Looking for the best things to do in Belfast? Northern Ireland is a rich tapestry of history, tradition, and modernity. With an impressive list of castles, churches, museums, and other historical structures, the list of things to do in Belfast is varied. Whether you are a history buff or the kind of traveler who would rather wander through market streets and lush local gardens, you’ll find what you’re looking for in Belfast.
With its proximity to the beautiful, rolling countryside for which the United Kingdom is famous, there’s no difficulty in getting out of the city for a day and exploring all the outer boroughs have to offer. No matter how you spend your days in Northern Ireland’s capital city, there are more than enough things to do in Belfast to keep you busy.
Things to do in Belfast
It’s hard to go to Northern Ireland and not visit one of the hundreds of castles dotted throughout the countryside. Carrickfergus is one of many, and with a convenient location only 20 minutes up the coast from the city of Belfast (and down the street from a Sainsbury’s, no less), it’s an easy thing to add to your day.
Sitting on the water’s edge in Carrickfergus, the castle has long been a critical military structure, having been besieged by, at different times throughout history, the English, French, Scottish, and Irish. Despite many attacks on its imposing structure, the castle remains mostly unruined, and is incredibly well-preserved.
Today, much of the castle houses a museum with medieval military displays, including an impressive array of 17th-century cannons.
- Location: Marine Highway, Carrickfergus
- Cost: £5.50 for an adult ticket
- Insider Tip: The Inner Ward & Great Tower are closed as of March 25th, 2019, so plan around that if you had intended to visit those specific structures.
The Titanic is likely the most notorious maritime disaster in history; while many know that it sailed out from Southampton on its maiden journey, few are aware that the ship itself was constructed here in Belfast. In fact, the Titanic Belfast Museum was opened on the original site of the Harland & Wolff Shipyard where the doomed ocean liner was first built.
The museum explores the economic boom in Belfast at the time, where thriving industrial conditions led to the ship’s construction occurring in Belfast. From recreated cabins, decks, ballrooms, and hallways to a series of recovered artifacts, this museum has everything for true history buffs and Titanic enthusiasts.
Don’t miss the walking tour (also available on segways) and the Titanic Experience, which offers interactive galleries recreating key moments on board the ship. This seems to be a hotspot area for naval history; just a few steps down the road is the HMS Caroline, a decommissioned Navy cruiser that served during both world wars.
- Hours: Open Daily: 10:00 – 5:00 (last entry 4:30)
- Admission: Adults £18.00, children £8.00, family £44.00 * Be warned in the summer season they do sell a limited number of tickets so it is best to book in advance.
- Location: 1 Olympic Way, Queens Road, Titanic Quarter, Belfast
- Insider Tip: Book your tickets online through the museum website in order to skip the ticket booth queue
This is a bit of a two-in-one sight – not just castle grounds but also stunning natural surroundings. Belfast Castle is a Norman castle nestled in the Cave Hill area of the city’s north end, where several caves and archeological sites dot the region. The location of the original castle, which burned down in a fire, was in modern-day Belfast’s city center, but when the castle was rebuilt, it was moved to its current location, and the city center began flourishing, eventually becoming the bustling hub it is today.
If you are coming to the castle, there are several ways to spend your time: a walk through Cave Hill Country Park guarantees you sweeping unobstructed views of Belfast, complete with a guided walk through the countryside around the castle. If you know anyone looking for a wedding venue, what better place than an Irish castle?
- Location: Antrim Road
- Cost: Only £2.50 per person
- Insider Tip: Don’t miss the cat garden, full of cat-themed mosaics thanks to a previous owner who was rather fond of her pet cats.
Though it’s not always first on the list of things to do in Belfast, who doesn’t love a good garden, especially botanical gardens? Lucky for you, Belfast does have its own Botanic Gardens. Established in 1828 in response to local interest in gardening & botany, the park is still a favorite meeting place for local professionals and students, particularly as a lunch break spot or post-workday place to relax.
Its Palm House is an impressive domed glasshouse (a perfect example of the historical design of this era, with its curved iron & glass sheeting) containing tropical plants slung over every surface and an array of birds of paradise. Not far away, it’s Tropical Ravine has some of the oldest seed plants in the world on display.
While it showcases the technology available for greenhouses at the time, the building has been optimized for growth with modern technology. Visitors will also learn about the conservation efforts undertaken here.
- Location: College Park, Botanic Avenue
- Cost: Admission is free if no events are scheduled.
- Insider Tip: If you’re here in the spring or summer, take a stroll through the beautiful rose gardens.
Take a Black Cab Tour
Any visitor who cares to learn about a time not long ago known as the “Troubles” should be sure to take what is known as a Black Cab tour. These informal tours take place in the back of a black taxi cab. Your local cabbie takes you back through time and you explore the site of numerous conflicts throughout Belfast’s history. They’re meant to be light-hearted, intriguing, and reflective.
When Natasha first came here she was on the fence about joining a tour, but after joining a group and doing it she found out there was no better way to learn about the countries history than to be given a tour by someone who lived through it! It’s a must in Belfast!
