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.
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
Check out the footprint of the lifeboats at Belfast Titanic Slipways Guinness at The Duke of York The Iconic Harland & Wolf Cranes - Samson & Goliath reflected in the Lagan Belfast Murals Coffee al fresco Belfast View from Cave Hill The Big Fish by the Lagan with Harland & Wolf Cranes in the background St George's Weekend Market - Good for food and gifts 360 views from the Dome at Victoria Square shopping centre
Check out the footprint of the lifeboats at Belfast Titanic Slipways
Guinness at The Duke of York
The Iconic Harland & Wolf Cranes - Samson & Goliath reflected in the Lagan
Coffee al fresco
Belfast View from Cave Hill
The Big Fish by the Lagan with Harland & Wolf Cranes in the background
St George's Weekend Market - Good for food and gifts
360 views from the Dome at Victoria Square shopping centre
1. Catch a ride on an open-top bus tour
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 and are both ‘hop on, hop off’. Both will take you on a route that includes the city centre then out to Titanic, then up through Botanic, 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 are government should be doing their job but aren’t, but these stops appear to have been cut from the routes. Ticket prices are £18 for adults with family packages. You may sometimes find special discounts on the tour company sites.
2. Get nautical at Titanic Belfast – an epic and absorbing experience
1 Olympic Way, Queen’s Road, Belfast BT3 9EP
The iconic Titanic Belfast visitor experience stands tall on the same spot that the world’s most famous sinking ship was built and, 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’.
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!
3. Take in the atmosphere at 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. 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. Watch a video/story about St George’s Market on our Instagram account.
4. 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.
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?
5. Learn more with a museum visit
Ulster Museum – Botanic Gardens, Belfast 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. At 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. Closed on Mondays except for public holiday Mondays.
Other noteworthy ‘museums’ include HMS Caroline – Alexandra Dock, Queens Rd, Belfast 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.
The Crumlin Road Goal Experience – 53-55 Crumlin Road, Belfast, 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. The gaol is also an events venue, and you can book walking tours of the local Shankill and Falls Road districts on the gaol website.
6. Take a local tour
Explore Belfast in more depth. A shortlist of tours here:
7. Visit a pub!
Popular pubs include the The Duke of York, The John Hewitt, The Spaniard, The Dirty Onion, The Jazz Bar, 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; 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!
8. 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.
9. Check out major events
… such as:
- Belfast Trad Fest – 24-26 February 2023
- Féile an Earraigh – Spring Festival– 1-17 March 2023
- St Patrick’s Day – 17 March 2023
- Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival – 27 April – 7 May 2023
- Mash Direct Belfast City Marathon – 30 April 2023
- Belsonic – Music Festival at Ormeau Park, 13-26 June 2023
- Féile an Phobail – Over 300 events across 11 days – 3-14 August 2023
- Belfast Mela – Celebrating Music and Culture from around the world, 19-27 August 2023
- EHODNI – European Heritage Open Days, 9-10 September 2023
- Belfast International Arts Festival –12-29 October 2023
- Belfast Christmas Market | 18 November – 22 December 2023
10. Visit Belfast Castle for magnificent views, or simply take a walk
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 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.
There are several ways to get to the top of Cave Hill 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.
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!