Belfast Travel: A Guide To Visiting The City
Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland and has all the attractions that larger national capitals have such as historic landmarks and a vibrant nightlife. It’s one of the best places to visit in Ireland, for good reason!
Belfast travel is aided by its good transport connections by air, ferry, road, and rail. It can be wet and cool, making summer the best time to travel, but Christmas shopping and sporting events are two of the reasons to consider travelling to Belfast in winter as well.
Have a look at this Belfast travel guide and start planning your trip!
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The climate is affected by Belfast’s proximity to the North Atlantic, the Irish Sea and the Gulf Stream, which has a moderating influence on the weather.
In Belfast, it’s rare to have prolonged periods of hot weather — although summers are pleasant.
Extremely cold weather is rare as well but winters can be damp and gloomy. There is no season where visitors can be guaranteed to avoid rain, but a rainproof jacket and umbrella will ensure you can enjoy your travels in Belfast.
Belfast travel numbers definitely increase between May and the end of September. This is the main holiday period in Northern Europe with schools having an extended summer holiday.
Many of the outdoor activities around Belfast are best enjoyed when the weather is likely to be at its best, and the chance of rainfall diminishes.
Of course, peak season also means higher costs, but it can be worth it to enjoy nicer weather.
Easter is a popular holiday period and with the weather still mild in October, there are some weeks either side of the peak season when travellers can enjoy decent weather, less crowds and lower prices.
If you decide that is the time for travel, Belfast deserves consideration.
Even on a wet day, travelling in the city is enjoyable with the shopping on offer as well as the bars, restaurants and nightlife — which are open year-round, rain or shine!
Some prices will fall in the off-season and some of Belfast’s main attractions will be quieter, making the off-season a good time to travel Belfast if you’re on a budget, or don’t like crowds.
WHERE TO STAY
Belfast has something for every age and budget, making it a destination that can be enjoyed by everyone.
Of course, being central has its perks (especially if you’re just in the city for a weekend trip), but there are a few neighbourhoods worth considering. Here are some ideas of where you might stay during your time in the city.
Centred around St.Anne’s Cathedral, this neighbourhood was formerly home to Belfast’s serious newspapers, it’s the equivalent of London’s Fleet Street.
It remains a busy area with accommodation to suit all budgets right up to the 5-star Merchant Hotel.
The nightlife in the Cathedral Quarter is just one of its attractions; the shopping is great as well.
City Hall is the heart of the Central District and a tour of the Hall and relaxing in its gardens is certainly worth your time.
St. George’s Market and shopping, in general, is close at hand.
This neighbourhood is another with plenty of bars and restaurants. Head to the Welcome Centre to get all the information needed to enjoy this Quarter.
Queen’s is one of the most famous universities in Ireland and this southern neighbourhood of Belfast takes its name from the educational institution.
The university architecture is impressive while the neighbourhood is the heart of Belfast’s cultural life. This is the place to stay if you’re travelling Belfast on a budget.
November’s International Arts Festival is held here while several venues within Queen’s host events attracting impressive audiences.
Anyone interested in theatre is spoilt for choice in this area where you can find Lyric Players’, Cresent Arts Centre and Queen’s Film Theatre.
This former shipyard is one of the newer neighbourhoods in Belfast, and is a more modern area.
Known for being where the Titanic was built, this quarter is a good place for families visiting Belfast.
It’s home to a strong maritime theme, with the Titanic Belfast tourist experience and great museums nearby.
What To Do
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Belfast is a compact city. Getting around by foot to see the top attractions a breeze.
The introductory city bus tour and the availability of plenty of tourist information make visiting Belfast very easy. Here are a few top things to do to get you started!
The Titanic was built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast and the museum dedicated to the work of the shipyard is something every visitor should experience. The building itself is impressive while the historical content is amazing.
Guided tours are available and are a means of avoiding queues.
Museum & Botanic Gardens
The National Museum is full of historical and cultural exhibits, the best place to learn about Ireland from its very early days. It is set in the beautiful Botanic Gardens of Belfast.
It would be easy to spend a whole day here. It is closed on Mondays giving you plenty of time to pay a visit.
Admission is free but donations are most welcome. Find it here on the map.
St. George's Food Market
Visit St. George’s Food Market on a weekend morning — it’s a favourite of the locals here. This bustling market is Belfast’s only surviving Victorian indoor market. Here you’ll find local food, flowers, fish, crafts and much more.
You can’t go to the market without ordering up a Belly-Buster Belfast Bap!
The market is open from Friday – Sunday and is located on May Street. Click here for directions.
TOP TOURS IN BELFAST
Join one of the walking tours of Belfast to get your bearings and see the main landmarks — there is no better way to familiarize yourself with the city.
