Belfast is the capital and largest city in Northern Ireland, and there are so many things to do in Belfast! Belfast is probably best known for being where the RMS Titanic was built as well as for the violence and suffering here during The Troubles in the later part of the 20th century.
However, today the city offers a lively historic city center, the famous Titanic Quarter, fun pubs, excellent museums, hundreds of street murals, beautiful gardens and green spaces, Victorian architecture, and a growing tourism industry. Belfast is perhaps not as well-known as Dublin to international travelers, but the reward of visiting here is a less crowded city where experiences feel more authentic.
We’ll share our guide to Belfast attractions, highlighting all the top things to do in Belfast, from central Belfast to the surrounding area. We’ll also share information about how to get there, when to go, public transport options, where to stay, day trip ideas, and other travel information.
Table of Contents:
Basic Info on Visiting Belfast
Before we share all the things to do and see in Belfast, we wanted to give you all the basic information you’ll need to plan your trip including how to get to Belfast, best times of year to visit, and where to stay.
Where is Belfast?
Belfast is the capital and largest city in Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. It is situated alongside the River Lagan on the northeast coast of the island of Ireland.
Note that politically the island of Ireland is divided between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom whereas the Republic of Ireland is not and is a separate country.
Getting to Belfast
There are multiple options for getting to Belfast.
By Plane. Belfast has two airports, Belfast International Airport and George Best City Airport, both of which have flights from a number of domestic and international destinations, primarily within the UK and western Europe. If there is no direct flight, you can get connecting flights from other cities in the UK such as London, Manchester, Edinburgh, or Glasgow.
If you fly into Belfast International Airport, the airport is a short shuttle bus (Airport 300 service), taxi ride, or private transfer from Belfast.
If you fly into George Best City Airport, you can take a short shuttle bus (Airport Express 600 Service), train ride (it is about a 12 minute walk to the station or you can take the airport shuttle to Sydenham train station), taxi ride, or private transfer into the city.
Alternatively, you can fly into Dublin Airport which has a lot more international connections and then get a bus or train or drive to Belfast. It takes about 2 hours by car or 2.5 hours by bus from the airport. If you are in Dublin, you can also take a train from Dublin to Belfast which takes about 2 hours 15 minutes.
By Train. Belfast can be reached by train from within the island of Ireland, including the cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Galway. You can save money on fares by booking train tickets in advance. Check routes, fares, and schedules on Irish Rail.
By Bus. If you are in the UK or Ireland, there are daily coach connections to Belfast from a number of cities. Routes from England, Scotland, and Wales all include ferry transport. You can check Translink and National Express for coach connections.
By Car. For drivers, Belfast is about 70 miles from Derry/Londonderry (about 1 hour, 30 minutes), 105 miles from Dublin (about 2 hours), 260 miles from Cork (about 4 hours, 15 minutes). If you are coming from England, Scotland, Wales, or continental Europe, you’ll need to get a ferry to reach Belfast.
By Ferry. Ferries to Belfast regularly depart from Liverpool (England), Cairnryan (Scotland), and the Isle of Man. The main ferry company we recommend is Stena Line. Check out their ferry routes and schedules here.
Getting around Belfast
Belfast has a good public bus transport system run by Translink. Metro is the name of the main bus service for all of Belfast.
Driving in and around the city is also fairly easy although finding parking in the central area can be difficult at times although there are several paid public parking structures. Walking or using a bus is recommended for reaching central locations.
There are also, of course, taxis and Uber (mostly operates to and from aiport). Taxi tours are also very popular ways to see the city with a driver guide.
Bikes are available to rent through the city’s bike share program, and kiosks are available in many popular tourist areas.
There’s also the City Sightseeing Bus which is a hop-on, hop-off bus that will take you to all the highlights in the city and provides commentary so you can learn a bit more about the city and the sites you see. It stops near most of Belfast’s major attractions including the Titanic Museum, St. George’s Market, Botanic Gardens, and the Shankill Road wall murals.
Currency Used in Belfast?
Belfast is part of the United Kingdom so the pound sterling (GBP) is the legal currency. This is the same currency used throughout the rest of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland).
Note that if you travel south and visit the Republic of Ireland (e.g., Dublin), you will need to get euros as the euro is the official currency of the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom whereas the Republic of Ireland is not.
Best time of year to visit Belfast?
The best time of year to visit depends a lot on what you want to do. If you are looking for the warmest weather, you’ll want to travel in summer between June and August. April is often the month with the least chance of rain, humidity, and crowds.
Our favorite times of year to travel in Northern Ireland are May, June, and September. The weather is generally decent, the days are long, and the attractions are not too crowded.
Although note that most attractions in Belfast are rarely that crowded. The exception is the attractions in the Titanic Quarter which can be pretty crowded in summer. Other popular sites in Northern Ireland like the Giant’s Causeway are also very busy in the summer months.
If you want to go to a certain event or festival (e.g., concert, Christmas markets, Belfast International Arts Festival), then we’d recommend you can check the events calendar and plan around those dates!
However, any time of the year is a good time to visit Belfast as most attractions are open year round. Generally, it will be warmer in summer and colder in winter, but predicting the weather is impossible as it can be sunny in January or cool and raining in August.
We’d suggest just checking the weather forecast before you visit, and be prepared for variable weather by bringing plenty of layers and rain gear no matter when you plan to visit.
How many Days should I Spend in Belfast?
This depends primarily on how much time you have and what you want to do. But I would recommend spending at least 2 full days and nights in Belfast to get a good taste of the city (see our 2 day Belfast itinerary for ideas).
If you just have a day, you’ll still be able to see a few of the city’s highlights. Just be sure to plan your time ahead or join a tour to mae the most of your time.
If you are visiting Belfast because of an interest in the RMS Titanic, then we recommend checking our Belfast Titanic attractions guide. This article includes a suggested 2 day itinerary that includes all the city’s main Titanic and maritime attractions.
For those who have more than a couple of days, there are also several excellent day trips you can take from Belfast as well and we’ll highlight a few of these at the end of the article. If you have longer than a couple of days, you can easily spend a week here and not run out of things to do.
To figure out how many days to spend in Belfast, I would suggest using this post which lists all the main highlights and things do in Belfast to create a list of places you want to visit. I would then figure out how many days it will take you to see all the Belfast attractions you want (e.g. 3-5 attractions per day), and that should give you a good answer.
Discount Passes in Belfast?
There is no must-have pass for Belfast but there are a couple of discount passes that may help you save money, depending on what you want to do and how you plan to get around Belfast.
Belfast Visitor Pass
Belfast does have a city Visitor Pass which offers free public transport around the city, which includes unlimited travel on all Metro buses, NI Railways, and Ulsterbus services. It also includes the Airport Express 600 services to and from George Best Belfast City Airport (but not the Airport 300 service to Belfast International Airport). You can buy a pass valid for 1, 2, or 3 days.
The pass also includes discount offers on a number of restaurants, attractions, and shops in Belfast. Currently with the pass you can discounts on entry to Titanic Belfast, Crumlin Road Goal, Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, W5 Odyssey, Belfast Zoo, and Belfast City Tours. You can check out the latest discount offers here to decide if it is a good pass for you.
You can purchase the Belfast Visitor Pass in person from Visit Belfast Welcome Centre (9 Donegall Square North), Belfast airport tourist information desk (at both airports), or at any Translink station in Belfast. Or you can purchase it online before your trip.
National Trust Touring Pass
If you plan to travel throughout the UK and visit several historical or cultural attractions, you might save money with a National Trust Touring Pass which allows for free entry to over 300 stately homes, gardens, castles, and historical attractions in the UK. The pass is good for a select amount of days and includes sites across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
A few of the most popular sites covered by the pass in Northern Ireland are Carrick-a-Rede, Castle Ward, the Giant’s Causeway, and Downhill Demesne and Hezlett House.
Accessibility in Belfast
If you or a travel companion has reduced mobility or is traveling in a wheelchair or mobility scooter, check out the accessibility page on the Visit Belfast website. It provides information on accessible public transport, attractions with step-free access and wheelchair accessibility, wheelchair hire, locations of accessible public toilets, etc.
Safety Issues in Belfast?
Northern Ireland is generally considered a safe place to travel, and we haven’t had any safety concerns during our visits.
However, it is no secret that not too long ago, Belfast resembled a bit of a war zone and was not a place many tourists had on the top of their list from the 1960’s to the end of the 1990’s. The Troubles brought a lot of division, hardship, and violence to Belfast and much of the rest of Northern Ireland. Those scars remain today and there are still divisions, but sectarian violence is now rare.
However, rioting does occasionally break out over political and religious issues as it has recently in March and April 2021. Although most marches and protests are peaceful, we recommend just avoiding any protests, gatherings, or marches if you see them taking place.
As with any place, we always recommend protecting your valuables, protecting yourself against pickpockets, and being aware of your surroundings at all times. Take the normal precautions you would in any other city.
Where to Stay in Belfast?
Belfast has many lodging options, ranging from budget to upscale, and you should not have a problem finding an option that suits your style and budget. Belfast’s tourism industry is also growing rapidly and there are several new hotels planned to open in the next year or two, and lots of good deals.
If you are looking for lodging, then we’d recommend you check out the Belfast accommodation listings on Booking.com which lists a large variety of hotels, apartments, guesthouses, and hostels.
We recommend staying in a central location, especially if you have limited time in the city, so you are within walking distance (or a short bus ride) from the city center.
Alternatively, if the Belfast Titanic museum and other Titanic Quarter sites are your prime reason for visiting, then you might want to stay in the Titanic Quarter so you can easily walk to all the sites in this area. Although you can walk to the Titanic Quarter from central Belfast, it takes 25 to 35 minutes depending on where you are located.
Here are some specific hotel recommendations:
Accommodation in City Centre / Cathedral Quarter Area
- Bullitt Hotel – This lively centrally-located 4-star hotel offers 3 room types to suit almost any budget. The hotel also has a bar, a cafe, a restaurant, a popular rooftop bar area, and 24-hour desk service. It is a 2 minute walk to the Cathedral Quarter and about a 8 minute walk to St. Georges market or the Belfast City Hall. We spent 4 nights here and can definitely recommend it if you are looking for a central hotel!
- The Merchant Hotel – If you are looking for a 5-star historical luxury hotel, The Merchant, located in a beautiful 1860 building, should definitely be high on your list. Centrally located in the Cathedral Quarter, the hotel offers all the luxury amenities you would expect, including a restaurant, bar and lounge, spa, hot tub, and a rooftop gymnasium.
- Jurys Inn – This 4-star hotel offers spacious rooms, breakfast buffet, bar, and restaurant. We have always found that this Dublin-based chain provides good value for the money. Located near Belfast City Hall and the Opera House, it is just a 5 minute walk from the Great Victoria Street rail station.
- easyHotel – This well-rated budget hotel offers no-frills but comfortable rooms and a 24 hour staffed desk. A great central option for those on a tighter budget.
- Belfast International Youth Hostel – This hostel offers the best location if you are looking for a centrally located hostel. Hostel offers both private shared and private dormitory rooms, an on-site cafe, linens, a communal kitchen, a breakfast menu, self-service laundry, and even free parking.
