39 of the Best things to do in Belfast
Belfast is an extraordinary city since the Peace Accord gave it some stability and allowed the City to grow and attract tourism to help boost its economy. Belfast attractions are easy to get to and this is a really easy city to travel around either on foot or public transport. I picked out 39 of the best Belfast must-dos for you to add to your best places to visit in Belfast list.
Clearly, Belfast has been phenomenally successful at bringing in visitors to the city through the history of the Titanic and of course the Game of Thrones phenomenon. However, there is much more to Belfast than these tourist must do’s. In fact when putting together your list of things to do in Belfast you may find yourself spending more time here than you originally planned. There are many places to visit in Belfast Ireland but don’t forget it is a separate country to Ireland and although you don’t need a passport to cross the border you will need a new currency – Sterling and you should make sure you tell your rental car company0 if travelling across the border.
- 39 of the Best things to do in Belfast
- How To Get To Belfast
- When Is The Best Time To Visit Belfast?
- Fun things to do in Belfast
- St Anne’s Cathedral – Belfast Cathedral
- Pub Crawls
- Hockey Game?
- Ice Skating in Belfast
- Belfast Botanic Gardens
- Your Titanic Moment
- Hike Black Mountain
- Political Walking Tour
- Black Taxi Tours in Belfast
- Crumlin Road Gaol
- Belfast Castle
- Hop On Hop Off Bus in Belfast
- Public art in Belfast – sculptures
- Street Art Tours
- Wee Toast Tour
- Take a Bike ‘n’ Brew Tour
- Experience Belfast City Hall
- C.S. Lewis Pocket Park – Narnia
- The Europa
- The Crown Pub
- The Belfast Entries
- Shopping in Belfast
- Belfast for Foodies
- Ulster Museum
- Lagan Boat Tour
- HMS Caroline
- The Wee Tram
- Belfast Zoo
- What to pack for Belfast
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Belfast is an incredibly young city but it is still trying to shrug off the sombre and ultra-conservative habits of a lifetime. Belfast is growing in leaps and bounds and the younger population is changing everything about the city. It does remain, however, a city that is somewhat conservative and if you walk Belfast’s streets on a Sunday night you will be surprised to see most of the city shuts down completely on Sunday.
You will find a great variety of accommodation in Belfast from Hostels to BnB’s you can book through Booking.com to find the best rates and areas. Belfast tourist attractions are for the most part easily walked to if your hotel or BnB is in the centre of the City.
These are some of the great things to do in Belfast – not that they are particularly “alternative” as might be believed, as Belfast still has to shed the chains of the trouble and an ultra-conservative mindset. These are just a few of the places to see and things to do in Belfast that you may pass by in your rush to the Titanic Experience.
How To Get To Belfast
Where is Belfast? Well, that’s an easy one it is in Northern Ireland at the heart of the north on the Belfast Lough. You can easily get to Belfast from anywhere in the world. There are two airports here Belfast International which is super easy to navigate and Belfast City airport. You can also take a Ferry from England, Wales or Scotland if you are coming from that direction.
Getting From The Airport
Both airports are really easy to manoeuvre and there are buses from both to central Belfast. Don’t bother with a taxi unless you have tons of luggage they are expensive. You can also rent a car at the airport, but if you are driving up from Dublin rent your car from My Irish Cousin. They all leave regularly from the Europa bus station, which is the main bus terminal is Belfast.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Belfast?
I wouldn’t worry about when to come for your Belfast visit it’s a fantastic city to see any time of the year. Obviously, the spring and winter months are cheaper for airfares and most things are still open. If you come in spring or particularly in summer you will find it pretty crowded with tourists and the cruise ships start coming in then packing in the people.
Fun things to do in Belfast
Free Walking Tours
Some of the best tourist attractions in Belfast can be seen on free walking tours of the City along with Political Tours, Pub Crawl tours, and with as they say in their own words “discover the city with local experienced and the best-looking guides in Ireland.” How can you pass up things that are free in Belfast?
