and provocative in the world. Depicting political prisoners, paramilitary groups, and the nexus where peace and conflict collide, the murals are reminders of Belfast's troubled past. Many are splashed across gable walls in politically divided neighborhoods, so it’s recommended you visit with a licensed tour guide. Not only will this add historical texture to the experience, but it will also help you avoid stumbling into areas deemed less safe for tourists. The Belfast Black Taxi Tour is the best option.

Belfast doesn’t have the most efficient transport network

Belfast hasn’t seen a tram since the 1950s, but in a recent attempt to streamline its public transport service, it introduced the Glider bus service – multiple journey tickets and travel cards are available . The Gliders currently run from East to West and from the Titanic Quarter to the city center. A north-to-south route is expected to be introduced, but not until 2027. There is a train system, but it's primarily used for transport between Belfast and surrounding towns and cities. Late-night services are currently non-existent. 

It’s fair to say this isn’t the most efficient transport system in the UK – evidenced by the fleets of cars chugging along Belfast’s streets – though taxi services are relatively affordable. Belfast is also quite compact, so walking around the city center should pose no issue for most travelers. Alternatively, you can use the Just Eat Belfast Bikes Scheme , which has 46 docking stations dotted throughout the city.

Private taxi firms still reign supreme over Uber

Belfast is Uber-friendly, but most locals still use the traditional taxi firms, of which Value Cabs and fonaCab are the most popular (you can book these over the phone). In the post-pandemic era, however, many locals and politicians have lamented the lack of taxi drivers doing late-night shifts, so it's best to pre-book evening cabs home where possible.

Republican Mural featuring Bobby Sands on the Falls Road, Belfast

Tensions can rise on July 12th 

July 12th is a public holiday and a significant day in Northern Irish history. Often shortened to “The Twelfth”, it’s an Ulster Protestant celebration dating back to the 1700s, commemorating the victory of Protestant King “Billy” William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Protestant areas of the city erect Union flags, paint their street curbs red, white and blue, and look under siege as huge bonfires are burnt on the 11th night, signaling the forthcoming celebrations. Orange-sashed parades are then held on July 12th, when the city streets chorus with politically divisive marching tunes.

Many Catholics, and those who identify as Irish, take this opportunity to vacate the city for a few days. And unfortunately, it's not uncommon for tensions to escalate. In the past, this has led to rioting in segments of the city, particularly where traditionally Protestant and Catholic communities collide. Though one can easily avoid the most contentious areas, it’s probably not the best weekend to book a sojourn to Belfast . 

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Belfast Travel: A Guide To Visiting The City

About belfast.

Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland and has all the attractions that larger national capitals have such as historic landmarks and a vibrant nightlife. It’s one of the best places to visit in Ireland , for good reason!

Belfast travel is aided by its good transport connections by air, ferry, road, and rail. It can be wet and cool, making summer the best time to travel, but Christmas shopping and sporting events are two of the reasons to consider travelling to Belfast in winter as well. 

Have a look at this Belfast travel guide and start planning your trip!

BEST TIME TO VISIT

The climate is affected by Belfast’s proximity to the North Atlantic, the Irish Sea and the Gulf Stream, which has a moderating influence on the weather.

In Belfast, it’s rare to have prolonged periods of hot weather — although summers are pleasant.

Extremely cold weather is rare as well but winters can be damp and gloomy. There is no season where visitors can be guaranteed to avoid rain, but a rainproof jacket and umbrella will ensure you can enjoy your travels in Belfast.

belfast ireland summer boats on the river and buildings

Peak Season

Belfast travel numbers definitely increase between May and the end of September. This is the main holiday period in Northern Europe with schools having an extended summer holiday.

Many of the outdoor activities around Belfast are best enjoyed when the weather is likely to be at its best, and the chance of rainfall diminishes.

Of course, peak season also means higher costs, but it can be worth it to enjoy nicer weather. 

belfast in the autumn with a castle entrance gate and colourful leaves

Shoulder Season

Easter is a popular holiday period and with the weather still mild in October, there are some weeks either side of the peak season when travellers can enjoy decent weather, less crowds and lower prices.

If you decide that is the time for travel, Belfast deserves consideration.

winter in belfast christmas lights

Even on a wet day, travelling in the city is enjoyable with the shopping on offer as well as the bars, restaurants and nightlife — which are open year-round, rain or shine!

Some prices will fall in the off-season and some of Belfast’s main attractions will be quieter, making the off-season a good time to travel Belfast if you’re on a budget, or don’t like crowds.

Neighbourhoods

Where to stay.

Belfast has something for every age and budget, making it a destination that can be enjoyed by everyone.

Of course, being central has its perks (especially if you’re just in the city for a weekend trip ), but there are a few neighbourhoods worth considering. Here are some ideas of where you might stay during your time in the city.

cathedral quarter belfast

Cathedral Quarter

Centred around St.Anne’s Cathedral, this neighbourhood was formerly home to Belfast’s serious newspapers, it’s the equivalent of London’s Fleet Street.

It remains a busy area with accommodation to suit all budgets right up to the 5-star Merchant Hotel .

The nightlife in the Cathedral Quarter is just one of its attractions; the shopping is great as well.

central belfast

Central Belfast

City Hall is the heart of the Central District and a tour of the Hall and relaxing in its gardens is certainly worth your time.

St. George’s Market and shopping, in general, is close at hand.

This neighbourhood is another with plenty of bars and restaurants. Head to the Welcome Centre to get all the information needed to enjoy this Quarter.

queens university belfast ireland

Queen's Quarter

Queen’s is one of the most famous universities in Ireland and this southern neighbourhood of Belfast takes its name from the educational institution.

The university architecture is impressive while the neighbourhood is the heart of Belfast’s cultural life. This is the place to stay if you’re travelling Belfast on a budget.

November’s International Arts Festival is held here while several venues within Queen’s host events attracting impressive audiences.