Accommodation in Titanic Quarter
- Titanic Hotel – This 4-star hotel sits within a historical building that was once the Harland and Wolff headquarters and drawing offices (the company that designed and built the RMS Titanic!). A beautiful historical property that offers Art Deco themed rooms, Titanic memorabilia, bar, restaurant, and room service. Only a 2 minute walk to the Titanic Belfast museum.
- Premier Inn – This 3 star hotel offers king sized beds and an on-site bar and grill. It is a 7 minute walk to the Titanic Belfast museum.
- CK Serviced Apartments – These well-reviewed serviced apartments are great for those looking for a self-catering option in the Titanic Quarter. There is an on-site restaurant, grocery store, cafe, and private parking available. They are only a 7 minute walk away from the Titanic Belfast.
- The Bullitt Hotel and the Hilton (next to the waterfront) are across the river but are both within a 25 minute walk (or 12 minute bus ride) of Titanic Belfast.
We’ve also stayed in an apartment in Belfast during our first visit to Belfast which was great value for money. You can see the local listings on Vrbo here.
You can also take a look at this list of Airbnb alternatives for more apartment rental options.
Where to find more Information?
If you are looking for a good sample Belfast itinerary, check out our 48 hour Belfast itinerary which should help give you a good starting point. We also have a suggested 2 day Belfast Titanic itinerary for those interested primarily in Titanic and maritime-related attractions.
Belfast makes an excellent base for exploring Northern Ireland, and you can see our guide to the best day trips from Belfast for some inspiration. If you are looking for a drive along the coast, see our guide to a suggested Causeway coastal route road trip.
Game of Thrones fans will love exploring the filming locations for the show in Northern Ireland. You can read about many more filming locations in our guide to Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland here. We also have a detailed guide to visiting the Dark Hedges.
If you are looking for a printed (or digital) guidebook, there are few that just focus on Belfast and Northern Ireland, such as this one by Lonely Planet, but most cover the whole island of Ireland, such as these ones. Just be sure to get a recent edition.
If you are also heading to Dublin, you can check out our 2 Day itinerary and 3 Day Dublin itinerary as well as our Dublin street art guide and Dublin Pass review.
Once in Belfast, you can get information from local experts, pick up maps and brochures, and make bookings at the Visit Belfast Welcome Centre located at 9 Donegall Square North. This is also a visitor center for Northern Ireland so has information for Belfast as well as the rest of the country. You can also call them at +44(0)28 9024 6609 or email them at email@example.com.
If you are looking for additional information about planning your trip to Belfast, you can check out the official Belfast city’s tourism website and the Discover Northern Ireland tourism website. If your travels are taking you further afield into Ireland, we also recommend the official Ireland tourism website which covers the entire island of Ireland.
Top Things to do in Belfast: Central Belfast
There are many things to do in Belfast and many are conveniently located within central Belfast. We are roughly categorizing central Belfast as encompassing the areas that are often referred to as Belfast City Centre, the Cathedral Quarter, and the Linen Quarter. Once here, you can reach anything within this general area within a 20 minute walk or less.
The Belfast City Hall is the center point of the city and nearby is the Visit Belfast Welcome Centre, which is a great place to start your tour of the city. The Cathedral Quarter, named for St. Anne’s Cathedral, is the city’s historic trading quarter and is packed with Victorian architecture, cobbled streets, and quirky pubs and restaurants. The Linen Quarter is the area south of Belfast City Hall and was an area once dominated by the linen industry in the 19th century and includes a lot of old architecture, restaurants, and the Grand Opera House.
We are also including the Titanic Quarter, the former shipbuilding area formerly known as Queen’s Island where the RMS Titanic was built, within this section since most visitors plan to visit the Titanic Belfast museum. The Titanic Belfast can be reached by walking via a 30 minute walk across the bridge from the Belfast city center area. All of the attractions in the Titanic Quarter can be reached within a 45 minute walk, a 20 minute public bus ride, or by the hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses.
All the attractions in this first section are located within a 25 minute public bus ride from Belfast City Hall (Donegall Square) although most are within a 10 to 20 minute walk.
Use this list of things to do in Belfast to choose the attractions of interest to you and put together your own personalized Belfast itinerary!
Sightseeing Bus or Walking Tour
A walking tour or sightseeing bus is always a good way to get a feel for a city and see some of its highlights. We often like to do these on our first day in a new city. Most of these start from the city center area.
Walking tours are a great way to explore a certain area of the city or focus on a specific topic. Available tours focus on highlights, the Titanic Quarter, architecture, whiskey, Queen’s University, the Troubles, and other topics. You can see a list of walking tours here and more walking tours here.
Bike tours around the city are also possible, such as these ones, and even these beer bike tours where you can bring your own alcoholic drinks to enjoy while pedaling a 16-set bike and listing to guide.
For food and drink tours also see Taste and Tour which offers gin, whiskey, beer, and food walking tours around central Belfast.
There are two hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses in Belfast, the City Sightseeing buses and the City Tours buses. These buses each stop at 20 to 30 different places and make it easy to reach and visit many of the city’s most popular attractions.
In Belfast, you also have Black Cab tours which are a popular way to see the city and most of these tours focus on the political history of Belfast and its street murals. We cover these tours in greater detail later in the article.
If you prefer boat tours, you might consider this boat sightseeing tour which takes you past the Titanic Quarter.
Belfast City Hall
Belfast’s City Hall was built after Queen Victoria granted Belfast city status in 1888 to reflect its growth in terms of population, economy, and industry. The building, which sits in the center of Donegall Square, was designed by Irish architect Alfred Brumwell Thomas in the Baroque Revival Style and it was completed in 1906. The City Hall is a great centerpiece for the city as well as a functioning government building that serves as the headquarters of the Belfast City Council.
Inside the building, there is a free public exhibition space that you can visit. The exhibition was much larger than we expected and currently encompasses 16 different rooms! It tells the history of Belfast through information, photos, and artifacts, and it explores the city’s government, people, famous events, industries, diversity, festivities, and much more.
It is also possible to take a free guided tour of City Hall. A guided tour includes information about the history and government of Belfast and visits to many of the grandest and most important areas and rooms in the building, including the Grand Staircase, Principal Rooms, the Reception Room, and the Chamber. One of the interesting features of the building is the large number of stained glass windows, most of which are original to the building and date to 1906.
Tours are given on a first come, first serve basis and you need to register for them at least 10 to 15 minutes before the stated tour time. So we’d recommend going at least 20 to 30 minutes before the tour time to get a spot. The guided tours of City Hall last around 1 hour, and run at various times throughout the day, depending on the time of year. You can see the tour times on the official website here.
Outside, there is a large park and gardens area around the building that is a popular place for people to meet and gather. During our last visit, it was being used for a family event and outdoor cinema screenings.
There are also a number of statues and memorials worth seeing around the City Hall building, including the grand 11-foot statue of Queen Victoria, the Belfast Cenotaph, and a 9/11 plaque. You’ll also find the Titanic Memorial Gardens here, which includes a memorial statue as well as a list of all those who perished in the disaster.
St. Anne’s Cathedral
St Anne’s Cathedral, also known as Belfast Cathedral, is an Episcopalian (Anglican) cathedral and one of the best known churches in Belfast. It was consecrated in 1904 and serves two separate dioceses with two Bishop’s Seats.
A former smaller church, consecrated in 1776, was also called St. Anne’s and stood here until the new and much larger cathedral was built. The old St. Anne’s had become too small to accommodate the large number of people moving to Belfast during the Industrial Revolution and a second Anglican church, St. George’s Church (located on High Street), was completed in 1816. It too was not enough and so a new St. Anne’s was built.
The church’s foundation stone was laid in 1899, but the church was rebuilt and expanded a number of times over the next 100 years to reach its present day form. The most interesting recent development was the addition of a stainless steel spire, called the Spire of Hope, to the church in 2007. A church spire was not originally added to the church because the church could not support the weight. The spire is usually illuminated at night.
Inside the church there are a number of elements you can check out if you decide to explore the church. These include the Good Samaritan Window (the only remaining piece of the 1776 St. Anne’s Church), mosaics on the roof of the baptistery and Chapel of the Holy Spirit (St. Patrick is depicted), and the Titanic funeral pall.
There is only one tomb in the cathedral, which is the tomb of Lord Edward Carson, an important 20th century unionist political leader in Ireland. He is one of only a few non-royal people to ever receive a British state funeral.
There is a small fee to visit as a tourist. Visits are self-guided but guided tours can be arranged in advance. Belfast Cathedral is an active church and there are regular worship services and events.
St. George’s Market
St. George’s Market is one of Belfast’s oldest attractions, and it is believed that a weekly market has been held in this location since 1604. The current Victorian building was built between 1890 and 1896, and today it holds markets each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Since its refurbishment in 1997, it has won a number of awards in the UK and Ireland.
The market vendors include fresh produce and food stuff, arts and crafts, souvenirs, spices, clothing, books, jewelry, and more. The market is particularly well-known for its number of fish and seafood vendors. The market also has food stalls selling prepared food, sandwiches, coffee, and snacks. On most days, there is live music from local artists and bands. The market is a popular and lively place to go on weekends.
Markets are held on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. You can find the latest hours here. A free market shuttle bus runs every 20 minutes, 11am – 3pm, to and from the market from locations in central Belfast (Friday and Saturday only).
The market changes each day it is open with different vendors, although some are there all three days. The venue is also used to host a range of events throughout the year, including musical performances and charity events.
Grand Opera House
The Grand Opera House was built in 1895 by famous English theater architect Frank Matcham. The Grand Opera House has become a city landmark and is well-known for its beautiful interior. It is the only Victorian theater still remaining in Northern Ireland.
Originally, the theatre could seat over 2,500 guests and it hosted a number of operas, plays, musicals, and pantomimes. It was later used for variety shows throughout the early 20th century. In the 1950’s it was converted into a cinema and then in 1972, it closed. The building was almost demolished in the 1970’s during The Troubles, but was saved and reopened as a theater in 1980.
Today, the Grand Opera House is still running as a theater although today it only seats 1,000 people. Current performances include musicals, plays, dances, family shows, recitals, ballets, pantomimes, operas, and educational talks.
You can also book a theatre tour of the Grand Opera House. Guided tours include a behind-the-scenes tour of the Grand Opera House to learn about the history, day-to-day life of the staff and actors, and to tour the various rooms and areas of the theatre. Tours last about 1 hour, and are normally given on weekends about twice a month.
You can check the performance schedule, check tour times, and book tickets here.
Albert Memorial Clock
The Albert Memorial Clock is a sandstone clock tower that was built as a memorial to Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. It is located at Queen’s Square in the center of Belfast and was built by Irish architect W.J. Barre and completed in 1869. Today, the Albert Memorial Clock is a popular local landmark in Belfast
The clock tower is 113 feet high and includes a number of intricate carvings. The main feature is a statue of Prince Albert wearing his Knight of the Garter robes. The clock’s bell weighs 2 tonnes. The clock tower has sustained damage by both German WW2 bombs and IRA bombs.
