Belfast – Top Things to Do and Visitor Guide 2024

A proud city with plenty for a busy visitor to do

A quick introduction to Belfast city

Is Belfast visitor-friendly?

Yes! Belfast is a quiet city these days, and that is a good thing! Despite its troubled history, today Belfast is an enjoyable, pleasant city to visit with an onward and upwards vibe.

Of course for many people, the name Belfast brings to mind the horrors of ‘The Troubles’ and while people remember the past, most people you’ll meet are positive, inclusive and forward looking. You can learn more about the complicated history on one of the many tours or at Ulster Museum, or the Belfast City Hall Visitor Exhibition.

Belfast City Hall with flowers
Belfast City Hall – Visit the free Visitor Exhibition

Where is Belfast?

Belfast is the largest city in Northern Ireland, and it is just over two hours from Dublin by car/train or bus – see the ‘Getting to Belfast’ info below.  The city is located on the river Lagan at the foot of the beautiful Belfast Lough, and sheltered on its western side by the Belfast Hills. The city centre is well laid out, low rise and with streets lined with elegant buildings from the Victorian era, reflecting its past as a centre of trade. In fact, before partition, Belfast was a bigger city than Dublin! In those days Belfast’s shipyards dominated global shipbuilding, and it is no surprise therefore that Titanic, ‘the biggest ship in the world’, was built here.

What are the major attractions in Belfast?

In this write-up you’ll find a top 10 list of things to do in Belfast (index below); it’s the list we recommended to our visiting friends and family and it seems to go down well. If you are short of time, you should start at the top with the major attractions, namely Titanic Belfast museum, a Hop-on Hop-off bus tour and perhaps a small-group tour to learn more about the city’s history. If you have more time you can then work your way on down the list but as touristing is such thirsty work, it makes sense if you leap-frog to section 7 – visit a pub – at some point during your day.

Titanic Belfast on a Summer's Evening
Titanic Belfast on a Summer’s Evening

Getting to Belfast

Belfast is a quick two hour drive from Dublin and the city is also connected to Dublin by train and bus. We also have two airports, and car / passenger ferry links between Belfast and Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man. From Belfast, it’s a short one and a half hour drive to The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland’s most famous attraction (see day trips at the bottom of this article).  Learn more –  getting to Belfast.  

Here’s the Belfast to-do list we recommend to visiting friends and family!


1. Get nautical at Titanic Belfast Museum – an epic and absorbing experience

1 Olympic Way, Queen’s Road, Belfast BT3 9EP

Titanic Belfast Museum
Titanic Belfast Museum – a truly amazing experience – read the review for more information

The iconic Titanic Belfast visitor experience stands tall on the same spot that the world’s most famous sinking ship was built. Following the recent £4.5million upgrade it now truly lives up to its boast of being ‘one of the most dramatic tourism projects opening anywhere in the world’.

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Over the years we’ve visited Titanic Belfast a number of times and while we’ve been impressed, our recent visit to the upgraded experience left us both awed and even a little bit emotional. It really is to be recommended and even for those who have been before, we thoroughly recommend a second visit.

TIP: Finish off your visit with a sumptuous afternoon tea at the Titanic Hotel Belfast, and experience some of the opulence of a bygone era


2. Catch a ride on a hop-on hop off  bus tour

Open top - Hop on-Hop off bus

We often find that a city bus tour is the best thing to do on arrival at any destination so that you can quickly get oriented and Belfast is no exception to the rule.

There are two open-top hop-on hop-off tour operators – City Sightseeing Belfast* and City Tours Belfast* – which both start out from the city centre at Donegall Square West besides the City Hall. Both will take you on a route that includes the city centre then out to Titanic, up through the Botanic Quarter past the beautiful Queen’s University and the Ulster Museum, then on to the Falls Road (Catholic – notice the Gaelic street signs) and across the The Peace Line (get off to sign the Peace Wall), and down the Shankill Road (Protestant) then back to the city centre. The tours used to go up to Belfast Castle and Stormont, where our government should be doing their job but aren’t, but these stops appear to have been cut from the routes. Ticket prices are £20 for adults with family packages.