Anyone interested in theatre is spoilt for choice in this area where you can find Lyric Players’, Cresent Arts Centre and Queen’s Film Theatre.

belfast tourism guide

Titanic Quarter

This former shipyard is one of the newer neighbourhoods in Belfast, and is a more modern area. 

Known for being where the Titanic was built, this quarter is a good place for families visiting Belfast. 

It’s home to a strong maritime theme, with the Titanic Belfast tourist experience and great museums nearby. 

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Belfast is a compact city. Getting around by foot to see the top attractions a breeze. 

The introductory city bus tour and the availability of plenty of tourist information make visiting Belfast very easy. Here are a few top things to do to get you started!

titanic museum in belfast

The Titanic was built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast and the museum dedicated to the work of the shipyard is something every visitor should experience. The building itself is impressive while the historical content is amazing.

Guided tours are available and are a means of avoiding queues.

Tickets must be booked in advance and will provide a time slot. Click here to find out more and get your tickets online.

botanic gardens in belfast

Museum & Botanic Gardens

The National Museum is full of historical and cultural exhibits, the best place to learn about Ireland from its very early days. It is set in the beautiful Botanic Gardens of Belfast.

It would be easy to spend a whole day here. It is closed on Mondays giving you plenty of time to pay a visit.

Admission is free but donations are most welcome. Find it here on the map.

st georges market belfast

St. George's Food Market

Visit St. George’s Food Market on a weekend morning — it’s a favourite of the locals here. This bustling market is Belfast’s only surviving Victorian indoor market. Here you’ll find local food, flowers, fish, crafts and much more. 

You can’t go to the market without ordering up a Belly-Buster Belfast Bap!

The market is open from Friday – Sunday and is located on May Street. Click here  for directions. 

TOP TOURS IN BELFAST

Join one of the walking tours of Belfast to get your bearings and see the main landmarks — there is no better way to familiarize yourself with the city.

Here are 3 top tours to join when visiting Belfast.

Belfast Murals Tour

There are two main ways to see the stunning art around Belfast; a guided walk or travel in a taxi.

In both cases, you can expect a knowledgeable guide who can explain the importance of each illustration.

The Peaceline Wall is the most significant of the places where you will be taken, while if you already know anything of the Troubles , you will have heard about the Falls Road and the Shankill Road either side of the Wall.

The Belfast Murals tour is a must-do in the city. With a guide, you’ll learn about this divided area and what the Loyalist and Republican murals represent. 

The “ Political Taxi Tour ” is one of the most highly rated, and is worth every £. Find out more and book online here .

street art murals belfast

Crumlin Road Gaol Guided Tour

Crumlin Road Gaol played a significant role in the Troubles but it was in use many decades previously. An underground tunnel links the prison to the courthouse and more than 25,000 took that walk during the Troubles.

You can see a typical cell where a prisoner was held, and the place where convicts were hanged in Victorian times and during republican struggles.

The graveyard holds the bodies of those executed, but all in unmarked graves which was part of the sentence that was handed down by their judges.

Find out more and join this highly rated, affordable tour .

The Troubles Walking Tour

The religious conflict in Ulster is well-documented but to learn more and to get further insight into the origins of the Troubles, join a walking tour with a knowledgable guide. 

There are several sites within the tour which will give you  a feel for what life must have been like in those times before the 1990s saw peace prevail. 

£19 ($25) is a small price to pay for the tour giving so much insight. Find out more here .

belfast tourism guide

BEST DAY TRIPS FROM BELFAST

This northeast corner of the Island of Ireland is rich in history and has many incredible sites to see! Here are 3 to get you started.

giants causeway ireland things to do

Giant's Causeway

This Causeway on Ulster’s northeast coast is the Province’s most impressive natural feature with a guided day trip the best way to see it.

Myth has it that the formation was built by an Irish giant who sought conflict with a Scottish giant and needed a ”bridge” to get to him.

In reality, the blocks were formed by volcanic activity and it is no surprise that this site has been recognised by UNESCO . You can walk on the rocks but take care because they are slippery.

The Giant’s Causeway is one of the best places to see in the UK in September . A day tour from Belfast will cost less than £22 ($30).

dark hedges game of thrones

Game of Thrones

The hugely popular HBO Series was filmed at several locations and Ulster was one of the most important.

Fans of the series will love to take this tour and imagine the scenes from GOT while standing in the place where they were filmed!

It is a long but very enjoyable day by coach from Belfast. Find out more about this highly rated day trip here .

dunluce castle ireland

Northern Highlights & Castles

There are over 40 impressive castles built by the Normans for defensive reasons centuries ago and many are open to the public.  They are a ”must” for visitors!

Dunluce, which gives its name to Royal Portrush’s Championship Course (one of the top golf courses in Ireland ), is located on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea and was built by the Earl of Ulster in the 13th Century.

Carrickfergus is the Province’s largest castle, built by John de Courcy in 1177

WHERE AND WHAT TO EAT

Belfast offers a large range of international cuisine these days, but if you want to try some truly Irish food , the three dishes below are great suggestions.

The Ulster Fry

This hearty breakfast is available everywhere, from simple cafes to top hotels. It is a good way to fuel yourself for a day out exploring during Belfast!

You can expect potato bread and soda bread as well as black pudding, sometimes white, together with bacon, sausage, tomato, eggs and baked beans.

belfast tourism guide

Colcannon, Bacon & Soda Bread

Colcannon combines potatoes with green leaf vegetables and spring onions, mashed using milk and butter. Add bacon and eat soda bread with this filling dish.

This is an inexpensive dish for lunch (unless you have already had a huge Ulster Fry) or for dinner in simple cafes.

Hot and filling food has been key to the health of the Irish working class. Lamb or mutton cooked slowly with root vegetables make up the filling dish on a winter’s day.

Cost varies with where you eat it, but it’s a tasty meal you’ll want to try in Belfast.

irish stew travel to wicklow ireland

Best Restaurants in Belfast

Holohan’s At The Barge : Moored next to the Waterfront Theatre in the heart of Belfast, this restaurant puts emphasis on local produce although its fine wines concentrate on France.

