Written By: The Planet D
When thinking of Belfast in Northern Ireland, people often envision The Troubles of the 20th century where religions fuelled violence and divided the city (quite literally). The long walls separating the areas of Shankhill Road and Falls Road are still standing today. However, Belfast is so much more than a city struggling with religious differences. There are many things to do in Belfast that set it apart from its troubling past and make for an amazing city to visit.
During our first visit to Belfast, we were guilty of focusing only on the troubles and doing day trips to the Causeway Coast, but when visiting again, we spent more time downtown to really discover the hidden gems and attractions that are not to be missed. It turns out, that there is a lot to do! So, stock up on your British pounds and learn how to convert from kilometers to miles, we’re taking you on a journey of all the best places to visit in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
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Located just two hours north of Dublin, Belfast is just a hop skip and a jump from Ireland’s more famous city but it feels worlds away. Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom (not the Republic of Ireland).
While Dublin feels like a city made for tourists, Belfast has a more authentic vibe where people hustle to work downtown and pubs are filled with locals instead of day tours coming in on a bus. Read more: 16 Fun Facts About Ireland To Prepare for your journey
If you are looking for the quintessential Irish experience, make sure to visit Belfast and set aside at least two days to truly explore it. If you are wondering why? We’re going to share some of the best things to do in Belfast to peak your interest and lure you to the north of the Emerald Isle.
Without a doubt, one of the most popular things to do in Belfast is to visit Titanic Belfast. This incredible interactive museum is dedicated to the ill-fated Titanic voyage. The ill-fated RMS Titanic was built right here in the shipyards of Belfast. This huge museum takes you through the journey of building the Titanic to the rescue of survivors off the coast of Canada. Read more about another Titanic Museum in Canada: The Best Things to do in Halifax, Nova Scotia
Titanic Belfast houses multimedia displays that share first-hand account stories playing over loudspeakers as you walk through its galleries showcasing replicas of rooms on the Titanic and relics salvaged from the site.
There’s a Disney-like ride in the middle of the self-guided tour where you hop on a ride as your journey to the bottom of the ship gliding through the bowels of the mighty ship. We have visited Titanic Belfast three times and we always find something new.
Once you finish off in Titanic Belfast, your ticket includes a self-guided tour of the SS Nomadic, the last remaining White Star Line ship in the world. It’s an interesting stop to see firsthand what it was like to step aboard the Titanic. The SS Nomadic was used to ferry passengers to the Titanic and was built with the same finishes as the Titanic herself.
It was often referred to as the mini Titanic as it was built alongside the ship and is exactly one-third its size. Its most famous voyage was taking first and second-class passengers from Cherbourg, France to the deeper waters to board the Titanic. It did not follow the Titanic’s fate however and served for another 50 years seeing many famous passengers walk its halls including Charlie Chaplin, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton.
When visiting Belfast, you’ll probably spend a good chunk of your time in the Titanic Quarter. The Titanic Quarter centers around the former Harland & Wolff shipyard and it’s worth spending a few hours in this area taking in its rich history. You don’t necessarily need to go inside Titanic Belfast for the Titanic Experience.
See where the massive ship sat in dry dock before launching. This is where the Titanic was constructed and you can walk its entire footprint. Visitors can descend 44 feet (13 meters). Located right next door is the pumphouse that was used to drain water from the dock that was then known as the Thompson Dry Dock today there are exhibits and machinery used when building the Titanic on display.
Address: NI Science Park, Queens Rd, Queen’s Island, Belfast BT3 9DT, UK
Even if you are not staying in the Titanic Hotel, it’s worth going inside for a drink or to grab some lunch. Half hotel, half museum, this historic hotel is located directly across the street from Titanic Belfast. Located in the former headquarters of Harland & Wolff, the builders of the Titanic there are historic photographs, vintage posters, and memorabilia from the heydays of the White Star Lines.
The Drawing Offices and half a dozen key heritage rooms within the hotel are open to public tours (subject to availability) providing an opportunity to view the artifacts, restoration works, and interior decoration of this important maritime heritage building. Tours can be booked to see the art deco themed rooms, and former offices including Lord Pirries Office and the Corridor of Power.