It is Belfast’s own “leaning tower of Pisa” as the tower leans due to being built on reclaimed marshy land. The clock tower started to lean soon after it was built and the tilt has worsened over time. In 2002, a restoration project was undertaken by the city to try to strengthen the foundation and to clean and restore the leaning monument.
Metropolitan Arts Centre (The MAC)
The MAC, Belfast’s Metropolitan Arts Centre, was opened in 2012 and is a public art center that includes three major art galleries. The exhibitions vary throughout the year and most are free to visit, but some do have a fee. The focus of the art is generally modern, contemporary, and experimental pieces and performances. You can see what’s on during your visit by visiting the art exhibition page.
The MAC also regularly has events and workshops, including art classes, art shows, performances, and family-friendly activities. You can see the full event listing here.
The MAC has an all-day café bar serving coffee, tea, snacks, hot meals, and alcoholic drinks.
North Ireland War Memorial Museum
The Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum is a small museum that covers Northern Ireland’s involvement in World War II. The informational exhibits cover the Belfast Blitz, the roles of women during the war, the Ulster Home Guard, and the presence of a large number of American forces in the area. There are uniforms and medals on display as well as a memorial screen.
It is a small museum fit into one large room, but it is thoughtfully done and well-organized and primarily run by local volunteers. We really enjoyed our visit. Highlights were listening to some of the recordings by people who lived during the war, the lovely stained glass window, and learning more about the Belfast Blitz of 1941.
Belfast was initially thought to be out of the range of Nazi bombers so the military and residents were unprepared for air attacks when they first started happening, resulting in a lot of damage and deaths.
The Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum is free to visit although donations are greatly appreciated. It is centrally located in the Cathedral Quarter near St. Anne’s Cathedral.
Crown Liquor Saloon
The Crown Liquor Saloon, better known as the Crown Bar, is the most famous pub in Belfast. The pub was opened around 1826 by Felix O’Hanlon as The Railway Tavern but it would be its renovation and renaming in 1885 by the Flanagan family that would turn it into the pub we know today. It was known as one of the most beautiful Victorian era gin palaces in the world.
It is ornately decorated and still retains many of its original fixtures and decorations (most of which have been restored) including tiled mosaics, original gas lamp features, stained glass, a granite bar top, snugs, heated footrests behind bar, and carved wooden ceiling. It is now owned by the National Trust who helps protect it but it is run as a pub by Mitchells & Butlers.
The place is a very popular stop for tourists and the bar attracts a number of famous visitors. Famous visitors have included Brad Pitt, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and most of the cast of Game of Thrones.
The pub has a full bar menu and serves both lunch and dinner. There is also an upstairs dining area. It is a popular place so if you plan to stop and eat here, I’d recommend booking a table in advance. You can see the menus and contact info here.
Belfast Black Cab Tours
The Black Cab tours of Belfast are one of the most popular things to do in Belfast for tourists. The use of taxis in Belfast grew during The Troubles when the cabs were used to transport locals and visitors during the Troubles as they were considered much safer than city buses which were sometimes bombed or attacked by snipers. Also many buses were stolen, burned, and used for barricades in certain parts of the city, resulting in limited public transit.
So more taxi drivers were needed during this period. Many drove defunct bus routes and most drivers operated only in Loyalist/Unionist/Protestant neighborhoods or only in Republican/Nationalist/Catholic areas. For the most part, Protestant drivers picked up Protestant passengers and Catholic drivers picked up Catholic passengers. Both used the same London black taxi models. Following the Good Friday agreement in 1998, the need for taxi services by locals decreased as public transit became safer and more available.
Today, many of the now iconic black taxis are still used to give visitors tours of the city. Most of the cab tours focus on the political history, the Troubles, and the political murals so this is one of the best ways to find out more about the political struggles in Belfast. However, you can also do tours that also include general neighborhood tours and those that focus on general history and culture.
Some of the Troubles focused tours may also stop at places like the Eileen Hickey Irish Republican History Museum and/or the Shankill Bombing Memorial, which are both located not far from the Peace Wall. If these are sites of interest, let your driver know.
Most drivers were also drivers during the Troubles and can share stories about what it was like during that time. Drivers try to provide objective and neutral information; however, as you can imagine this is a difficult thing since many were on one side or the other of the struggle. Most people in Belfast lost family and/or friends during the Troubles. There are many “versions of the truth” about certain events out there.
We did a black cab tour with Touring Around Belfast and had the pleasure of having one of the best known Belfast black cab drivers Billy Scott as our driver guide. Billy is a Blue Badge guide (highest qualification in UK) and was friendly, informative, and made the tour fun. He would stop often and join us in the back seat to give us history and information about places and share relevant stories. He knows so much about Belfast, the Troubles, and the city’s attractions, and is a man that is always up for some great craic.
We had a 2 hour tour scheduled with Billy, and he let us decide what parts of the city we wanted to visit and what we wanted to see and learn about. We asked for a tour that was equally focused on politics as well as general history/culture. We also didn’t know the city well so asked to see some of the highlights of the main city neighborhoods.
It was a great introduction to Belfast, its main neighborhood and attractions, and the Troubles. We saw parts of several neighborhoods including Cathedral Quarter, Queen’s Quarter, the Linen Quarter, Sailortown, and the Titanic Quarter. We also visited the Peace Wall and saw a large number of political murals in both traditionally Loyalist and Republican neighborhoods, including along Falls and Shankill Roads. Most of the tour was in the cab but we were also given the opportunity to get out and walk around a bit at a few of the stops.
We definitely recommend considering a black taxi tour if this is your first time to Belfast or if you want to learn more about the Troubles. It is best to book a cab tour in advance.
We booked with Touring Around Belfast, but there are also several other options including this tour focused on the political murals and these cab tours.
Victoria Square Shopping Centre
Victoria Square is a centrally located public square and the area is a popular place for shopping and dining. The Victoria Square Shopping Centre is a 4-storey shopping mall and leisure complex opened in 2008. It contains a number of stores, restaurants, a spa, and a cinema. There is also a viewing platform within the central glass dome that offers a good panoramic view of the city.
Outside on Victoria Square is the Jaffe Memorial Fountain that was erected in 1874 by Otto Jaffe as a memorial to his father Daniel Joseph Jaffe. Otto Jaffe was Belfast’s first Jewish Lord Mayor and his father had been a local linen merchant who had helped fund the building of Belfast’s first synagogue at Great Victoria Street.
Explore the Waterfront Area
The waterfront area is located along the River Lagan. Here you’ll find a number of sculptures, bridges, Sinclair Seaman’s Church, the old Customs House, the Barge Museum, and Waterfront Hall (a large entertainment venue).
If you have some time to explore this area, we’d suggest walking the Maritime Mile, which is an outdoor trail that is about 1 mile long, connecting a number of maritime sites. There are information panels along the way. It starts at the City Quays and then continues along across the river to the Titanic Quarter, ending at the HMS Caroline and Titanic Dock. You can find out more about it here.
A pedestrian footbridge, built in 2015, crosses the River Lagan and connects the Waterfront area to the Titanic Quarter.
At the Belfast Harbour offices in Corporation Square, you can stop to visit the Heritage Room exhibition at the Belfast Harbour offices in Corporation Square. The exhibition focuses on Belfast’s maritime history and includes artifacts and artwork.
Outside the AC Hotel is the first of the six Games of Thrones large stained glass windows that were placed here in 2019 to celebrate 10 years of the show’s filming. Each depicts an iconic scene from the show. You can see all 6 by following the Maritime Mile trail along the waterfront or by joining a GoT walking tour like this led by a TV extra from the show.
If you just have a short time, two of our favorite things to stop and see here are the Salmon of Knowledge and the Beacon of Hope.
Salmon of Knowledge
The Salmon of Knowledge, better known as the Big Fish, is a large sculpture of a salmon along the waterfront. It was made by local artists John Kindness. It is located at the meeting point of Belfast’s two major rivers, the River Farset (from which Belfast gets its name) and the River Lagan.
The Salmon of Knowledge is a mythical creature figuring in the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology. It is said that the Salmon of Knowledge gained all the world’s knowledge after it ate hazelnuts from a holy tree. If caught it could grant universal knowledge to whoever eats it. In one story, it is eaten by Fionn mac Cumhaill who gains universal wisdom.
The Big Fish sculpture is covered in printed ceramic tiles, and each one tells a different story related to the city’s history. Tiles include all types of information and images, from historical images to drawings from local school children.
Beacon of Hope
The Beacon of Hope, or Thanksgiving Square Beacon, is a large stainless steel and bronze sculpture of a lady holding a large ring, which is meant to symbolize thanksgiving. The woman has a globe at her feet which celebrates peace and harmony, and which is marked with the global cities that have been significantly associated with the people and industries of Belfast.
It sits within Thanksgiving Square near the entrance to the Victorian era Queen’s Bridge. It was made by artist Andy Scott in 2006.
Belfast Barge Museum
The Belfast Barge Museum is a small museum set on a barge that tells the story of Belfast’s industrial heritage and maritime history.
The MV Confiance is a former cargo barge that was purchased in 2006 and sailed to Belfast, and turned into a museum, event space, and a café. It is moored in the River Lagan in Belfast’s waterfront area.
There is a small fee to visit the Belfast Barge Museum. You can find out more information here.
Titanic Belfast Museum
The Titanic Belfast is the most popular attraction in Belfast and a must-see for most visitors. It is a huge attraction where visitors are self-guided through a series of galleries to learn the history of the RMS Titanic.
Belfast was chosen as the site for the Titanic visitor attraction because the RMS Titanic was built in Belfast’s dockyards by local shipbuilding firm Harland & Wolff. Other famous ships built here include the RMS Olympic and HMS Belfast (currently docked as a museum ship in London). The shipyard continued to build ships until 2003 and today is focused on making offshore wind turbines.
When you visit the museum, you follow a self-guided path (audioguides are available to rent for a small fee) that begins with information about Belfast in the 20th century. Then you continue to follow a path that takes you through a series of galleries that tells you about shipbuilding in Belfast, the building of the RMS Titanic, the launch of the Titanic, its maiden voyage, its sinking, and the aftermath of the tragedy.
There are lots of informational panels, models, photographs, replica interiors of the Titanic, artifacts, and interactive exhibits to enhance the experience. One of the galleries is explored while on a mini-car ride. There are of course references to James Cameron’s famous 1997 film Titanic as well. The final room allows visitors to see video footage and photographs of the Titanic as she now lies at the bottom of the ocean.
If you have any interest in the RMS Titanic or shipbuilding, we highly recommend a visit here. Visitors often spend 1.5 to 2 hours exploring the museum, but leave more time if you are a huge Titanic fan and/or if you plan to eat here.
There is a large gift shop, a grab-and-go cafe, and a restaurant on site. There is also the Hickson’s Point pub located just outside the building.
The Belfast Titanic museum operates a timed ticketing system, with entrances every 15 minutes from opening time. At last check, pre-booked timed tickets were required due to the COVID-19 pandemic safety precautions.
