If you’re looking for a UK city break that has a good mix of culture, great bars and friendly vibe to boot, a weekend in Belfast will be right up your street! And when it comes to what to do in Belfast – this is your must read guide.
We love Ireland and have spent a lot of time in Belfast over the years, it’s a city that just keeps drawing us back in. It has enough going on but is small enough to explore in a few days which makes it a great option for short getaway.
Plus it has great transport links to both the UK, Ireland and the rest of Europe. Compared to a weekend in Dublin, it’s also much more reasonably priced too.
What To Do In Belfast
In this blog post we’ll be sharing all of our favourite things to do in Belfast with you. Including all the best pubs, some awesome tours and a few lesser known Belfast tourist attractions. We’ll also highlight the best areas in the city to stay with some accommodation recommendations.
Our aim is for you to plan a visit that has you falling in love with the city as much as we have.
Best Tours In Belfast
There’ll be far too many suggestions for you to do here in just one weekend. So pick out the things that interest you the most and build your ‘Belfast What To Do’ itinerary around them.
A History Of Terror Tour
Okay let’s jump in with one of our favourite things to do in Belfast. And in our opinion the best walking tour we’ve been on – not just in Ireland. We’ve actually done this Belfast walking tour twice now, a few years apart with two different guides we enjoyed it so much.
Whatever your understanding is of the history of Ireland, this tour with Dead Centre Tours is a must for your Belfast itinerary. Focusing on the period of time known as ‘The Troubles’, you’ll be guided around various locations in the city where infamous incidents took place.
It’s delivered in a style that enables you to understand in a meaningful way the pain and fear that was felt by every city resident in that period. And whilst at times can be quite harrowing to listen to, what you come away with is a much deeper appreciation of peace.
Black Cab Mural Tour
One of the things Belfast is well known for are the brightly coloured political murals adorning walls and gable house ends. They are an important aspect of the city’s history. But depending on which neighbourhood you are in, they will tell a different side of it.
Sure you can just wander around yourself. But taking a tour with a Belfast taxi driver and hearing stories from those who lived through ‘The Troubles’ will provide a lot more context. You can also ask questions and see things you’d otherwise miss exploring on your own.
You’ll visit important locations from the conflict including the Protestant Shankill Road and Catholic Falls Road neighbourhoods. Plus stop by the infamous Peace Walls. It’s also a great opportunity to get up-to-date tips on the best pubs and restaurants in the city.
Beer Bike Tour
When it comes to fun things to do in Belfast, if you’re visiting with a group and enjoy a few beers, the Belfast Beer Bike Tour has to be a top contender for your agenda. Using your own energy, you work together to pedal through the city, sideways, on a giant bike – yes really!
There’s a driver/guide on board with you but you can set your own agenda, stopping off at a few pubs to refuel while taking in the sights of the city. What’s more you can bring your own booze on board and under 18’s are allowed if accompanied by an adult.
Best Belfast Museums
When it comes to museums and galleries, there’s an abundance of activities in Belfast. These are also great options for what to do in Belfast if it’s raining.
If you are interested in Belfast’s dark tourism, another option for your ‘What To Do In Belfast’ itinerary is a visit to Crumlin Goal. This infamous prison, known locally as ‘The Crum’, was in operation for 150 years, right up until 1996 and has seen a lot of suffering.
It’s a self-guided experience whereby through audio and video commentary you’ll learn about what life was like in the prison. Expect details about floggings, hunger strikes, suicides and executions. There’s also some fantastic hologram tech and terrifying special effects.
Children as young as 10 years old were imprisoned here, as well as many of the Belfast suffragettes and political prisoners from the era of ‘The Troubles’. It’s a heartbreaking history lesson that will stick with you long after your weekend in Belfast.
As one of the oldest buildings in Belfast, Clifton House has seen its share of history over the years. Opened in 1774 by Belfast Charitable Society, and known then as ‘the Poor House’ it was where the less fortunate in society could come and be housed, fed and educated.
Today, part of it is a museum offering a fascinating window into 18th century Belfast. The tours utilise some really cool augmented reality tech to quite literally transport you back in time. You’ll also visit the private graveyard and learn about the devastating mass graves there.
Other parts of Clifton House are still used to assist those in need of supported living. There’s a dementia nursing home and also sheltered accomodation. The tours are run by volunteer guides and the proceeds used to continue to address those most disadvantaged in the city.