Visit Lady Dixon Park
Donated to the people of Belfast in 1959 by, Lady Dixon, of course, this gorgeous park covers more than 128 acres, the park has rolling meadows, copses, woodland and gardens. There are various plants and wildlife. An ideal base for exploring nearby Lagan Valley Regional Park, it contains international camellia trials, a walled garden, a Japanese-style garden with water features for quiet contemplation.
Visit St. George’s Market
This is one of my absolute favourite Belfast attractions – St. George’s market. A Belfast institution this is the place everyone comes for antiques, food, crafts, and great people watching.
The Market is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays and each day has a specific focus. The market was also named one of Britain’s Best Markets.
On Fridays, it’s a Variety Market, which means over 300 stalls selling everything from fish to antiques.
Saturday is the Food and Craft Market where you can try food ranging from French Crepes to Paella and so much more. Head upstairs for a superb Ulster Fry breakfast or simply wander the stalls and pick up some cool t-shirts or hand-made arts and crafts.
On Sundays, the Market tends to specialize in antiques and crafts although there is still a great selection of food on offer. St. George’s Market is one of those great things to do in Belfast with the family.
St Anne’s Cathedral – Belfast Cathedral
St Anne’s is located on Donegall Street and the site originally housed a smaller church in Classical style, a gift to the town of Belfast by its landlord, Lord Donegall.
This Parish Church was consecrated in 1776 and called St Anne’s, after the mother of the Virgin Mary. Lord Donegall’s wife was also called Anne, which probably determined the choice of name. When it came time to build a bigger grander church it was decided to build in a romanesque style. For nearly 80 years the church was a work in progress, with sections completed bit by bit. The final piece the stainless steel Spire of Hope was lowered into place in 2007.
The only feature of the old St Anne’s Church to remain in the present-day Cathedral is the Good Samaritan Window. Inside you will find stunning stained glass, ceiling mosaics and a feature of the flooring is the labyrinth, or maze, an image of the journey of life.
The Grand Opera House
Time for some highbrow culture? Actually, the Grand Opera House is an iconic Belfast institution you can see opera, ballet, watch a concert, take in a panto or hear some of the world’s greatest musicians play here.
The Grand Opera House has a rich and fascinating history dating back more than 125 years. If you want to know more about the famous entertainers who have appeared on our iconic stage, or the events that have left their mark on this beautiful Grade A listed building, you can take a Theatre Tour and the heritage exhibition.
Completed in 2021 with the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Grand Opera House Heritage Exhibition charts the history of the Theatre from its 1895 construction on the former site of Ginnett’s Circus, to the present day.
Chock full of interesting things to do in Belfast Queens is a fascinating glimpse into this world-renowned research institution. There are over 250 buildings here with some great architecture on view. You can actually take a tour of the grounds and buildings and learn some really interesting history including that of medical research done here. Don’t forget to take a peek into the free Naughton Gallery for some great art or the Queen’s Film Theatre to watch some great films.
Belfast is a fantastic place to party and has some of the greatest pubs to enjoy the craic. There’s a brilliant gay scene with clubs like the Maverick Bar, Boombox, and of course the famous Union Steet Bar.
You can do a bicycle pub tour which means pedalling and drinking at the same time while you tour the streets of Belfast. Or you can do £10 per person tour that hits up 4 pubs 3 of which you get a free whiskey in – what could be better than that you can see the Belfast Pub Crawl website here.
Want something to do that is totally out of the ordinary? This is one of the many fun things to do in Belfast – take in a hockey game. Yes, Belfast has a hockey team the Belfast Giants. Created as an activity that everyone could support (in other words Protestants and Catholics) the Belfast Giants provide some great hockey in a city that doesn’t produce any homegrown hockey players. The SSE Arena can hold 7000 for a game and it is usually packed.
Photo courtesy Belfast Giants
Ice Skating in Belfast
It should come as no surprise that Belfast’s residents don’t skate a lot but when they do the (literally) only place (in Northern Ireland) is the Dundonald rink which is found near Stormont. If you fancy a bit of bowling you can do that here as well.