One of Europe’s largest film studios is located in the Titanic Quarter. Game of Thrones was filmed right within these walls. While it is still a working studio and there aren’t any tours but you can go to another studio tour just 30 minutes outside the city. But if you take a stroll by, you just may catch a glimpse of your favourite Hollywood or UK movie star.
Linen Mill Studios is an incredible interactive museum dedicated to Game of Thrones. During its filming, many integral scenes were filmed right in these studios in Banbridge, Northern Ireland. This is one of the best museums we’ve ever visited and Game of Thrones fans will want to spend at least a few hours taking part in the exhibits.
Walk through authentic sets and stand side by side with John Snow and Arya Stark as you admire recreations of iconic sets such as the Night’s Watch and Kings Landing. You can sit on the Iron Throne, create your own sigil and try your hand at capture motion. It’s truly a movie buff’s dream. Read more: A Game of Thrones Tour of Northern Ireland
The HMS Caroline is a restored warship from World War I. It is a floating museum that you can do self-guided tours on to learn about its history and what life was like on board the last remaining British WW1 light cruiser still afloat. It is also the sole survivor of the Battle of Jutland. It has been closed since 2020 but is scheduled to reopen later this summer.
You can’t help but notice the two giant yellow cranes towering above the Titanic Quarter. The cranes have become a symbol of Belfast hailing to a time when it was home to the largest shipbuilders in the world.
They are not in operation anymore, but they are protected and will remain a part of Belfast’s heritage for years to come. When in operation, they could lift 840 tonnes. Goliath stands at 96 meters high while Samson is 106 metres tall.
Taking a stroll along the waterfront from the Titanic Quarter to downtown isn’t your usual waterfront walk. There are plenty fo stops and attractions along the way, most notably the Glass of Thrones. Paying tribute to Game of Thrones, there are six stained glass exhibits housing scenes from the popular HBO Series. Check out: Game of Thrones Filming Locations You Can Visit in Real Life
Each stained glass displays a different house or key moment in the Game of Thrones representing the Starks, Lannisters, Baratheons, Targaryens, White Walkers, and the Iron Throne. Keep an eye out for them as you walk the Maritime Mile from HMS Caroline to past Titanic Studios to the AC Hotel across the river.
The six stained glass exhibits line the waterfront trails. Many people walk in the opposite direction starting at AC Belfast and ending at HMS Caroline. Here is a list of all the windows.
Located within the Maritime Mile is the Titanic Walkway that spans from Victoria Wharf which connects the Titanic Slipways and Alexandra Dock. The Mew Lighthouse is featured at the end of the wharf with a modern installation housing the 130-year-old lighthouse that in its time was one of the largest optics ever made.
It’s worth taking a stroll around Belfast City Hall to see its lovely architecture and grounds of the civic buildings of Belfast City Council. There are plenty of displays and memorials around City Hall including the Titanic Memorial Gardens. Make sure to visit it at dusk to see it lit up with colourful lighting.
You can also book tours of Belfast City Hall, they happen every day and are free. The experienced guide will take you on an hour-long tour through the building. No reservations are needed, tours are available on a first come first served basis.
We stumbled upon this Belfast attraction by accident. Wanting to take a shortcut back to our hotel, we noticed Victoria Square among the walking streets of downtown Belfast. Located in the heart of Belfast City Centre, Victoria Square was a lovely shopping centre with name-brand stores in a covered gallery.
When we entered the modern shopping center we noticed a high-tech dome in its center. We’d already been walking a lot that day and were happy to see an elevator to the top. We came out to a panoramic view of the city of Belfast.
There are in-house tour guides to offer guidance on the sights, but luckily for us, there was a local man with his daughter up there with us who pointed out Belfast attractions such as Belfast City Hall, and The Titanic Quarter, and Cave Hill. It’s free to enter and one of the things to do in Belfast that we highly recommend.
From the Victoria Square lookout, we had a panoramic view of Belfast city and the surrounding area. You can walk up or take the elevator to the top of the lookout.
During our first trip to Belfast, we took a Black Taxi political tour through Shankhill Roads and Falls Road. This was a fascinating tour through the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods of Belfast that is still divided today. The 25-foot-high walls divide the areas where strong lines are drawn between Loyalists and nationalists.