Of all the things to do in Belfast, this is the most popular attraction so we recommend you get your ticket in advance here to avoid standing in and line, and coming early to avoid the crowds. Tickets bought online also include your entrance to the SS Nomadic, which is located next to the Titanic Museum.
If you are planning to visit here, we recommend checking out our Titanic sites in Belfast guide as it covers visiting the Titanic Belfast and several other attractions in and near Belfast.
We also recommend leaving some time to explore the area just outside of the Titanic Belfast building. You can see the Titanic and Olympic slipways and the Titanic sculpture by Rowan Gillespie, both are located next to the building. Also next door is the Titanic Hotel which occupies the former Harland & Wolff Headquarters and Drawing Offices where the designs for Titanic were completed.
The SS Nomadic was built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast as a tender boat to serve White Star Line passenger ships such as the RMS Titanic and the RMS Olympic in places where the ships were too large to dock. The ship launched in April 1911, and the SS Nomadic is now the last surviving White Star Line ship in the world.
On April 10, 1912, the SS Nomadic was used to ferry first and second class passengers, their luggage, and ship supplies onto the RMS Titanic from Cherbourg Harbor in France. Many of the most famous passengers sailed on the SS Nomadic to reach the Titanic, included John Jacob Astor IV and his wife, Margaret Brown, and Benjamin Guggenheim.
The SS Nomadic was also used as a passenger ship tender for the RMS Olympic and later for Cunard ocean liners. During WWI and WW2, the ship was used as a minesweeper and troop transport ship. She was retired from service in 1968, and later was used as a floating restaurant ship on the Seine River in Paris for almost 30 years.
In 2006, the Northern Ireland government purchased the SS Nomadic and brought the ship back to Belfast to be restored and turned into a ship museum. Following extensive restoration, the SS Nomadic was opened to visitors in June 2013.
Today, you can tour the beautifully restored ship and learn all about its construction, uses, restoration, and history. The SS Nomadic was built by the same company at the same time as the Titanic so is the closest you can get to having a sense of what it was like on the grand ill-fated ship.
We’d recommend visiting this in conjunction with the Belfast Titanic museum, as you can purchase an entry ticket that will get you access to both the Titanic Belfast and SS Nomadic on the same day. The two attractions are only a short walk apart.
If you plan to only visit the SS Nomadic, you can normally also book a ticket online on their website or purchase one in person at the ship. However, these individual tickets have not been available since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and it is unclear when and if they will be sold again. So for the time being you need to purchase a combination ticket if you want to visit.
W5 Science & Discovery Centre
The W5 Science & Discovery Centre is an interactive science center that is designed to inform and entertain children and families. It contains over 250 interactive exhibits spread across four exhibition areas that are designed for children to be able to be active and engage in hands-on learning and discovery. There is also a daily program of live science demonstrations, talks, and shows.
There is a coffee shop on-site serving sandwiches, soup, snacks, coffee, and drinks.
There is a fee to enter the W5 Science and Discovery Centre. Tickets can be purchased on-site or online in advance.
The W5 is located within the larger Odyssey Pavillion within the Titanic Quarter. There is parking on-site, or you can get here via public bus or the hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses. The W5 is about a 25 minute walk from Belfast city center or a 10 minute walk away from the Titanic Belfast museum.
In addition to the W5, the Odyssey Pavillion is also home to the SSE Arena which is home to the Belfast Giants (ice hockey team), a multi-plex cinema, a bowling alley, a sports bar, a pizza place, a Segway company, and a coffee shop.
NOTE: In 2020, the W5 and the Odyssey Pavillion businesses closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As of July 2021, many of these have not reopened ane some have closed permanently. The W5 is currently being “reimagined” and is expected to reopen in the autumn of 2021.
The HMS Caroline was a light cruiser built in Birkenhead, England in 1914 for the British Royal Navy. She served during WWI, including during the Battle of Jutland, which was the largest naval battle of the war, and is now the sole survivor from that battle.
In 1924, the HMS Caroline was moved to Belfast Docks to form the headquarters for the Ulster Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. She would serve as a depot ship and strategic operations base for convoy protection during WWII.
The HMS Caroline would serve as part of the Ulster Division of the Royal Navy reserve until 2009 and was decommissioned in 2011. The ship was restored and opened as a ship museum in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter in 2016.
Today, you can do a self-guided tour of the HMS Caroline and learn about her construction, history, and the living and working conditions on board through exhibits, films, recreated historic spaces, and interactive touch screen displays. Start at the Dockside Museum (small museum next to the ship) to learn about the people who served on the ship and then board the ship. There are also nice views of the harbor from the decks of the ship.
There is a small café and a gift shop on the ship. You can purchase tickets on-site or in advance online. You can save a little money by booking your tickets in advance.
The HMS Caroline sits in the Alexandra Graving Dock right next to the Titanic Pump House. It is about a 15 minute walk away from the Titanic Belfast museum. There is parking located here for visitors, and you can also reach it via public bus or the hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses.
NOTE: In 2020, the HMS Caroline closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, as of May 2022, no date for her reopening has yet been given.
Samson & Goliath Cranes
Samson and Goliath are two large shipbuilding cranes owned by Harland and Wolff, and they are situated within the Titanic Quarter in the Harland & Wolff shipyard. They were built in 1969 and 1974 at a time when Harland & Wolff was still one of the largest shipbuilders in the world. They were named after the Biblical figures of the same name.
These were obviously not used in the construction of the Titanic. However, an enormous steel gantry, called the Arrol Gantry, was created in 1908 over the slipways for the Olympic and Titanic. It was also a dominant feature in the Belfast skyline for decades and was in use until the 1960’s.
You can’t get too close to the cranes as they are in an active and private industrial area, but they are easy to spot. The two yellow cranes with the H&W logo dominate the skyline and can be seen from many parts of the city.
Although Harland & Wolff are not much involved in shipbuilding and the two cranes are rarely used today, they have remained as they have become popular symbols of the city of Belfast. They are now sort of protected by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, and it is hoped they will continue to remain in Belfast.
The Titanic Walkway is a 500 meter (0.3 mile) walkway on Victoria Wharf which connects the Titanic Slipways to the HMS Caroline. The maritime walkway was first opened in 2018 as a way to make it easier for pedestrians to visit some of the popular attractions within the Titanic Quarter.
The walkway goes along the water and docks. Notable attractions along the route include the Titanic Belfast, Titanic and Olympic Slipways, Mew Light, public art (including a couple of the Games of Thrones windows), the HMS Caroline, and the Titanic Dock and Pump House.
From the walkway, you can also see the Titanic Exhibition Center (giant conference center) and Titanic Studios (filming studios where Games of Thornes was filmed). You’ll also see the Samson & Goliath cranes in the distance.
The Mew Light, or the Great Light, is the world’s first and largest hyper-radial Fresnes lighthouse lens. It was first used at Tory Island Lighthouse in 1887 and later moved to Mew Island in 1928. It was removed from Mew Island in 2014, and has been restored and situated along the Titanic Walkway. Panels around the light tells about its history and how it works.
The Titanic Walkway is a great way to connect a visit to the Belfast Titanic to either the HMS Caroline and/or the Titanic Pump Room & Dock. To start the walk, just head outside the Titanic Belfast museum and head towards the water to visit the Olympic and Titanic Slipways, then head northeast along the walkway towards the HMS Caroline.
If you want a different perspective of the Titanic Quarter, consider a River Lagan boat cruise which allows you to see all the Titanic Quarter sites from the water with onboard commentary. In the summer, there is also the chance to see seals.
Titanic Dock & Pump House
The Titanic Dock and Pump House is a great place to visit to get a better sense of the large scale of the RMS Titanic. This was where the Titanic sat in dry dock before her sea trials and maiden voyage in April 1912.
The White Star liners RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic were the largest ocean liners ever built at the time, and so larger dry docks had to be built for them. This is where the ships were fitted out and completed in dry dock after being constructed at the slipways across from the Titanic Belfast museum.
Construction on the Titanic began in 1909 and took 3 years. The Thompson Graving Dock, often now called the Titanic Dock, was where the Titanic was fitted out and completed in 1912. The adjacent dock pump house, now called the Titanic Pump House, was used to pump out water from the Thompson Graving Dock as well as the Alexandra Graving Dock (where the HMS Caroline now sits).
Visitors can do a self-guided tour of the Titanic Pump House as well as the Titanic Dock. Walking around and climbing down into the Thompson Graving Dock gives you a good sense of the massive size of these ocean liners as the whole footprint of the graving dock would have been the size of the ship’s hull. Informational placards tell you about its construction, fitting out, the lives of the dock workers, and how the pump room worked.
There is a small fee to visit the Titanic Pump Room & Titanic Dock, payable in Cafe 1404 which is also where you can access the sites. If you’d rather have a guided experience, you can book a guided tour of the dock and pump room or join a walking tour which includes the visit here.
The Titanic Pump House and Dock is located about a 1 minute walk from the HMS Caroline and a 10 minute walk from the Titanic Museum.
Check out the Street Murals
The street murals in Belfast are well-known worldwide and it is a popular city for street art enthusiasts. Even if you are not interested in street art, you are bound to run into some of the city’s street murals as they are everywhere.
Initially, most of the street murals were political and related to The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and were created by people with a variety of perspectives from both sides. Most of the more politically focused murals are further from the city center with many located around the Peace Wall.
There are still a large number of political street murals that you can see and these are the primary focus of many Black Cab and street art tours in Belfast. Some serve as memorials to people who were killed or incarcerated during the Troubles. We saw a number of these murals on our Black Cab tour, which a great way to explore them as they are spread apart.
Within the city center, there is still a lot of street art to see but the majority is not strongly political or religious in nature. Although some do tackle serious topics, you’ll also find street murals of dogs, famous people, fairies, local landmarks, dragons, and monkeys. Some are created by relatively unknown local artists and some are by more famous artists like Smug, and there have been local initiatives that have helped fund legal street art in Belfast.
We did a street art walking tour that primarily focused on the non-political murals with Seedhead Arts. But there are a variety of street mural tours in Belfast including walking tours such as this one and Black cab tours such as this one.
See our guide to street art in Belfast for more information about finding and appreciating Belfast’s and a photo essay of some of the popular murals.
Check out some Evening Entertainment
There is always something going on in Belfast and whether you are looking for a play, stand up comedy act, art exhibit, or just a local band at a pub, you’ll likely find something happening in Belfast. You can find out what’s happening by asking around, visiting the Visitor Center, checking a local newspaper, and/or checking out this page and this website.
We already mentioned the Grand Opera House earlier, but two of Belfast’s others main centrally-located concert and entertainment spaces are the Ulster Hall and Waterfront Hall. If you are looking for a concert, play, comedy show, or festival, I’d check out what’s happening at each of these venues during your visit.
Opened in 1862, Ulster Hall was by designed by William J. Barre. A wide variety of notable performances and events have been held here from readings by Charles Dickens to rock concerts by AC/DC and Iron Maiden to political talks by Lord Randolph Churchill and Lord Carson. Ulster Hall underwent a larger restoration in 2007, and it houses one of the few surviving functioning classic English pipe organs.