Belfast Botanic Gardens
The Belfast Botanic Gardens has tropical plants, giant bird feeders, a rose garden, an alpine garden, mature trees, flower beds and sculptures. A stunningly beautiful glass building dating back to 1828, the gardens have been enjoyed as a public park by the people of Belfast since 1895. There is an extensive rose garden and long herbaceous borders and the tree enthusiast can seek out the rare oaks planted in the 1880s, including the hornbeam-leafed oak. The park is popular with residents, students and tourists. It is a venue for concerts and festivals and a fabulous picnic area.
Your Titanic Moment
One of the most favourite places to see in Belfast is the Titanic museum. I am not a Titanic fan per se so I really didn’t bother to go and see the Titanic Experience although I hear it is just amazing. What fascinated me was the fabulous Afternoon Tea held on Sundays in a replica of the Titanic’s grand Salon including that amazing staircase.
If you really want an in-depth review of the Titanic Experience you need to read Kalyn’s piece on why the Titanic Experience is a must-do in Belfast.
From £25, you can have an exquisite high tea served with speciality teas, finger sandwiches, and lovely little cakes and tarts. When you’re done take those selfies on the grand staircase. Now that’s a Titanic experience.
Hike Black Mountain
Black Mountain is around 20 minutes outside Belfast but it is free both to park and to hike. This is a national park with some outstanding views of the city and surrounding areas.
Political Walking Tour
Of course one of Belfast’s attractions for history lovers and those fascinated by the legacy of “the Troubles” is a tour of all the political sites in Belfast. A really interesting tour that is led by political ex-prisoners, and activists from the Republican side. The Coiste Walking Tour takes around 3 hours and gives you both a personal take and an in-depth insight (from the Republican side) of the “Troubles” in N. Ireland.
The tour winds up with a free Guinness at the Felons Club After the tour finishes you are invited for a complimentary glass of Guinness in the Felons Club, a local pub, the perfect way to get a little bit of the Irish craic!
Black Taxi Tours in Belfast
Personally for me, one of the best things to do in Belfast is to take a Black Taxi Tour. Several companies in Belfast give what has become known as the Belfast Black Taxi tours. These companies give tours of the Peace Wall and the political murals in Belfast. The black taxi tours are unbiased and the drivers will take you to both sides of the wall and along various communities where the famous murals are located.
Usually, the tours take in both the Shankill Estate with its Protestant orientation and murals of King William (of Orange) who was the victor in the famous Battle of the Boyne against King James the Catholic king of England. From there you head towards the Peace Wall where the troubles began and across the peace line to the Falls Road which is considered the Catholic area.
The tour heads towards the Bobby Sands mural which is painted on the side of the Sinn Fein headquarters in Belfast and the final stop is the international wall where you will see murals depicting the conflicts in the middle east, the Sandanistas, Nelson Mandela, and South Africa and much more. The tours cost around £30 per tour.
Crumlin Road Gaol
In 1996 the Crumlin Road Gaol finally closed its infamous doors. These days a guided tour of the Gaol will cost around £9.00 for an online ticket. You will take a guided tour and hear the entire miserable history of the site. Dating to its early days in the 1800’s up to the days in the 90s when the prison contained both Republican and Loyalists prisoners.
Belfast Castle is located in the Cave Hill area of north Belfast. It was built in the 1860s and is one of the city’s most famous landmarks. The location of the castle is named after the five caves located on the side of the cliffs. Cave Hill’s most famous feature is called Napoleon’s Nose, and it is believed to have been the inspiration for Jonathan Swift’s novel, Gulliver’s Travels.
Entrance to the grounds and the castle are free and you can wander around at your leisure – take a camera the views are stunning. The park is home to the Cave Hill Adventurous Playground, archaeological sites, Visitor Information Area in Belfast Castle, eco trails, walking and orienteering routes.
Hop On Hop Off Bus in Belfast
The best part of this journey is not so much the actual journey but the banter and jokes told by the tour guides. The Hop On Hop Off guides are incredibly funny and loaded with information about the various locations with lots of personal stories in between. All in all a great craic was had. Here are just a few of the moments that are introduced to tourists by the guides or as I call them the Belfast Banterers. These wonderful nicknames revolve around the famous public art sculptures to be seen all over Belfast.