Salmon and venison are both worth sampling, the seafood in general and local meat will match anything you have tried.

A 3-course lunch costs around $25, while for dinner you can spend $40 and be more than satisfied.

The restaurant is closed on Mondays but serves lunch from 1300 – 1600 and dinner 1700 – 2300, Tuesday to Saturday. Sunday is just lunch between 1300 and 1900. Find it on the map, here .

The Hoose Bistro : The novelty of the Hoose is its all-day menu with plenty of choice for all tastes. The food uses largely local produce that can be accompanied by fine wine, a range of gins and cocktails.

It can cater for large parties, pre-booked of course, as well as for an intimate dinner for two.

Opening hours are 1600- 2100, Wednesday to Saturday and 1300 – 1900 on Sundays when the roast is just $12. A three-course meal should cost you around $35 and there is a kids’ menu. Find it on the map, here .

Ox Belfast: This innovative restaurant offers a 6-course summer menu for $75 and three days a week, mid-week, a 4-course version for $62.50 so it is not cheap but if you want a treat, go for it!

At lunchtime, try 2 courses for $30 or 3 for $37.50.

There is plenty of choice in this Michelin-starred restaurant overlooking the River Lagan. Lunch is 1300 – 1430 and dinner 1800 – 2130 midweek. Find it here on the map.

BEST PUBS IN BELFAST

When in Ireland it has to be a pint of Guinness, but cider production has also become popular.

“Atmospheric” is a word often used to describe Irish pubs and you are certain to find that in these places as you visit Belfast and its amazing pubs!

people at bar in dublin

Duke Of York

This traditional bar is found in a narrow cobbled street in Half Bap. It is filled with memorabilia and the air is full of music and craic any day of the year.

Live music is played Thursday to Sunday and the famous group Snow Patrol made their debuts here just over 20 years ago. Find it on the map, here .

pubs in dublin

Kelly's Cellars

The Cellars are 300 years old and began as a tavern for the lower classes. Musicians would appear here looking for a little money and dancing was popular, especially after a few ales.

Many of its original features are still here today so take a look and enjoy yourself. Music plays every night while in the summer, sessions take place in the garden Friday to Sunday.

Irish stew is sometimes served but nothing else; this is truly a bar and not a restaurant. Find it here on the map .

pubs in ireland drinking and cheers

Crown Liquor Saloon

This saloon was popular in Victorian times and its original gaslighting is still on display. Gin is an ever more popular drink these days and the Crown was one of the original gin palaces.

Many of Belfast’s top attractions are close by so take a break from sightseeing and drop in. Find it on the map here .

LIVE MUSIC VENUES

Ireland and music are synonymous. There is plenty to enjoy in many pubs but there are also larger venues which attract famous acts as well as those trying to carve out careers in entertainment.

Here are a few live music venues in Belfast you won’t want to miss.

beer in ireland

The Empire Music Hall

Seemingly a feature of Belfast life forever, the Empire only opened in 1987 but its architecture, a Victorian church, gives the impression of age.

The acoustics are excellent so everyone is keen to display their talents there while it also has a bar which attracts customers of its own, many going to watch live screenings of sporting events. Find it here on the map.

This large complex also opened in 1987 and comprises Limelight 1 and 2, The outdoor Rock Garden and Katy’s Bar. It is famous for its assistance to emerging local talent and who knows, you may see the next Irish international stars if you pay a visit.

After suffering financial problems, it was refurbished and rebranded by the current owners, MCD & Shine Productions, live Irish music promoters. Find directions here .

pub pouring beer

Oh Yeah Music Centre

A converted warehouse in the Cathedral Quarter, this is a place where you can enjoy the best of musical talent in Ulster.

It runs a musical bus tour which includes the places that Van Morrison used to frequent and for those more interested in more classical music, James Galway. Find it on the map here .

FESTIVALS IN BELFAST

Several cultural events appear on Belfast’s calendar and they are in no way confined to the peak summer season making Belfast travel an idea for any time of the year.

people at a festival ireland

International Arts Festival

Belfast Festival at Queen’s began in 1962 until 2015 when the responsibility for hosting what is now the I nternational Arts Festival was handed to a new organisation with charity status.

Enjoy everything from music and dance, film and theatre. Venues are used throughout Belfast over a period of two weeks and in the past, Laurence Olivier, Billy Connolly, Jimi Hendrix and Rowan Atkinson have all appeared.

festival with lights in november in ireland

C S Lewis Festival

One of Ireland’s most influential writers has his life and work celebrated in November each year. C S Lewis is perhaps most famous for “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

A few days of workshops and events for all the family take place in different Belfast venues, run by Eastside Arts in C S Lewis Square where you will see seven sculptures of his most famous characters from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.

film festival ireland

Cinemagic Film Festival

This is the largest festival of its kind in the UK and Ireland, offering the chance for youngsters to display their talents.

HIKING IN BELFAST

Belfast is in a beautiful area of Northern Ireland, so there are quite a few worthwhile hikes located nearby. When visiting Belfast, there’s no better way to get acquainted with the Northern Ireland landscape than to take a hike.

Here are a few of the best hiking trails to visit when you travel Belfast.

giants ring trail belfast

Giant's Ring Trail

Giant’s Ring is only a 15-minute drive outside of the city of Belfast, and it’s a perfect trail for beginners. It’s a scenic 3.5 km trail that takes a little over an hour to hike depending on the number of times you stop to soak up the view.

Along the trail, you can expect to see breathtaking woodlands, streams, bridges, and wildlife. Of course, the real highlight of the trail is the Giant’s Ring, which is a historical monument from the Neolithic period.

Though the route is short and easy, come prepared by wearing sturdy hiking shoes and packing water in case you get thirsty. You’ll also want to bring your camera to take photos of the monument! Find it here on the map.

Cavehill Trail

This beautiful trail is located 13 minutes north of Belfast up near Belfast Castle and is easily accessible by both car and public transportation. It’s a moderate loop trail through mainly the forest that is 6.6 km long.