Belfast Waterfront is a multi-purpose entertainment and conference center located on the waterfront. It opened in 1997 and is used for a number of purposes, including concerts, theatre shows, stand-up comedy, business conferences, and other events. It is a key venue for Belfast International Arts Festival events.
You can see what’s on during your visit at both Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall here.
Try the Local Drinks in Belfast
Belfast is a great place to have a drink. The city is probably best known for beer and whiskey, but gin is currently a very popular spirit in the city as well. Craft breweries and new distilleries are opening up around Northern Ireland and it is an exciting time to sample some of these new arrivals.
If you are looking for craft beers on tap, a few brewery names to look out for are Hilden, Sheelin, Hercules Brewing (known for their Yardsman beers), Whitewater, and Farmageddon. Northern Irish gins include Shortcross, Jawbox, and Copeland.
The most popular Northern Irish whiskey brand is Bushmills, but Echlinville and Rademon Estate also produce whiskey. Head to The Friend at Hand whiskey shop in the Cathedral Quarter to learn more about Irish whiskey and purchase a bottle, the store says it has the largest collection of Irish whiskey.
We actually did a really fun gin tour around central Belfast with a company called Taste and Tour that included 7 generous drinks and some nibbles in several locations. Gins included famous international brands as well as local ones. The company also does whiskey walks, beer crawls, and food tours around Belfast.
If you are looking for a few suggestions for a place to drink, here are several places we’ve been:
- The Crown Bar – An elaborately decorated Victorian era gin palace that is a local landmark and popular tourist stop. Full bar and restaurant. Reservations recommended if you want to sit and eat.
- Muriel’s Cafe Bar – Muriel’s is the place all the locals tell you to go if you want a cocktail. But you can get everything at the small quirky bar from a traditional pint to a range of craft gins. Also serves food.
- John Hewitt Bar – A traditional style bar with live music and full range of drinks. Owned and operated by the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre.
- The Duke of York – This traditional pub has been a staple of the Cathedral Quarter for over 200 years. It was rebuilt after being flattened by a bomb in 1972 during the Troubles. The pub is a local institution and is popular with tourists. It has interesting furniture and decorations and is filled with local memorabilia related to brewing and distilling. It also has colorful outdoor murals.
- Sweet Afton Bar & Brewery – A bar and restaurant in the Linen Quarter serving classic favorites and local craft beers. They also serve a few American craft beers.
- Sunflower Public House – If you are looking for a simple pub, the Sunflower Public House may be your spot. The corner pub is probably best known for keeping its security cage around its front door which became a common occurrence during The Troubles. Good place for a pint and often has live music.
- Babel Bar: If you’re looking for a rooftop bar, the Babel Bar in the Bullitt Hotel is a great choice. One of the few rooftop bars in Belfast. Also a second bar located in the hotel courtyard. Full range of drinks and cocktails.
- The Cocktail Bar – If you are looking for a classy bar and don’t mind the higher price of drinks, The Cocktail Bar at The Merchant Hotel is likely the place for you. This Victorian era luxury hotel is a beautiful setting for a drink. Hotel also has a jazz bar, a classic pub, a champagne lounge, and other dining spots.
- Whites Tavern: If you like old historical taverns, Whites Tavern may be the place for you. This tavern has been serving drinks since 1630. Serves hearty pub food and regularly has live music.
- Bittles Bar. Found near Victoria Square, this curiously shaped pub is not dissimilar to the Flat Iron building in New York. Built in 1868 and has been service great beer ever since.
If you are looking to experience a local brewery, we’d recommend a trip just outside Belfast to Lisburn (10 miles away) where you can visit Hilden Brewery, Ireland’s oldest independent brewery. Hilden is a well-known craft brewery and you can sample the beers, take a tour of the distillery, and eat in their restaurant.
Sample the Irish Food
The dish most associated with Northern Ireland is Ulster fry. An Ulster fry is the Northern Irish version of the British “full breakfast” that you’ll find throughout the UK and Ireland. It normally includes fried eggs, sausage, back bacon, soda farl, tomato, black pudding, and potato bread. White pudding, hashbrowns, fried mushrooms, and baked beans are also normal accompaniments. Served with tea or coffee and eaten in the morning for breakfast.
You’ll find many of the dishes common throughout Ireland and the UK in Northern Ireland so dishes like Irish stew, bangers and mash, Sunday roasts, and fish and chips are common. Potatoes have long been important to Ireland so you’ll find potato dishes like colcannon (mashed potatoes with cabbage or kale), potato bread, boxty (potato pancake), and champ (mashed potatoes with spring onion, cheese, and butter). Seafood dishes are common particularly fried eel and salmon.
Agriculture is a major industry in Northern Ireland and you can find a lot of locally grown, raised, and produced food products. These are easy to find at St. George’s Market as well as in local grocery stores and on the menus of local restaurants in Belfast. Some to look out for are dairy products (Abernethy butter, milk, cheese, ice cream), local seafood (salmon, eels, oysters), breads (soda bread and potato bread in particular), Bramley apples (as well as apple juice, jam, and cider), and locally raised meats (beef, pork, venison).
If you have a sweet tooth, a popular Northern Irish candy is Yellowman which is a chewy honeycomb toffee-like candy. Aunt Sandra’s Candy Factory is a popular local spot to buy handmade candies, chocolates, and fudge.
Things to do in Belfast: Beyond Central Belfast
If you have more than a day or two in Belfast, you may have time to explore beyond central Belfast and the Titanic Quarter. Your choices of things to do in Belfast beyond the central area are varied and include museums, gardens, parks, a zoo, political sites, and a Victorian prison.
We particularly recommend the Queen’s Quarter area which includes Queen’s University, the Ulster Museum, and the Botanic Gardens. The Crumlin Road Gaol will appeal to those who enjoy touring old prisons. The Cave Hill Country Park includes hiking trails, the Belfast Zoo, Belfast Castle, and a children’s playground. The Peace Wall is a popular stop for seeing the political murals, usually during a Black Cab tour. There are also plenty of green places around Belfast for hiking, walks, and even wildlife viewing.
Most of these attractions are located within the city of Belfast but some lie in areas just outside Belfast. Most can be reached by public bus within 30 to 40 minutes, and some can be visited using the hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses. All are located within a 30 minute drive fo the city center, and some are less than a 10 minute drive from the city center.
The first physical divides or peace lines were built in 1969 after the outbreak of riots in Northern Ireland and the beginning of the Troubles. The walls, fences, and other barriers were used to divide predominately Ulster/Protestant/Unionist areas of a neighborhood from predominately Loyalist/Catholic/Nationalist areas of a neighborhood.
The initial walls were meant to be temporary measures to help protect people on both sides, but they became bigger, longer, and more sturdy over time. Today there are over 40 wall structures, called peace lines or peace walls, stretching for miles in Belfast. These are primarily in the residential areas in the northwest areas of Belfast. They also exist in a few other towns and cities in Northern Ireland such as Londonderry/Derry.
Interestingly, the number of Peace Walls has not decreased since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, but have actually increased. Some of the walls have gates which allow access during daylight hours but these gates are closed after dark. They are sometimes policed, but not so much these days. Sectarian violence has significantly decreased, but many residents still find the walls comforting and many people in these neighborhoods have grown up with the walls.
In recent years, the walls and political murals painted along or near the walls have become tourist attractions. Most black cab tours stop here as ours did. Visitors have the opportunity to write their own message on the Peace Wall, which has been covered in murals, as well as signed by famous people including the Dalai Lama and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
There is a large movement to remove the Peace Walls in the near future, and the government hopes the walls will be removed by 2023 in cooperation with people on both sides of the wall.
Crumlin Road Goal
The HMP Crumlin, better known as the Crumlin Road Gaol, is a former prison that opened in Belfast in 1846. For over 150 years, it was one of Northern Ireland’s main prisons, and is today the only surviving Victorian era prison in Northern Ireland.
At the time the prison was built, it was one of the most up-to-date prisons of its time and was designed to house up to 500 prisoners. However, in later years, during the Troubles, there were so many people sent to prison that it was forced to hold many more than this, resulting in cramped conditions. The Crumlin Road Gaol closed in 1996 as a prison, and following an extensive restoration project, was opened as a visitor attraction in 2012.
Visits are timed and guided. Guides lead you through the major parts of the prison and explain the entry process for new inmates. The tour includes a visit to the cell blocks, the tunnel which linked the prison with the courthouse over the road, and the execution chamber. Seventeen prisoners were executed on site by hanging, with the last execution taking place in 1961.
The knowledgeable guides on the tour share lots of information about the history of the prison, its architecture, and notable inmates. The regular tours lasts about 75 to 90 minutes. There are also sometimes specialty tours offered such as paranormal tours and night tours of the prison.
There is a fee to tour the prison, and tour times can be booked in advance online or on site. It’s definitely worth booking your tour in advance, as this is both cheaper and will also guarantee the time you want. Tours run about every 30 minutes.
There is a gift shop and an on-site coffee shop where you can get sandwiches and drinks.
Stormont Estate – Northern Ireland Parliament
The Northern Ireland Parliament buildings are located on the Stormont Estate. The Northern Ireland Assembly, the legislative body for Northern Ireland, was established under the Belfast Agreement 1998 (Good Friday Agreement). Before being used for government purposes, the estate belong to Reverend John Cleland.
The main Northern Ireland Assembly building was designed by Sir Arnold Thornely and is 365 feet wide (one for each day of the year) with six floors and six front pillars (one for each NI county). It was completed in 1932.
The public can visit the Parliament buildings during most of the year, Monday to Friday. Tours are free and last about 1 hour. The tours include stops to learn about the history and architecture of the buildings and to see the Great Hall, the Senate Chamber, and the Assembly Chamber. The public can also sit in on Assembly debates and committee meetings. See latest tour times here.
Outside, you can admire the building and wander along some of the walking nature paths around the parkland. There are several statues and memorials, and there is also a picnic area, fitness area, and children’s play area.
There is a coffee shop and gift shop within the main building. The Members’ Dining Rooms are also open to the public for meals and afternoon tea, reservations are recommended.
The Stormont Estate has parking and can also be visited by public bus or by using the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus. There is no fee for visiting the Stormont Estate or Parliament Buildings; however, you will need to go through a security check at the gate and airport-style security to gain entrance to the building.
C.S. Lewis Square
The C.S. Lewis Square is a square located in East Belfast dedicated to the Belfast author Clive Staples Lewis. C.S. Lewis is most famous for his children’s fantasy book series The Chronicles of Narnia series as well as his Christian apologetic adult nonfiction books such as Mere Christianity.
The square contains a number of large bronze sculptures depicting characters from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe including Aslan, The Beavers, and The White Witch. The sculptures were made by Northern Irish artist Maurice Harron and are situated in a place not too far from Lewis’s birthplace. This is a fun place to bring any fan of the Narnia series!
