Arriving by car in Belfast’s city centre, the end of a journey from Northwest Ireland that skirts past many towns and villages, you cannot fail to admire the city’s appeal as it has a pace and bustle you’ll find nowhere else in Northern Ireland.
The city’s core is Donegall Square with the City Hall in its centre offering self-guided tours from Belfast’s past to the present. To the South lies one of the UK’s leading research-intensive universities with a global reputation for excellence; Queens University and the Ulster Museum where you can see an ancient Egyptian mummy. A few miles North is Cave Hill with waymarked walking trails and marvellous views over the city.
A trip to Northern Ireland would not be complete without some time spent exploring the streets of Belfast and, luckily, that is an easy dream to achieve. You’ll find a range of tours that all begin in either Dublin or Belfast and, depending on what you want to do, you can travel through the rest of the country from there.
Belfast is Northern Ireland’s largest and most populous city, with almost half a million people calling it home. There are a wealth of activities, sights and cultural experiences, and many excellent places to eat and drink that we barely know where to start.
The cities of Derry and Armagh also have plenty to offer – why not extend your trip, add a second city into the mix and move on to one (or even both) of these places once your stay in Belfast is over.
So, planning a holiday here and need some inspiration? Here are what you should get up to next time you’re in the city: 10 things to do in Belfast you simply have to tick off.
#1. Stop by the Botanic Gardens and Palm House
Situated near Queens University and covering an area of 28 acres, the well-laid out and maintained Botanic Gardens is an important part of Belfast’s Victorian heritage. The Botanic Garden is a beautiful place if you just want to escape all the hustle and bustle of the city. Especially if you get a beautiful day to walk around and see all the blooming flowers.
Asides from its extensive rose garden and rare oaks planted in the 1880s, one of many fascinating features is a Tropical Ravine filled to the brim with a variety of exotic plants and flowers such as banana plants, lilies, orchids and tropical ferns which you can effortlessly admire from a raised walkway.
Nearby is the main spectacle of the gardens – Charles Lanyon’s beautiful Palm House, built in 1839 and completed in 1852, with its birdcage dome. Although it was still closed due to COVID, the gardens were all open when we visited at the end of March.
With so many places to explore and the Ulster Museum just next door, you can kill two birds with one stone especially if you’ve got the kids with you or if it starts to rain.
#2. Visit Titanic Belfast
Titanic Belfast is the world’s largest Titanic visitor experience and a must-see on any visit to Belfast and Northern Ireland. You can easily spend a good few hours here, exploring the working history of Belfast as well as a range of exhibits and interactive displays and a good insight into the Titanic.
You can also see SS Nomadic, which was built at the same time, by the same people, in the same Harland and Wolff shipyard as the Titanic and therefore, it is as close to the Titanic as any ship can be. The boat is set out in sections along class lines and it has other little displays showing the history of the Nomadic etc.
It is located just a few steps away from the Titanic. Keep in mind that its opening hours are slightly different to the Titanic Museum so plan your visit accordingly.
#3. Stop by one of its many Art Galleries and Museums
When you are looking for an attraction to entertain everyone in the family a great place to start is with one of Belfast’s many museums. They are informative, fun and interactive, and best of all many of them have no entrance fee!
Linen Hall Library | Why not visit the oldest library in Belfast and the last subscribing library in Ireland which is also home to a unique collection of books by and about CS Lewis?
Ulster Museum | bursting with exhibitions bringing art, history and science to life, Ulster Museum will be beloved by adults and children alike. Admission to the museum is free and it is located in Botanic Gardens. Current opening hours: Sunday – Tuesday 10:00-17:00
Crumlin Road Gaol | After it closed its doors as a working prison in 1996, the Crumlin Road Gaol underwent an extensive renovation and reopened as a visitor attraction and conference centre.
W5 | is a museum featuring exhibits related to natural sciences and technology.
HMS Caroline | Located in Belfast’s famous Titanic Quarter, HMS Caroline is a First World War-era warship that’s been restored as a must-see floating museum.
#4. Explore Queens University
Belfast’s largest university is well known for its beautiful campus and manicured gardens and is well worth a look, even if you are not academically inclined.
The main Lanyon building is named after its architect, Sir Charles Lanyon – Belfast’s most famous 19th-century architect – was opened in 1849 and is a Northern Ireland landmark with over 160 years of heritage.
The Queen’s Welcome Centre is the official tourist information centre for south Belfast which operates as an information point for visitors and tourists.
Located next to the botanic garden and ulster museum, the university is free to visit and like most universities in the UK allows tourists to roam around its campuses. There’s even a gift shop that carries many handmade items.
#5. See an Ice Hockey Game at The SSE Arena
For a thoroughly entertaining evening – great for the kids and adults alike – head out to the SSE Arena (formerly known as the Odyssey Arena) which is located in a very picturesque location right on the waterfront to attend an ice hockey game and cheer on a professional ice hockey team based in Belfast, Northern Ireland; the Belfast Giants.
As a family of three, we booked our tickets online and attended Belfast Giants vs Nottingham Panthers. We had great seats and the atmosphere was brilliant as the hockey game was very well presented with fireworks and music during the player introductions.