Here are 3 top tours to join when visiting Belfast.
Belfast Murals Tour
There are two main ways to see the stunning art around Belfast; a guided walk or travel in a taxi.
In both cases, you can expect a knowledgeable guide who can explain the importance of each illustration.
The Peaceline Wall is the most significant of the places where you will be taken, while if you already know anything of the Troubles, you will have heard about the Falls Road and the Shankill Road either side of the Wall.
The Belfast Murals tour is a must-do in the city. With a guide, you’ll learn about this divided area and what the Loyalist and Republican murals represent.
Crumlin Road Gaol Guided Tour
Crumlin Road Gaol played a significant role in the Troubles but it was in use many decades previously. An underground tunnel links the prison to the courthouse and more than 25,000 took that walk during the Troubles.
You can see a typical cell where a prisoner was held, and the place where convicts were hanged in Victorian times and during republican struggles.
The graveyard holds the bodies of those executed, but all in unmarked graves which was part of the sentence that was handed down by their judges.
Find out more and join this highly rated, affordable tour.
The Troubles Walking Tour
The religious conflict in Ulster is well-documented but to learn more and to get further insight into the origins of the Troubles, join a walking tour with a knowledgable guide.
There are several sites within the tour which will give you a feel for what life must have been like in those times before the 1990s saw peace prevail.
£19 ($25) is a small price to pay for the tour giving so much insight. Find out more here.
BEST DAY TRIPS FROM BELFAST
This northeast corner of the Island of Ireland is rich in history and has many incredible sites to see! Here are 3 to get you started.
This Causeway on Ulster’s northeast coast is the Province’s most impressive natural feature with a guided day trip the best way to see it.
Myth has it that the formation was built by an Irish giant who sought conflict with a Scottish giant and needed a ”bridge” to get to him.
In reality, the blocks were formed by volcanic activity and it is no surprise that this site has been recognised by UNESCO. You can walk on the rocks but take care because they are slippery.
Game of Thrones
The hugely popular HBO Series was filmed at several locations and Ulster was one of the most important.
Fans of the series will love to take this tour and imagine the scenes from GOT while standing in the place where they were filmed!
It is a long but very enjoyable day by coach from Belfast. Find out more about this highly rated day trip here.
Northern Highlights & Castles
There are over 40 impressive castles built by the Normans for defensive reasons centuries ago and many are open to the public. They are a ”must” for visitors!
Dunluce, which gives its name to Royal Portrush’s Championship Course (one of the top golf courses in Ireland), is located on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea and was built by the Earl of Ulster in the 13th Century.
Carrickfergus is the Province’s largest castle, built by John de Courcy in 1177
The Ulster Fry
This hearty breakfast is available everywhere, from simple cafes to top hotels. It is a good way to fuel yourself for a day out exploring during Belfast!
You can expect potato bread and soda bread as well as black pudding, sometimes white, together with bacon, sausage, tomato, eggs and baked beans.
Colcannon, Bacon & Soda Bread
Colcannon combines potatoes with green leaf vegetables and spring onions, mashed using milk and butter. Add bacon and eat soda bread with this filling dish.
This is an inexpensive dish for lunch (unless you have already had a huge Ulster Fry) or for dinner in simple cafes.
Hot and filling food has been key to the health of the Irish working class. Lamb or mutton cooked slowly with root vegetables make up the filling dish on a winter’s day.
Cost varies with where you eat it, but it’s a tasty meal you’ll want to try in Belfast.
Best Restaurants in Belfast
Holohan’s At The Barge: Moored next to the Waterfront Theatre in the heart of Belfast, this restaurant puts emphasis on local produce although its fine wines concentrate on France.
Salmon and venison are both worth sampling, the seafood in general and local meat will match anything you have tried.
A 3-course lunch costs around $25, while for dinner you can spend $40 and be more than satisfied.
The restaurant is closed on Mondays but serves lunch from 1300 – 1600 and dinner 1700 – 2300, Tuesday to Saturday. Sunday is just lunch between 1300 and 1900. Find it on the map, here.
The Hoose Bistro: The novelty of the Hoose is its all-day menu with plenty of choice for all tastes. The food uses largely local produce that can be accompanied by fine wine, a range of gins and cocktails.
It can cater for large parties, pre-booked of course, as well as for an intimate dinner for two.
Opening hours are 1600- 2100, Wednesday to Saturday and 1300 – 1900 on Sundays when the roast is just $12. A three-course meal should cost you around $35 and there is a kids’ menu. Find it on the map, here.
