26 Awesome 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.
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 two amazing tourists 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.
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.
These are some of the alternative 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.
Great Things to do in Belfast for adults and kids
Encompassing 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.” Now how could you turn down that opportunity?
Visit 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 specialise in antiques and crafts although there is still a great selection of food on offer.
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
Your Titanic Moment
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.
Political Walking Tour
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
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. These 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 for the five caves located on the side of the cliffs. The 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, ecotrails, walking and orienteering routes.
The best part of this journey is not so much the actual journey but the banter and jokes told by the tour guides. These 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.
Rise on the Falls Road – Balls on the Falls or the Westicles
Spirit of Belfast in Cornmarket – Onion Rings
Beacon of Hope at Queen Elizabeth Bridge –Nuala with the Hula’; ‘The Belle on the Ball’; ‘The Thing with the Ring’
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. Its 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 which 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.
The world of Narnia in East Belfast – The Pocket Park at CS Lewis Square, Belfast
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 central location and 4-star luxury isn’t horrendously expensive either you can grab a great room from 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.
Well, Stormont is the seat of N. Ireland’s Parliament, however, since the Parliament reached a crisis over a year ago it hasn’t been sitting since then. In effect, there really is no governance of N. Ireland at the moment since the DUP handed over power to the Brits. So you can drive past Stormont but can’t go inside.
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 specialises 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 the 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 avaialbe. 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.
The Game of Thrones Tapestry that is currently on display in the Ulster Museum in Belfast N. Ireland is a magnificent 80-metre long medieval style wall hanging depicting the story of George Martin’s epic Game of Thrones® saga.
The tapestry was developed as a joint project with Tourism Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland and was unveiled at the Ulster Museum in July of 2017. The Museum can be found in the Botanic District of Ulster right beside Queens University.
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 harbor.
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 a 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.
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