* Bookings are made through the GetYourGuide platform. Tours can be reserved today with payment made two days before taking the tour and you can cancel up to 24 hours in advance for a full refund.
Note also that as affiliates for GetYourGuide, we will earn a small referral commission from the providers at no additional expense to yourself if you make a booking following a link for the bus and tour trips (see below) from our site.!


3. Take a local tour and learn more about Belfast’s history

Belfast - popular sights
Belfast sights – Queen’s University, Titanic Museum, Murals on the Falls / Shankill Peace Line  and a memorial to victims of the Troubles.

Any easy way to learn more about a place is to take a tour and luckily Belfast has quite a few tours on offer. Here is a quick selection of the most popular. See more tours at Get your Guide*.

Belfast walking tours

Belfast – A History of Terror Walking Tour – £22pp*  This highly recommended 2.5 hour multi-award-winning city center walking tour takes you on an inspiring journey through war and peace. Visiting historic sights, DC Tour Guides explain the history of The Troubles and the path to peace and reconciliation. Learn more >>

Belfast: Political Conflict 3-Hour Walking Tour – £23pp* | A 3-hour walking tour where you will learn about Belfast’s troubled history from both Republican and Loyalist ex-political prisoners as you explore the Falls Road, Shankill Road and visit the Peace  Wall. Learn more >>   

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Tours on wheels – Taxi or Bike

Walking tours are great but because of the distances between some of the key areas, a taxi tour will always allow you to see more.

Belfast: Political Taxi Tour £69.99/group of 2*- by City Tours Belfast | Enjoy a one-hour guided tour with a Belfast taxi driver showcasing the history of Belfast and the Troubles. Visit murals and hear accounts from both sides of the conflict in the Falls and Shankill.  Learn more >>   

Belfast: Peacewall and Political History Black Taxi Cab Tour – £46pp*, minimum 2 people – by Taxi Tours Belfast | Pick up from your hotel. Experience an authentic black cab tour of Belfast and discover the murals and unique characters of both the nationalist and unionist communities. Hear the life stories and history of The Troubles. Learn more >>

Belfast: City Highlights Bike Tour £27pp – by Belfast Bike Tours | Experience Belfast on a three-hour guided bike ride around the city. See Belfast highlights, including the Titanic Quarter, The Peace Wall, one of Ireland’s oldest pubs, and more. Learn more >>

* Bookings are made through the GetYourGuide platform. Tours can be reserved today with payment made two days before taking the tour and you can cancel up to 24 hours in advance for a full refund.
Note also that as affiliates for GetYourGuide, we will earn a small referral commission from the providers at no additional expense to yourself if you make a booking following a link for the bus and tour trips (see below) from our site.!


4. Walk around the city centre and visit the free City Hall Visitor Exhibition

The Salmon of Knowledge also known as the Big Fish
The Salmon of Knowledge, also known as the Big Fish, and the Custom House

Visit the Salmon of Knowledge, known also as ‘The Big Fish’, marvel at the giant yellow Harland & Wolf gantries, Samson and Goliath, visit the magnificent Belfast City Hall (see the free museum inside, also free guided tours), view the city from The Dome in Victoria Square shopping centre, enjoy the architecture in the Cathedral Quarter, including St. Anne’s Cathedral, The Customs House and the leaning Albert Memorial Clock, as well as the cobbled side streets with pubs and eateries to enjoy.

You can also make your way to the pleasant leafy Botanic Quarter, the area around Queen’s University and the Botanic Gardens, as well as the Ulster Museum (see below). As this is a student area you will find a lot of bars, cafés and restaurants, and we like to visit some of the international restaurants around Botanic Station including Madam Phó and Bo Tree Kitchen. But we guess you didn’t come to Belfast for Vietnamese or Thai food?

Belfast City Centre Sights
Belfast City Centre sights – City Hall, The Jaffe Fountain, the Dome at Victoria Square Shopping Arcade, Albert Memorial clock and the cranes of Harland & Wolff across the Lagan


5. Take in the atmosphere at St George’s Weekend Market

St George's Weekend Market
St George’s Weekend Market

St George’s Market, East Bridge St, Belfast BT1 3NQ

The Victorian market opens Friday to Sunday and is the place to go for fresh produce, ‘street-food’ dining, live music and of course shopping for gifts and gadgets.

