Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland and is a thriving modern city with a buzzing nightlife, amazing street art murals and fascinating history. This coastal city has almost completely transformed when only 20 years ago Belfast was left traumatized by a decades-long civil war.
Historically, Belfast is known as the birthplace of the infamous HMS Titanic as the ship was built in the city’s docks before being transported to Southampton in England. The Titanic Quarter is now a neighbourhood in the city which is home to the Titanic Belfast Museum and hosts open-air concerts in the old docks.
The street art and youth culture in Belfast was also regenerated from tragedy. The Troubles was a low-level war from 1968-1998 which took place all over the country between the Loyalists/Unionists who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK and the Republicans/Nationalists who wanted to reunite Ireland. Now, Black Cab Tours are a unique way to learn about The Troubles, as well as the political and religious murals that are emblazoned all over the industrial city.
Belfast is also a student city so there are lots of great bars, clubs and more than enough things to do in Belfast for a fantastic city break no matter what your interests are.
This ultimate travel guide to Belfast will show you all the best places in Belfast, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Belfast and things to do in Belfast which will help you in planning a trip to Belfast city.
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How to get to Belfast
There are plenty of ways to travel to Belfast no matter where you are in the world. The city has two airports, Belfast International Airport which is a 30-minute drive away and Belfast City Airport situated right outside the Titanic Quarter. The International Airport connects all over Europe and beyond via Wizz Air, Ryanair and EasyJet airlines. The City Airport mainly flies to Ireland and UK airports but does travel to some other European cities. There is an easy Translink bus transfer service to the city centre from either airport.
If you’re travelling to Belfast from elsewhere in the UK, there are plenty of car and passenger ferries from Liverpool in England, Cairnryan in Scotland and the Isle of Man which can take just one hour. You can also travel by direct train and bus from Dublin in Ireland using Irish rail or Translink which takes only two hours.
What to expect in Belfast
The Troubles ended over 20 years ago, so the city is as safe and friendly as most other Irish and UK cities. You’ll just need to be mindful of pickpockets and other common-sense safety concerns like walking alone at night.
Belfast is in Northern Ireland which is part of the UK and the local currency is GBP/pound sterling. If you have travelled elsewhere in the UK, you may notice the currency looks different because Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own design, but it’s all legal tender everywhere and usable throughout the UK. Tipping isn’t required but is very welcomed, adding 10% or rounding up the bill is fine.
Since the UK is in the transition of leaving the EU, make sure you have the correct travel insurance and six months left on your passport just in case. Also, the plug sockets are the UK type G with 3 prongs, make sure to pack you Travel adaptor.
How to get around Belfast
Belfast is the capital city so it’s quite big and sprawling. Though it’s not impossible to walk between attractions in the Cathedral Quarter or Titanic Quarter by the River Lagan, you will probably need to use public transport at some point. It takes around one hour to walk from the Titanic Belfast Museum to the Ulster Museum, for example.
Belfast has two train stations, Great Victoria Street and Lanyon Place Station, so you could travel by train between those locations, but they actually aren’t that far from each other. Taxis can be expensive, especially if you hail a black cab, so the cheapest way to get around Belfast is by bus.
Translink is the main public transport provider in Northern Ireland, integrating the individual companies into one easy system. You can buy single journeys for £2 from the driver or £3.50 unlimited day passes from the Visit Belfast Welcome Centre.
The best time to visit Belfast
Like most of the UK, the weather in Belfast is mild year-round and experiences cool but not very cold winters and pleasant but not extremely hot summers and rain can occur any time of year. For the best weather, visit Belfast between April-October. Summer is a busy period and accommodation prices will be at their highest, but the student population would have cleared out.
Even though Dublin is the most popular city to celebrate St Patrick’s Day on March 17th, the Christian figure is still the Patron Saint of Northern Ireland too. The extravagant festivities in Belfast rival Ireland’s capital city as they include a parade, concerts and dances across the city.
There are some fantastic cultural events in Belfast. In summer, Belfast hosts a Pride Festival as well as Féile an Phobail which is Ireland’s biggest community-led arts festival. Christmas Markets outside Belfast City Hall are worth visiting, too.
Things to do in Belfast
Titanic Belfast Museum
An entire neighbourhood in Belfast is named after it because the HMS Titanic is one of the most important parts of local history to the Northern Irish capital. The Titanic Museum is at the heart of the Titanic Quarter and you can’t miss it: the museum’s exterior physically looks like a large, metal ship.
Inside, the museum exhibits re-creations how the rooms looked on board the sunken ship, photographs and letters, how the ship was built in Belfast and everything you could possibly want to know about the world-famous ocean liner’s tragic story. It’s a truly fascinating museum, the most extensive museum in the world dedicated to the event, and definitely a must-do in Belfast. Set aside a couple of hours for the museum, at least.
About a 15-minute drive outside of the city centre is Belfast Castle, a charming and quaint structure built in the 1870s on top of a hill overlooking the whole city. You can explore the beautifully manicured gardens, look around the stately rooms and enjoy afternoon tea in the restaurant.
Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter is essentially the city’s nerve centre for historic buildings like Saint Anne’s Cathedral and Belfast City Hall and Belfast’s thriving nightlife scene.
The Albert Memorial Clock, commemorating Prince Albert, and the whimsical ‘Big Fish’ monument which is literally a fish covered in pictures and texts detailing Belfast’s history are both found in the Cathedral Quarter. It’s a beautiful, historic part of the city with pedestrianised cobbled streets covered in flowering window boxes, fairy lights, umbrellas and street art.
Crumlin Road Gaol
Belfast has its fair share of dark tourism with The Troubles and Crumlin Road Gaol is another fascinating monument in Belfast’s dark past that you can visit.
