Belfast Bucket List: The 10 Best Things to See and Do in The City

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 cities 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.

One of many streets in Belfast.

#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’re got the kids with you or if it starts to rain.

Tropical Ravine in Botanic Gardens

#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.

Titanic Belfast, Northern Ireland.

#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.

An exhibition at Ulster 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.

Inside of the Queens University, Belfast.

#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, 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.

Belfast Giants vs Nottingham Panthers

#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’s 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 take-away 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

One of the food stalls at the market, Belfast.

#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

The rooftop views from the Dome, Belfast.

#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’

Belfast Castle and Gardens.

#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.

One of the colourful murals in Belfast City, Northern Ireland.

#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!

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Our Crossings follows the daily adventures of Latvian expats living in Sligo as they surf and explore the world

65 thoughts on “Belfast Bucket List: The 10 Best Things to See and Do in The City

  1. Some excellent suggestions for things to see and do in Belfast Aiva. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing nearly all of these with the exception of Belfast Castle and an ice hockey match though I’ve been enthralled at one of these events when I have been staying in Helsinki! Hope your week is going well and your daughter is happily back into her school routine following the Easter holidays. Marion xx

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks so much for your lovely comment Marion and sorry for the late reply, we just came back from a family holiday, so I am trying to catch up with all the news on WordPress. Many people still imagine Belfast as a grey, industrial city without much interest. However, there are many things to see in Belfast. The city has managed to overcome its past and offer a much more friendly and open image to tourism. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely weekend 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Great list of to dos for Belfast Aiva. I think there is nothing for it but to visit Belfast, when we next visit the relatives ion Carrick. Thanks for all the tips. Have a great week. Allan

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks so much, Allan 🙂 Belfast is one of Europe’s most underrated cities. Since the turbulent days of ‘The Troubles,’ Belfast has transformed itself into an exciting holiday destination, full of character, with the kind of raw, vibrant energy not experienced in regular tourist traps. There’s plenty to see and do, particularly if you’re a fan of “Game of Thrones.” Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  3. Definitely a city I want to visit and your suggestions and information will certainly be my guide. Wonderful, interesting and very practical. I really learn from your posts Aiva, cheers. Take good care and all the best!
    Francis

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks so much, Francis, I hope you are having heaps of fun in Miami! I love Belfast and the best way to explore it is via one of the hop-on, hop-off bus tours. They’re great value for money, and a friendly guide is on hand to run through the history of the city and its various landmarks. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I always love your suggestions on “things to do” in different cities! Belfast has been on my list for some time, especially since often there are very cheap flights there from London. Will take this list in consideration when I finally decide to go 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you kindly, Nic 🙂 Northern Ireland is filled with some pretty spectacular places, but Belfast and The Causeway Coast never fail to blow visitors away with their beautiful landscapes and eye-catching landmarks. I hope you get to visit one day as the city is just over an hour’s flight from London, with tickets costing as little as £50 on low-cost carriers. So, it’s a great extra destination for you to explore whilst in the UK. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great tips! I have never been to Belfast but I’ve heard mixed things about it to be honest! However, looking at your pictures and reading this post I would be very curious to check it out! I suppose most people go to Ireland for its landscapes rather than its bigger cities, but it is also in them that you can see many remnants of the region’s history! Thanks for sharing 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi, Juliette! When it comes to Belfast, it’s not one of those European cities where you get to wander around charming Old Towns with rows of cute gingerbread-like houses; the recent Brexit agreement has caused a stir and created some tension across the country.
      But in general, many people have outdated perceptions of beautiful Northern Ireland, a country coloured by grim memories of regular bombings up until the 1990s. I lived in Ireland for twenty years and heard some horror stories that put me off from visiting. Granted, it still remains a complicated place, due to a combustible mix of religion and politics, and you just have to take the same normal precautions you would in any city. If you are exploring a new area and are feeling a bit apprehensive, it’s always best to go with your gut and use common sense wherever you go. And don’t discuss politics or religion with people, just in case people’s opinions differ dramatically from yours. It is the best way to avoid causing offence, or even arguments. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva 🙂 xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much 🙂 Over the past 50 years, Belfast and Northern Ireland have gained a bad reputation. News headlines and stories across the world gave a very negative impression of the country during its dark period, but today the city and Northern Ireland as a whole have moved on. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Christie 🙂 Belfast is a vibrant city that’s definitely worth at least a day or two of your time. But there’s so much more to see in Northern Ireland, too. The now world-famous Giant’s Causeway is just the first stop on the winding Causeway Coastal Route that will make you gasp several times over. Have a lovely day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much 🙂 Once synonymous with violence and sectarianism, the former industrial city has transformed into a vibrant and thriving cultural centre. With a population of around 330,000, it is relatively small and can easily be wandered through on foot. Have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. Belfast is a city of divided cultural quarters, each with its own distinct character and personality, each certain to delight! Most central is the Cathedral Quarter, home to St. Anne’s Cathedral, and one can find a variety of live performances, art exhibitions and food markets during the summer months.