Try to do this hike in the warmer months or around a time where Belfast doesn’t get a lot of rain. It’s known for getting muddy and slippery if the weather takes a turn which can make it a bit dangerous at times.

The Cavehill Trail is said to offer the best views of the entire city, but it does have different hours depending on the season. Be sure to pack water and snacks because you’re bound to get hungry during the hike. Find it here .

hiking belfast

Slieve Croob "Twelve Cairns" Walk

Twelve Cairns Walk is a 4.3 km out and back trail that is perfect for moderate hikers located 45 minutes south of Belfast. It offers some of the best views of Slieve Croob and the Northern Ireland countryside, and, on fogless days, you can even see the Isle of Man and Scotland!

This trail is consistently voted as one of the best paths to do with a family because it’s not super challenging and offers views that you can’t get elsewhere. Just make sure you pack layers and wear good hiking shoes for your hike.

When you’re done, be sure to stop by the Slieve Croob Inn for a pint and a warm meal! Find it here on the map .

BEACHES IN BELFAST

Belfast is located right on Northern Ireland’s coast and is the perfect home base for visiting some of the country’s very best beaches.

The water in Northern Ireland is unlike the water anywhere else, and there’s no better way to spend the afternoon (or entire day) than with your toes in the blue sea.

Below are some of the most magnificent beaches you won’t want to miss out on when you visit Belfast!

helens bay ireland

Helen's Bay

Helen’s Bay is only a short 20-minute drive or 1-hour ride on public transportation from Belfast. It’s located in the Carwfordsburn Country Park and is a tranquil sandy beach that is considered to be a hidden gem.

It’s a great place to go swimming or even to relax while the waves crash along the sand. There’s a cafe on-site in addition to a visitor centre and multiple spots to sit and have a picnic. Find it here .

tyrella bay beach

Tyrella Beach

Tyrella Beach is on Northern Ireland’s southern coast, and it takes just 45 minutes to get there by car from Belfast. This beach has won a few awards, including the 2011 Blue Flag Award for being beautiful and clean.

It covers 25 hectares and is incredibly scenic. There are breathtaking walking trails near the water that show some of the area’s most magnificent sights that are unforgettable.

There are multiple fun activities to do at this beach, including swimming and surfing, among other water sports. Tyrella Beach prides itself on being open every day of the year. Find it on the map, here .

cushendun beach ireland

Cushendun Beach

The magnificent Cushendun Beach can be reached in just an hour by driving north of Belfast. It can be reached by public transportation as well, though this takes twice as long.

This sandy beach is picturesque and features lovely walking tours and swimming spots. It’s also located closeby one of the best Game of Thrones locations in Northern Ireland, Cushendun Caves, which is another must-visit when you travel to Belfast.

Cushendun Beach is the perfect place to go for a quick city getaway from Belfast, no matter the time of year. Families will particularly love this beach because of how quaint and spread out the beach is. Find it here on the map.

COST OF TRAVEL IN BELFAST

Belfast caters for those on a budget and those who want to splurge. Travel costs are not so important because of the size of the city, especially for those arriving at the nearby City Airport.

You will find accommodation in all price ranges and food is cheap in cafes if that is what you want.

Budget £45 / Day

Hostel accommodation, still central in Belfast, should be available for £12 ($15) per person so it is possible to live on £45 ($60) a day including food, drinks and public transport.

Mid-Range £130 / Day

You can get a double room in the heart of Belfast for   £45 ( $60) so adding a few drinks in a pub and a pleasant dinner, then perhaps a taxi home will not break the bank.

Top-End £200 / Day

Stay at the Merchant Hotel and eat in a top restaurant and you will spend up to   £300 ( $400) for a couple before you think about wine with dinner, drinks in a popular pub and taxis.

Transportation

Getting around belfast.

Belfast has a well-developed travel infrastructure for those wishing to travel extensively. Anyone staying within the heart of Belfast can walk to many of the attractions and to enjoy the nightlife.

  • Public Bus: Belfast's public bus service called Metro runs high-frequency routes between 06:00 and 23:00, all passing through Donegall Square. Tourist passes and pre-paid cards can be bought at a kiosk in the Square. Buses are relatively expensive, even if the routes cover all the places you might want to go.
  • Taxi: Black Taxi tours are famous in Belfast. They are the best way to get to and from the airport at night. Locals regularly share taxis, especially in the North and West and originate from the time when buses were often disrupted. They follow set routes with a fixed price of $1.25. Minicabs can only be booked in advance and not hailed in the street.
  • Walking: Belfast has a compact city centre so visitors can see many of the main attractions and enjoy the best nighttime venues without worrying about transport until very late.
  • To & From The Airport: George Best City Airport is just a short distance from the city centre. Regular buses run into town for just $3 until 2300 while the train fare is just $2 although trains are less frequent. Belfast International Airport is further away and is served by a bus service every 30 minutes until 2300 with the journey taking up to 45 minutes depending on traffic.  The cost is $9 while taxis from this airport will cost at least $30.

IS BELFAST SAFE?

Central Belfast with its bars and restaurants is an extremely safe city at nighttime which is sometimes the time when tourists feel most vulnerable in a strange city.

There is even a strong case that it’s safer than other cities throughout the UK and Ireland. Your hotel will provide you with all the information you need in your immediate vicinity.

There are neighbourhoods to avoid in Belfast but none include attractions that tourists would visit at night. Falls Road, Turk Lodge, Shanklin and Crumlin Roads should not be visited at night and tourists should not write on the Peace Wall because it is a sensitive place.

Common sense should always be applied in any strange place and this applies to Belfast — but no more than anywhere else.

Images in this article are sourced on Shutterstock.com .

st georges market belfast

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VISITING BELFAST: EPIC BELFAST BUCKET LIST & TRAVEL GUIDE

VISITING BELFAST: BUCKET LIST AND TRAVEL GUIDE JAFFA MEMORIAL FOUNTAIN

What do YOU think of when you think of Belfast? For me all I could think is a troubled past, Titanic and the well known natural phenomenon Giants Causeway. Other than that I had no idea what I was going to discover on my visit and my expectations were low, which is a good thing, but what’s better is that they were exceeded. Like through the roof!

