Belfast is a quiet city these days, and that is a good thing! Today it’s an enjoyable, pleasant city to visit with an onward and upwards vibe. Something that Lonely Planet clearly noticed when they described Belfast (and the Causeway Coast) as the region to visit in 2018!
Located on the river Lagan at the foot of the beautiful Belfast Lough, and sheltered on its western side by the Belfast Hills, Belfast city centre is well laid out, low rise and with streets lined with elegant buildings reflecting its past as a centre of trade.
Unexpectedly, the city is seeing itself reinvented as a tech hub. The city is currently Europe’s leading destination city for new software development projects and is the number one destination globally for financial technology investment! With this boost in business comes an increase in the number and diversity of restaurants, bars and entertainment. It’s all good.
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.
Top things to do in Belfast
1. Catch a ride on an open-top bus tour
Go on an open top tour bus and see The Peace Line, ‘The Murals’ in The Shankill (Protestant) and Falls Road (Catholic), Belfast Castle, Stormont (where are government should be doing their job but aren’t), and more. Most bus tours will pass by many of the sights listed below so you can ‘hop on, hop off’. Open top bus tour operators include City Sightseeing Belfast and Hop On Hop Off City Tours.
2. Take in the atmosphere at St George’s Market
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. We believe this to be the fish market that features in the very enjoyable ‘Whole Lotta Sole (aka Stand Off)’ film featuring Brendan Fraser; probably worth a watch if you are planning a visit to Northern Ireland.
3. Walk around the city centre / along the Lagan
Take in ‘The Big Fish’ (aka the Salmon of Life), 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.
4. Learn more with a museum visit
5. Get nautical at Titanic Belfast – ‘the world’s leading tourist attraction’
Follow the story of the world’s most famous sinking ship from its conception, through construction to its demise as you move through nine interpretive and interactive galleries, walk around the slipways and visit SS Nomadic, the Titanic’s support ship that ferried passengers aboard . It can be busy, and visitors recommend a 2-3 hour window to take everything in. Note that some people are disappointed in the lack of original artefacts from Titanic wreck itself – it’s all about the experience.
Tickets: If you just want to take a quick look, consider the 1-hour ‘Late Saver’ ticket at close to half the full ticket price. This allows you in for just one hour at the end of the day. If you are an early bird (9.00am / 9.15am / 9.30am / 9.45am entry ) you can also sometimes get discounted tickets. Check current offers. Optionally, take the free option which is to simply walk around the slipways where the shape of the ship has been marked out as it would have stood on the slipway. There is also a memorial board for the souls lost at sea, laid out by their ticket class. Insightful!
6. Climb Cave Hill for magnificent views, or simply take a walk
Enjoy magnificent views across Belfast and Belfast Lough from atop the Cave Hill escarpment. The are several ways to get there but we enjoy the steep but relatively moderate walk up from Belfast Castle. 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 walk and many other pleasant Belfast walks.
Belfast Castle is now a venue for conferences and weddings but 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.
7. Take a local tour
Explore Belfast in more depth. A shortlist here:
- Mural Tours Belfast
- Belfast Mural Tours
- Street Art Walking Tour
- Titanic Boat Tour
- Paddy Cambell’s Black Cab Tours
- NI Black Taxi Tour
- Belfast Food Tour
- My Belfast Walking Tour
8. Visit a pub!
Popular pubs include the The Duke of York, The Spaniard, The Dirty Onion, The Dark Horse, The Jazz Bar, McHughes and The John Hewitt in the Cathedral Quarter, the quirky and slightly-out-of-the-way Sunflower with live music most nights; 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 Parlour, The Woodworkers and Lavery’s. That should keep you busy! 😉
9. Take in a show
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 theaters/events such as Monday Night Comedy, Queen’s Comedy Club, Belfast MAC or the Belfast Empire Music Hall.
10. Check out major events
… such as the:
- Beer Festivals – Various through the year
- Belfast Maritime Festival – May
- Belsonic – Music Festival at Ormeau Park, all summer
- Belfast City Blues Festival – 28-30 June
- Belfast Trad Fest – 27 July – 2 August
- Belfast Mela – Music and Culture Festival, 24 August
- EHODNI – European Heritage Open Days, 14-15 September
- Belfast International Arts Festival – October–November
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!