Fans of C.S. Lewis may also want to see other sites related to Lewis in the area, including this birthplace on Dundela Avenue (Blue Plaque marks spot), Little Lea (family home on Circular drive), St Mark’s Church (where he was baptized and grandfather was rector), Holywood Arches Library (“The Searcher” statue), Belmont Tower, and Campbell College. You can follow a self-guided trail or book a local tour guide.
Next to C. S. Lewis Square is the EastSide Visitor Centre which is a great place to stop to learn more about the city’s attractions and things to do in East Belfast, including self-guided walking trails and walking tours. The local Greenways (walking and cycling routes on disused railway lines) also run right past here. The Centre also has a coffee bar called JACK Coffee Bar which features locally sourced food, products, and artwork.
The square is can be reached by public bus about 20 minute from center. There is parking available nearby.
Queen’s University was chartered in 1845 and opened in Belfast in 1849. It was built to encourage university education for Catholics and Presbyterians at the time as Trinity College in Dublin was at that time an Anglican university.
There are some beautiful buildings in terms of architecture on the Queen’s University campus, particularly the Lanyon building designed by English architect Charles Lanyon. You can check out the Naughton Gallery, an art gallery with both permanent and temporary exhibitions, which offers free public admission. You might also want to see what’s playing at the Queen’s Film Theatre, a popular independent cinema.
Queen’s University is situated next to the Botanic Gardens in Queen’s Quarter, which is a lovely area of Belfast. It is a university student area with lots of coffee shops, independent retail stores, small entertainment venues, and the excellent Ulster Museum. A great place to wander around and explore.
The Botanic Gardens are located in south Belfast within the Queen’s Quarter near Queen’s University. The gardens were originally started as a private park in 1828 but became a public park in 1895. The gardens were one of the most popular Belfast attractions in the Victorian era, and structures in the garden have recently undergone major renovations.
Two of the main features of the gardens are the Palm House conservatory and the Tropical Ravine House. The Pam House is a curvilinear cast iron Victorian glasshouse designed by Charles Lanyon and built by Richard Turner, and display a range of tropical plants. The Tropical Ravine features a sunken ravine and includes a number of the oldest seed plants around today, as well as banana, cinnamon, bromeliad, and orchid plants. There is also a rose garden.
The Botanic Gardens is an important venue for concerts, festivals, and other local events, The Ulster Museum which sits near the main entrance to the gardens. The gardens are a popular place for students of next door Queen’s University to take walks and study.
The Botanic Gardens are open to the public during daylight hours and free to visit. The Palm House and Tropical Ravine have more limited hours.
The Ulster Museum is Belfast’s largest museum and one we highly recommend taking the time to visit. The museum has over 1 million objects in its collection which include items related to art, history, and natural science. The museum is located near the main entrance to the Botanic Gardens.
We really enjoyed our time in this museum as there is a bit of everything so just about everyone can find a section of the museum to enjoy. There were dinosaur bones, Neolithic stone axes, jewels, fine art, meteorites, and history exhibits detailing ancient and recent history including the partition of Ireland and the Troubles. If you want relative objectivity in relation to Belfast history, this is probably the best place to find it.
The museum has a number of permanent exhibitions, but also has changing temporary exhibitions. When we visited one of the exhibitions was a massive Game of Thrones Irish linen tapestry that tells the full story of the TV series and sewed locally. The GoT linen is not currently on display but you can see it and learn more about it here.
The museum has an on-site coffee shop which serves hot food and drinks. There is also a cloakroom with lockers that can be rented for £1.
The museum is free to visit, although donations are greatly appreciated.
Museum of Orange Heritage
The Museum of Orange Heritage is a museum and interpretive center that covers the history, culture, and traditions of the Orange Order, also known as the Loyal Orange Association. If you want to learn more about the Orange Order, this is a good place to do it. However, it is a good idea to be aware of the religious, cultural, and political significance of the order before you choose to visit.
If you are not familiar with the Orange Order, they are a Protestant fraternal organization that is strongly associated with the Ulster loyalists and British unionism. The main stated goal of the order is to protect and promote Protestantism, although opponents have criticized the group for being anti-Catholic. The group is probably best known for their marches and parades, known as Orange walks, particularly those that take place on July 12th. Some of these walks have been controversial.
Their history dates back to 1795 and it is from King William III, the Prince of Orange, that the organization gets its name. King William III was a Protestant king who defeated the Catholic king James II in the Williamite-Jacobite War in Ireland in the 17th century. The first Orange Order societies formed to commemorate King William III’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690.
The museum includes informational and interactive exhibits, and includes artifacts including items owned by King William II. Obviously, the information is going to have a pro-Loyalist bias given its being presented by the society. A good counterpoint if you are planning to visit is the Eileen Hickey Irish Republican History Museum.
The center also has a research and genealogy facility for those wanting to research their family history within the Orange Order.
The museum is located at Schomerg House in the Castlereagh area of Belfast and is generally open Monday through Saturday. It is a 15 to 20 minute bus ride from the town center.
Eileen Hickey Irish Republican History Museum
The Eileen Hickey Irish Republican History Museum is a small museum in West Belfast dedicated to the history of the Republicans in Ireland since the 1960’s. It is situated in the Conways Mill Complex and the mill dates back to 1842. The museum focuses a lot on internment and imprisonment experiences during the Troubles.
The museum is named after Eileen Hickey, a woman who herself was imprisoned in Armagh in the 1970s, and a large portion of the artifacts were collected by her. The museum includes informational exhibits and a number of objects related to the Troubles, particularly related to internment during that time.
The Eileen Hickey Irish Republican History Museum obviously has a Republican (Nationalist / Catholic) bias and focuses on the more positive aspects of the Republican side. But it does have some inclusive information and objects as well. So just know this when you visit and it can be a good counterpoint to a visit to the Museum of Orange Heritage.
The museum is free to visit although donations are greatly appreciated. Some black cab tours stop here.
There are several parking spaces here for drivers. You can also get here by public bus but there is no bus stop super close by (10 to 15 minute walk away). I would recommend stopping here as part of a Black Cab tour or Troubles related tour as it is not far from the Peace Wall.
RSPB Window on Wildlife (Belfast Lough Reserve)
The Belfast Lough Reserve is an area of grassland, lagoon, and mudflats that is considered a special place for local wildlife. It is protected and maintained by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), a bird charity in the UK. There are four components of the reserve: Belfast’s Window on Wildlife, Harbour Meadows, Holywood Banks and Whitehouse Lagoon.
The area provides a place for local birds and wildlife as well as migrating bird species. Over 100 bird species have been observed here and species that are regularly seen include wigeons, teals, oystercatchers, Arctic terns, curlews, and godwits. There are also konik ponies and small mammals who live here.
The public can best learn about the species and have a chance to observe them by visiting the RSPB Window on Wildlife. It is a small center run by staff and volunteers that provides information on local and migrating species and an area with a large window where you can view species in the lagoon and mudflats surrounding the center. There are also a couple of hides and the staff sometimes offers guided walks during certain times of the year.
At the center, you can borrow binoculars to see more from the window and staff can help point out different birds. When we visited we saw several bird species as well as rabbits. The staff member we talked to was very friendly and this place seems a world away from downtown Belfast!
There is a small charge to visit the center and use the shelters. It is free for RSPB members.
Cave Hill Country Park
Cave Hill, also written as Cavehill, is a large hill formed by basalt lava flows that overlooks Belfast. It has long been a popular spot for local and tourists, and some believe that the hill with its “Napoleon’s Nose” rock formation was the inspiration for the giant in Jonathan Swift’s famous book Gulliver’s Travels.
Cave Hill Country Park is known for its caves, rock formations, ring fort remains, walking and hiking paths, and for being the site of the Belfast Zoo, Belfast Castle, and a large playground. It is a great place if you want to get out of Belfast, do some hiking, and get some nice views over the city (you can see all the way to Scotland on clear days). Given the attractions located here, it is easy to make a whole day of it out here.
The hiking trails are well-signed and range from relatively short and easy to longer and more strenuous. The trails take you near many of the landmarks in the park, including Belfast Castle, Napoleon’s nose, caves, McArt’s fort, Devil’s Punchbowl, and Volunteer’s Well stream, and interpretive signs help point out features, geology, and history.
Cave Hill Country Park is about a 5 mile (8 km) drive out of central Belfast. You can also get here via public bus from Belfast.
The Belfast Zoo is located on the outskirts of Belfast on the slopes of Cavehill, encompassing 55 acres and has over 1,000 animals from over 100 different species. The zoo offers daily zookeeper talks, feeding times, and other activities.
The zoo opened in 1934 and is one of the most popular paid attractions in Belfast. It suffered a lot during the Belfast Blitz and the 2018 family-friendly film Zoo focuses on the true story of the “elephant angel” who cared for a baby elephant during WWII.
In addition to the animals, the zoo also recently opened a new children’s playground called the Adventurers’ Learning Centre. The zoo is also home to the 1930’s Art Deco Floral Hall, once a popular dance and music venue. The Floral hall was shut and became derelict during the Troubles, but there are plans to refurbish and reopen it as an event space in the future.
The zoo has two cafes on site which serve hot food and drinks as well as a picnic area. There is also a large visitor center and a gift shop.
Most of the zoo and its facilities are wheelchair accessible; however, the zoo is situated on the side of Cavehill so many parts are uphill and some of the paths are steep. There are wheelchairs for free rental and a zoo-mobile vehicle, which can be reserved in advance with the zoo.
The zoo can be reached by public bus from central Belfast, and the zoo offers free parking for visitors. You can purchase tickets on-site or in advance.
Belfast Castle was commissioned in the 19th century by George Hamilton Chichester, the 3rd Marquess of Donegall and was designed by Charles Lanyon and his son. If you’ve been to Scotland, the castle may look familiar as it was built in Scottish baronial style. There was an original Belfast Castle built in the 12th century by Normans and it sat not far from where the Belfast City Hall stands today.
Only a small portion of the castle is open to visitors today as much is used as space for offices, conference and event rooms, and dining. It is a popular wedding and conference venue today.
But if you are in visiting Cave Hill Country Park, Belfast Castle is definitely worth a stop. Can be a good place to stop before or after a hike or a visit to the nearby Belfast Zoo. Also close to the Fortwilliam Golf Club.
There is a small exhibit inside about the history of Belfast Castle worth taking a look at. There is also a restaurant and cafe where you can get a meal, coffee, or drink. Outside, the formal garden are beautiful and offer nice views over the city, and they also have cat statues!
Ulster Folk Museum & Transport Museum
The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum is two separate museums with the Ulster Folk Museum and Transport Museum being located at different but adjacent sites. You can purchase admission to each museum separately, or buy a dual ticket to visit both museums.
The Ulster Folk Museum focuses on telling the story of the people and culture of Northern Ireland from the past to present, with a focus on the early 1900s. The museum is spread out across over 20 buildings set up to resemble a traditional village which includes a number of dwellings of the early 1900’s as well as replicas. These include thatched cottages, farm houses, schools, churches, shops, a mill, workshops, and more. There are also costumed guides, daily demonstrations, and activities such as open-hearth cooking, needlework, weaving, and craft demonstrations.
