Belfast is the delightful capital of Northern Ireland in the UK. The compact city is divided into seven main quarters, each representing a cultural or historic aspect of Belfast. From the Cathedral and Market Quarters to the Titanic Quarter, every part of the city has something different to offer. This makes it incredibly convenient for visitors to find their bearings and get around with ease.
40 years ago, Belfast had become known around the world for the troublesome events that occurred during the previous centuries. Since then, the city has shirked its turbulent reputation to become a charming and cosmopolitan destination.
Once you get past the unique Northern Irish dialect, you’ll appreciate the friendly and welcoming residents who are happy to help you have an enjoyable and authentic experience in their city. Wondering what you can get up to during your time here? Here are 18 things to do in Belfast, Ireland.
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Belfast Castle is a charming Scottish Baronial country home built in the 1860s. Located 400 metres above sea level on Cave Hill, it is a replacement for an earlier castle built by the Normans in the 12th century, which burned down in 1708. Formerly a private estate, it was gifted to the city by its owners in the 1930s. The vista across Belfast is just as impressive as the sandstone architecture, which is a stunning mix of Renaissance and Gothic styles. One notable feature is the unusual winding staircase at the entrance.
The visitor centre, antique shop, restaurant and playground area are open to the public each day. Many of the former bedrooms inside have been transformed into beautiful tea rooms. However, since the castle is such a popular venue for weddings and other private events, some areas may be off-limits during your visit.
The castle is typically open between 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday, and from 9 until 6 on Sundays and Mondays. Admission is free, and private tours of the grounds are available upon request.
Belfast City Hall
One of the city’s top architectural wonders is the Belfast City Hall. The Baroque Revival beauty has been an iconic part of the city’s landscape since 1906, with a 53-metre central copper dome and four towers perched at each corner. Free hour-long tours run multiple times per day, offering you a chance to marvel at the marble interiors, grand central staircase, and vibrant stained glass windows.
Outside the hall is Donegall Square, where you’ll find the Titanic memorial. The Carrara marble statue is made up of four figures, with the central female figure reaching a height of 3.7 metres. The statue commemorates the passengers and crew who lost their lives during the tragedy in 1912, including the 22 men from Belfast whose names are engraved on the plinth.
The Titanic Belfast attraction in the Titanic Quarter is a must-visit. The monument has grown tourism in Northern Ireland tremendously and has become the second-most visited attraction in the country.
Honouring the city’s maritime heritage, it was built in 2012 at the former shipyard where the RMS Titanic was constructed over a century ago. The eight-storey building is 38 metres tall, the same height as the hull of the Titanic. 3,000 silver aluminium shards cover the exterior walls, representing the industrial legacy of Belfast.
The museum inside is made up of nine different galleries, covering the launch of the Titanic, models of the ship, stories from the sinking in April 1912, the aftermath of the disaster, and findings from the wreckage.
You can stop by any day between 10 and 5, although opening hours are extended during the summer. Entrance per adult costs £19, with concessions also available.
Outside Titanic Belfast is the SS Nomadic, the last existing White Star Line vessel in the world. The 70-metre-long ship was made to transfer passengers and mail between the RMS Titanic and the RMS Olympic, which were also built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard.
After the Titanic’s maiden voyage, the Nomadic was used by the French government during World War I and again in World War II, patrolling coastlines and transporting troops. After docking in Paris and being used as a floating restaurant for many years, the vessel returned to Belfast in 2006. The Nomadic Preservation Society was founded soon after to restore and conserve the ship.
Now a popular tourist attraction, visitors can hop aboard and take a look inside. It’s fascinating to see the different lounges firsthand and learn how passengers were treated according to class. The Nomadic is open to visitors daily between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. and costs £7 per adult.
The gorgeous botanic gardens in Belfast take up 110,000 square metres near Queen’s University. Although established in 1828, the gardens were officially opened to the public in 1895. Regular concerts and music festivals are held here by the Stranmillis Embankment.
The Palm House is the most stunning part of the garden. Built in the 1840s, it was one of the first cast iron glasshouses in the world. Inside are beautiful native Australian globe spear lilies, which grow up to 11 metres tall, as well as other tropical species of plants.
