If you are ever planning to visit Ireland then make sure Belfast is on your list. This article will go through all the information you need including the best things to do in Belfast, the most popular day trips and tasty dishes to try!
Belfast is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland, and Ireland’s second city, with an estimated population of over 300,000 people. It sits on the River Lagan, right where it flows into the Irish Sea.
The city of Belfast and Northern Ireland has had a turbulent past due to ‘The Troubles’, the conflict between Catholics and Protestants which started in 1968 and lasted for over 30 years. However, since the 1998’s Good Friday agreement, the political tension and cultural divide have seemed to disperse.
Today, the city is a popular tourist hotspot and attracts tourists from all over the world. It is also an excellent destination for those interested in dark tourism. Let’s have a look at the best things to do in and around Belfast!
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Top Things To Do in Belfast City Centre
1) See the Murals and Peace Lines
One of the best things to do in Belfast is to see the famous murals painted on walls across the city.
Belfast is still something of a divided city. A large wall separates the Catholic and Protestant communities, and at certain checkpoints, the gates are locked between 7 pm and 7 am. Each side has its own set of murals painted on the gable end of houses and are definitely worth a look.
One of the best ways to see the murals and learn about the conflict is by taking a walking tour. I went on a three-hour tour called “Conflicting Stories” where an ex-prisoner from each side of the divide gave their own take on things.
The tour lasts three hours; 1.5 hours with a Republican ex-prisoner, and 1.5 hours with a loyalist. This was definitely the highlight of my trip to Belfast and I would recommend the tour to anyone visiting the city.
2) Take a Belfast Black Taxi Tour
If a three-hour walking tour sounds like a bit much, then you can take a Black Cab tour of Belfast which includes the murals and peace lines, and you will also get the perspective of a local taxi driver (although you won’t hear two sides of the story).
The Belfast black taxis are an attraction in themselves as these were set up during the Troubles when bus routes were not always available. The taxis operated like buses and picked people up along set routes. This is definitely one of the best Belfast things to do for an understanding of the city’s history.
Belfast taxi tours last between one hour and 90 minutes. You can book your Black Cab tour here.
3) Visit the Titanic Museum
Visiting the Titanic Museum is one of the top things to do in Belfast, and is one of the city’s top attractions. It tells the heartbreaking story of the RMS Titanic – a British liner that sunk in the middle of the Atlantic ocean in 1912, killing over 1,500 people.
The museum is actually located beside the original Titanic slipways, the Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices, and the Hamilton Graving Dock. These are the very places where RMS Titanic was designed, built, and then launched before its tragic maiden journey.
Whilst exploring inside, you will get to learn all about the shipyard where the Titanic was built, the route of the maiden voyage, and how the ship sank. There is also lots of information about the aftermath of the sinking, and the final resting place of this world-famous ship.
At £25 (€33) the ticket price is quite steep. If you don’t want to pay that, then you can still walk around the Titanic Quarter and see the Harland and Wolfe docks for free. You can also book tickets for Titanic Museum here.
4) Wander Around CS Lewis Square
CS Lewis is a famous author who was born in Belfast and has written a number of well-known novels including the Chronicles of Narnia series.
Today, there is a CS Lewis Square located within the city, that is dedicated to the popular Narnia series. There are several bronze sculptures found throughout the park that depict famous scenes from ‘The Lion, the Witch and the wardrobe’.
Whilst exploring, you will get to see sculptures of Aslan the Lion, the White Witch, Mr. Tumnus and the Stone table among others. It is the perfect place to get some fresh air and is one of Belfast’s most popular attractions.
5) Go on an Irish Pub Crawl
Going on an Irish pub crawl is one of the most popular things to do in Belfast, as the city offers some incredible pubs.
The Cathedral Quarter is one of the best areas in Belfast to go for a drink as the city’s best bars and restaurants are located here. The top bars in this area include The Duke of York, The Dirty Onion, and The Spaniard.
Many Belfast pubs also have live music (traditional Irish and more modern). The Five Points and Filthy McNasty’s on University Road are a couple of good options and are close to the city centre.
Things To Do in Belfast Away from the Centre
6) Visit Crumlin Road Gaol
Crumlin Road Gaol is a former prison that opened in 1846 and went on to operate as a fully functioning prison for 150 years until it closed in March 1996. Today it is a popular tourist attraction that sometimes even hosts concerts and conferences.
Whilst exploring Crumlin Road Goal, you will get to learn about the segregation that occurred within the prison and the numerous protests. Although steps were taken to try and dissolve these issues, eventually increasing tensions and attacks led to the prison closing in March 1996.
The prison played a big part in the troubles of Northern Ireland and is now ironically one of the top places to visit in Belfast. If you are interested to learn more about the country’s troubled history, then you can also go on a black taxi tour through the city of Belfast.
7) See the Victoria Square Dome
The Victoria Square Dome is one of the top Belfast attractions as it gives you the most incredible views of the city. It sits high above the city skyline and offers a 360°C view of Belfast, including popular buildings such as the City Hall and Albert Clock.