The gates are still locked today and since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement agreement, there have been more walls built to divide territories. The walls are called Peace Walls which are designed to keep the peace in the neighborhoods. There is a tenuous peace between the two communities in Northern Ireland, and they still feel the division but these walls keep that feeling of safety. Book your tour at TouringBelfast.com
We took another tour this summer and noticed a difference from our Black Taxi Tour a few years ago. Today, our drive didn’t focus as much on the political tour as he did on talking about positive messages. While the murals are still standing, there seemed to be fewer than we remember.
Our driver said that they are trying to create new role models and build the community. It was good to take two different tours, as the Black Taxi tours don’t only focus on politics. We went through all the quarters of Belfast getting an overview of the city which helped us get our bearings and navigate where to go next on our own.
One of the places you’ll drive by during your taxi tours is the Crumlin Road Gaol, but make sure to go back and visit it properly. Gaol is the word for jail in Gaelic. This was a working jail up until 1996 and both republican and loyalist prisoners were held here including women and children.
Here, we learned where the phrase, “take him down originated” The Crumlin Road Gaol is located directly across from the Crumlin Road Courthouse. When a person was condemned, they were taken down to an underground tunnel connected directly to the jail. Your visit includes a walk to this tunnel. You’ll also see the prison cells and execution cells where the majority of the 17 men were executed.
One of the best ways to see the political murals is to take a black taxi political tour, but we have also explored them on our own. During our first visit to Belfast more than a decade ago, the Shankhill and Falls Roads murals were all political murals, but they are now interspersed with street art and positive messages of looking forward while still paying tribute to the past and those who gave their lives for their cause.
The murals play an important part in Belfast culture depicting historic events from Shankhill road to Clonard Martyrs Memorial Gardens and the walls along Falls Road. We got in our rental car and drove around the neighborhoods in search of murals and memorials. One of the easiest ways to find murals we didn’t know of was to look for the black taxis. They were pretty easy to find.
If you don’t have a rental car, this tour is a great option when visiting Belfast to learn the story of “The Troubles” and events in Northern Ireland’s tumultuous history. You’ll discover the Belfast murals and go through the former conflict areas of The Falls and Shankill Road.
It took us three visits to Belfast before we finally stopped at Belfast Castle. Located in Cavehill Country Park, Belfast castle stands high above Belfast on a hill within the grounds of Cave Hill Country Park. It is free to enter and inside you can tour its rooms and grab a bite to eat at the cafe.
We felt like we had the rooms to ourselves as we walked through the floors. It didn’t take long, but it’s always cool to go inside. We also explored a bit of the hiking trails and if you are into that sort of thing, the Belfast Zoo is located nearby.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to truly explore Cave Hill Country Park, but for outdoor lovers, this is one of the best things to do in Belfast. It can easily be combined with a tour of Belfast Castle. explore the caves but you can explore the history and caves along this historic 7.2 km path (4.5 miles) in around 3 hours.
There are plenty of things to keep you occupied for an afternoon at Cave Hill Country Park including hiking trails to archaeological sites, and gardens leading to Belfast Castle. Whether you are in the mood for a serious hike or a casual walk, there’s something for everyone.
A fun fact is that the hill that Cave Hil Country Park is situated on is believed to have been the inspiration for Jonathan Swift’s novel, Gulliver’s Travels.
The Botanic Gardens are located in the university district and a visit here can be combined with a trip to the Ulster Museum. This area is just about 1 mile from the Belfast city center and is within walking distance from City Hall.
Established in 1828 by the Belfast Botanic and Horticultural Society, the Belfast’s Botanic Gardens are a quiet retreat within the busy university area of bustling Belfast. Don’t miss stopping by its greenhouse to see an early example of this iron glasshouse. The displays are particularly beautiful.
Located within the Botanic Gardens, Ulster Museum is the largest museum in Northern Ireland. When visiting Ulster Museum, you’ll take a walk through history dating back to the dinosaurs through to the history of Northern Ireland to today.
Ulster Museum is part of the national museums and galleries of Northern Ireland combined with the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and the Ulster American Folk Art Museum which is worth stopping to see just outside of Belfast.
