The Top 10 Things to See and Do in Belfast

A hike up Cave Hill is among the best things to do in Belfast, Northern Ireland
A hike up Cave Hill is among the best things to do in Belfast, Northern Ireland | © Radharc Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Callum Davies
10 August 2020

Belfast is the cultural epicentre of Northern Ireland and one of the most vibrant, interesting cities in the UK – full stop. From museums to gardens to one-of-a-kind restaurants and bars, there’s far too much to squeeze into one list, but here are 10 of the best things to do and see in Belfast.

The HMS Caroline

Museum
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Stern view of HMS Caroline, a restored World War 1 battleship moored in Titanic Quarter, Belfast and the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland
© Tom Irvine / Alamy Stock Photo
Visitors to London often take the time to see the HMS Belfast, so why not return the favour? Launched in 1914, the Caroline is the only ship still floating that fought in the Battle of Jutland in World War I. Having been decommissioned, it is now a floating maritime museum, with its cabins and mess hall fully restored. The ship is located at the docks, a 30-minute walk from the centre.

Crumlin Road Gaol

Museum
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Outside of Crumlin Road Gaol
© Stephen Barnes/Northern Ireland / Alamy Stock Photo
It might seem a little odd to visit a prison during a day out in the city, but the 150-year-old Crumlin Road Gaol is special – it’s the only Victorian jail left in the country. Located near New Lodge, 25 minutes from the centre, it can now be visited and toured. Perhaps best of all, there’s a subterranean tunnel leading to the court house, which you can see during the tour.

McHugh’s Bar

Bar, Irish, $$$
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There are plenty of watering holes around the city. McHugh’s Bar would be a good option in any case, but add the fact that it’s literally the oldest building in Belfast, and you have a proven winner. Originally a private dwelling when it was built in 1711, it is now a very important landmark. As icing on the cake, it serves a wide range of beers and whiskeys and sits in a recently refreshed district (Queen’s Square is nearby), so there are plenty of reasons to stop by.

The Black Mountain Walk

Hiking Trail
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Belfast is effectively in a bowl, surrounded by the Belfast hills, so you can see green in almost any direction when you walk through the city. One of the best ways to take advantage of this is on the Black Mountain Walk. You have to drive about 40 minutes out of the city to reach it, but once you get there, you can follow the route all the way up Divis – the highest mountain – and get the best possible view of the city.

Black Taxi Tour

Architectural Landmark
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Black Taxis are a little different in Belfast compared to elsewhere in the UK. You’ll see London-style black cabs roving around the city, but instead of simple A-to-B service, they offer tours that focus on the Troubles. This includes areas of particular significance, peace walls, murals, and more. There are various providers around the city, and they can be booked online.

The Botanic Gardens

Botanical Garden, Park
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Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK. 9 August, 2107. UK weather: People in Botanic Gardens, Belfast enjoying the sunshine and a temperature of 20C. Credit J Orr/Alamy Live News
© Jim Orr / Alamy Stock Photo
If the weather suits, the Botanic Gardens are unmissable. Built in 1828, it ended up becoming a blueprint of sorts for other gardens like Kew. The Palm House is the main attraction, featuring rare plants including one that is 400 years old. There is also a sunken garden that plays host to birds of paradise. The garden is just a 20-minute walk from the centre.

The Golden Mile

Building, Memorial
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For those really in the mood for a tipple, the Golden Mile is Belfast’s one-stop shop. Running between the City Hall and the university district, it is home to numerous pubs including famous spots like the Crown Liquor Saloon. You can also see a number of old civic buildings and the city’s Grand Opera House along the route.

The Titanic Dock and Pump House

Historical Landmark
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Titanic Pump-House at Thompson Dock, Belfast
© The Titanic Dock and Pump House
One of the best-known things about Belfast is that it is where the Titanic was built before setting off on its doomed maiden voyage. Whilst the ship itself is still at the bottom of the sea, evidence of it is on display around Belfast, including the spot where it first fuelled up. It takes about 40 minutes to walk there from the centre (or a short drive), but it’s well worth it, as you can take a guided tour 13m down into the ship’s original dry dock.

Cave Hill Country Park

Natural Feature, Park
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How many cities can you go caving in without leaving the city limits? Can’t be many, but Belfast is one of them. Located on the northern border of the city and most easily accessed by car, it’s a set of basalt cliffs with five different caves dotted around it. Besides this, it provides some excellent walking routes and offers yet another stunning view of the city.

Belfast Zoo

Zoo
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While it’s not exactly out of the ordinary for a city of Belfast’s size to include a zoo, Belfast Zoo has a great deal to offer. It’s one of Northern Ireland’s most visited attractions for a reason. You can find it 7mi, or a 15-minute drive, outside of the city. Once there, you can meet more than 140 species of animal, including lowland gorillas, Asian elephants and red kangaroos. The zoo is engaged in numerous conservation programmes and has a lot of educational material to offer.
These recommendations were updated on August 10, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.