Belfast is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland, and although the city has had a troubled past, it’s risen from the shadows to become one of the foremost travel destinations in the United Kingdom.
The city’s transformation from conflict hotspot just a few decades ago to tourism star today is down to not just its fascinating history and culture, or purely because it’s the gateway to such dramatic natural sights as the Giants Causeway, but because this is one of the best value city break destinations in the U.K.
Compared to London, prices are low in Belfast and compared to Dublin, the Irish capital, your money will go a lot further in the north.
We put together this budget travel guide to Belfast, to give you the chance to save money and to travel to Northern Ireland on a budget. From the best value accommodation, to free things to do in Belfast, here are our top budget travel tips!
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How to get around Belfast on a Budget
Arriving into Belfast is simple, because the city is well connected both domestically and internationally by budget airlines such as EasyJet and Ryanair, who offer the most cost effective transport options to the Northern Irish capital.
There are two airports, Belfast City Airport and Belfast International Airport, but both are well connected by public transport. From Belfast City Airport there’s even a free shuttle bus to the closest train station. From Belfast International Airport, the most cost effective route is the direct bus connection to the city centre.
Budget travellers will be happy to know that once you’re in the city centre, Belfast is easily navigated by foot and many of the best sights are within walking distance of one another.
There is an extensive public bus route through Belfast as well, connecting the suburbs and the city centre. While one off trips can be pricey, you can save money by purchasing either a tourist card, with different lengths of validity, or a Smartlink card which gives you discounts when pre-loaded – like an Oyster Card in London.
Uniquely, and unlike many other cities in the United Kingdom, Belfast has several share taxi routes in the suburbs. These can be a cost effective and efficient way to get around in certain parts of the city – and you’ll enjoy an authentic local experience at the same time too.
Budget things to do in Belfast
Belfast is the city where the Titanic was built, and where the infamous ship first set sail from, before its fateful voyage across the Atlantic ended in disaster.
At the Titanic Belfast, you can learn more about the ship and the people on board, at what has become the city’s premier historical experience.
Although the cheapest ticket is £19 for an adult, it’s well worth the cost, because this is one of the best things to do in Belfast. Students can get discounts, while you can also save money by purchasing a Titanic Experience ticket which gives you access to other attractions too, such as the SS Nomadic.
If you visit one place and pay for one ticket while travelling in Belfast on a budget, make it the Titanic Belfast!
For a more detailed and encompassing look at Northern Irish history – there’s more local history than just the Titanic of course! – then visit the excellent Ulster Museum.
For budget travellers, this is one of the best places to visit in Belfast, because entrance is completely free.
You can peruse the exhibits at leisure and see many fantastic archeological finds from across the country, which tell the story of not just human history, but the wider natural history of Northern Ireland too.
As well as local history, the Ulster Museum also has exhibits from as far afield as Egypt and the Ancient World too, making this a fascinating place to spend a few hours.
Belfast City Hall
The most iconic building in the Northern Irish capital, is easily the Belfast City Hall. Found in Donegal Square, this is the heart of the city, and it’s a great place to visit.
This magnificent work of architecture was completed in 1906, and it’s an important piece of local history.
The surrounding square and the busy central district are great places to explore too. You can lounge in the public park or you can go shopping in the nearby shopping centres.
St George’s Market
For a more authentic shopping experience though, then take a walk through St George’s Market.
Dating back to the 19th century, this is one of the best preserved Victorian era public markets in the United Kingdom.
The covered market is still a busy and bustling place today, and of course, for budget travellers it’s one of the best places to visit. It’s free to stroll through the marketplace, but the local produce for sale isn’t exactly expensive either.
Take a look at the events calendar, because St George’s Market often hosts lively food festivals that attracts the best of Belfast’s culinary scene.
Grand Opera House
The Grand Opera House is one of the most iconic works of architecture in Belfast.
This cultural centre dates back to the Victorian era and today plays host not only operas but all manner of plays and shows, from comedy to Disney. Check the website for cheap tickets and deals throughout the year.
Crumlin Road Gaol
To see a different side of Belfast’s history, then head to the slightly unusual but enduringly popular Crumlin Road Gaol.
The old prison was once a notorious gaol for convicts and prisoners, but today, the Heritage listed building has been restored and not only can you join guided tours of the cells, but you can join the parties and music concerts that are held here in the evenings too.
Street Art Murals
Belfast is well known for its vibrant street art, and across the city you’ll find many different murals adorning otherwise grey and drab buildings.
Many of these murals are political in nature, with an emphasis on the Troubles of course, and they offer an intriguing insight into local history and contemporary culture.