As you may know, Belfast is in Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom, my current home. What I loved about visiting Belfast was that I needed to hop on a plane so it gave me the feeling I was travelling abroad when I actually wasn’t. That might be you too! Let me walk you through my own personal recommendations on how to spend your time in Belfast.

VISITING BELFAST: BELFAST BUCKET LIST & TRAVEL GUIDE

Table of Contents

WONDERFUL THINGS TO DO IN BELFAST

Hop-on; hop-off belfast’s main sites.

A great way to start your trip is to take a hop-on; hop-off bus across all Belfast city top attractions. It’s the perfect way to get started and get an overview of the city if you are short on time and an efficient way to get around the furthest away sites. I took this one with Belfast City Tours and loved it. It stops on 19 sites (many which I feature below) and pricing wise it’s great. Book it here , or below:

Relax at the grounds of Belfast City Hall

The grounds of this iconic Belfast landmark are the perfect spot to take a pause from sightseeing or shopping with an ice cream or coffee in hand. Don’t forget to relax!

Visit the Titanic Belfast Experience

As I mentioned, Titanic is a Belfast must do . This self guided experience is the best way to discover the sights, sounds, smells and stories of the ship. Book your tickets here.

Spot the Samson & Goliath Cranes

Samson and Goliath are two large shipbuilding cranes owned by Harland and Wolff, and they are situated within the Titanic Quarter in the Harland & Wolff shipyard. They were built in 1969 and 1974 at a time when Harland & Wolff was still one of the largest shipbuilders in the world and were named after the Biblical figures of the same name. Although you can’t get too close to the cranes as they are in an active and private industrial area, they are súper easy to spot. The two yellow cranes with the H&W logo dominate the skyline and can be seen from many parts of the city.

VISITING BELFAST: BUCKET LIST AND TRAVEL GUIDE SAMSON AND GOLIATH

Have a pint of Guinness at The Crown Bar

The Crown is the most famous pub in Belfast and perhaps even the UK! The pub was opened around 1826 by Felix O’Hanlon as The Railway Tavern but it was renovated and renamed in 1885 by the Flanagan family that would turn it into the pub we know today. It was known as one of the most beautiful Victorian era gin palaces in the world. It is absolutely gorgeous and you should not leave Belfast without visiting it! It’s pretty popular so make sure to book in advance.

Attend a Candlelight Concert

Enjoy a host of  concerts illuminated by candlelight  and performed by live musicians in some of the most iconic venues in Belfast. The concerts cover the best musician of all times, movies, and more! Book it here.

Shop till you drop and admire Belfast from above at Victoria Square

Belfast is known to be great for shopping, and this is the place to do it. In Victoria Square you’ll find four levels of shops, food and drink venues plus 360 views from Belfast at The Dome . So many people come over from Southern Ireland to Belfast just for shopping!

Tour the Grand Opera House

The Grand Opera House will immediately catch your eye as you walk through central Belfast, definitely did so for me! It was built in 1895 by famous English theater architect Frank Matcham and has become a city landmark. It is the only Victorian theater still remaining in Northern Ireland and is well-known for its beautiful interior. The good thing is that you can do a guided tour of its inside! Plan your visit here.

Enjoy a walk around Belfast Castle

Don’t forget to discover the scenic trails from this beautiful 1870 baronial castle . You can also enjoy lunch or afternoon tea here, as well as take in the views from the city and Belfast Lough. Plan your visit here.

Browse the stalls of St George’s Market

This Victorian market is a Belfast must do if you are visiting from Friday to Sunday. You’ll find the finest produce as well as some lovely hot food. Also it’s the perfect place to buy a unique Belfast souvenir. As a market lover, I really enjoyed St George’s.

Tour St Anne’s Cathedral

Pay a visit to this magnificent place of worship and treasure trove of Belfast’s art, history, culture and music. Plan your visit here.

VISITING BELFAST: BUCKET LIST AND TRAVEL GUIDE COMMERCIAL COURT

Have drinks in Belfast’s best beer gardens

Belfast City Center has so many cool spots where you to enjoy a drink or two! Here are my recommendations in order of preference: The Dirty Onion , The Bone Yard , CARGO , Babel Rooftop Bar & Garden , Cutters Wharf , The Perch , Kelly’s Cellars and Granny Annie’s . Save them in Google Maps!

Check out Belfast’s Street Murals

The street murals in Belfast are well-known worldwide and it is a popular city for street art enthusiasts. Even if you are not interested in street art, you are bound to run into many of them as they are everywhere.

Initially most of the street murals were political and related to The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and were created by people with a variety of perspectives from both sides. Most of the more politically focused murals are further from the city center with many located around the Peace Wall (see next point).

See the Peace Wall

What shocked me during my visit is that there are actual walls dividing areas of Belfast (and Northern Ireland). The first physical divides or peace lines were built in 1969 after the outbreak of riots in Northern Ireland and the beginning of the Troubles. The walls, fences, and other barriers were used to divide predominately Protestant/Unionist areas of a neighbourhood from predominately Catholic/Nationalist areas of a neighbourhood. The walls were meant to be temporary but they remain today and have actually grown in quantity over time which is even crazier.

The most well known roads that are known to be divisive and were major roads during the troubles are Shankill and Falls Roads. Visiting the Shankill, The Falls and the Peace Wall is absolutely safe if you are a tourist. Some locals might not be willing to visit these if they consider themselves as part of one of the sides. I visited them in my Belfast Hop-on, Hop-off tour but there are more specific tours such as this one if you want to learn more.

VISITING BELFAST: BUCKET LIST AND TRAVEL GUIDE BOTANIC GARDENS

Walk the Glass of Thrones trail

Did you know Belfast’s Titanic Studios where for 10 years part of the set of Game of Thrones ? Because of this, there is now huge stained glass windows depicting some of the most iconic scenes from Game of Thrones which form a trail along the Maritime Mile. They are such a nice ‘wee’ walk to do during your visit (Northern Irish add ‘wee’ to everything all the time!). Do it on your own or get a guide for almost no money.