      May you have a day filled with kind words, positive thoughts, happy people, and beautiful moments. Have a very great day, today 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Northern Ireland (especially Belfast) eluded me during my grand UK and Ireland trip in 2015; I just didn’t have the time to make it over, sadly. What a shame, as the city is beautiful, as well as the day trips to the Giant’s Causeway, I imagine! You, along with other UK and Ireland-based bloggers, have shared experiences in Belfast and because I’ve read so many posts on it already, I take it it’s a sign to go someday soon!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much, Rebecca, I hope you get to visit Belfast one day 🙂 In Belfast itself, there are a plethora of things to do and see. Any day spent exploring Belfast is best begun with a good breakfast at St. George’s Weekend Market, operating since 1604! While the Saturday market is mostly geared towards the sale of crafts, you can find yourself a good feed there at any stage throughout the weekend.

      I know that Belfast is slightly less accessible to international visitors than Dublin. While direct flights are available from many European capitals, there are no direct flights from the US. This needn’t be an issue, however, as transport options from Dublin are numerous and a train journey between the two cities takes only two hours. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Glenys! I love the Palm House too, and I was delighted to finally see it. Like many other tourist attractions, it remained closed through the pandemic and was inaccessible to visitors. It’s great to see that the world is finally opening up. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It sounds like there’s a nice range of activities in Belfast. That’s a neat idea to have a local guide explain more of the backstory and context about the murals. Thanks for sharing some of your favourite things to do in the city. Take care. Linda

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much, Linda! While I mostly prefer to spend time outdoors hiking and biking with my family, once in a while I yearn for a culture break. Belfast has plenty of wonderful architecture, world-class art galleries and museums, a flourishing literary scene, rich history and plenty of independent bookstores to keep me happy for days on end.

      I believe that using a guide is the best use of your time. A tour guide will always know the best hours to visit attractions, when prices are best, which places you can skip and any number of tricks and tactics that will help you get the most out of travel to a heavily visited location.

      Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you kindly 🙂 The best thing about Belfast’s small size is that you can get around the city easily. Local transport is quick, but if you feel like stretching your legs you can walk from one side of the city to the other in only half an hour, and take in all the sights as you go! Aiva 🙂 xx

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  8. I have distant cousins in Belfast that we visited when I was a kid. It was sure a different Belfast then, in then70s, than now. I hope to re-visit someday and your guide has so many great options of what to see and do. It looks nothing like my childhood memories. Maggie