Also situated in the south of the city, close by to the Botanic Gardens and Queens University is this cracking museum. The Ulster Museum is one of the free things to do in Belfast and is also a great shout for if the weather’s crap. It’s open 10am-5pm and closed on Mondays.
Inside you’ll find everything from dinosaur skeletons to fashion exhibitions and contemporary art to Egyptian mummies. There’s something for everyone and every age. Plus diverse voices from different backgrounds represented with LBTQ and feminist exhibitions for example.
Belfast’s Metropolitan Arts Centre Galleries are open Tuesday to Sunday from 11am – 5pm. The exhibitions are usually free to visit but donations are welcome. They also have a wide variety of different events on, such as theatre productions, but these you will need to book.
Because The Mac Belfast is located centrally in the Cathedral Quarter, if you enjoy art, it’s another great option for things to do in Belfast when it’s raining. They also have a family programme with art clubs which is great for if you are visiting the city with little ones.
Built on the historic liner’s original shipyard, this fascinating museum tells the story of the legendary Titanic. There’s nine galleries of interactive exhibitions which take you through the ocean liners conception to her fateful maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.
You visit the slipway from which the famous ship was launched. Plus relive the drama of her tragic end and see the shipwreck at her resting place on the ocean floor with live video links to modern day undersea explorations. It’s a sad tale but one that deserves to be remembered.
Also known as St Anne’s, Belfast Cathedral has been a place of Christian worship for over 100 years having been quite literally built around a smaller church that was already there.
The rather odd looking ‘Spire of Hope’ was added in 2007 as part of a wider redevelopment of the Cathedral Quarter for which this building is a focal point.
It is open to visitors from Monday to Friday between 10.30am to 4.00pm. There’s an admission fee of £2, plus £1 for a guide book and £5 for audio or guided tour by a steward. If you like your architecture, this is a solid idea for what to do in Belfast.
Free Things To Do In Belfast
If you’re looking to keep a close eye on your budget, there’s lots of Belfast attractions which you can visit for absolutely zilch. Here’s our favourite free things to do in Belfast.
St George’s Market
This market is only open on weekends, but as it’s indoors it is a great option for what to do in Belfast when it’s raining. There’s around 200 stalls selling everything from fresh produce to flowers and local photography to antiques. Plus street food stalls and live musicians.
Opening times are Friday 8am-2pm, Saturday 9am-3pm and Sunday 10am-3pm. There’s entrances on Oxford Street, May Street and East Bridge Street. Dogs are welcome and the first hour of each market day is a ‘quiet hour’ for those who prefer a calmer experience.
Dating back to 1828, the Botanic Gardens have long been a popular place to visit in Belfast. Don’t miss the Palm House and Tropical Ravine to see some of the more exotic tree species. Because they are green houses, they’re also a good shout for when it’s cold and rainy out.
There’s also lots of green outside space. To get there you can either walk down ‘The Golden Mile’ from Belfast City Hall. Alternatively jump on Metro no. 8 and get off at Queen’s University or take Metro no.7 to College Park. It’s open everyday from 7.30am to around sunset.
This prestigious university is one of Belfast’s finest buildings. The architecture is simply stunning. Many famous names and important political figures were educated here including Liam Neeson and David Trimble. The current chancellor is Hillary Clinton.
Interestingly it was founded in 1810 to encourage higher education for Catholics and Presbyterians, as a counterpart to Trinity College in Dublin which was then almost exclusively Anglican. The grounds are open to wander around and there’s a small visitor centre too.
The Peace Walls
One of the more sobering things to do when it comes to planning a weekend in Belfast is to visit the Peace Walls. These huge barriers run an 800m length between the predominantly Nationalist community of The Falls Road and Loyalist community of The Shankill Road.
You can either visit on foot by simply walking there. The area, although it does look rather dilapidated, is quite safe. From the city centre it’ll take you around half an hour. Another option is to jump on a Hop-on Hop-off Bus. Alternatively, the Black Cab Mural Tours also stop there.
It is hoped by many that peace in the city progresses to the stage that they can be taken down. But the legacy of ‘The Troubles’ is something that runs deep in these communities and the decades of distrust and hurt on both sides is still healing.
Belfast City Hall
Smack bang in the centre of the city, you can’t miss this iconic building. Built in 1906, it was commissioned following Belfast being promoted from a town to a city by Queen Victoria. This was in recognition of Belfast’s thriving linen, rope-making and shipbuilding industries.