Have a wander through Belfast’s Botanic Gardens & Ulster Museum

Located in Queen’s Quarter, the Botanic Gardens are a nice place to drop by if you love a green spot. The greenhouse is beautiful and super insta friendly! You’ll also find the Ulster Museum right by it (it’s free to visit).

Try an Ulster Fry

Nope, no English Breakfasts in Northern Ireland! You need to try an Ulster Fry when in Belfast. It will certainly give you energy for the day ahead. IT IS HEAVY. Care to try potato bread? Mmm, yes! Here’s a recommended spot.

Say hi to The Big Fish

In Belfast’s Maritime Mile you’ll find a ceramic fish with blue scales called The Salmon of Knowledge . Personally I didn’t find it particularly interesting, but legend has it that if you kiss it you’ll gain all its wisdom. We all have a kiss to spare don’t we?

VISITING BELFAST: BUCKET LIST AND TRAVEL GUIDE CRUMLIN ROAD GAOL

Visit Crumlin Road Gaol

This Belfast jail built in 1843 has an interesting past which can be explored via a unique interactive self-guided tour. I really enjoyed the way it was put together in an out of the box way. Before you go in, make sure you take a look at the derelict building in front of it which was the court house. Prisoners were sentenced there and sent to the jail via an underground tunnel. Mad isn’t it? Book it here.

Take the perfect Instagram shot at Commercial Court

If you are like me and you are always wondering what the best insta spot is then I have that figured out for you! Commercial Court is the answer. Colourful umbrellas, flowers and quaint bar signs are the recipe for success. Find it here and let me know if you agree with this being Belfast’s most instagrammable spot.

Play an epic Zombie Escape game

Before visiting Belfast a friend of mine said: ‘You are going to Belfast? You HAVE to do this escape game’. I followed their advice and it was epic! Zombies are involved but only minor scares, the puzzles are what make the game. Book it here.

Take a day trip to the Causeway Coastal Route

You can’t visit Northern Ireland and not see Giants Causeway. Belfast city is lovely but there is more to see outside it! Pack more in by taking this Giants Causeway tour by City Tours Belfast , and seeing other sites such as the majestic Dark Hedges, Dunluce Castle, and many more! If you are a Game of Thrones fan you can take a slightly more GOT focused version . The tour is well worth it, you just forget about planning and just enjoy. Don’t want to get your hopes up but I even saw jumping dolphins on my tour! Book it here.

belfast tourism guide

Get down to Hillsborough Castle

Hillsborough Castle is an 18th century Georgian house build for the Hill family which now is an official government residence in Northern Ireland and is managed by the Historic Royal Palaces. It is currently used as the residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the official residence of the British Monarch and other member of the British royal family when visiting the region. In other words, this is where Queen Elizabeth crashes when she visits Nothern Ireland. Book it here.

VISITING BELFAST: BUCKET LIST AND TRAVEL GUIDE HILLSBOROUGH GARDENS

WHERE TO STAY IN BELFAST

The best spot to stay in Belfast is this property . And I know because I own it! This beautiful 3 bedroom property is right on the heart of the city centre. It’s gorgeous and has everything you need to make the most of your Belfast trip. You can book it here . Additionally, if you wish to stay in Hillsborough for a night or two I can recommend this property .

We own various properties in Belfast so you can find one that suits your needs here .

HOW LONG TO STAY IN BELFAST

As there is a load to do, I recommend you stay at least two or three days, one day visiting the city with, one day in Giants Causeway and half to one day in Hillsborough (with the rest spent in the city).

VISITING BELFAST: BUCKET LIST AND TRAVEL GUIDE BELFAST CITY

HOW TO GET TO BELFAST AND AROUND

Belfast is in Northern Ireland which is part of the UK but on the island of Ireland.  It is one hour flight away from London and you can’t drive there (unless you are taking a ferry). I found my flight to Belfast using  Skyscanner  and there are direct flights from Europe’s main cities.

You can explore Belfast city on foot. Renting a car  is a good way to get outside the city to places like Hillsborough and Giants Causeway, unless you prefer to take the tour I mention above.

BEST BELFAST TOURS

If you, like me, like being shown around and being taught by those who know, then these are my top picks for tours:

Enjoyed this article? Support my work by buying me an oat capuccino . Otherwise, do me a great favor of leaving a comment and following me on Instagram (@ travelwithpau ). Feel free to say ‘Hello!’ I don’t bite. And make sure you save the article for later!

belfast tourism guide

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48 hours in . . . Belfast, an insider guide to Northern Ireland's historic capital

Belfast, Northern Ireland

A troubled city reborn

In 1981, the pictures of Belfast on the world’s television screens were of hunger strikes, bombs and bullets, and the worst job in the world was the Head of Northern Ireland Tourism. Thirty years later the images on television screens were of Lady Gaga, Queen, Coldplay, and what looked like every music star on the planet arriving in town for the 2011 MTV Europe Music Awards. This is proof that the city, plagued for three decades by what locals called The Troubles, is now as cosmopolitan a city as any in Europe.

With the cobbled streets of the Cathedral Quarter reborn as a buzzing nightlife hub; the inspired Titanic museum at last commemorating Belfast’s role in building the great doomed liner; an excellent live music scene celebrating the legacy of local heroes (such as Van Morrison), and glorious Victorian architecture, the city really is a destination in its own right. And beyond the city lies the Mountains of Mourne sweeping down to the sea, the world’s oldest distillery, the Giant’s Causeway, the idyllic Fermanagh lakes and the Antrim Coast Road, one of the great drives of Europe.

After breakfast, head to Castle Place to get your bearings with the Belfast City Sightseeing Tour (028 9032 1321), a 90-minute hop-on, hop-off jaunt on an open-top bus – the perfect introduction to the city. Tickets are valid for 48 hours, so you can do a recce and come back for more.