Where to stay in Belfast on a Budget
Belfast has an ever increasing range of accommodation options which are aimed at a wide range of different travellers and tourists.
For budget travellers, there’s a solid hostel scene in the city, which only seems to be getting better and better as more people discover that Belfast is a fascinating destination to visit.
Budget accommodation Belfast ranges from hostels to cheap AirBnBs, but you will also find that many of the lower end hotels can be just as good value if you are looking for more privacy.
Some of the best Belfast cheap accommodation options are found by booking in advance, so plan ahead to score the best deals. Belfast is also an increasingly popular weekend getaway destination, so try to travel on weekdays to avoid the higher prices. Avoid school holidays too if you are on a budget.
One of the best hostels for budget travellers, is Vagabonds, where you’ll find great value dorm beds as well as a lovely atmosphere. The hostel is close to the city centre and close to plenty of pubs and bars, making this a popular choice for backpackers looking to socialise and meet new people.
If you’re after a cheap hotel room, then look no further than the Premier Inn or Travelodge. These are both budget hotel chains that have multiple options across Northern Ireland, and offer no-frills rooms. They are basic but cheap, and if you book in advance, prices can be lower than a hostel.
Budget Eats in Belfast
Belfast hasn’t exactly been renowned as a culinary destination in the past, but actually, the city has a lot to offer foodies.
Eating out can be great value here in comparison to other U.K. cities, and you’ll easily find cheap eats offering good food.
For a budget pub experience then head to any of the Wetherspoons outlets you might find across the city. The UK’s most famous pub chain offers surprisingly good food, and focuses on classic dishes such as fish and chips, curries or burgers. It’s no nonsense pub fare, and you can find a huge range of cheap drinks too.
One of the most iconic pubs in the city, is the Crown Liquor Saloon, an establishment which dates back to the 1820s and which has long been serving great beers and great food. It’s very touristy, but it’s a fanatic piece of heritage to experience.
If it’s fish and chips you’re after, then head to Long’s Fish and Chips in Belfast. This local eatery has been serving up deep fried fish and plenty of chips for decades and is one of the most well known places to eat in Belfast. Despite their popularity, Long’s Fish and Chips is still great value too.
For the cheapest local eats though, then head to the University district around Queen’s University, where you’ll find lots of cafes and bars catering to the large student population of Belfast.
A particular favourite amongst students is Maggie Mays, a cafe that serves huge fry ups and other home cooked staples. Students are also a big fan of Boojum, a local burrito chain offering a taste of Mexico in Different outlets across Belfast. The prices are cheap, but the portion size is huge.
Cheap tours to do in Belfast on a Budget
As with many cities, booking onto an organised tour can be one of the biggest rebel expenses in Belfast, but there are some excellent budget options available.
Free Walking Tour
If you want to travel to Ireland on a budget, then one of the best ways to experience is a city is by taking a free walking tour.
Belfast is no exception, and you will find that there are several different free walking tour opportunities available. For budget travellers there’s no better set up, because you simply pay as much as you feel the tour was worth, or as much as you can afford, at the end.
If you have little money, then it’s acceptable to give just a small tip, while you’re also likely to get a great tour because the guides know that they need to work hard to impress, to get their tips for the day.
The free walking tours will give a great overview of the city’s history and culture, and it’s a great way to get some exercise and to explore Belfast.
Giant’s Causeway Day Trip
The Giant’s Causeway is one of the most dramatic natural sights in the United Kingdom, and it’s just a day trip away from Belfast.
While you can visit this legendary natural attraction using public transport, it’s not the easiest place to get to, especially if you’re short on time, and it can actually be more cost effective and efficient to join a day tour.
Tour companies offer great deals, and will often spend the day travelling along Causeway Coastal Route, stopping off in many other locations that you wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to see.
Be sure to book onto a tour that includes the spectacular Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, a daunting bridge which spans the cliffs of Ballycastle and offers hair reasoning views over the Atlantic.
Belfast Taxi Tour
The Belfast Taxi Tour is one of the most unique tours that you can take in the city, and although it will be expensive if you’re a solo traveller, get a small group together and you can split the costs.
It’s well worth the extra expense though, because the Belfast Taxi Tours are legendary within the Northern Irish capital. Black Cabs are an icon of the streets here, and many of the drivers saw first hand the brutalities of the Troubles in the previous decades.
Today, they offer experiential tours that take you to the most contentious and important spots in Belfast, as you learn first hand just what happened during the conflict in Northern Ireland from a Black Cab driver who was there.
Recommended budget 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
- Official World Famous Belfast Taxi Tour
- HMS Caroline Admission Ticket
- Game of Thrones Direwolf Tour