Belfast is a storied city, completely surrounded by green countryside. Given this, it stands to reason that it has some of the best parks of any city in the UK. You might find yourself in need of a wide open space for a summer picnic, or simply have an hour or two spare on a lazy afternoon. Whatever the need might be, Belfast delivers. The city is permeated with green spaces of various shapes and sizes, each with its own unique appeal.
Where better to start than with the OG of Belfast’s parks. Ormeau Park was opened in 1871, having previously been part of the Donegall family estate (one of the wealthiest peerages in the country). These days, things are a bit more active than aristocratic, with sports facilities and a BMX track on-site along with eco-trails and an orienteering course. Ormeau Park is a 30-minute walk south of the city centre.
Slightly further afield, but well worth the extra distance, Belvoir Park Forest is exactly as the name suggests – a forest. It’s actually one of the only working forests in the world within a city boundary, and thus offers a bit of a unique experience. You’ll need to grab the 6d bus from the centre to get there (or walk for 90 minutes), but on arrival you’ll be treated to a stunning woodland with flowers and plenty of wildlife to see, including foxes, owls and kingfishers.
For a more urban experience, and an active lesson in Northern Irish history, head for Stormont Park. Named for the Stormont Parliament Building – the political nexus of the country, the park accounts for the 235-acre (95ha) estate in which it sits. As well as the building itself, the park offers forest trails, a boardwalk, a number of statues and sculptures and even has a weekly 5K run for those interested. The easiest way to get there is to drive, taking about 15 minutes from the centre.
Cave Hill Park sits on the northern fringes of Belfast, right next to the castle. It skirts the green wall which encircles almost all of Belfast, nicknamed the Devil’s Punchbowl. For this reason, walking it will provide a hearty workout, but the views are well worth it. Cave Hill takes 15 minutes to reach by car from the centre.
Not to be confused with the literally dozens of other parks with this name, the Belfast iteration is special because it’s almost completely surrounded by water. There are two loops around the small park, on either side of the lake, making for a lovely set of short walk routes. The easiest way to reach the park is to get a train from Botanic station to Sydenham station. Or just fly into the city airport – it’s right next to it.
While most of this area is covered by, well, water, the actual Waterworks park is well worth a visit. The whole area is community-run and includes a garden and large fruit and vegetable patch. The waters themselves are rich with fish and water birds. It takes 40 minutes to walk there from the centre (or a 30-minute bus ride), but those who do are in for a real treat, with playgrounds and several scenic walking routes.