The Transport Museum focuses on the history of transport in Ireland from its early history to the modern era, from horse-drawn carriages to airplanes. One of the big draws to the museum is that it contains the largest railway collection in Ireland, and includes steam locomotives, passenger carriages, and a large amount of memorabilia. Other popular exhibits include pogo sticks (invited in Northern Ireland), a DeLorean DMC-12 car (the manufacturing plant was in Northern Ireland), a vertical take-off airplane, and a Titanic exhibition which includes some original artifacts.
If you plan to visit both museums, be sure to purchase the dual ticket to save money on admission fees. There is a cafe on-site in the Ulster Folk Museum which serves snacks and drinks.
The Ulster Folk Museum & Transport Museum are situated in the town of Cultra which is about 7 miles (11 km) east of Belfast. There is free parking on-site for visitors, the museums can be reached by bus from Belfast (30 to 40 minute ride), or you can take a train (nearest stop is Cultra Halt).
Minnowburn is a natural area of meadows and woodland around the Lagan River on the southern edge of Belfast. It is a perfect place for a walk, family picnic, or gentle hike in a bucolic setting.
Terrace Hill is a popular spot to get a view across the Lagan Valley and to have a picnic, and the trail here is dotted with sculptures and has a garden on top. The garden was built by Frederick Russell who wanted a garden to go with Terrace Hill mansion (circa 1856). The Russell family had earned their money from the linen industry and later the flour industry.
This area is now maintained by the National Trust and is a lovely place to come if you want a bit of an escape from the city. There are a few main trails and paths here that you can follow, some that run through the small village of Edenderry. It is easy to spend a few hours here on a nice day.
If you are looking for a nice gentle hike, we can recommend the Giant’s Ring trail. It is an easy 2.2 mile circular trail that takes you along the riverbank and through woodland and farmland, and past the Giant’s Ring. The Giant’s Ring is a Neolithic henge earthen monument, believed to have been constructed around 2700 BC.
Located about 4 miles outside of Belfast. No great public transit connections, although there are bus stops within a 15 minute walk of Minnowburn.
Sir Thomas & Lady Dixon Park
Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park is a 128 acre park located in South Belfast. The park consists of woodland, meadows, fields, a walled garden, formal rose gardens, and a Japanese garden. There is also a children’s playground and there is a coffee shop located in the former stables. The park is a popular place for local families and walkers.
The park was laid out around Wilmont House, a Victorian house originally built for James Bristow, but later purchased by Sir Thomas Dixon and Lady Edith Stewart Dixon. The Dixons would leave the house and park to the city of Belfast and it is currently maintained by the Belfast City Council.
The Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park is particularly known for its formal gardens and roses. Its roses are world famous and each year the roses attract thousands of visitors. The annual highlight here is Rose Week, a weeklong event where there is a flower show, games, concerts, puppet shows, family events, food vendors, and more. We attended Rose Week in 2018 and it was a lot of fun.
The park is located about 6 miles from Belfast city center and there is free parking available. You can also reach it by public bus with stops within a 5 minute walk of the park.
Belfast Map of Top Belfast Attractions
The map below shows the locations for each of the mentioned main things to do in Belfast, including the centrally located and nearby attractions. You can use this to help guide and plan your itinerary. We recommend trying to group together locations that are close together.
Click here or on the map below for a closer look and to see exact locations:
Things to do in Belfast: Day Trips from Belfast
Run out of things to do in Belfast? If you have more time in Northern Ireland and want to venture further afield, there are lots more things to do within a 1 hour to 2 hour drive of the city.
If you are looking for a day trip or quick overnight trip, our top recommendations depending on your interests would be to drive along a section of the Causeway Coastal Route, visit the Giant’s Causeway, do a whiskey tour, explore Saint Patrick Country, do a Game of Thrones tour of filming sites, or visit a few of the many castles and historic homes in Northern Ireland.
We have some of our favorites below, and we also have a complete guide to the best day trips from Belfast here.
The Giant’s Causeway is the most famous natural attraction in Northern Ireland and its only UNESCO world heritage site. The Giant’s Causeway is a geological feature, which consists of approximately 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns that form a staircase-like pathway out to sea. It has been featured in a number of films, TV commercials, and advertisements.
The site is managed by the National Trust, and there are a number of visitor services here including parking, a shuttle bus, an exhibition center, a gift shop, and a cafe. Although it is free to visit the site if you arrive on foot or by bicycle, there is a fee and ticket needed to park, visit the exhibition center, get the audioguide, use the shuttle bus etc. It is definitely worth it to get a ticket to take advantage of these services.
Entry is free for National Trust members. If you are planning on visiting both the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, you might consider investing in a National Trust Touring Pass. This will give you free access to both these attractions, as well as many other National trust properties across Northern Ireland and the UK.
You can drive (about 1 hour and 20 minute drive from Belfast), take public transit, or join a group or private tour from Belfast (or Dublin) to visit the Giant’s Causeway. You can see a number of available day tours to the Giant’s Causeway here and here.
Causeway Coastal Route
The Causeway Coastal Route is a scenic tourist driving route that winds approximately 120 miles from Belfast to Londonderry (or Derry). Most of the route is along the coast with lots of scenery as well as a number of Northern Ireland’s top attractions.
Some of the most popular stops along the Causeway Coastal Route are the Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle, and Bushmills whiskey distillery. Just off of the route are also popular stops like the Glenariff Nature Reserve, Rathlin Island, and the Dark Hedges.
Most of the route is accessible to all drivers, but there is a narrow and windy section that is not suitable for those driving in larger vehicles and campervans. Many of the attractions, depending on the time of the year, can be visited by public transit. I would not recommend this as a day trip if you want to do the full route, but you can visit a few of the highlights on a day trip.
Many people see parts of the route as part of a day tour from Belfast so they can avoid renting a car and don’t have to worry about drinking if stopping for whiskey tasting. Day tour options include tours such as this full day tour from Belfast.
We have driven the Causeway Coastal Route twice and really enjoyed it! See our guide to the highlights of the Causeway Coastal Route to help plan your own trip.
Learn about Saint Patrick
If you are interested in the history, life, and religious beliefs of Saint Patrick, there are a number of sites within Northern Ireland associated with the saint. Saint Patrick was born in Roman Britain and came to Ireland first as a slave of Irish pirates and later as a Christian missionary. He would become a bishop in Ireland during the 5th century and is often regarded as the founder of Christianity in Ireland.
St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. He is a venerated saint in a number of Christian religious faiths including in the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Church, and the Lutheran Church. Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17th, is observed in Ireland (and in many other countries) as a religious and cultural holiday, celebrating his life and the arrival of Christianity into Ireland.
A few important places associated with Saint Patrick in Northern Ireland are The Saint Patrick Centre in Downpatrick (an informative and interactive exhibition about Saint Patrick’s life and legacy, a good starting point!), Down Cathedral (where Saint Patrick is believed to be buried) and Struell Wells in Downpatrick, Slemish Mountains (where Saint Patrick is believed to have been forced to work as a slave), and the two Saint Patrick’s cathedrals of Armagh.
Counties Down and Armagh are the two counties that are collectively known as Saint Patrick’s Country and have the most St. Patrick’s related sites. For more places associated with Saint Patrick, see this list of sites. Most of these places are located within a 1 hour drive of Belfast.
If you are looking for one place to go to learn more about Saint Patrick, I’d recommend heading to Downpatrick as there are several sites in and around the town associated with the saint. If you visit Downpatrick and are looking for a guide, this very good value 2-hour walking tour may be of interest.
If you are looking for a day tour, there are not many that are focused on Saint Patrick, but this group day tour from Belfast includes a visit to The Saint Patrick Centre, Down Cathedral, historic ruins of Monasterboice, and Dublin. There is also this private day tour by minivan from Belfast which focuses on Downpatrick sites and County Down.
Games of Thrones Tour
The popular American HBO TV series Game of Thrones (2011-2019) was filmed primarily in Belfast at Titanic Studios, but also in a number of real-world locations around Northern Ireland. Over 20 filming locations have been used in Northern Ireland, most of them outdoors, to represent different locations such as Winterfell, Lordsport Harbour, Dothraki Grasslands, Kingsroad, Robb Stark’s camp, and the forest of the direwolves.
Note that some filming locations are on private land and are not accessible, but most are open to the public. The locations have included Tollymore Forest, Cushendun Caves, Murlough Bay, the Dark Hedges, Ballintoy Harbour, Larrybane, Castle Ward, Inch Abbey, and Downhill Strand.
You see this list of the Games of Thrones filming sites in Northern Ireland to help you plan your itinerary.
You can visit many of these locations on your own, or you can join a tour. If you want to be amongst other fans and learn more behind-the-scenes information, there are many Game of Thrones themed tours that leave from Belfast and focus on GoT sites and attractions. Many also include the chance to use props and dress up like characters from the Game of Thrones for photos. Some are even led by those who worked on the show.
Here are a few tour options to consider:
- This GoT day tour includes filming locations such as Dark Hedges, Larrybane Quarry, and Cusheden Caves. Tour also includes the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge.
- This full day GoT tour includes visits to Castle Ward, Inch Abbey, and Tollymore Forest.
- This guided day tour includes guides who were actors or extras in the Game of Thrones series and a chance to meet two of the dogs used as direwolves in the series. Filming locations include Castle Ward, Tollymore Forest, Inch Abbey, and Audley’s Field.
- This full day tour includes 9 stops which include Dark Hedges, Ballintoy Harbor, Larrybane, and Cushenden Caves. Also visits the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge.
Go Whiskey Tasting
Ireland is well known for its whiskey and one of the most famous and oldest distilleries in Ireland is located in Northern Ireland. Along with Jameson in Dublin, Bushmills is one of the brands most associated with Irish whiskey worldwide.
Bushmills was established in 1784, although the first license to distill whiskey on the current site was granted back in 1608! Today, Bushmills is one of Ireland’s best selling Irish whiskey brands, offering both blended and single malt whiskeys. The whiskey is produced on the Bushmills Distillery site using water from Saint Columb’s Rill, a tributary of the River Bush.
Old Bushmills Distillery is a very popular place to visit and you can take a tour of the distillery to see how and where the whiskey is made, do a tasting, visit the gift shop, and/or have a meal here. Public tours are on a first come, first serve basis unless you are in a group of 15 or more so we recommend arriving at least 20 minutes before you want to do a tour. The distillery is about a 1.5 hour drive from Belfast city center.
Another whiskey distillery Echlinville Distillery, opened in 2013, also offers public tours and tastings. Be sure to make a reservation in advance if you wish to visit here. Echlinville was the first Northern Irish distillery to be granted a distilling license in almost 125 years! The distillery is located about a 50 minute drive from Belfast city center.
There are a number of distilleries expected to open throughout Ireland in the next several years, so if whiskey is a strong interest, I’d do some research on any recent openings. Just note that most distilleries when they first open are not offering their own whiskey yet.
If you do not have a car, you can reach Bushmills Distillery by bus or by a combo of bus and train. You can also book a private transfer or join a group tour that stops at the distillery, like this one.
Just note that most group tours only allow time for you to do a quick tasting, not a distillery tour.