Ox Belfast: This innovative restaurant offers a 6-course summer menu for $75 and three days a week, mid-week, a 4-course version for $62.50 so it is not cheap but if you want a treat, go for it!
At lunchtime, try 2 courses for $30 or 3 for $37.50.
There is plenty of choice in this Michelin-starred restaurant overlooking the River Lagan. Lunch is 1300 – 1430 and dinner 1800 – 2130 midweek. Find it here on the map.
BEST PUBS IN BELFAST
When in Ireland it has to be a pint of Guinness, but cider production has also become popular.
“Atmospheric” is a word often used to describe Irish pubs and you are certain to find that in these places as you visit Belfast and its amazing pubs!
Duke Of York
This traditional bar is found in a narrow cobbled street in Half Bap. It is filled with memorabilia and the air is full of music and craic any day of the year.
Live music is played Thursday to Sunday and the famous group Snow Patrol made their debuts here just over 20 years ago. Find it on the map, here.
The Cellars are 300 years old and began as a tavern for the lower classes. Musicians would appear here looking for a little money and dancing was popular, especially after a few ales.
Many of its original features are still here today so take a look and enjoy yourself. Music plays every night while in the summer, sessions take place in the garden Friday to Sunday.
Irish stew is sometimes served but nothing else; this is truly a bar and not a restaurant. Find it here on the map.
Crown Liquor Saloon
This saloon was popular in Victorian times and its original gaslighting is still on display. Gin is an ever more popular drink these days and the Crown was one of the original gin palaces.
Many of Belfast’s top attractions are close by so take a break from sightseeing and drop in. Find it on the map here.
LIVE MUSIC VENUES
Ireland and music are synonymous. There is plenty to enjoy in many pubs but there are also larger venues which attract famous acts as well as those trying to carve out careers in entertainment.
Here are a few live music venues in Belfast you won’t want to miss.
The Empire Music Hall
Seemingly a feature of Belfast life forever, the Empire only opened in 1987 but its architecture, a Victorian church, gives the impression of age.
The acoustics are excellent so everyone is keen to display their talents there while it also has a bar which attracts customers of its own, many going to watch live screenings of sporting events. Find it here on the map.
This large complex also opened in 1987 and comprises Limelight 1 and 2, The outdoor Rock Garden and Katy’s Bar. It is famous for its assistance to emerging local talent and who knows, you may see the next Irish international stars if you pay a visit.
After suffering financial problems, it was refurbished and rebranded by the current owners, MCD & Shine Productions, live Irish music promoters. Find directions here.
Oh Yeah Music Centre
A converted warehouse in the Cathedral Quarter, this is a place where you can enjoy the best of musical talent in Ulster.
It runs a musical bus tour which includes the places that Van Morrison used to frequent and for those more interested in more classical music, James Galway. Find it on the map here.
FESTIVALS IN BELFAST
Several cultural events appear on Belfast’s calendar and they are in no way confined to the peak summer season making Belfast travel an idea for any time of the year.
International Arts Festival
Belfast Festival at Queen’s began in 1962 until 2015 when the responsibility for hosting what is now the International Arts Festival was handed to a new organisation with charity status.
Enjoy everything from music and dance, film and theatre. Venues are used throughout Belfast over a period of two weeks and in the past, Laurence Olivier, Billy Connolly, Jimi Hendrix and Rowan Atkinson have all appeared.
C S Lewis Festival
One of Ireland’s most influential writers has his life and work celebrated in November each year. C S Lewis is perhaps most famous for “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
A few days of workshops and events for all the family take place in different Belfast venues, run by Eastside Arts in C S Lewis Square where you will see seven sculptures of his most famous characters from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.
Cinemagic Film Festival
This is the largest festival of its kind in the UK and Ireland, offering the chance for youngsters to display their talents.
HIKING IN BELFAST
Belfast is in a beautiful area of Northern Ireland, so there are quite a few worthwhile hikes located nearby. When visiting Belfast, there’s no better way to get acquainted with the Northern Ireland landscape than to take a hike.
Here are a few of the best hiking trails to visit when you travel Belfast.
Giant's Ring Trail
Giant’s Ring is only a 15-minute drive outside of the city of Belfast, and it’s a perfect trail for beginners. It’s a scenic 3.5 km trail that takes a little over an hour to hike depending on the number of times you stop to soak up the view.
Along the trail, you can expect to see breathtaking woodlands, streams, bridges, and wildlife. Of course, the real highlight of the trail is the Giant’s Ring, which is a historical monument from the Neolithic period.
Though the route is short and easy, come prepared by wearing sturdy hiking shoes and packing water in case you get thirsty. You’ll also want to bring your camera to take photos of the monument! Find it here on the map.