Public art in Belfast – sculptures
Rise on the Falls Road
Rise on the Falls Road – Balls on the Falls or the Westicles
Spirit of Belfast
Spirit of Belfast in Cornmarket – Onion Rings
Beacon of Hope
Beacon of Hope at Queen Elizabeth Bridge –Nuala with the Hula’; ‘The Belle on the Ball’; ‘The Thing with the Ring’
Salmon of Knowledge
Affectionately known as the Big Fish, this 10-metre long salmon was created by one of Northern Ireland’s best-known artists, John Kindness and has become iconic in Belfast. Situated in front of the Charles Lanyon designed Victorian Custom House, the fish is covered in printed ceramic tiles decorated with text and images relating to the history of Belfast, and also contains a time capsule storing information, images and poetry on the city.
The Glass of Thrones
To celebrate 10 years of filming in Northern Ireland, Tourism Ireland created six giant, stained glass windows depicting some of the most iconic scenes from Game of Thrones. Each window represents a different house or legacy from the show including the Starks, Lannisters, Baratheons, Targaryens, White Walkers and the Iron Throne.
Monument to the Unknown Woman Worker
Built in 1992 by Louise Walsh in Belfast, the artist chose to focus on the women’s rights issues of low-paid jobs and unpaid housework. This artwork will be the first many visitors to the city will see as it is at the entrance to the Europa Bus Centre and Great Victoria Street Train Station.
Street Art Tours
The Seedhead Arts tour takes you around the Cathedral Quarter showcasing a really cool selection of street art along the way. Here you will see some of those iconic scenes you found in your guidebooks. The guides are fantastic and informative providing you with some great details and information on the artists and their backgrounds.
Wee Toast Tour
I heard the Wee Toast Tour before I saw it. Loudly singing I’d Walk 500 Miles” the voices came out of nowhere with whoops and hollers, glasses clinking, and some great craic. The Wee Toast Tour is a self-propelled bike/cart tour of Belfast. It’s sort of a bike-driven bar on wheels that you pedal and drink at the same time as seeing some of Belfast’s iconic sights. The tour is actually a bring your own beer, wine, tea, etc, and costs £30 for a two-hour trip.
Take a Bike ‘n’ Brew Tour
Instead of exploring the city on foot on this tour, you get to grab a bike and head to the brewery. The ride takes you through what is known as the University Quarter and along the River Lagan. You will end up at the Hilden Brewery which is one of the oldest independent breweries in the North. At the brewery, you will have a 45-minute tour that includes some samples.
Experience Belfast City Hall
Belfast City Hall is located in the true centre of the city and it is a stunningly beautiful Edwardian building dating from the early 20th century.
City Hall hosts the Belfast Christmas Market on the front lawns every year and it is a fabulous place to grab a handmade gift of some phenomenal food.
During the year you can take tours around the building and learn about the history of N. Ireland or simply stroll around the gardens to see the Titanic memorial and statues of a host of famous folks from Queen Victoria to Bill Clinton. There’s even a little coffee shop inside for some tea and scones.
C.S. Lewis Pocket Park – Narnia
The C.S. Lewis pocket park is located in East Belfast and is a little gem in the centre of the community. The square celebrates the life and work of one of Belfast’s most celebrated writers, C.S. Lewis, and contains seven magical bronze Narnia-themed art sculptures created by Irish artist Maurice Harron. Featuring characters from ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’, they include Aslan, The White Witch, Tumnus, The Beavers, The Robin, and The Stone Table, it is a stunning display of public art.
The square contains over 200 trees and is a lovely rest stop when touring around Belfast. There is a really nice little cafe in the Visitors Centre where you can get a great cup of coffee and some really good tray bakes and sandwiches. The cafe has a nice offering of both vegan and vegetarian snacks and baked goods; I also have to add here that the staffs are excellent, very well informed and happy to talk forever about the area and of course Narnia.
The Europa is a 4-star hotel in central Belfast with the dubious honour of being the most bombed hotel in Europe during the “Troubles”.
It’s a central location and 4-star luxury isn’t horrendously expensive either you can grab a great room for around £100 a night and sometimes they even have some phenomenal performers appearing at the hotel. Van Morrison appears this October and is a frequent performer.