The unique Tropical Ravine House is another notable glasshouse within the gardens. Every February, you can see the blooming dombeya, a flowering plant native to Africa.
The gardens are open daily from 7:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. during the summer or about 4 p.m. during the winter. With no entrance cost, wandering the walking paths and exploring the rose garden is ideal for a budget-friendly afternoon.
At the northwest entrance of the Botanic Gardens is the Ulster Museum, the largest museum in Northern Ireland. Founded in 1821 by the Belfast Natural History Society, the museum moved to its current location in the Stranmillis area in 1929.
The 8,000-square-metre exhibition space showcases a little bit of everything, from fine art pieces, textiles, glassware and ceramics to archaeological findings from the Neolithic era and gold jewellery from the Bronze Age. The zoology section contains wildlife art as well as mounted animals and skeletons, while the herbarium has over 100,000 botanic specimens from around the world.
Some of the more unusual items on display include the mummy of Egyptian noblewoman Takabuti and a portion of a meteorite. There’s also an impressive collection of contemporary Irish artwork.
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. There’s no entrance fee, making it one of the best Belfast attractions for those watching their wallet!
St George’s Market
On a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, make sure you stop by East Bridge Street and check out St George’s Market, the last covered Victorian market in the city. Running for over 400 years, the Friday market is an institution in Belfast. From 6 until 3, around 250 stalls set up to sell secondhand books, vintage and handmade clothes, interesting antiques, and fresh fruit and veggies.
On Saturdays from 9 until 3, the City Food and Craft Market takes over. To the delight of local and visiting foodies, you can sample Northern Irish specialities, international cheeses and artisanal coffee while listening to some buskers perform. From 10 until 4 on Sundays, there is a mix of both markets with a focus on handmade crafts. This is a great spot to find a one-of-a-kind souvenir or gift!
Grand Opera House
Wondering what to do in Belfast during the evenings? Open since 1895, the Grand Opera House is the perfect venue for an elegant and entertaining night out. Designed by renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham, the Opera House incorporates various East Asian styles. As a result, the architecture is notably different from most other theatres in the UK.
You can check the show schedule and book your tickets in advance on the website, or stop by the box office earlier in the day. One-hour backstage theatre tours are available too if you’re interested in discovering what goes on behind the red curtains. Beginning each day at 10:30 a.m. in the foyer, the tours include a cup of tea or coffee and cost £8.50 per person.
Crumlin Road Gaol
The Crumlin Road Gaol is the last remaining Victorian-era prison building in Northern Ireland. Known by locals as the Crum, the prison was once considered the Alcatraz of Europe. Similarly, there were several successful, unanticipated escapes.
Opening in 1846, the Crum held men, women and children before closing in 1996. Throughout these 150 years, 17 men were executed here. An underground tunnel connects the prison to the run-down Crumlin Road Courthouse across the road.
The building was renovated in 2010 and now hosts regular tours, events and even live music concerts. On a one-hour guided tour, hear about the less-than-pleasant past and get to know some of the most notable former prisoners.
Lady Dixon Park
A popular park among locals is the Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park in the south of Belfast. Rolling meadows and luscious woodlands take up over 500,000 square metres, creating a spacious home for the diverse wildlife. For a peaceful morning or afternoon, come and explore the relaxing Japanese garden and the camellia walking trails. There’s also a colourful rose garden with over 40,000 roses.
The park officially opens at 7:30 a.m. yet closes at different times according to the season. Towards the Drumbeg entrance is a coffee shop called Stables, and there are designated picnic and barbecue areas as well.
St Anne’s Cathedral
Another notorious building in Belfast is St Anne’s Cathedral in, of course, the Cathedral Quarter. Built between 1899 and 1904, the Neo-Romanesque design resembles the architecture of many Medieval churches. Some of the best features include the beautiful mosaic of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, carvings of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the celestial baptistry ceiling.
To take a look around inside, visit between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. from Monday to Saturday or between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Sundays. A guided tour will set you back £5.
