Belfast boasts a rich, traditional history and a vibrant modern social scene. These two sides of the city, together, create a village-like atmosphere in a big city space, perfect for students and tourists alike. Unlike many of its neighbouring cities in Scotland and England, it’s also good for your money – it’s one of the UK’s cheapest areas. If you’re a first-time visitor to the city, here are the top 10 attractions and must-sees to put on your list.
The Ulster Museum celebrates world natural science, local history and one very famous mummy. Opened in 1929, the museum went under reconstruction between 2006 and 2009 and has since become one of Northern Ireland’s prized attractions. Completely free to the public, the museum boasts four floors, consisting of zoological, botanical, historical and natural sciences. Must-see highlights include Takabuti the mummy and the impressive collection of British and Irish art, 1740-1840. Occasionally, the museum hosts a special ‘Night at the Museum’ event, a rare treat for young curious minds.
Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Belfast, UK, +44 28 9044 0000
St Anne’s Cathedral
Sir Thomas Drew began work on St Anne’s Cathedral in 1899, and it has since become the gemstone of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. It is a must-see attraction for its stained glass, intricate floor and ceiling mosaics, and a Celtic Cross sculpture, designed by John MacGeagh, on its exterior. History buffs will enjoy the story of this cathedral throughout the 20th century in visual art and tapestries.
St Anne’s Cathedral, Donegall St, Belfast, UK, +44 28 9032 8332
Queen’s University Belfast, Lanyon
Within the heart of South Belfast lies the Queen’s University campus. As the ninth oldest university in the UK, established in 1845, the university attracts thousands of visitors each year. The gem of the campus, the Lanyon, was recently named the UK’s most beautiful campus building and is open to the public (excluding term-time holidays). Inside, tourists can visit the Naughton Gallery and the Black and White Hall, where one can find everlasting luck by touching the foot of Galileo (Brad Pitt allegedly touched this foot). Visitors can also visit the impressive collection of portraits of former chancellors and alumni in the Great Hall, upon request from the university.
Lanyon Building, University Rd, Belfast, UK, +44 28 9024 5133
Crumlin Road Gaol
The Crumlin Gaol Prison, also known as HM Prison Crumlin Road, is a landmark building, and the only Victorian prison remaining in Northern Ireland since 1996. The prison hosted many famous inmates from the Irish Revolution to the Belfast Troubles, including Eamon deValera and many others. In its 150-year reign, the prison has seen many escapees and major political events throughout Irish history. Its cultural significance to the region deems it worthy of a visit, whether you want to see the dark dungeons or read up on Belfast’s rich history.
Crumlin Road Gaol Visitor Centre, 53-55 Crumlin Rd, Belfast, UK, +44 28 9074 1500
On the periphery of the city, and home to Belfast Zoo and Belfast Castle, Cave Hill is a great hiking trail to see the entire city from above, with a few surprise caves to explore along the way. The site also inspired Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels; Swift allegedly saw Cave Hill in the shape of a sleeping giant.
Cave Hill Visitor Centre, Cave Hill, Belfast, UK, +44 28 9077 6925
Belfast City Hall
Belfast City Hall rests in the heart of the city centre, surrounded by the Titanic Memorial Gardens, city grounds and the city hall café. As the pride of Belfast city, the City Hall building lights up over 50 times a year to celebrate religious events, holidays and solidarity days which celebrate an increasingly diverse population from around the world. Tours are available daily, with no prior reservations needed.
Belfast City Hall, Donegall Square, Belfast, UK, +44 28 9032 0202
You might recognise the Botanic Gardens from Jamie Dornan’s hit TV show, The Fall, but it’s usually home to nearby students and tourists throughout the spring and summer months. Adjacent to Queen’s University, it occupies 28 acres of land, including the Palm House, which is open to the public, and the Ravine tropical house. If fast city weekends aren’t for you, this site is perfect for a relaxing day trip or extended holiday, situated near the city’s most celebrated cafés and eateries.
The Tropical Ravine restoration is a £3.8 million project and the building will reopen in winter 2017.
Botanic Gardens, College Park, Botanic Ave, Belfast, UK, +44 28 9031 4762
Recently named World’s Leading Tourist Attraction in 2016, the Titanic Museum doesn’t disappoint. At the heart of the Titanic Quarter, visitors can enjoy a view of the Harland & Wolff shipyard, which constructed the RMS Titanic in 1912. While you visit the museum, your ticket will cover entry into the SS Nomadic ship on-site.
Duke of York
If you enjoy the picture of cobbled streets and traditional Irish pints, then add the Duke of York to your must-see attractions. This traditional bar serves up the finest pint of Guinness to enjoy in the hidden streets of the Cathedral Quarter. It’s one of a thousand traditional bars in Northern Ireland, but the outdoor atmosphere and lively music put it on the top 10 list.
Duke of York, 7-11 Commercial Ct, Belfast, UK, +44 28 9024 1062
St George’s Market
Markets are fast becoming popular tourist attractions for the young and old. St George’s Market is a perfect place to sample the Northern Irish spirit, offering food, arts and crafts, local fashion, jewellery and entertainment year-round, earning it the UK’s Best Market Attraction 2017. It holds a Variety Friday Market, City Food and Craft Saturday Market and a traditional Sunday Market, with special twilight food markets throughout the year.