‘Gael’ means ‘jail’ in the Gaelic language and this jail is the last Victorian-era jail to be still standing in Belfast after only shutting its doors in 1996. The entire building is fully intact, and you can explore the well-preserved cells and learn about the history of the prison via a tour guide and small onsite museum.
Another fascinating museum in Belfast is the Ulster Museum. Ulster is a historic region in the north of Ireland that now straddles six counties in Northern Ireland and three in the Republic of Ireland. The history of the Ulster region dates back 9000 years and the museum displays historic local dress, artefacts and artworks from the region. And best of all, it’s completely free to visit!
St George’s Weekend Market
This covered market is a beloved part of Belfast that helps the city feel more like a close-knit, countryside town than the capital of Northern Ireland. St George’s Weekend Market, just outside of the Cathedral Quarter, dates back to the Victorian era and sells everything from baked goods, arts and crafts, local paintings and everything in between. Its worth visiting the market for the cheery, jovial atmosphere in itself but it’s also one of the best places to pick up lunch or locally made souvenirs.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Belfast on a sunny day (or during dry weather, at least), then there’s nothing better than a brisk walk to the top of Black Mountain, which is accessible by walking from the city itself, though there are two car parks at the foothills if you want to start closer to the mountain.
There are several different paths for different skill levels, and you’ll be treated to fantastic views across Belfast and the rugged coastline at the top.
What to eat in Belfast
Over the last decade or so, the Belfast foodie scene has simultaneously exploded with choice when it comes to international cuisine while also attempting to rebrand what traditional Irish food is. The local food in Northern Ireland is either reputed as being bland or doesn’t have much of a reputation at all.
In reality, good Irish food is grass-fed beef, freshly caught seafood like cod, haddock and plaice, homemade bread and, of course, comber potatoes. Start your day with an Ulster fry up for breakfast which includes potato or soda bread.
Microbreweries have really taken off in Northern Ireland so make sure you drink locally, and that includes the Irish whiskey too. And if you really want to fully embrace local Irish food, try seaweed! The best restaurants for traditional food in Belfast are gastropubs like Kelly’s Cellars and The Dirty Onion and Yardbird.
Where to stay in Belfast
Budget – There aren’t many hostels in Belfast, but the few that are available are cosy and quirky. Vagabonds Hostel is near Queen’s University so it’s at the heart of the student nightlife and with a ping pong table and several common areas, it won’t be difficult to socialise. Belfast City Backpacker is situated on a quieter street and offers a more minimalist and clean design.
Mid-range – There are plenty of affordable hotels in Belfast, but few are conveniently located. easyHotel Belfast is in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter and is close to all the big attractions and has personalised the rooms with the Belfast skyline on the walls. Hotel ETAP Belfast is a great choice near the University and for less than £30 per night, you can get a private, recently renovated modern rooms with parking facilities.
Luxury – For a 4-star hotel costing around £75 per night in the heart of Belfast with free breakfast near all the best pubs, you really can’t beat Bullitt Hotel for both style and substance. And if you want to enjoy a nice, luxe weekend in Belfast, the Titanic Hotel Belfast situated on the Docks has outstanding on-site restaurant and bars as well as elegant yet comfy suites for just over £100 per night.
Tours to do in Belfast
Black Taxi Tour
Black taxi tours started as a quirky way for visitors in Belfast to tour around the landmarks relating to The Troubles and speak to someone with strong views and first-hand experience of living through that time period, as well as seeing the Peace Wall and the street art murals in relation to that conflict.
Now, there are tonnes of them to choose from! This Black taxi tour is the official and original tour that has featured on travel programmes like Rick Steves and Anthony Bourdain. They hire a 50/50 workforce of Republicans/Nationalists and Unionists/Loyalists so that the tours aren’t biased. It’s a fantastic experience and you can learn so much more from communicating with locals.
Belfast may be a fairly large city, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a walking tour around many of the major landmarks and monuments in the city centre. In fact, joining this Belfast walking tour is the best way to see Belfast on foot as a local, knowledgeable guide will be able to take you on the most time-efficient route.
Explore the Cathedral Quarter, learn about the Belfast Docks history, the impact of The Troubles on Belfast and how the city has thrived in the last 20 years since.
Or, if you are keen to team exercise with exploring as much of Belfast as possible, then this bike tour is perfect. Much of Belfast, especially around the old docks, is very cycling friendly. The tour is open to all levels and your local guide will talk you through the sites and landmarks as you pass them, so you can pack a lot into this three-hour tour.
Day trips from Belfast
There’s absolutely no way you can visit Belfast without taking a day trip to the Causeway Coast. The countryside in Northern Ireland is rugged, breath-taking and unlike anywhere else in the world. This tour is exceptionally affordable for everything that is packed in.
You’ll visit the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is an exceptional geological phenomenon as the rocks in the cliffs have formed into unexplainable geometric shapes. You’ll drive along Antrim’s epic coastal road and visit the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge and enjoy some samples at Bushmills Whiskey Distillery.
Game of Thrones Locations
Even though the TV show has finished, Game of Thrones fans can still experience the real-life filming locations of Winterfell and the Iron Islands all over Northern Ireland on this day trip from Belfast. Run by extras on the popular HBO show, visit where the Dire wolf pups were found in the very first episode, explore the docks of the Iron Islands and where Arya travels along the King’s Road in season two.
Experience the best of both worlds by escaping to the mountains while on your city break in Belfast. A guide will transport you one hour south of the city to the beautiful Mourne Mountains surrounded by lakes and stunning vistas where you can hike paths tailored to your own fitness level, learn about the local plants and stories from the area.
Recommended tours in Belfast
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