Titanic Belfast, Northern Ireland

Once you’ve got the lay of the land, hop off at harbourside  Titanic Belfast  (1 Olympic Way, Queens Road; 028 9076 6386). This glittering metal edifice is the world’s biggest Titanic museum, with 10 galleries over six floors. The displays start with an inspired look at how Victorian Belfast was an industrial powerhouse, then move on to the great ship’s conception, construction, launch, tragic maiden voyage and rediscovery at the bottom of the Atlantic. It's one of the busiest attractions in the city so book online ahead of your visit to avoid the queues.

The formula of Mourne Seafood Bar (34-36 Bank Street; 028 9024 8544) is simple and perfect for lunch: fresh fish dishes in rustic surroundings at reasonable prices. Try the ceviche and the crab and chorizo risotto, and there are daily specials such as hake, monkfish, sea bream and more, plus steak for non-pescaphiles. Note that lunch is no reservations. 

Mourne Seafood Bar, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Having learned about Titanic on land, top off the story from the sea with Derek Booker. His one-hour Titanic Harbour Boat Tour (028 9024 0124) on the jaunty cream and red Joyce Too, leaving from Donegall Quay, contains witty and wonderful tales of the ship and the characters of the shipyards. In summer, look out for Belfast's own seal colony.

Back on land, hop on the city bus or take a taxi to Crumlin Road Gaol (53-55 Crumlin Road; 028 9074 1500), which opened in 1845 as one of the most advanced prisons of its day, closed in 1996 and reopened as an attraction in 2012. The tour includes the Governor’s Office, the execution cell where 17 men were hanged between 1854 and 1961, the flogging room, and the tunnel under Crumlin Road to the courthouse where prisoners were sentenced.

Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast, Northern Ireland

The ever-changing menu at Eipic (28-40 Howard Street; 028 9033 1134), celebrity chef Michael Deane’s latest Michelin-starred restaurant, is always witty and satisfying. Famous fans of the restaurant include Roger Moore, who had lunch and dinner there three days running. For a less expensive option, the same building houses Michael’s less expensive but still excellent Meat Locker (for grills) and Love Fish (for, er, seafood).

Eipic, Belfast, Northern Ireland

After that, you may not want to hit all eight pubs in the Cathedral Quarter, so wind down with a nightcap at the Crown Liquor Saloon (46 Great Victoria Street; 028 9024 3187), five minutes’ walk from Eipic. It’s the only pub in the United Kingdom owned by the National Trust; the listed, ornate interiors were created by Italian craftsmen in Belfast’s Victorian heyday.

Crown Liquor Saloon

•  The best restaurants in Belfast

St George’s Market  (12-20 East Bridge Street; 028 9043 5704), built in the 1890s, is the only surviving covered Victorian market in Belfast. The Saturday and Sunday markets have a huge, infinitely tempting range of local, continental and specialty foods and local art and crafts, to a backdrop of live music. If you’re self-catering and cooking later, get up at dawn to head straight for the market - this is the ideal time to get the best cuts before local chefs pounce.

After wandering around, treat yourself to coffee and the best cupcakes in town at  Muriel’s Café Bar  (12-14 Church Lane; 028 9033 2445), a former Victorian dressmakers and bordello.

4004_25_8486_prawns

•  The best free things to do in Belfast

Have lunch in  Edō  (2, Capital House, 3 Upper Queen Street; 028 9031 3054). Chef Jonny Elliott first worked under Gordon Ramsay, followed by a stint on a Russian billionaire’s yacht in the Med, and that regional influence shines through in his food. The tapas are great, but the slow-roasted ham hock and salt-aged beef cheek are divine. Finish with the churros – if you have any space left.

Edō

Afterwards, order a taxi to take you the six miles to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra, Holywood (153 Bangor Road; 028 9042 8428), one of the great, lesser-known museums in Europe. It has a transport section filled with planes, trains and automobiles, and a folk section which brilliantly recreates rural and urban Northern Ireland life in the early 20th century. You could easily spend a full day here, so if time is short, pick either the folk or the transport section.

Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Northern Ireland

The food at Belfast's other Michelin-starred restaurant  OX  (1 Oxford Street; 028 9031 4121) is beautifully presented, understated and elegant. If your budget and/or palate is all Michelined out, The Muddlers Club in the Cathedral Quarter is a cheaper but very satisfying option (1 Warehouse Lane; 028 9031 3199).

Afterwards, walk two minutes to The Cloth Ear (16 Skipper Street; 028 9026 2719), a civilised haven with parquet floor, leather banquettes, good bistro-style food and tins on the tables to bin your phone and talk or enjoy live local music on Thursday evenings.

Muddlers Club

• The best nightlife in Belfast

Luxury Living

The Merchant Hotel , in the grand 1860 Italianate former Ulster Bank HQ, remains a stylish way to see the city. It has a superb location to experience the Cathedral Quarter nightlife, as well as an excellent spa and fantastic food. There's Bert’s Bar, a lovely recreation of a 1920s New York bar, and The Great Room, which features classical French recipes using the finest local ingredients.

Doubles from £200. 16 Skipper Street; 028 9023 4888

The Merchant Hotel, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Designer Digs

Some hotels try so hard to be hip that they go out of fashion between checking-in and checking-out, but designer John Busteed has created Bullitt , a haven of pale wood, exposed brick, leather, earthy colours and original artwork which will stay cool for ages. The trendy rooftop bar, Babel, comes with great views and a retractable roof.

Doubles from £120. 40a Church Lane; 028 9590 0600

Bullitt Hotel, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Budget Bolthole

Tara Lodge has for years been ranked as one of the top hotels in Belfast, and it's easy to see why: it offers a handy location, friendly and helpful staff, scrumptious breakfasts, off-street parking, comfortable rooms and stylish details throughout – all for great value. The hotel is located on a peaceful side street just off the busy and cosmopolitan Botanic Avenue in the leafy south of the city. 