If you enter from the south side, look out for the sculpture of Alec the Goose and his little friend. The story is that in the 1920s Alec waddled freely around the market and would also accompany children to the school gates before making his way back to the market. Sadly this local hero met an untimely death after being hit by a lorry but he is now immortalised in this lovely piece of street art.

Opening hours: Friday 8am to 2pm;  Saturday 9am to 3pm and Sunday 10am to 3pm


6. Learn more with a museum visit

Ulster Museum
Ulster Museum – set beside the lovely Botanic Gardens in the University Quarter

The Ulster Museum

Botanic Gardens, BT9 5AB – is a tardis of a museum, seemingly quite small on its elegant outside, and a warren of exhibitions on the inside. As a visitor, you might be interested in just the Irish history sections, in particular ‘The Troubles and Beyond’ and this is made easy by following the ‘History Route’ within the museum. With a voluntary donation of just £5 gets you entry, this museum is worth a visit. Besides which, it is just next to the Botanic Gardens which is a nice place to take a break on your tour of Belfast. Museum closed on Mondays except for public holiday Mondays. 

HMS Caroline

Alexandra Dock, Queens Rd, BT3 9DT – situated close to Titanic Belfast. The ship is as the lone survivor of one of history’s greatest naval engagements, WWI’s Battle of Jutland. An immersive experience, it will be of interest to all generations.

Crumlin Road Goal - Belfast

The Crumlin Road Goal Experience 

53-55 Crumlin Road, BT14 6ST  – Crumlin Road Gaol was built in 1849 and has had many prisoners pass through its doors including Éamon de Valera, Martin McGuinness, Michael Stone and Bobby Sands.

Until 1961 hangings took place within the prison walls, and the hanging room is a particularly sombre point of your tour. The prison has been bombed and there have been great escapes, all of which you will hear about on the tour.  Book ticket here.

 


7. Visit a Belfast pub!

Belfast pubs
The Duke of York, Fibber Magees, a fire inside Whites, the interior of the Duke of York, Crown Liquor Saloon, McHughes and the interior of the Crown Liquor Saloon

Popular pubs include The Duke of York, The John Hewitt, The Spaniard, The Dirty Onion, McHughes, The Deer’s Head and Whites in or near the Cathedral Quarter. The quirky and slightly-out-of-the-way Sunflower with live music most nights is also worth checking out.

Kelly’s Cellars, The Garrick and Bittles near Victoria Square shopping centre (in that area); Fibber Magees, Robinsons and the Crown near the Europa Hotel/Great Victoria Station, and out towards the university (Botanic/Mallone Road) try The Points, Filthy McNasty’s, The Belfast Empire and Lavery’s. That should keep you busy!

Kelly's Cellars - a traditional Belfast pub
Kelly’s Cellars is one of Belfast’s more traditional pubs, known for its trad music evenings


8. Take in a show

Grand Opera House - Belfast
The Grand Opera House is a spectacular place to see a show. Find your way to the glass bar at the front of the theatre for pre- and half-time drinks – and great people watching!

Of course it depends on where you’re coming from but we’ll take a bet that you’ll find Belfast’s ticket prices attractive! You’ll catch international artists on their UK tour, touring West End shows as well as local comedy and talent. Check the upcoming programme at any of the following venues: the iconic Grand Opera House, the SSE Arena, the Belfast Waterfront, the Lyric Theatre or the Ulster Hall. You’ll also find plenty of entertainment at theatres/events such as Monday Night Comedy, Queen’s Comedy Club, Belfast MAC or the Belfast Empire Music Hall.


9. Check out major events

… such as:


10. Visit Belfast Castle for magnificent views, or simply take a walk

Belfast Castle
Belfast Castle in Cavehill Country Park. Visit for the coffee shop and the views over Belfast Lough.

Enjoy magnificent views across Belfast and Belfast Lough from Belfast Castle, or for those with a little bit of energy, from atop the Cave Hill escarpment.

