Belfast is one of the top places to visit in Northern Ireland. The capital city of Northern Ireland was part of our epic trip to the United Kingdom for Christmas. The city is the birthplace of the famous RMS Titanic and home to numerous historical monuments, world-class museums, and lush parks. Belfast is also a perfect base to explore scenic landscapes around the coastline of Northern Ireland. Here are the top things to do in Belfast on your visit to this historic city.
How to Reach Belfast
There are two airports in Belfast – the George Best Belfast City Airport and the Belfast International Airport. The cities within Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are served at the George Best Belfast City Airport. The Belfast International Airport connects with the other major cities in Europe, UK and from across the world. The nearest airport to the Belfast City center is the George Best Belfast City Airport.
If you are getting to Belfast from other cities in Northern Ireland there is a well-connected bus service connecting the towns and cities with Belfast. There is a good connectivity of buses from Dublin to Belfast which takes about 2.5 to 3 hours of journey.
Top Things to do in Belfast
Titanic Belfast Experience
One cannot miss a visit to the Titanic Belfast when in Belfast. RMS Titanic was a luxury passenger ship that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage. Belfast City is the birthplace of the Titanic Ship and the city commemorates this with the wonderful Titanic Belfast Experience.
The Titanic Belfast Experience is a museum housed in an imposing building in shape of a ships’ prow where visitors can learn about and experience the grandeur of Titanic Ship. The Titanic Belfast Experience is a six-floor building with 9 interactive galleries where you can explore the history and building of the Titanic through photographs, multimedia, and recreated interiors.
Also part of the experience is a visit to the SS Nomadic which is the last remaining white star vessel. Visitors can walk through the recreated interiors of the historic ship and discover its maritime history.
The tickets can be booked online and are allocated based on time slots. The entrance to the SS Nomadic is also included in the Titanic Belfast Experience tickets. Do not miss the spectacularly illuminated Titanic Belfast at dusk.
St Anne’s Cathedral or Belfast Cathedral
St Anne’s Cathedral also known as the Belfast Cathedral is a Romanesque church located in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast. The church more than 100 years old features lofty arches, massive pillars, stained glass windows, and a 40 M stainless steel spire. The interior is decorated with mosaics, intricate carvings, and sculptures.
There is a memorial inside the cathedral in the form of a pall dedicated to the lives lost in the sinking of the RMS Titanic. The beautifully hand-crafted Titanic pall consists of more than 1,500 gold crosses each representing a lost life in Titanic tragedy.
Visitors can take an audio guided tour of the magnificent Cathedral and learn about the history of the cathedral as well as the city of Belfast. There is an entrance fee to the cathedral which includes a guidebook and the rent of the audio guide.
Day Tour to Giant’s Causeway and the Antrim Coast
Giant’s Causeway and Antrim Coast is one of the top tours from Belfast. Giant’s Causeway located in County Antrim on the north coast of Northern Ireland draws tourists for the site of spectacular basalt columns. There are over 40,000 columns which are said to be formed by the volcanic eruption about 60 million years ago.
Either join one of the group tours from Belfast or drive on your own you are sure to be spellbound by the scenic landscapes. Giant’s Causeway is about 90 minutes drive from Belfast which makes it an easy day trip.
There is no entrance fee for visiting the Giant’s Causeway. Visitors can also visit the visitor’s center if you are interested to learn more about the formation and history of the causeway. There is an entrance fee for the Visitor’s center.
Visitors can also visit the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge which is only 15 minutes drive from the Giants Causeway. The rope bridge originally built by the fishermen in 1700s connects the mainland to a small island of Carrickarede.
Crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a thrilling experience and offers some of the breathtaking scenic vistas of the surrounding landscapes.
There is an entrance fee to cross the bridge and the tickets are timed so only a limited number of people are allowed to cross at a given time. And the bridge may be closed if the weather conditions are not good.
Also, popular stops on the tour are the Old Bushmills Whiskey Distillery 10 minutes drive from Giant’s Causeway for a guided tour and whiskey tasting, the Dunluce castle and other charming coastal towns.