After visiting the Botanic Gardens and Ulster Museum, take a stroll over to another famous Belfast Landmark at Queen’s University. This area is a great place to hang out and the buildings of Queen’s University offer some of the greatest architectural designs in the country. In fact, the Lanyon Building is often seen in advertising for Northern Ireland Tourism.
As with the case of visiting so many cities, we love strolling university grounds. They are the heartbeat of the city with gorgeous architecture and Queen’s University in Belfast, reminded us a bit of Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario.
No visit to any European city would be complete without visiting its cathedral, and Belfast is no exception. St. Anne’s Cathedral (Also known as the Belfast Cathedral) is aptly located in the Cathedral Quarter. The cathedral began construction on the sight of St. Anne’s parish Church in 1895 after deciding that a cathedral was needed in the city.
Fun fact, St. Anne’s Parish church was used until 1903 as the building was built up around it. It took another 80 years to complete. Between the World Wars, The Troubles, and inflation there were several delays in completing St. Anne
St. Anne’s cathedral is less than a kilometer from the Belfast City Centre.
Located directly behind St. Anne’s Cathedra, The Metropolitan Arts Centre is a place for music, art exhibitions, and live theatre. If you are looking for things to do in Belfast at night, check out one of the performances here.
Or you can go inside during your stop at the Belfast Cathedral to peruse its galleries. Exhibitions are free and you can try your hand at creating some of your own art at its interactive imagination stations. (Donations welcome)
One of our favourite things to do in Belfast is to stroll along the waterfront taking in the sights from Titanic Belfast to the Belfast City Centre. From Glass of Thrones displays to the other murals including the Big Fish at Lagan Lookout.
This is a great place to cross the Lagan River to begin your walk towards Belfast City Centre as from the fish, there are plenty of attractions. Take in the views of the river, before heading up Queen’s Square to see the Albert Memorial Clock.
Pisa may be the most famous leaning tower in the world, but Belfast has its own leaning tower with the Albert Memorial Clock. The tower was built on reclaimed land and weighs a whopping 1,000 tonnes which caused it to sing into the ground. Whether you are walking or taking a tour, it’s easy to see the lean of the tower
No trip to Belfast, (or Ireland for that matter) would be complete without visiting its pubs. If you are looking for things to do in Belfast at night, head out to the bars around Belfast city centre and go pub hopping. Make sure to start at McHughs Bar located just a hop skip and a jump from Albert Memorial Clock. It dates back to 1711 making it the oldest surviving pub in Belfast.
One of Northern Ireland’s best known pubs is the Crown and Liquor Saloon. It dates back to 1826 and was once the mightiest of Victorian gin palaces. It’s ornate exterior attracts customers from around the world and inside, it has been meticulously restored by the national trust. It is probably one of the most beautiful pubs you’ll ever visit.
Who doesn’t love a market and St. George’s Market is one of Belfast’s oldest attractions. If you happen to be in Belfast on a Friday, check out this market that has been running on this exact site since 1604. It is also open on Saturdays and Sundays with rotating craft, food, antique and garden markets.
The Parliament Buildings of Northern Ireland are located on the Stormont Estate and are often referred to simply as Stormont. The parliament buildings are open to the public for free guided tours 9:00AM to 4:00PM daily. (closed on public and bank holidays). It is an interesting thing to tour parliament buildings, we have done so a couple of times in our nation’s capital of Ottawa Canada.
The Parliament Buildings are located in Stormont Park where you can enjoy an escape from the hustle and bustle of Belfast. There is a 4km long woodland walk and even a 1.6km fitness trail with outdoor gym equipment.
If you want to catch a live performance in Belfast, consider booking tickets to a show at the Grand Opera House Belfast. From the ballet to opera to musical theatre, it has it all.
If you don’t catch a show, consider taking a tour of the Grand Opera House Heritage Exhibition to explore this venue that has been a large part of the city’s history. The Grand Opera House has a 125 year history where the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Luciano Pavarotti have walked its halls.