Underneath the dome is Victoria Square which is a huge shopping complex including over 70 shops, plenty of restaurants, and even a cinema. This complex is actually one of the biggest and most expensive developments ever in Northern Ireland.
8) Relax at the Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens are one of the most popular places in Belfast as they are an important part of the city’s history. Established in 1828, these gardens were built due to the public interest in botany and horticulture at the time, although the gardens were only open to the public on Sundays prior to 1895.
In 1895, the gardens became a public park and become a big attraction during the Victorian era. During that time the most popular parts of the Botanic Gardens (the Palm House and Tropical Ravine House) attracted over 10,000 visitors a day.
Today, the Botanic Gardens are incredibly popular with locals, students and tourists, and are used as a venue for festivals, concerts and other large events. The botanical gardens are one of the best places to visit in Belfast if you want to escape the city.
9) Browse St. George’s Market
St. Goerge’s Market is a popular covered market within the city centre that has up to 300 traders, food vendors, musicians and artists. It is recognised as one of the best markets within the UK and Ireland and is one of the oldest attractions in the city.
St. George’s Market is open Friday to Sunday and is the best place to try some of Belfast’s tasty dishes. Some of the best food stalls to visit here include the Breakfast Bap Co., Sizzle & Roll, and the Paella and Tapas stall.
10) Explore Belfast Castle
Belfast Castle was built in the 1860s, and is one of the the most well-known places to see in Belfast. It is located in an elevated position, so as you can imagine it offers magnificent views over the city.
The estate around the castle offers plenty of landscaped gardens to explore and mixed woodlands, where you can take a gentle stroll. The areas surrounding Belfast castle are a great place to spot wildlife, as the estate is home to long-eared owls, sparrowhawks and the rarest plant in Belfast; the town hall clock.
If you are feeling peckish during your visit, there is a restaurant located within the grounds that serves a varied menu, and there is also a place that serves coffee and cake. This castle is one of the best places to visit in Belfast, so make sure you add it to your itinerary!
11) Climb up Cave Hill
If you are looking for a beautiful view of Belfast city, then walking up Cave Hill is a must. There are plenty of different start points, but the most popular trail starts at the car park for Belfast Castle and is quite a climb. However, when you get to the top and see the incredible views it will be totally worth it.
The walk up Cave Hill is known as one of the best walks in Northern Ireland. The walk is a circular route and takes about two hours to complete, although you will want to allow yourself plenty of time at the top to take in the views. If you time the walk at lunchtime, it’s the perfect place to take a picnic.
12) Take the Divis and Black Mountain Walk
The Divis and Black Mountain Walk also offer incredible views of the city, and the trail starts at the main car park on Divis Road.
The walk takes around three hours in total, and although it is longer than Cave Hill, many people find this trail the easier one. Once at the top, you will get an amazing 180° view of the city, and on a really clear day, you can see the Mourne Mountains and even Scotland if you’re lucky!
Day Trips From Belfast
Although there are plenty of things to do in Belfast to keep you occupied, there are also plenty of incredible destinations to visit outside of the city. Here are just a few of the most popular day trips from Belfast.
13) The Giant’s Causeway
When you think of Northern Ireland, often the first place that comes to mind is the Giant’s Causeway. It is Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and has plenty to offer to its visitors.
The Giant’s Causeway consists of around 40,000 basalt columns that interlock, due to an ancient volcanic eruption. These columns are truly a sight to see, and a must if you are travelling through Northern Ireland.
Aside from the main causeway, other popular sights to visit here include the Giant’s boot, the wishing chair, and the camel. There are also plenty of clifftop trails located in the area, as well as a visitor centre.
The Giant’s Causeway is roughly a 90-minute journey from the city of Belfast. The best ways to visit are either by hire car or a day tour, as you will have to make multiple changes if you are choosing to visit by public transport.
GetYourGuide offer a fantastic day trip from Belfast to the Giant’s Causeway, also including a stop at the Dark Hedges.
14) Carrick-a-rede bridge
The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge was originally erected in 1755 by salmon fishermen. Atlantic salmon were regularly fished at Carrick-a-rede Island, and the rope bridge was made to connect the island to the mainland, so that fisherman could reduce their reliance on a boat to reach the island.
Due to river pollution and the constant pressure of fishing, the salmon numbers declined and the last salmon to be caught here was in 2002. Today, however, the rope bridge is a popular tourist attraction but isn’t for the faint-hearted due to the 30-foot drop below.
The Carrick-a-rede rope bridge reopened in 2022 after being closed for a long time. The best way to travel there is by hire car or by tour, as getting public transport to the rope bridge from Belfast is quite a long process.
Many tours to the Giant’s Causeway also include stops at the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – this GetYourGuide tour is a great option!
15) The Gobbins Cliff Path
The Gobbins Cliff Path is known as the most dramatic coastal walk in Europe. Along the route, you will wander along numerous bridges, get to explore natural caves and there is even an incredible clifftop viewpoint where you can admire a beautiful view right out into the North Channel.