Take a Tour of the Belfast City Hall
The Belfast City Hall is a magnificent building located in Donegall Square dominating the city center of Belfast. The imposing structure built in Baroque Revival style was completed in 1906. The City Hall features a central green copper dome flanked by towers at the four corners.
After dusk, the City Hall is beautifully illuminated with colorful lights
One can take a free guided tour of the Belfast City Hall which walks through the lavish interior and rooms of the City Hall. The interior consists Grand Staircase, the Reception Room and the Great Hall. The rooms are decorated with stained glass windows, historic portraits including Queen Victoria and William III and several other memorials. Visitors can later take an audio guided tour of the Visitor Exhibition room which walks through the history of Belfast.
There are numerous monuments and statues around the City Hall gardens including a statue of Queen Victoria, a granite column dedicated to the American Expeditionary Force, Northern Ireland’s war memorial and the Garden of Remembrance.
There is also a Titanic Memorial commemorating the victims of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. ‘The Belfast List’ in Titanic Memorial Garden, lists the names of 1,512 people who lost their lives on RMS Titanic.
Belfast is the birthplace of the ill-fated Titanic Ship which was built in Harland and Wolff’s shipyard in Belfast. There is also a memorial to Sir Edward Harland, the former head of the Harland and Wolff shipyard who also served as the Mayor of Belfast.
There is also a gift shop where you can buy some souvenirs and a coffee shop if you want to take a break after your tour. More information on the free tour and Belfast City Hall open times here.
Crumlin Road Gaol
The tour of the Crumlin Road Gaol is one of the unique experiences for tourists in Belfast. The Crumlin Road Gaol has served as a prison for over 150 long years from 1845 to 1996 and was later opened to the public as a museum. It is Northern Ireland’s only remaining Victorian Era prison.
The guided tour of the infamous Crumlin Road Gaol lets you explore different sections of the prison, learn about its history and experience what life was like for those imprisoned here. Visitors walk through the underground tunnel that used to connect prison to the Crumlin Road Courthouse, cells of C-Wing, Graveyard and retrace the steps of the prisoner and the officials, visit the condemned man’s cell where the prisoners were kept before execution and the execution cell where prisoners were hanged.
Visitors can also take other tours like Historical Evening Tour, Paranormal Tour and Ghost Walk Tour where you can discover some harrowing stories about paranormal activities in the gaol and the Victorian Tour which is more oriented towards the school kids and excludes the execution chamber. The Crumlin Road Gaol also hosts concerts and events. More info on the Crumlin Road Gaol here.
Explore the Belfast Castle
Belfast Castle located on the slopes of Cavehill Country Park is one of the most famous landmarks of Belfast City. The estate offers great views of the city of Belfast. The castle dates from the 19th century and is built in Scottish baronial style.
The castle consists of an antique shop, a restaurant, and visitors center which was opened to the public in 1988. The Cave Hill Visitor Centre is an interesting museum which walks the visitors through the history of Cave Hill and the Belfast Castle. The castle is also a popular venue for conferences, private dining and wedding receptions.
Cavehill Country Park features include Cave Hill Adventurous Playground which is a must if you are visiting with kids and landscaped gardens. Another major point of interest here is the Cat Garden which is adorned with 9 cats for the visitors to discover. The cats here can be found in the form of mosaics, bronze and stone sculptures and metal artwork.
Shop at the St George’s Market
St George’s Market housed in a beautiful Victorian building is one of the oldest markets of Belfast. The present market dates from the 19th century but the original market is said to date from the 1600s.
There are stalls selling antiques, metalworks, seafood, bread, meat, crafts, clothes, antiques, souvenirs and more. The Friday Variety Market is huge with over 200 stalls selling a variety of local produce. The market is open on Friday, Saturday and Sundays. There are live performances by local artists on the weekends.
There is a free market bus runs from the Belfast City Centre to the market every 20 minutes on Friday and Saturday.