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I hope you get to re-visit Belfast, Maggie 🙂 My very first visit was around twenty years ago and upon seeing hotels and houses where the windows had hardboard on them, and learning that the social fabric of society was very poor, I vowed never to return. Nobody wanted to be in the city centre as that was where the bombs went off. But then again, Northern Ireland was a very different place 20 years ago and it was the ceasefires in 1994 that began to change things. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Thanks so much and I hope you get to visit Belfast one day 🙂 Belfast has been quietly evolving into one of the UK’s most exciting cities to explore where the history fills the streets through well-preserved architecture and striking murals. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  9. I’m not a hockey fan (I can get tons of that In Minnesota and I still don’t go), but all the rest looks really tempting, especially the castle and the palm gardens. I was just at a large greenhouse the other day looking for some houseplants for our sunroom and it was SO lovely to roam around surrounded by the sight and smell of fresh flowers and plants, especially at this time of year. I’ll be the palm house provides just that type of experience.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ice Hockey is the main and national sport in Latvia with the best hockey fans in the world. The Latvians basically treat a trip to the World Hockey Championship in the same way as those in Canada treat an all-inclusive trip to the Caribbean. And much to my husband’s and friends’ surprise (or I would rather say ‘horror’, I haven’t even been to one game. While nothing has changed, it was nice to finally attend an ice-hockey game and to see the passion displayed by the fans.

      When it comes to visiting greenhouses and Palm houses – I always try to find one in each city we visit. There’s nothing quite as exciting as experiencing a tropical ”punch” in various shades of green, especially when you live in the Northern Hemisphere. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Fantastic shots! I have been to Belfast once and just saw around the center but it was lovely. Would enjoy seeing more of the city. Fond memories of the Giant’s Causeway from trips to Portrush. Have a lovely weekend, Aiva! K x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much, Kerry. We initially planned a trip along the coast, but given how brutal the weather can be in early March, settled to stay in Belfast city where we can see many of its indoor attractions. It’s fantastic to see that Belfast has undergone a remarkable transformation over the last 20 years. Not that long ago, mention Belfast and, to a certain generation, images of conflict may spring to mind. It would be wrong, however, to jump to such conclusions these days. It does remain, however, a city that is somewhat conservative and if you walk Belfast’s streets on a Sunday night you will be surprised to see most of the city shuts down completely on Sunday. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I was quite surprised about it, too, Kerry. Some large shops may only open on a Sunday between 1 pm and 6 pm, but otherwise, everything else is closed. Anyone that runs a large retail business also needs to check whether they require permission from a district council to load and unload goods before 9 am on a Sunday. There are significant fines for large shops that fail to comply.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Exciting travel adventures, indeed, my friend. If there’s one thing I learned during the pandemic times is that we don’t always have to hop on a plane and travel abroad to make memories and have a good time. Staycations can be as much fun as the overseas trip. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much 🙂 Underrated Belfast has been overlooked in favour of cities in the Republic of Ireland for decades. Though it is sometimes overshadowed by Dublin, the capital of Northern Ireland has an entirely diverse set of offerings for even the most experienced Ireland visitor. Aiva 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes Aiva it’s so refreshing to hear that. The north always gets overlooked. I guess people were always scared to visit in the past but it has come a long way. I love when people get the opportunity to visit and experience Belfast 😊😊

        Liked by 1 person

  11. A botanic garden in a city is always a bonus – greenery between the high rise buildings! Wow, so much to see and do in Belfast … from reading about the history of the Titanic, plenty of museums and a market (I love a market)! And even a castle … Belfast has got it all!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much – yes, you are right, in a nutshell, Belfast has got it all! You can easily spend a few days exploring all the main tourist attractions.

      I love Botanical Gardens – they are so calming, relaxing, full of greenery and beautiful plants, and usually with water features or other wonderful decorations are thrown into the mix. That’s why before every trip we make to a new city or region, I always do thorough research to see if there are any nearby. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I am glad to hear that you’ve been to the Titanic Museum in Belfast, and I hope you had a great time exploring it. Belfast may not be the biggest city, but it takes a while to see all of its attractions and must-see sights. This was our third trip and there are still a few museums and murals left on my Belfast wish list. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Thanks so much, I hope you had a lovely Mother’s Day. I love visiting museums in different parts of the world; there is no denying museums are treasure troves of interesting information that can give you insight into the destination and culture you’re visiting. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Thanks so much 🙂 Belfast is a wonderful city to explore; I personally find it welcoming, easy to get around and an affordable place to visit. Stopping by Titanic Belfast is a must – the museum brings the tale to life like never before and also offers a historical snapshot of Belfast during the early 1900s. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely day 🙂 Aiva xx

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