From eating, drinking, indoor slides, games, and ten-pin bowling to ice hockey and concerts, this arena is a fantastic place for many different events. It seats nearly 8000 people and has fantastic views of the ice from the floor right up to the corporate boxes.
#6. Stop by the St George’s Market
Located in a charming Victorian building, the St George’s Market is a must for anyone visiting Belfast, especially if you are a foodie. It is one of Belfast’s oldest attractions with weekly Friday, Saturday and Sunday Markets.
St George’s Market was built between 1890 and 1896. The market has won local and national titles and awards for its fresh, local produce and great atmosphere. It was named the UK’s Best Large Indoor Market 2019 by the NABMA Great British Market Awards.
With a mixture of food stands, local produce, some 1st floor Restuarant overlooking the market and areas in the market to chat, sit, eat drink and listen to music from the buskers it’s created a really great atmosphere. There are also art and craft and antique stalls.
We visited St George’s Market on a Sunday and really enjoyed the excellent mix of food and craft stalls. The takeaway food stalls were excellent with a great selection available, our favourite was the Parminsano stall that created hot dishes on a round of parmesan.
Opening times: Friday Variety Market 06:00 – 14:00
Saturday City Food and Garden Market 09:00 – 15:00
Sunday Market 10:00 – 16:00
#7. Take in 360° views of Belfast from the Dome
Stop by Victoria Square Shopping centre and take the elevator to the observation platform for stunning views of the city.
Victoria Square has an interesting design centre with the focal point being The Dome. This centre was opened in 2008 after taking 6 years to complete with around 6,000 people involved in its construction and is full of top brand shops and plenty of restaurants and a cinema to keep you occupied!
Victoria Square’s iconic dome can be seen around the city and has become a popular landmark as well as a viewing point for looking out across Belfast. The dome is made up of 364 individual rectangular panes of four-times glazed glass.
You’ll find many informative panels describing various city landmarks such as Belfast Castle, Stormont Parliament Buildings, and the Albert Clock on the viewing platform.
Opening times: Wednesday – Saturday 10am to 6pm and Sunday 1pm to 6pm
Entrance fee: Free of charge
#8. Visit Belfast Castle
Offering free parking and wide open well-kept gardens overlooking Belfast loch and over the city below, Belfast Castle is a must-see for anyone visiting Belfast.
Located on the lower slopes of Cave Hill Country Park in north Belfast, at 400 feet (120 m) above sea level, the turreted Scottish Baronial-style Castle was built using the fast-diminishing funds of the third Marquess of Donegall, and today the castle operates as a restaurant, wedding reception site, and events venue.
One of the interesting activities to do in the gardens is to find nine cats, as in one cat for each of the cats’ lives.
After you’ve enjoyed the pretty gardens, don your hiking boots and take a walk in Cave Hill Country Park, where Belfast Castle is found and be prepared to see as far as the Isle of Man and Scotland from the high points.
Head through the castle estate and start the challenging climb up to the 370 metres (1200 ft) high hill where on the way you will pass the three large man-made caves and interesting geological formations including ‘Napoleon’s Nose’
#9. See the Cities Murals
Murals in Belfast have become symbols of Northern Ireland, portraying the region’s past and present political and religious divisions.
Northern Ireland has had a complicated political past, and while the country is welcoming and peaceful today, only 40 years ago, Belfast was a city at war. To learn more about it, wander the city’s streets to get a closer look at some of the most prominent murals from both the Republican and Loyalist areas of Belfast.
From the Tribute to Bobby Sands which is painted on the wall on Belfast’s Falls Road, the mural is dedicated to Bobby Sands who led the 1981 hunger strike and died while in HM Prison Maze to Piece Wall Murals, make sure you see both of Nationalist and Republican and Unionist and Loyalist murals.
In addition to political murals, Belfast is home to some pretty cool street art pieces worth looking out for. street artists like Andy Council from Bristol, Spanish artist Sabek and the local artist known as Visual Waste have created murals offering a break from usual political themes.
*Our Crossings tip: While you can see the murals on your own, it is best to have a local guide to explain the history and the stories behind each of the murals as they can bring you into neighbourhoods where residents still value their privacy.
#10. Head Out For a Day
Join an organised tour or rent a car for an unforgettable day out along the old Antrim coast towards the world-famous Giant’s Causeway.
If coastal drives are your favourite, I have to say – The Causeway Coastal Route is one of the most inspiring ones. It only takes half an hour from Belfast city to visit this stretch of the road, and once you leave the seaport town Larne behind, this is where the views start in earnest.
The Causeway Coastal Route has something for everyone- beautiful rocky beaches, ancient castles, picturesque fishing villages, and the world-famous Bushmills distillery.
You could also catch a direct train departing from Belfast Lanyon Place and travel to Derry for a day. Services depart hourly and operate every day. The journey takes approximately 2h 2m and you’ll be able to explore one of the most beautiful walled cities in Europe.
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Now, over to you!
Have you ever been to Belfast? Let us know in the comments!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Belfast and have travel-related questions!