Belfast is a mixed bag when it comes to layovers. The one international airport serving the city is actually eighteen miles west of Belfast, but the city is compact enough that, given enough time, you could see quite a few of its sights. What you see will depend on how much time you have, so check out our time-managed guide to Belfast.
If you have three hours…
Three hours is an awkward amount of time for a layover. Anything less than that, and it’s probably best to shop in the airport, eat a burger, and avail of the free wifi. With three hours, though, Belfast’s sights are tantalisingly close. Belfast International Airport runs a shuttle bus that takes you directly to the heart of the city, dropping you off at the Europa Bus Centre. Check the timetable and allow around 30-40 minutes for the journey. If you’re lucky, you should have enough time to reach the city, see Europe’s most bombed hotel and stop into the historic Crown Liquor Saloon – a Victorian gin palace that recently underwent extensive restoration.
Europa Hotel, Great Victoria St, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK +44 28 9027 1066
If you have five hours…
With five hours, you have enough time to really appreciate the crown jewel of Belfast tourism: Titanic Belfast. Recently voted the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction, Titanic Belfast is a museum spread over nine galleries, telling the story of Belfast and the ship it built. If you take your time and experience all the building has to offer, your visit should take somewhere between an hour and a half and three hours. With a five-hour layover you can allow yourself plenty of time to get to and from the airport, two hours to see the Titanic museum and a few miscellaneous hours to grab a meal at The Galley Cafe or Bistro 401.
If you have seven hours…
At seven hours, Belfast begins to open up. The plan detailed in the five-hour segment is still a good choice (Titanic Belfast really is worth seeing), but it can be added to. The walk from the Europa Bus Centre to the Titanic Building is around half an hour, but with strategic planning can be amended to hit some of Belfast’s other sights.
Setting out from the Europa, Belfast’s City Hall is not far away. From there, head up Donegall Place, the city’s main shopping thoroughfare. Feel free to engage in some retail therapy, but don’t spend all your time (or money) shopping! Kelly’s Cellars, a traditional Irish pub built in 1720, is hidden down Bank Street, a small alleyway sandwiched between a Primark and a Tesco.
Kelly’s Cellars, 30-32 Bank St, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK +44 28 9024 6058
From Kelly’s, make your way to Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter and see its namesake, St Anne’s Cathedral. From there, walk towards the river and see one of Belfast’s weirdest landmarks: ‘The Big Fish’ sculpture, a ten metre-long ceramic salmon. Step over the bridge and continue along the River Lagan until you reach Titanic Belfast. That should fill your seven hours nicely!
St Anne’s Cathedral, Donegall St, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK +44 28 9032 8332
If you have twelve hours…
With twelve hours to burn, Belfast is your oyster. As well as everything else on this list, we heartily recommend a trip to the University Quarter, and to Botanic Gardens in particular. The gardens themselves are beautiful, and they also contain an exotic Palm House and soon-to-be-refurbished Tropical Ravine. The Ulster Museum also sits within the gardens’ walls, and is an absolute must-visit. Its collection spans several floors and multiple subjects, with Irish history, natural history and fine art each having their own space in the museum.
Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK +44 28 9044 0000
If you have time, and if it isn’t sold out, you could even see a show in the Grand Opera House. Northern Ireland has a rich cultural history, and the Grand Opera House has been a part of that history since 1895. It has entertained audiences for well over a century, despite frequent setbacks (and infrequent bombings).
Don’t miss your flight!