The Crown Pub
Directly across the road from the Europa is the eponymous Crown Pub Dating back to the 1880s, The Crown is a gem of the Victorian era. Formerly known as The Liquor Saloon in Great Victoria Street, this was a true “Victorian Gin Palace” and it still retains many of the original features which include the authentic gas lights.
Stormont politicians came to an agreement to share power again in 2019 and the Parliament is sitting again and the buildings will soon be open to the public once more.
Apparently, the place is beautiful but who would know. I will say the views from the hilltop are pretty spectacular and the gardens are a lovely public space to have a picnic or just rest in the rare N. Irish sun.
The Belfast Entries
These are a series of old narrow passageways mostly in the areas of High Street and Ann Street in central Belfast. Apparently, when the city was first laid out these alleyways led into the very dense residential areas. The surviving Entries contain several Victorian and pre-Victorian pubs which still exist and are great places for a bit of Irish craic.
Shopping in Belfast
All around this central part of Belfast you will find a plethora of shops and a few shopping centres. The Victoria Square shopping centre is one of the glitziest and the parking is diabolically expensive. However, you will find a ton of name-brand type designer stores in the centre along with some great casual dining places.
Belfast for Foodies
One of my favourite places on Fountain Street just across from the Lanes is Sawyers Deli it is literally a foodies fantasy store. Chock full of goodies from around the world Sawyers also specializes in Irish fish, produce, cheese and so much more There is a little cafe in the shop and you can grab a fantastic cup of coffee and a brilliant sandwich to go or eat in. You could browse this place for ages and spend a fortune.
Another fabulous deli is on Lisburn Road called Arcadia. This is well worth a trip to visit and taste some of the best Irish cheeses around. The Arcadia is a tiny little gem of a shop that has been around in Belfast for over 80 years
The Arcadia is one of the best places to see and buy some of the fantastic artisanal Irish foods available. They stock a wide range of Irish-produced jams, jellies, chutneys, Abernethy Smoked Butter which is to die for, organic cold-pressed rapeseed oils, Atlantic Sea Salts, and a host of other Irish produced foods. For a foodie, this is a must-visit.
There are 3 routes within the museum that you can follow
Art is the Blue route and includes a fabulous fashion exhibit including a silk satin wedding dress dating from 1896 and a magnificent and historically important court dress with the train dating from 1911. All of the fashion in this exhibition is from the 1870s to the 1910s, a relatively peaceful period in Western Europe often known as La Belle Époque – “the beautiful era.”
History is the Yellow route and includes a look at the cultural stereotypes that surround the population of Northern Ireland. This exhibition poses questions about culture and offers a glimpse into how identities have been, and continue to be, shaped in Ireland and Northern Ireland. See the famous ‘Differences’ blackboard from the hit TV series Derry Girls, on public display for the very first time, and test your preconceptions with an interactive religion calculator quiz.
Nature is the Red route where you can take a journey from actinium to zirconium – from the rocks beneath your feet to the most distant and ancient reaches of the universe. In this unique exhibition – the only one of its kind in Europe – you’ll discover what the elements look like, how they occur naturally, how we use them, and why they can be dangerous.
Lagan Boat Tour
It was a rather chilly day when we decided to go on the Lagan Boat Tour but we were hopefully going to see some basking seals and pups alongside the Belfast Harbour. The tour takes around 90 minutes or so and the guides are very informative about the history of the waterfront.
We saw the Titanic building from the water and had a close-up view of HMS Caroline and the bays where the Titanic was built. There was a huge boat getting ready to take some wind turbines out to sea and it was pretty impressive to see it rising up out of the water to load up the turbines.
Unfortunately, we were a little early to see any seals although we are pretty sure we saw a few heads bobbing up and down to watch our boat go by.
The HMS Caroline sits in the heart of the Titanic Quarter and dates back to WWI. This vessel has an important part in the history of the wars both WWI and WWII. The interactive self-guided tour includes touch screens and panoramic views of the harbour.