It is still a civic building and is home to Belfast City Council. As such it’s free to go inside and there are tours running everyday at 11am (12pm Saturday/Sunday), 2pm and 3pm. You can’t book though, it just works on a first come, first served basis.
Located at the east of Belfast City Hall there’s also the Titanic Memorial Garden which is worth stopping by. It’s really pretty and interestingly is the only place that has the names of everyone who perished in the tragedy recorded all in one place.
Victoria Square Dome
One of Belfast’s newer buildings, the Victoria Square shopping and leisure centre opened in 2008 after 6 years of construction and £160m budget. It’s got over 70 shops, a cinema and several restaurants, but the best part about it is the huge glass dome on top of it.
Open from 10am – 6pm on Monday – Saturday and 1pm-6pm on Sunday, you can go right up inside it to experience 360° views over Belfast. It’s another of the awesome free things to do in Belfast and there’s even in house tour guides on hand to point out all the local landmarks.
Traditional Belfast Pubs
Your Belfast visit wouldn’t be complete without having a pint or few in some of the city’s traditional pubs. Here’s a few of our favourites for what to do in Belfast:
The Crown Liquor Saloon
The exterior of The Crown Bar (as it is otherwise known) is almost as elaborate as the interior decor. In keeping with its Victorian Gin Palace heritage, there’s ornate wooden booths with stained glass windows and a fancy red granite topped bar with heated footrest underneath.
Dating back to the 1630’s, this is the oldest pub in Belfast. Inside you’ll find a roaring open fire, low oak beamed ceilings and some of the best Guinness around. Officially White’s Tavern & The Oyster Rooms they also serve up some banging locally caught seafood.
The Duke of York
Tucked away in a cobbled alleyway, you can expect the warmest of welcomes at this favourite of Belfast pubs. Decorating the walls and ceilings are thousands of old adverts, photographs and memorabilia from the city’s past. The Duke of York is like a museum, but with Guinness.
The Morning Star
The Morning Star was one of the few buildings in the city that survived the Belfast Blitz of 1941. It still has many of the original fixtures and fittings, such as a mahogany bar and terrazzo floor. Run by the same family since 1989, it’s also well known for serving great grub.
This rather obscure looking traditional Belfast pub is hard to miss. And the inside with its small triangular lounge adorned by an eclectic range of historical paraphernalia is just as curious. Bittles Bar has been around for a long time, since 1868 in fact in one form or another.
Best Restaurants In Belfast
Whether its a quick bite on a budget or a gourmet Michelin star treat you’re after, here’s some of the best places to eat in Belfast.
The Dirty Onion & Yardbird
Like craft beer, whisky and chicken? This is your place. Downstairs The Dirty Onion is a ‘traditional Irish pub with a modern twist’ and has live music everyday. Upstairs The Yardbird serves spit rotisserie chicken. As the menu says it might be small, but the flavours are big.
The Muddlers Club
Named after the secret society that met here over 200 years ago, this trendy Michelin Star restaurant is tucked away in the historic back streets. Chef Gareth McCaughey prides himself on meticulously prepared but simple dishes, while the open kitchen provides the theatre.
Not so much a restaurant, well the clue is in the name. But we wanted to include it as it is one of our favourite places to eat in Belfast. Situated on the waterfront in the Titanic Quarter, this welcoming cafe serves up delicious cakes and soups but unusually works on donations only.
Husband and wife team, Tony and Andrea O’Neill, have brought Venice to Belfast with the introduction of cichetti, a Venetian style of tapas. Whether it’s a casual lunch or intimate dinner you’re after this is a great spot. What’s more, there’s a full and variable vegan menu.
The Ginger Bistro
Self described as quality food in a relaxed and friendly environment. And that’s exactly what you get. The food here is from a hand picked supply chain and local produce is always used where possible. The deserts here are seriously good. But then so is the rest of the menu.
Where To Stay in Belfast
Just to add a little bit of confusion, there are actually nine quarters in Belfast. Essentially they are just different distinctive cultural zones of the city. Named as such by the tourism board to reflect something specific about that part of the city’s history.
The most central and popular Belfast Quarters or neighbourhoods are The Linen Quarter, The Cathedral Quarter, The Titanic Quarter and The Queen’s Quarter. Here’s a little bit about each of them and some accommodation recommendations within them.
Once the headquarters of Ireland’s global linen industry, this area of Belfast now has a dynamic hospitality scene alive with lots of different cafés, bars and restaurants and hotels.