Doubles from £75. 36 Cromwell Road, Botanic Avenue; 028 9059 0900

Tara Lodge, Belfast, Northern Ireland

•  A complete guide to the best hotels in Belfast

Take home luxurious lambswool, cashmere and mohair blankets, throws and clothes from Avoca (41 Arthur Street; 028 9027 9950), which have been woven in its family-run mill in County Wicklow since 1723. The shop also carries exquisite ceramics and tableware.

Avoca, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Sample Irish whiskey from The Friend at Hand (35-43 Hill Street; 028 9032 9969), ranging from miniatures at £5 to £11,000 for a bottle Midleton Pearl, one of only 112 in existence. Upstairs is a fascinating museum on the history of Belfast distilling.

The Friend at Hand, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Weatherwise, the best times to visit are April to September, but be prepared at any time of year for all four seasons in the same day. Bear in mind that Northern Ireland can be very quiet for the traditional Protestant marches in the two weeks around the Twelfth of July, when many people disappear for their holidays.

Essential information

Currency: As in the rest of the United Kingdom, pounds sterling

Tipping: Practices are similar to the rest of the UK – usually 10 per cent minimum, 15 per cent or more for good service

Emergencies:  Call 999. The police non-emergency number is 101

Clothes: If you’re wondering what clothes to bring, the answer is all of them, since the weather can change in five minutes

Tourist information: Ireland.com . In Belfast, your first stop on the ground should be the Belfast Welcome Centre (8-9 Donegall Square North; 028 9024 6609) in front of City Hall. There you can find out everything you need to know about all of Northern Ireland, as well as book tours, pick up maps, check email in the internet café or leave your luggage

The Belfast Visitor Pass, from translink.co.uk , offers unlimited travel in and around the city and discounts to attractions, restaurants, cafes and shops, from £6.50 per day

After attending university in Belfast, Geoff worked in the Netherlands, Los Angeles and London before returning to live in a grand Victorian town house beside a lake, just 10 minutes from city centre – where else can you do that? 

Telegraph Travel's best hotels, tours, cruises and holidays in Belfast, tried, tested and recommended by our Belfast experts.

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belfast tourism guide

Belfast travel guide

Belfast tourism | belfast guide, you're going to love belfast.

With a population of 274,770, Belfast is the largest city in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom by the number of inhabitants. It is one of the most popular cities to visit in the country. We recommend you stay at least 3 days in order to fully appreciate everything Belfast has to offer.

belfast tourism guide

Where to Eat in Belfast

City Centre is the neighborhood with the most restaurants in Belfast. These include popular favorites such as Bank Square Brasserie (56-58 Berry Street), Jumon Belfast (Unit 6 McAuley House Fountain Street) and The Welcome (22 Stranmillis Road). If you’re looking for affordable options, Coppi (Unit 2 Saint Anne's Square) and 2Taps Winebar (Cotton Court 30-42 Waring St) are great picks. For delicious green meals, The Bowery (701-703 Lisburn Road) and Margot (18 Donegall Square East) are recommended spots to get vegetarian or vegan food in Belfast.

Most popular restaurants in Belfast

When to visit belfast.

Looking for warm weather? Then head to Belfast in July, when the average temperature is 60.8 °F, and the highest can go up to 68 °F. The coldest month, on the other hand, is January, when it can get as cold as 35.6 °F, with an average temperature of 41 °F. You’re likely to see more rain in October, when precipitation is around 3.5″. In contrast, April is usually the driest month of the year in Belfast, with an average rainfall of 2″.

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How to Get to Belfast

Belfast is served by 2 airports: Belfast City Airport (BHD) and Belfast Intl Airport (BFS). The closest to downtown Belfast is Belfast City Airport, which is located 3 miles from the city center. Further away is Belfast Intl Airport, 12 miles from the center of Belfast.

Located 0.5 miles from the city center, Belfast Central Railway Station is the busiest station in Belfast. Another popular train station is Belfast Great Victoria Street, located 0.3 miles from the center.

Another option to get to Belfast is to pick up a car rental from Edinburgh, which is about 142 miles from Belfast. You’ll find branches of GREEN MOTION and Alamo, among others, in Edinburgh.

The most popular bus station is Belfast Belfast Stena Terminal, located 3 miles from downtown Belfast. Belfast Castlereagh, Montgomery Road is also a commonly used station, and is 2 miles from the city center.

Airports near Belfast

Airlines serving belfast, where to stay in belfast.

Average rates range from around $112 per night for a double room in a 3-star hotel to $192 and up for a 5-star experience. There are also lots of vacation rental options in Belfast, with prices from $9 to $1,642 per night. City Centre is the neighborhood with the highest amount of rentals to choose from. On average, vacation rentals in Belfast are about 4% cheaper than a hotel room in the city.

Where to stay in popular areas of Belfast

Most booked hotels in belfast, renting a car in belfast.

Renting a car in Belfast costs $43 per day, on average, or $129 if you want to rent if for 3 days. Sixt, Budget and Hertz are the agencies with the best reviews in the city. The most popular location to rent a car in Belfast is the Budget branch at Belfast International Airport, which is 12 miles from the city center.

You’re likely to save money by renting your car at the airport: locations in the city are, on average, 9% more expensive than at Belfast City.

Expect to pay $6.74 per gallon in Belfast (average price from the past 30 days). Depending on the size of your rental car, filling up the tank will cost between $80.86 and $107.81. Economy (Vauxhall Corsa or similar) is the most popular car type to rent in Belfast, while also 86% cheaper than other types, on average.

Best car rental deals in Belfast

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Explore Belfast and Northern Ireland with a sightseeing tour led by an experienced local guide. Choose from walking, bus, boat, bike and taxi tours, as well as themed tours on Titanic, Game of Thrones, Giant's Causeway, and food and drink.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is currently open with pre-booking online before travelling to the site strongly recommended. The site is open to visitors, however vehicular access is limited to a 2m height barrier, and we are unable to accept group bookings at this time. For full details and to book visit National Trust . 

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