The market has an intriguing history where during the World War II it served as an emergency mortuary. Over 200 bodies were brought for identification. Services for the public funeral was held in the market and were later taken to the city cemeteries.
There were few other Belfast attractions which we could not cover during our visit and hence we asked our fellow travel bloggers to share their experience and they are as follows:
Explore the Historical Murals of West-Belfast
Esther de Beer from Your Dutch Guide shares her experience of doing the popular Black Cab Tour in Belfast.
When visiting Belfast it’s hard (if not impossible) not to learn something about The Troubles. The best way to get to know about this painful era in Northern Irish history is to join a Black Cab Tour to see the murals of West-Belfast.
I grew up seeing about The Troubles in Northern Ireland on the news when I was little and it didn’t make much sense to me, at the time. Lucky for me, the taxi driver of the tour took me to West-Belfast, once the heart of a conflict between Protestants and Catholics of Belfast, to tell me all about it.
The neighborhood is covered in murals, like street art ‘avant la lettre’ used as propaganda honoring the martyrs that gave their lives for either the protestant or catholic cause. One street could ‘belong’ to protestant, while the next was actually Catholic turf, a constant source of tensions, protests, and terrorism. The murals reveal the personal stories behind The Troubles and after seeing many of them on our drive through the neighborhood, history slowly but steadily started to make more sense to me.
My favorite murals were the ones on the so-called Peace Wall, which was established after the peace treaty was signed in the 90’s. Taking a Black Cab Tour is the key to understanding Northern Ireland just a little better.
Belfast Botanical Garden
The botanical garden of Belfast is a public garden and a popular respite away from the bustling city. Established in 1828, the garden is home to a diverse variety of flora and exotic species of plants. The two major points of interest in the botanical garden are Tropical Ravine and the Palm House.
Tropical Ravine houses some of the oldest plants which are said to be over hundreds of years old. The Palm House is a glasshouse designed by Sir Charles Lanyon who also designed the other important Belfast landmark Queen’s University. The Palm House glasshouse is home to a variety of tropical plants.
Visitors can learn about the use of glasshouse technology in growing plant species and conservation work through multimedia exhibits. The garden is also a popular venue for concerts, music festivals and numerous events.
The Ulster Museum located in the Botanic Gardens of Belfast is the largest museum in Northern Ireland. The major part of the collection consists of artifacts on the history of Northern Ireland. If you are visiting with kids there is an impressive collection of Irish birds, mammals, marine invertebrates and more. There is also a collection of natural history which includes a large exhibition on dinosaurs and various minerals, and fossils.
Other exhibits of the museum consist of important archaeological findings from Stone Age to the recent past, an Egyptian mummy, ethnography collection and art collection consisting of artifacts on regional and international culture.
Similar to the famous tapestry in Bayeux there is a remarkable 80m long tapestry in the Ulster Museum which you wouldn’t want to miss if you are a Game of Thrones fans. The tapestry in Ulster museum summarises the events and story of the Game of Thrones television series.
Join a Game of Thrones Tour
Game of Thrones tour is a popular tour for the avid Game of Thrones fans and something not to miss on your visit to Belfast. The tour takes you through the famous shooting locations of the GoT television series.
Even if you are not a fan of the series you will enjoy the spectacular scenic vistas consists of rocky beaches, stunning landscapes, and medieval sites all along the trip.
Some of the popular stops included on the tour are Dunluce Castle, Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, Giant’s Causeway, Dark Hedges, Castle Ward, Cushendun Caves, and many others.
Best Time to Visit Belfast
The best time to visit Belfast or any part of the UK for that matter is from April to September when the weather is warm and days are longer. The summer months from June to August are busiest months when the prices of the hotels are high and you can expect some tourist crowd.
We visited the UK and Belfast for Christmas and it was wonderful to behold the city illuminated with Christmas lights. Though it did not snow it rained a few times, the weather was chilly. So if you are visiting in the winter months from mid-November to February do make sure to carry warm clothes and umbrella. During these months the day tours out of Belfast are limited. And also the days are shorter which means less time for sightseeing.