A great complement to your Titanic Belfast tour is to visit the Belfast Barge Museum. This permanent exhibit showcases what is called “The Greatest Story Never Told” Learn of the people who worked on the River Lagan most noteabely Harland & Wolfe, (the company that built The Titanic.
The Museum is free to enter and is worth giving a donation to see its artifacts and visual displays from this bygone era.
Dining in Northern Ireland has come a long way baby and we thoroughly enjoyed our dining experiences in Belfast. These venues were modern with sophistaced foods and wine pairings.
Ten Square Hotel Belfast – We stayed at the Ten Square Hotel and can highly recommend it. Located directly across from Belfast City Hall, we loved this hotel. We were within walking distance of many attractions and the rooms were modern and chic.
Titanic Hotel Belfast – We didn’t stay here, but we did tour it and if you want to explore more of Titanic Belfast, this is an excellent location. It’s not located in the city centre, so you’ll really only be near Titanic Quarter attractions, but this historic hotel will take you back in time with restored art deco themed rooms and the grand elegance from the era of the Titanic
We drove to Belfast from Dublin as it is only a two hour drive between the cities. There are even day tours that will take you from Dublin should you only have a short amount of time.
You can also get to Belfast by bus and train. There is a direct train that connects Dublin from Dublin Connolly and arrives at Belfast Central.
International tourists will fly into Belfast International Airport.
If you are flying from Europe or anywhere within the United Kingdom, you will land at George Best Belfast City Airport which is located just 5 minutes from Belfast City Centre.
Belfast is small, or as our taxi driver liked to say, it’s cozy. Belfast is easy to get around by walking, driving or taxi, and you can see a lot of the city in a short amount of time. We’ve visited Belfast on three separate occasions and found renting a car to be the best way to get around, but Black Taxi Tours and the Hop on Hop Off busses are also a fantastic way to see the top tourist attractions.
Belfast is a small city that is easy to get around. We found that many of the top Belfast attractions were within walking distance of the Belfast city centre. Belfast is divided into four quarters that all meet at Belfast City Centre. North Belfast, East Belfast, South Belfast, and West Belfast.
A great place to start your trip to Belfast is to stop at the Visit Belfast Welcome Centre where you can get in depth information on tours and you can pick up bus and rail tickets.
Belfast is then divided into 7 districts, The famous Titanic Quarter, Cathedral Quarter, Queen’s Quarter, Linen Quarter, Market Quarter, Gaeltacht Quarter, and Smithfield and Union Quarter
Belfast is a great place to make a base in Northern Ireland and because many of the top Belfast attractions are just a short drive away, you can see a lot of the country in a short time.
Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland’s most famous attraction and it is just a 90 minute drive from Belfast City Hall. This extraordinary natural phenomenon was formed by a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago. The UNESCO World Heritage Site showcases more than 40 thousand basalt pillars that are stacked perfectly leading out to the sea.
It looks as if each pillar has been laid there by some sort of giant entity. In fact, there is a legend about the Giant’s Causeway and how it was built by the giant Fionn McCool.
The Dark Hedges aren’t as lush and attractive as they once were after pruning in recent years but they are still one of Northern Ireland’s most photographed attractions. This beautiful row of beech trees lines an old country lane. It has gained in popularity thanks to Game of Thrones which featured it in season one as Arya Stark rode away from King’s Landing along the King’s Road.
Derry ended up being one of our favorite places to visit in Northern Ireland and it can be done on a day trip from Belfast. Officially known as Londonderry by the British Government, Derry is a small city that can be explored in a day or two. Derry was ground zero for the troubles and when walking through the Bogside area of Derry, you’ll still see murals and monuments to victims of Bloody Sunday and the conflict.
The walls of Derry are our favourite Londonderry attraction. It surrounded the city centre and is considered one of the best preserved walled city in Europe. A visit to Derry is a fascinating way to learn about Northern Ireland’s history.
Ulster museum photo is courtesy of 27 Best Things to Do in Northern Ireland
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How To Visit the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland
The Ultimate Causeway Coastal Route Itinerary, Northern Ireland
Things to do in Derry – Londonderry, Northern Ireland
Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.
Thanks for the details.
Wow! this place is looking so beautiful and You shared amazing information about beautiful Belfast. Love your photos. Thanks…
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