This beautiful trail is located 13 minutes north of Belfast up near Belfast Castle and is easily accessible by both car and public transportation. It’s a moderate loop trail through mainly the forest that is 6.6 km long.
Try to do this hike in the warmer months or around a time where Belfast doesn’t get a lot of rain. It’s known for getting muddy and slippery if the weather takes a turn which can make it a bit dangerous at times.
The Cavehill Trail is said to offer the best views of the entire city, but it does have different hours depending on the season. Be sure to pack water and snacks because you’re bound to get hungry during the hike. Find it here.
Slieve Croob "Twelve Cairns" Walk
Twelve Cairns Walk is a 4.3 km out and back trail that is perfect for moderate hikers located 45 minutes south of Belfast. It offers some of the best views of Slieve Croob and the Northern Ireland countryside, and, on fogless days, you can even see the Isle of Man and Scotland!
This trail is consistently voted as one of the best paths to do with a family because it’s not super challenging and offers views that you can’t get elsewhere. Just make sure you pack layers and wear good hiking shoes for your hike.
When you’re done, be sure to stop by the Slieve Croob Inn for a pint and a warm meal! Find it here on the map.
BEACHES IN BELFAST
Belfast is located right on Northern Ireland’s coast and is the perfect home base for visiting some of the country’s very best beaches.
The water in Northern Ireland is unlike the water anywhere else, and there’s no better way to spend the afternoon (or entire day) than with your toes in the blue sea.
Below are some of the most magnificent beaches you won’t want to miss out on when you visit Belfast!
Helen’s Bay is only a short 20-minute drive or 1-hour ride on public transportation from Belfast. It’s located in the Carwfordsburn Country Park and is a tranquil sandy beach that is considered to be a hidden gem.
It’s a great place to go swimming or even to relax while the waves crash along the sand. There’s a cafe on-site in addition to a visitor centre and multiple spots to sit and have a picnic. Find it here.
Tyrella Beach is on Northern Ireland’s southern coast, and it takes just 45 minutes to get there by car from Belfast. This beach has won a few awards, including the 2011 Blue Flag Award for being beautiful and clean.
It covers 25 hectares and is incredibly scenic. There are breathtaking walking trails near the water that show some of the area’s most magnificent sights that are unforgettable.
There are multiple fun activities to do at this beach, including swimming and surfing, among other water sports. Tyrella Beach prides itself on being open every day of the year. Find it on the map, here.
The magnificent Cushendun Beach can be reached in just an hour by driving north of Belfast. It can be reached by public transportation as well, though this takes twice as long.
This sandy beach is picturesque and features lovely walking tours and swimming spots. It’s also located closeby one of the best Game of Thrones locations in Northern Ireland, Cushendun Caves, which is another must-visit when you travel to Belfast.
Cushendun Beach is the perfect place to go for a quick city getaway from Belfast, no matter the time of year. Families will particularly love this beach because of how quaint and spread out the beach is. Find it here on the map.
COST OF TRAVEL IN BELFAST
Belfast caters for those on a budget and those who want to splurge. Travel costs are not so important because of the size of the city, especially for those arriving at the nearby City Airport.
You will find accommodation in all price ranges and food is cheap in cafes if that is what you want.
Budget £45 / Day
Hostel accommodation, still central in Belfast, should be available for £12 ($15) per person so it is possible to live on £45 ($60) a day including food, drinks and public transport.
Mid-Range £130 / Day
You can get a double room in the heart of Belfast for £45 ($60) so adding a few drinks in a pub and a pleasant dinner, then perhaps a taxi home will not break the bank.
Top-End £200 / Day
Stay at the Merchant Hotel and eat in a top restaurant and you will spend up to £300 ($400) for a couple before you think about wine with dinner, drinks in a popular pub and taxis.
GETTING AROUND BELFAST
Belfast has a well-developed travel infrastructure for those wishing to travel extensively. Anyone staying within the heart of Belfast can walk to many of the attractions and to enjoy the nightlife.
IS BELFAST SAFE?
Central Belfast with its bars and restaurants is an extremely safe city at nighttime which is sometimes the time when tourists feel most vulnerable in a strange city.
There is even a strong case that it’s safer than other cities throughout the UK and Ireland. Your hotel will provide you with all the information you need in your immediate vicinity.
There are neighbourhoods to avoid in Belfast but none include attractions that tourists would visit at night. Falls Road, Turk Lodge, Shanklin and Crumlin Roads should not be visited at night and tourists should not write on the Peace Wall because it is a sensitive place.
Common sense should always be applied in any strange place and this applies to Belfast — but no more than anywhere else.
Images in this article are sourced on Shutterstock.com.