Belfast Castle is a relatively modern building, having been built by the third Marquis of Donegall in 1862 in what was his deer park. Today the building is managed by Belfast City Council and is a venue for conferences and weddings. If there’s nothing on, you can usually take a look around through the elegant rooms that overlook Belfast Lough. There is also a restaurant / coffee shop, and in the summer tables are put out on the patio for tea, or a glass of wine, with a view.

Unfortunately, it is not that easy to get to the castle if you do not have your own car, but it is do-able. Busses 1a, 1d and 1f depart Upper Queen Street in the city centre quite regularly. After about a 20-minute ride, alight at Fortwilliam Golf Club and take a 20 minute walk up to the castle. Or take a taxi!

Hike Cave Hill for panoramic views over Belfast

The Belfast landmark, Cave Hill, rises up behind the castle and if you are up for a walk, we highly recommend taking the time to walk to the top of Cave Hill for spectacular views over Belfast Lough and towards the Mournes – on a clear day.

There is a circular walk taking you up to the top of Cave Hill through Cave Hill Country Park from the castle. This is a circular walk of about 4.5 mile (7.2km). If you take it in an anti-clockwise direction you will be faced with a steep walk up under the cliff but you will reach the top sooner, the anti-clockwise path has a gentler rise.

If hills aren’t really your thing, you can still enjoy Cave Hill Country Park which surrounds the castle and is a popular place for Belfast folk to take a walk. Download a PDF of this the Cave Hill Walk and many other pleasant Belfast walks.

Cave Hill
Cave Hill is a short (steep) walk up from Belfast Castle giving stunning views across Belfast Lough and across to The Mournes – on a clear day

As you can see, although a small city there’s lots to see and do in Belfast. And that’s before we start talking about your day-trip options out of the city. Enjoy!


Accommodation in Belfast

Zoom in to find accommodation options in Belfast.


Please see more information about different areas to stay, and specific recommendations on our Accommodation Guide – Northern Ireland


Day trips from Belfast

Day trips from Belfast - The Gobbins, Carrickfergus Castle, Giants Causeway & Game of Thrones Studio Tour
Day trips from Belfast (clockwise from top left)- Carrickfergus Castle, The Gobbins, Giants Causeway & Game of Thrones Studio Tour

Four top day trips from Belfast are:

Carrickfergus Castle

  • An 800-year old castle that played a pivotal role in Northern Ireland’s history, being used as a strategic military stronghold through the centuries. It was built by the invading Anglo Normans and later Elizabeth I when trying to tame the North.  It played a role when Scotland’s Edward the Bruce invaded Ireland and it was also an important centre during the second world war. It is now open to the public. If you do not have a car, you can catch a train to Carrickfergus town which takes just 25 minutes from Belfast Lanyon Place. Learn more – Carrickgergus Castle.

The Gobbins Cliff Walk

  • Originally opened in 1902 as a Victorian thrill, this two-hour cliff walk along an iron pathway provides plenty of fresh air, terrific views across Belfast Lough and the opportunity to get close to cliff bird life. Friends reported seeing seals! The Gobbins is at the mouth of Belfast Lough, just beyond Carrickfergus. Note that you must go to the visitor centre first, from where you are taken by minibus to the walk.  Learn more on The Gobbins website.

Game of Thrones Studio Tour

  • Situated south of Belfast, close to Banbridge, the Game of Thrones Studio Tour is an amazing behind-the-scenes look at the making of this legendary series. Read about our visit here. If you do not have your own car, you can book a visit with a transfer from Belfast*. You might also consider doing the tour en route, if you are driving between Belfast and Dublin.

Giant’s Causeway & the Causeway Coast (Dunluce Castle, Dark Hedges, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge).

  • If time is on your side, we would ordinarily recommend booking accommodation up on the Causeway Coast as there is so much to see. However, if you only have a day, you can certainly drive up to Giant’s Causeway from Belfast –  it takes about an hour and a half. You will also have time to take in a few of the other well-known sights such as Dunluce Castle or Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Another option is to take a tour and there are several options – check Get my Guide.* If you want to learn more, we have a very thorough write up about visiting the Giant’s Causeway (including information about getting there by public transport) and an Overview of The Causeway Coastal Route!

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