Recommended Hotel | Europa Hotel
Recommended Apartment | The Flint
Known as the beating heart of Belfast, this part of the city is a cultural and nightlife hotspot. It’s a maze of cobblestoned streets filled with bars, restaurants, galleries and museums.
Recommended Hotel | The Merchant Hotel
Recommended Apartment | City Centre Penthouse
Located by the city docks, a recent large-scale waterfront regeneration here has sculptured an exciting and upcoming new zone. There’s hotels, entertainment venues and museums.
Recommended Hotel | Titanic Hotel Belfast
Recommended Apartment | Belfast Marina Barge
Named so after the resident Queen’s University, this Belfast neighbourhood has a younger crowd. There’s lots of cool coffee shops, music and comedy venues, plus a gorgeous park.
Recommended Hotel | The Harrison Chambers of Distinction
Recommended Apartment | Yellow Hive Boutique Stay
More Things To Do Around Belfast
If that isn’t enough things to keep you busy in the city centre, there’s lots of Belfast tourist attractions a little further afield within Country Antrim.
The Stormont Estate
Home to the Northern Ireland Government, The Stormont Estate is a public park and one of Belfast’s best green spaces. There’s two woodland walks, a fitness trail and kids playground. You can take a free guided tour of the Parliament building but will need to book.
Belfast Castle & Cave Hill
Located within Cave Hill Country Park, Belfast Castle is one of the city’s most famous landmarks. There’s three walking trails of varying difficulty. Cave Hill trail leads to a stunning viewpoint over the entire city below. It’s 4.5 miles and should take around 2.5 hours.
Another great walk if you are into your hiking is the Divis and Black Mountain Ridge Trail. The views are incredible and on a clear day you’ll even be able to see Scotland. The route is waymarked, just over 4 miles and should take around 3 hours to complete.
Best Time To Go To Belfast
Unfortunately Belfast and Northern Ireland in general doesn’t have the best reputation for good weather. Your best chance of sunny days are Spring or Summer time. But Autumn can be decent sometimes, and that’s when the fires are lit and it’s cosiest in the pubs too.
In all honesty, it’s always just a bit of a gamble. But so long as you’re prepared for rain and have a few indoor activities planned just in case, you can really visit Belfast anytime of year.
Even though there’s more over the summer months, Belfast also has a festival packed calendar year round. And the holiday period over Christmas and New Year is always fun.
How To Get To Belfast
Your options for getting to Belfast, from outside of Ireland, are by plane or ferry. Here’s the details of the best routes for how to get to Belfast.
By Plane | There’s two airports in Belfast. The George Best Airport (BHD), which is located just a few miles from the centre. And Belfast International Airport (BFS) which is 20 miles out.
Both have flights to/from the UK and Europe, the city one is obviously way more convenient. There’s loads of airlines that fly into Belfast so use a comparison site to check them all.
By Ferry | You can get to Belfast by ferry from the UK direct into the Port of Belfast. There’s currently two routes. From Cairnryan in Scotland which is the shortest crossing at just over 2 hours.
Or you can cross from Liverpool in England in 8 hours. Both crossings are operated by Stena Line. P&O also operates from Cairnryan to Larne which is 20 miles north of Belfast.
How To Get Around Belfast
Belfast is a really walkable and safe city, so if you’re staying centrally there’s really no reason to not just get around on foot. However if you’re short on time or the weather’s rubbish, there’s a great Hop-on Hop-off Bus that might be helpful.
Other than that you have your normal city buses (find time tables here), black cabs, or Uber.
If you are after visiting some of the other things we’ve suggested to do out of the city centre, you may want to hire a car. We always find that Auto Europe has great car rental deals with lots of vehicle options. And you can pick them up either at the port, airports or city centre.
Recommended Belfast History Books
Travel Insurance For Belfast Ireland
Even though Ireland is one of the safest countries in the world, we don’t recommend travelling anywhere without a good quality travel insurance in place.
Our go to travel insurance provider is World Nomads. They have a no bullshit approach to policy wording & you can buy a policy even if you’ve already set off on your travels.
Get a no obligation quote here:
More Awesome Places In Ireland
If you’re spending a while travelling around Ireland, you might find these blog posts helpful too:
- Ferry From Ireland To Spain: What You Need To Know
- Bushmills Distillery Tour: Must Read Review
- Best Area To Stay In Belfast: For Every Budget
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Yorkshire born & bred, Sarah is a professional blogger who loves to travel. Pushing her boundaries with new adventures is her jam, so you likely won’t find her in one place for too long. Also a serious Marmite addict.