Castles, Palaces, and Country Homes
The UK is known for its many castles, palaces, and stately homes, and Northern Ireland has several that are open to the public to visit. Most are located within a 1 hour drive of Belfast. Some are only open seasonally so do check dates and hours before planning your visit.
Here are several to get you started:
- Carrickfergus Castle – A 12th century castle built for Sir John de Courcy alongside the Belfast Lough (3 sides are surrounded by water). Today it is one of the best preserved medieval buildings in Northern Ireland. This castle saw a lot of action and was besieged by the Scottish, Irish, English, and French and was used by the military until 1928. There is a fee to visit.
- Castle Coole – A 18th-century neo-classical mansion and landscape park in Enniskillen that was built for the Corry family. The property is now owned and managed by the National Trust but many of the contents of the mansion are still owned by the Earl Belmore (Corry family) who still lives on the estate. The house is open to the public in the summer months and the estate is open year-round. There is a fee to visit.
- Castle Ward – An 18th century mansion house built for Lord Bangor and his wife, known for having two different exterior architectural sides on each side (one side Palladian, one side Georgian Gothic). Estate also has a medieval tower house, farmyard, and gardens, and was home to the Ward family from 16th century until the estate was given to National Trust in 1952. Also a Game of Thrones filming location and there is a GOT archery experience offered here. There is a fee to visit.
- Dunluce Castle – A 15th century castle ruin perched alongside the sea that was lived in by the MacDonnell family until around 1690. Castle ruins are a popular stop for visitors on the Causeway Coastal route. There is a fee to visit.
- Hillsbourgh Castle – An 18th century Georgian house build for the Hill family. It is now an official government residence in Northern Ireland and managed by the Historic Royal Palaces. It is currently used as the residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the official residence of the British Monarch and other member of the British royal family when visiting the region. Fee to visit and best to book in advance if you want to visit the house interior as tickets numbers and tour times are limited.
- Mount Stewart – A grand 19th-century neoclassical mansion house and garden in County Down built for the Marquesses of Londonderry. Now owned and managed by the National Trust. The property is well-known for its beautiful interiors, large collection of art and furniture, family memorabilia, and its world-class gardens. If you love gardens, we recommend visiting here in the late Spring or Summer months to see them in their full glory. Fee to visit.
Note that Castle Ward, Castle Coole, and Mount Stewart are all National Trust properties so members get free entrance. If you are planning to visit these, or other Trust properties in Northern Ireland such as the Giant’s Causeway or Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, you may save money with a National Trust Touring Pass.
So there is our list of things to do in Belfast Northern Ireland! Have you been to Belfast? If so, any favorites among the above or places you’d add to this list? If you haven’t visited yet, which of these Belfast attractions would make it on your Belfast itinerary?
As always, feel free to ask us any questions you may have about things to do in Belfast or planning a trip to Northern Ireland!
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**Disclosure: We partnered with Discover Northern Ireland who helped us plan the logistics of our second trip to Belfast, and who also covered our accommodation and arranged some of our visits to local attractions in order for us to share our experiences as travel writers. However, as always, this article contains only our own honest thoughts and opinions. You can read more in our Ethics Code about how we accept work.**
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Janell Richison Post author
I love this site, and it is so informative, thanks so much.
I am planning a trip in the very near future, after finding out my ancestry is far from what I thought it was, which I thought was just African and French, turned out to be anything but that. I did two test, and both came back with ties to England, Ireland, Scotland, and Finland, i.e. on the European side, and AMD (Age Macular Degeneration, being the only hereditary ailment, with a low risk, which is common in Ireland).
In Ireland, the lineage points to Belfast, only; in Scotland, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Fife; in England Merseyside, Manchester, Wales, Lancashire, and Country Durham. That being said, is it possible to visit all of these places from Belfast? My twin and I would love to kill three birds with one stone.
Jessica & Laurence Norah Post author
Glad you are enjoying our travel blog! It is exciting to learn more about one’s genealogy and then go visit the places where one’s ancestors lived.
So it looks like your lineage points to all four countries of the UK: England, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Wales is its own country (not part of England), but both are part of the UK. So that’s a lot of places to try to visit. How much time do you have? I’d recommend at least 2 weeks if you are trying to visit all these places.
Also note that some places you list are cities like Edinburgh and Manchester, but others are counties or regions like Lancashire and Fife, whereas one is an entire country (Wales). So unless you have a lot of time, you would want to narrow those places down to where you’d actually want to visit. For example, maybe you want to visit St. Andrews in Fife and Liverpool in Merseyside. Maybe you want to visit Cardiff and Snowdonia National Park in Wales.
Then I’d decide how you plan to get around. Are you wanting to get around by public transportation, join a tour (or series of tours), or drive yourself? Or some combination of those?
So yes, there are ferries that you can take from Belfast to Scotland as well as England. But you could not use it as a base to visit the other places as they are too far away. But it would be a good beginning or ending point for your trip.
If you want to try to see all (or most of these places) I’d probably recommend flying into London and leaving out of Belfast. Or flying into Belfast and leaving out of London.
Happy to help more once you have an idea of how much time you have and how you’d like to travel around the UK.
Tamara W Post author
I love your site! It is very well organized. I’ve spent some time in Northern Ireland on two separate occasions and can vouch for all you have said about the people (the best that I’ve ever met….but I must include Dubliners, as well) and how they do not know their own land as well as they would like. I would like to add that the Mourne Mountains are GORGEOUS and about an hour’s cab drive (but trains go there as well).
My favorite spot is all the way down to the border to Rostrevor for Kilbroney Nature Park overlooking Carlingford Lough. Stunning landscape and views in summer when the heather is in bloom! Beautiful hiking with very good facilities. Also, there is a LOT to do in Bangor which is a 20-minute cab drive (trains and busses also will take you there) from Belfast City Center. In Bangor you will see the marina, the excellent North Down Museum, Bangor Castle and more. Birthplace of Christianity in Ireland! For C.S. Lewis fans, the Old Inn in Crawfordsburn nearby is where many literary authors used to hang out, and where C.S. Lewis took his friends and honeymooned with his wife Helen Joy Davidman. There is a statue to Amy Carmichael, missionary to southern India and founder of Dohnavur Fellowship there, at Hamilton Road Prebyterian Church, as Amy’s family was significant in Millisle where she was from, and then Belfast as well.
In Belfast, you can see her church and mission that is still going in the Shankill district (“The Welcome Evangelical Church” and its new facility for the disabled “The Amy Carmichael Center” next door). Down the road from the Mission is a statue of the mill worker girls called “shawlies” that Amy helped and the old mill where they worked is across the street from the statue. The Welcome church was built just for the mill girls so they could go to church. There are a HOST of C.S. Lewis sites: The Shand Theatre, Campbell College, St. Mark’s (where his grandfather was rector and there is a red door with a lion door pull that played a large part of Lewis’s Aslan imaginings), his home Little Lea on Circle Street, his mural on the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour of Belfast, etc. I had more fun with the extremely friendly cab drivers showing them where these places are and what these Belfastians did that they were not aware of. They were happy to learn about it!
I am looking at your Dublin itinerary and will keep coming back as I am planning a third trip out to extend the trip. Glenlara Elite Travel did a WONDERFUL tour of the Antrim Coast if anyone is interested. Frances is an excellent tour guide and made our trip just amazing. Cave Hill park is one of my favorite in-town hikes. Also St. George’s Market in downtown for shopping.
Jessica & Laurence Norah Post author
Hi Tamara, So glad you are enjoying our posts on Dublin and Belfast and thanks for providing some of our favorite places in Northern Ireland. We have mainly explored Belfast and surround and then along the coast, but there is definitely much more to see in Northern Ireland and you have listed a number of places we have not been like Bangor. We will have to go there on our next visit! Yes, Cave Hill is nice place to hike in Belfast and we list a few places you might want to try next time if you haven’t been in our Belfast itinerary.
We agree that Dublin is great as well and plenty to do there and in the surrounding area! Wishing you a wonderful return to Ireland & Northern Ireland!
Bea Post author
I am very keen to visit Northern Ireland this year! Looks like I have great things to look forward to 🙂
Jessica & Laurence Norah Post author
Hi Bea, Yes, there is lots to do and see in Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland. Just let us know if you have any questions as you plan your trip. Best, Jessica
Anisa Post author
I have wanted to go to Belfast for a few years now but haven’t made it yet. This is a great guide, so comprehensive as always. The Titanic Museum is top of my list, but I also want to go to Giants Causeway. Hopefully, I can find a weekend to fit it in soon. Happy New Year to you both
Jessica & Laurence Norah Post author
Hi Anisa, Hope you can a chance to visit Belfast soon. Have a wonderful New Year’s! Best, Jessica
Lolo Post author
Quite an extensive guide to Belfast you have here! There definitely seems to be way more things to do than I originally knew about! I’m especially interested in the Opera House! Saved for later! Happy Holidays!
Jessica & Laurence Norah Post author
Hi Lolo, Yes, if you like opera houses, the Grand Opera House is the only Victorian theater remaining in Northern Ireland. It will be getting a facelift in 2020 😉 Best, Jessica
Anda Post author
Excellent travel guide, like always! I’m going to bookmark this for our future travel plans. My husband and I always wanted to visit Ireland and if we make it there we’ll definitely want to see Belfast. Having so much useful information in one single post will make my life so much easier. I usually have to search the web for hours and hours, before I am able to put together a decent itinerary. Thanks for sharing this, Jessica. I wish you and Laurence a wonderful New Year!
Jessica & Laurence Norah Post author
Hi Anda, Yes, I had been working on this post for a while and I actually took some places off the list that we visited as there were just so many. We were really surprised how many thing we have done there!
If you go to Ireland, I hope you get a chance to visit, there are lots of neat things to see/do in Belfast and Northern Ireland in general. All of Ireland is great of course (we still have much more to see ourselves!) but I do have some special feelings towards Belfast.
In many parts of the UK, people still look at you a bit strange if you say you are going to go spend time in Belfast as most people lived through The Troubles and you did not go to Belfast “for fun”. But we really have loved our two visits. On a few of the tours we did, we were the only people not from Ireland as so many Irish people told us that they never really had the chance to explore their own city growing up and they are excited about all the new things that are available now. It was really nice to be able to hear their stories and hear about how much they’ve seen the city change. It is great to hear about positive change and to see so many derelict buildings getting a second life.
Wishing you and your husband a wonderful 2019!!
Jill Post author
I’m visiting Ireland for my first time next year and I’m so excited. Unfortunately, due to time constraints I won’t be visiting Northern Ireland but I am sure I will be back. I’ve heard such wonderful things about Belfast that I know I will visit it someday!
Jessica & Laurence Norah Post author
Hi Jill, Ireland is a great country to explore and I am sure you’ll have a great trip. If you are going to Dublin, we do have a 3 day Dublin itinerary that may be useful in planning your time there. Northern Ireland will still be there next time, we’d recommend a week to see many of the highlights. Northern Ireland is easy to combine with a trip to the rest of Ireland as well as Scotland as well as there are regular daily ferries between the two 😉 Happy travels! Jessica