The Wee Tram
This adorable little tram takes you around the entire Titanic Quarter so you can see all aspects of the Belfast Shipbuilding industry. Close up views of the HMS Caroline and take a tour of the HMS Nomadic the last remaining ship of the White Star Line. The Wee tram runs every half an hour in season and costs £6 per adult.
You will get views of Samson and Goliath up close, the slipways of the ships built here like the Titanic and you just may catch of glimpse of the Game of Thrones cast and set when passing by.
Over 1000 species live at the Belfast Zoo including Asian elephants, tapirs, Sumatran tigers, Giraffes, and they even have sea lions from California and warty pigs from Africa. Tickets for adults are £16 and kids are £6.50
George Best is a Belfast hero and he is still very much loved to this day. The airport just outside Belfast City is named after him and there are walking tours of his birthplace in East Belfast. The tour finishes up at the Roselwn Cemetery which is his final resting place. Murals to George pop up in places like the Narnia Pocket Park and this one in Portavogie where George spent his last days in Ireland.
As you can see, Belfast is not all bombs and Titanic tours it is a fascinatingly complex city with a vast history and some quirkiness. Belfast is easily walkable and contains many interesting things to do within a small area. Try to go beyond the usual tours and sites and check out the real Belfast.
What to pack for Belfast
When you visit Ireland you may want to know what to pack personal experience tells me that I need a carryon bag with those twisty wheels that go in all directions and has both carrying handles and a pull-out drag bar thingy. I want sturdy fabric, preferably in a day-glow colour so I can see the damn thing if I do have to check it. I also want soft sides that give a little – just in case. My recommended one? Well, I pick the azure blue TravelproTravelpro Maxlite 5 19″ Expandable International Carry-On Spinner. I know it’s a mouthful but a great case.
Now this one may seem a little odd but I see a lot of N. Americans complaining on the Irish forums that most hotels and B&B’s don’t have washcloths. Well, that’s true I mean after all who wants to use a used washcloth. Take your own these are great quick-drying washcloths that are reusable and environmentally friendly.
Now if you are really concerned about the whole liquid issue why not take solid shampoo bars and body wash bars. These products are paraben and SLS-free, TSA-approved (so to speak) perfume-free, and chemical-free. That makes them very environmentally friendly and they are so easy to use.
I love a multipurpose jacket Craghoppers 3 in 1 jacket. It’s windproof, waterproof and breathable and has a drawcord at the waist which helps me look like I have one. It’s not bulky and looks good even when not hiking.
Now you are going to need a 110v to 220v voltage converter so you can plug in hairdryers, phones, laptops or tablets and so on. My personal favourite and one that has lasted me 4 years is the Bestek Universal Travel Adapter.
Trust me on this one you will have more photos than you can store on either your phone or your camera and you don’t want to be deleting any to take more before you get home.
This Ultra Scandisk chip will work under adverse weather conditions (we get a lot of those here) and keep your photos or drone footage totally safe. A flash drive for your Smart Phone or Android will also come in very handy.
I’m not going to recommend cameras or other types of photographic equipment such as a drone because – well because I am a crap photographer who uses a good cell phone for most of my photos. Now I want a drone but I have to admit I haven’t bought one yet. So I was reading all kinds of reviews and know which one I want this a Holystone 1080P Drone.…sigh if only. This has a huge flying time of 26 minutes.
This little beauty is a Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger, which is an absolute, must-have when travelling. I keep mine charged and then bring it with me just in case. There is nothing worse than running out of juice when you are snapping some of the best views ever. You will never be out of power with this charger.
Here in Ireland a Windproof Umbrella will save your hair and clothes and is a requirement. I really like this small portable travel umbrella. It’s windproof, waterproof, and folds down super small and will fit into any purse or suitcase.
I never would have dreamed of bringing a flashlight with me to Ireland, but when it’s dark here man it’s freaking dark. So one night we wanted to go and see the Northern Lights up in Donegal but we didn’t have a torch. Shopping for one here in Ireland became a journey to 5 stores and each one more expensive than the last. This torch is perfect it has 5 modes, is rechargeable, super lightweight and waterproof you couldn’t ask for more.
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