The Metropolitan Arts Centre
Better known as the MAC, the Metropolitan Arts Centre of Belfast is your go-to for contemporary culture in the Cathedral Quarter. The award-winning venue holds performances, exhibitions, talks and workshops encompassing visual art, dance, music and theatre. As the MAC is run by over 100 volunteers, most art exhibitions and talks are completely free. Special events like the theatre and comedy performances, however, can be booked online for reasonable prices.
Interestingly, there is only one permanent piece, which was commissioned by the MAC and the Thomas Devlin Fund. The Permanent Present by Mark Garry is a colourful installation made up of 400 copper strands, honouring the late Belfast teen Thomas Devlin.
The MAC is open from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily, with extended hours during performance evenings. If you’re checking out the temporary galleries, stop by between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Albert Memorial Clock
In Queen’s Square on the bank of the River Lagan is a stunning sandstone clock tower. The Albert Memorial Clock was built in 1869 and stands 35 metres high, making it one of the best-known landmarks in Belfast. The base features sculptures of heraldic lions, while the rest of the tower is an elegant combination of Italian and French Gothic styles. It’s a perfect meeting spot and
The Peace Walls
The peace walls (or peace lines) of Belfast are vibrant and colourful today, yet serve as a dark reminder of the city’s violent and troublesome past. Built to minimise conflict between Irish nationalists and United Kingdom unionists, the walls separate predominantly Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods.
Some walls are up to eight metres tall and five kilometres long, allowing passage during the day yet completely closed at night. Although it has been over 20 years since “the Troubles” officially ended following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the divide is still evident.
It’s best to take a tour of these walls in a black cab with a driver who can inform you about the complex history behind the barriers. The walls are expected to be removed within the next decade, so come and see this slice of history before it’s too late.
The Big Fish
One of the city’s most unexpected attractions is the Big Fish. Also called the Salmon of Knowledge, this 10-metre-long ceramic mosaic sculpture was installed by Donegall Quay in 1999. Up close, you’ll notice that each tile scale is printed with images or text relating to the history of Belfast. Overall, the sculpture makes for a cool photo opportunity.
Holohan’s at the Barge
Family-owned Holohan’s at the Barge is one of the best restaurants in Belfast to enjoy some authentic Irish grub. Located inside a converted barge boat overlooking the water, you’re sure to remember this one-of-a-kind dining experience.
Using only the best Irish produce and ingredients, the lunch and dinner menus change each season. However, you can always expect some local fish like smoked cod or salmon, shellfish, sirloin steak, and plenty of potatoes and butternut squash. For dessert, indulge in a selection of Irish cheeses with some liqueur coffee or port wine.
Holohan’s is open for lunch and dinner every day except Monday. Make a reservation to avoid disappointment!
St Peter’s Cathedral
Another iconic structure in Belfast is St Peter’s Cathedral. The Gothic Revival church was completed in 1866 using Scrabo sandstone. It is easily identified by its two twin spire towers on either side, which were added 20 years later.
The interiors are airy and bright, with colourfully painted pillars, stained glass windows, and a large, elegant crucifix hanging from the high ceiling. Entrance is free and visitors are welcome to walk around and listen to any organ or choir recitals.
Last but not least, you’ll definitely want to stop by a traditional Irish pub! In business since 1720, Kelly’s Cellars is the oldest licensed venue in Belfast. The simple and old-fashioned charm remains to this day, with the interiors almost identical to what they were a few hundred years prior. Come by and enjoy a pint of Guinness, local live music performances, some lively conversation, and even some homemade beef stew. Kelly’s opens daily from 11:30 a.m. (or 1 p.m. on Sundays) and stays open until about 1 a.m.
Recommended tours in Belfast
- Giant’s Causeway Day Trip from Belfast
- Game of Thrones and Giant’s Causeway Full-Day Tour from Belfast
- Titanic Belfast Entrance Ticket: Titanic Visitor Experience Including SS Nomadic
- Belfast Mural Tour
- Guided Tour of Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast
- Belfast Troubles City Centre Walking Tour
- HMS Caroline Admission Ticket
- Belfast Famous Black taxi political mural peace wall tour 2 hour
- City Sightseeing Belfast Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
- Belfast Combination Ticket: Titanic Belfast Admission and 48-Hour Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
- Belfast Sightseeing Cruise: Titanic Quarter and River Lagan