Belfast is the UK city you’re missing out on – it’s affordable, safe and near some of Northern Ireland’s most beautiful coastal attractions. The city itself, though, offers a fantastic range of things to do and see – from Titanic Belfast to Cave Hill. Check out our favourites below.
For a taste of tradition, visit Belfast’s “mini village” for a cold pint or first-class meal in one of the Cathedral Quarter’s pubs and restaurants. The cobbled walkway of Commercial Court may be the most picturesque street in the area and makes for some Instagram-worthy travel photos.
The Cathedral Quarter is named after its majestic resident, St. Anne’s Cathedral. Consecrated in 1904, the cathedral boasts the eye-catching Spire of Hope, added in 2006. Inside are marvellous mosaics, striking sculptures, spectacular stained glass windows and the poignant Titanic Pall, as well as the shrine of Edward Carson, leader of the Unionist movement during the partition of Ireland.
Since 1996, Crumlin Road Gaol (jail) has served as a tourism and historical heritage site – but its walls once housed many notorious prisoners and political activists. History buffs should take a tour of this jail and learn about the prisoners, their executions and the eventual closing of the prison.
City Hall marks the very heart and centre of Belfast, and a tour of the beautiful interior is worth your time. On the grounds (a popular picnic spot in the summer), you’ll found a Titanic memorial site and Queen Victoria’s statue.
The Ulster Museum comprises five floors full of local artefacts, natural history and an extensive art collection. This is the perfect spot to take the kids, who’ll love the dinosaurs and bug collections. They even have their own mummy, Takabuti. As a bonus, entry to the museum is free.
The very pride and joy of Belfast is the Titanic Belfast, named Europe’s best attraction of 2016. Inside, visitors will be treated to simulations of the RMS Titanic’s exterior, a tour of the building grounds, and stories from passengers who were on board. Be sure to check out the Titanic’s tender ship, the SS Nomadic, on the way home.
Beside the Ulster Museum and Queen’s University Belfast you will the Botanic Gardens, with its exotic plants and natural walkways. From the Palm House to the rose garden, this site has everything for a romantic afternoon walk or family picnic and is well worth a visit.
Just next door to the Botanic Gardens is Queen’s University Belfast. Its main building is a beautiful piece of architecture designed by Charles Lanyon, who accidentally mixed up the plans with a project in Galway – giving Belfast one of the most beautiful campuses in the UK. The Naughton Gallery, located in the Lanyon Building, houses some of the most exquisite art exhibitions anywhere in Northern Ireland.
This award-winning market is a must-see, even for those only here for a short stay. From seafood to fresh pastries, St. George’s Market has remained Belfast’s gem for food and local cuisine. To make the most of a visit, come on an empty stomach and with an open mind.
Shopping tourists will love Victoria Square, both for the aesthetic of the open-plan building and for the quality boutiques and department stores inside. Visit the top floor viewing deck inside the famous dome for the best view of the entire city.
Hikers should take a trip up Cave Hill, a rugged mountain walk and the supposed inspiration for Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, both for its five mysterious caves and its “Napoleon’s Nose” feature.
Cave Hill is also home to the Belfast Zoo, which has some of the most exotic residents in Northern Ireland, from safari wildlife to tropical birds. Bring appropriate footwear – this zoo sits on the side of Cave Hill, so it’s an uphill walk to the top!
Those planning an extended stay in the city should be sure to travel to the nearby Divis Ridge and Black Mountain for a hiking trail in the famous Mourne Mountains. At approximately 4.5mi (7km), this walk is accessible to all travellers, and it’s one of the best views of the mountain range and Belfast Lough. On a clear day, Scotland is visible too.
Belfast is a perfect city for cyclists, like many of its European brother and sister cities, and more and more people are swapping their car for a bike. Belfast City Bike Tours offer the best routes in the city, from the cobbled streets of the Cathedral Quarter to the city centre and the Titanic harbour – perfect for a short stay. Full safety training and equipment are provided, so there’s no reason to miss out.
Sports fans and novices alike will love watching the Belfast Giants, ice hockey champions, play at the SSE Arena (a popular event venue as well as ice rink). Not familiar with the game? Give this attraction a try anyway for a night of excitement and one hell of an atmosphere.
The author of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is arguably the most famous Belfast resident of all time. He was born here in 1898, and his legacy is recognised at C.S. Lewis Square, about a 30-minute walk from the centre. There you’ll find statues of characters such as Aslan and the White Witch.
The HMS Caroline fought in World War I, most famously at the Battle of Jutland (it is one of the only ships that survived). Now dry-docked, it has been converted into a museum where visitors can get a taste of what it must have been like for a naval soldier to live aboard such a ship, as well as learn about its history and construction.
There are many historic pubs and bars dotted around Belfast, but it would be fair to say that with its yellow, gold and pink frontage, the Crown Liquor Saloon is the most striking. It is also one of the oldest, having been built in the 1880s, and the interior features preserved wood-carved booths and gas-lamp lighting.
A 20-minute bus ride south of the city centre rewards you with one of the largest parks in Belfast, as well as perhaps the most beautiful. Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park features various gardens, including a rose garden with 40,000 roses, and it’s right next to a golf club.
If you’re with a larger group and need a waypoint to ensure everyone finds each other, Albert Memorial Clock is ideal – and worth checking out in and of itself. It was built in 1860 on ground raised from the water, and although visitors aren’t allowed inside, it can be easily appreciated from the outside.
A slightly longer journey (45 minutes by bus or 20 by car), Streamvale Farm is worth the trip to the eastern edge of Belfast. It’s one of the largest dairy farms in the area, and during the summer months, it is completely open to visit, so you can see the process in action and meet all the animals. You might even get to see a sheepdog at work.
Belfast is peppered with Catholic places of worship, some of them dating back centuries, and St. Malachy’s Church is one of the oldest. It was consecrated in 1844, and much of its architecture, including beautiful mosaic floors and a vaulted ceiling, has been restored to appear as it did when the church was new.
Head up past the Titanic dock house for a little slice of secluded nature. Otherwise referred to as the RSBP Window on Wildlife, this place is a small nature reserve that is home to over 100 different species of birds, including wigeons and teals. There’s a watch shelter, and guided walks are available at certain times of the year.