Aside from being an insane experience, if you’re lucky you might get to spot seals, dolphins, and porpoises that hunt in these waters. You can only explore the Gobbins Cliff Path by guided tour so make sure you get your tickets booked in advance.
The Gobbins Cliff Path is a 30-minute drive from Belfast and is also easily accessible by public transport. All you have to do is hop on a train to Ballycarry and then it’s a 20-minute walk from the train station to the cliff path.
16) The Dark Hedges
The Dark Hedges has become a famous tourist attraction since featuring on the popular TV show Game of Thrones, as the King’s Road. They are one of the most photographed natural landscapes in Northern Ireland, and a must-visit if you are staying in Belfast.
The Dark Hedges are an avenue of beech trees that were planted in the 18th century by the Stuart Family. They owned Graechill House which is a beautiful Georgian mansion nearby, and the beech trees were planted as a landscape feature to impress visitors.
Located an hour’s drive from the city of Belfast, the best way to reach this famous spot is to hire a car. If that’s not possible you can choose to go on a day tour to the Dark Hedges, or it’s possible to go by public transport. The best option is to catch a train from Belfast to Ballymoney, and then you will need to take a 10-minute taxi journey to the Dark Hedges.
GetYourGuide offer a fantastic day trip from Belfast to the Giant’s Causeway and Dark Hedges.
Getting to Belfast
George Best Belfast City Airport is found just four miles outside of the city centre, and there is a bus that runs from the airport into the city. You can fly direct to Belfast from a number of locations in Europe and in North America.
If you are travelling from Great Britain, you can get a ferry to Belfast from Liverpool or you can get a ferry to Dublin, and travel to Belfast through the Republic of Ireland.
Getting Around Belfast
All the popular spots in Belfast are located close together, so walking around the city is a great option. However, if you don’t fancy exploring by foot then there are lots of different ways to get around.
Belfast has a public bus system which is known as the Translink Metro. Although the name sounds deceiving, it does only refer to above-ground buses – there is no underground subway in the city. The buses run regularly and there are varied routes throughout Belfast.
Taxis are also a popular option, although much more expensive than public buses. All official taxis will be clearly marked, and the best way to get one is to find a taxi rank or call a reliable company to reserve a taxi.
Cycling around the city is also a great option, as there are plenty of points across Belfast where you can rent bikes to explore.
What to Eat in Belfast
Belfast has lots of tasty food options, so here are some of the dishes you need to try!
Ulster Fry – An Ulster Fry is a traditional Irish breakfast and is one of the country’s favourite dishes. This dish consists of sausages, streaky bacon, eggs, tomatoes, and potato bread. Sometimes the dish is even served with soda bread and this breakfast is often accompanied by a hot cup of tea or a whiskey-spiked Irish coffee.
Boxty – A Boxty is a popular dish and is an Irish potato pancake that is made with mashed potato, buttermilk, flour, and baking soda.
The Belfast Bap – A Belfast Bap is a cooked breakfast within a bap (soft bread roll) and includes sausage, bacon, and egg.
The weather in Belfast varies considerably throughout the year, with summers known for being relatively cool and cloudy, whilst winters are known for being long, very cold, and with lots of rain.
Generally, the warmest month to visit Belfast is July, but even then the average high temperature is around 18°C. The coldest month to visit is January, with an average low temperature of 3°C.
The summer seasons in Belfast last between June to September, and the cold season lasts from November to March. However, precipitation levels are quite high throughout the year even during the warmer months.
Best Time to Visit Belfast
The city of Belfast can be visited all year round, but the best time to visit is between May and October. This is when the weather is at its warmest, and you can enjoy long summer evenings where you can explore the city. Throughout the summer months, Belfast also has a full calendar of cultural events for you to visit.
However, December is also a great month to visit Belfast if you don’t mind the shorter days and wet weather, as the city lights and Christmas market are definitely something to see.
Is Belfast Safe to Visit?
Belfast is an incredibly safe city to visit for tourists and is a lot quieter than many UK cities. People here are generally very helpful and friendly and will go out of their way to help you.
However, like with all cities, it’s best to be cautious when wandering through dimly lit areas at night. Avoid areas like Falls Road and Shankhill Road, and especially around the peace lines at night where trouble can erupt.
It’s probably best not to talk about politics or religion with people you meet as each side is fiercely protective of their identities. Try and avoid wearing anything that could be seen as provocative such as Celtic or Rangers football jerseys or t-shirts with exclusively Irish or British designs.
Where to Stay in Belfast
When it comes to accommodation in Belfast, there are plenty of choices but be mindful that prices here are more expensive than other destinations in Europe. Here are some accommodation options for each budget:
Budget accommodation: Lwr Ormeau Guest House, a quaint guest house in a convenient location with free English breakfast, as well as coffee and tea throughout the day.
Mid-budget accommodation: Bullitt Hotel, a sleek and modern hotel with an industrial feel not far from the Titanic Quarter.
Luxury accommodation: The Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast, one of the best luxury hotels in town with scenic views, an unscale restaurant and cocktail bar.