St George’s Market
One of the oldest markets in the UK, the St. George’s Market is a stunning example of Victorian covered markets, and is the last such structure in the city. It is consistently rated the UK’s best market, and once you’ve been, it’s not at all hard to see why. Some of the city’s best fresh produce, meats, and baked goods are on offer every weekend (the market is open Friday through Sunday). If that isn’t enough, this is also an excellent place for a relaxing coffee date, or to listen to live street musicians free of charge.
But it’s not just food; handicrafts, art, pottery, and other handmade goods are in high supply here, meaning that while you can eat your way through Belfast (as you should), you can also take home a little piece of Northern Ireland. This is a unique spot to visit, so be sure to put it on your list of things to do in Belfast.
- Location: 12-20 East Bridge St
- Cost: None except for purchases
- Insider Tip: The cupcakes are in high demand!
Grand Opera House
Designed by a mogul of theatre architecture (at the time), Frank Matcham, Belfast’s Grand Opera House is a sight for sore eyes. The exterior alone is worth a visit, with an interesting twist of oriental, baroque, and Flemish design elements making up the outer façade.
The interior auditorium displays elements from Indian architecture. Though the building was affected by terrorist bombs in the early 1990s, the damage sustained to the auditorium was light, and its beautiful interior remains mostly intact.
Be sure to check out what shows are playing while you’re here; any production in such a beautiful space is worthy of an evening at the theatre.
- Location: 2-4 Great Victoria St
- Cost: Tickets range from £25 to £50, depending on the show
- Insider Tip: The area known as the ‘front row of the gods’ is ideal seating for the best view in the house.
St. Anne’s Cathedral
Also known as Belfast Cathedral, the St. Anne’s Cathedral is unique in that it serves two dioceses, and therefore holds the seats of two bishops. Despite this, it has long operated smoothly and is a wonderfully quiet place of respite from the busy streets of Belfast when you are in need of something calm and slower-paced.
Though the cathedral itself dates from 1899, its spire was only added in 2007 due to the foundations being too soft to sustain the weight of a typical spire at the time of construction (this newest addition is lightweight).
There is also a funeral pall commemorating the 1500 lives lost at sea on the Titanic. There is also a Baptistry (be sure to check out its beautifully ornate domed ceiling) and the Tomb of Lord Carson, a politician in Ulster in the 1850s.
- Location: Donegall St
- Cost: £5 (includes a guidebook)
- Insider Tip: Look up; the stained glass is some of the best around.
The Big Fish
While not your typical landmark, the Big Fish of Belfast is something you’re unlikely to see in any other city, so it’s worth a visit. At the very least, we can pretty much guarantee you’ll get some great pictures.
Also known as the Salmon of Knowledge, this mosaic tiled giant fish sculpture makes for some very interesting public art. According to city officials, each tile tells a story of the city’s history; if you get up close and personal with your new friend, you can see the different scenes of Belfast’s history depicted in the blue-toned ceramic tiles.
As a bonus, if the giant fishy statue isn’t for you, you’ll get some great views of the River Lagan. Either way, there are more than a few opportunities for a photo op here!
- Location: Donegall Quay
- Cost: Free
- Insider Tip: You’re only a 15-minute walk from the oldest bar in town, the Crown Liquor Saloon, to grab a drink!
If you’re pro-views and don’t mind a little hike to get there, this is the spot for you. Black Mountain may be a bit of a self-important name, since this is more of a hill than a mountain, but once you’re up there, you’ll probably feel like you’ve climbed a mountain from the beautiful views of the city below. On clear days, you can even see all the way to Scotland!
Nothing will clear your head and give a fresh perspective like a hike and a view. There is also a field nearby known as Hatchet Field (due to its irregularity in the shape of an old-style hatchet), a popular place to kick back before you make your descent back down into the city.
- Cost: None
- Insider Tip: The coffee barn nearby will give you a much needed (and delicious) refuel.
C.S. Lewis Square
This one is pretty much what it sounds like, so if you were ever a fan of the Narnia books at any point in your life, this could be a fun little throwback down memory lane, taking you back to a world of intrigue, ice queens, and the fauns from your childhood bookshelves.
Set in a public square, the area features several hundreds of trees and seven iron statues of characters from “The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe” novel by CS Lewis (yes, Aslan is among them!).
Due to the size of the square and its openness, it is frequently the site of musical concerts, exercise classes, and community events.
- Location: 402 Newtownards Rd
- Cost: Free
- Insider Tip: The JACK Coffee Bar nearby features locally sourced foods and snacks.
The Crown Bar
Wander over to Belfast’s oldest bar after your visit with the Big Fish. The Crown Liquor Saloon dates from 1826 and still maintains many of the features from its original construction, including gas lighting for a truly authentic experience. Its lavish wooden booths even have the service bells and gunmetal plates for striking matches to light the candles.
Once a Victorian Gin Palace, it is now operated as a brewery as well (so you know the beer will be excellent!) The booths, called snugs, were intended for more prestigious and reserved customers who preferred to drink without drawing attention to themselves. Today, however, while the snugs are still in place, the bar continues to be a thriving and energetic spot for both locals and travelers to grab a pint and relax after their day.
If you want to truly feel immersed in the city vibe, be sure to put the town’s oldest bar on your list of things to do in Belfast.
- Location: 46 Great Victoria St
- Insider Tip: The Irish stew is a much-loved favorite if you enjoy lamb!
The Giant’s Ring is like something straight out of Northern Irish myth and folklore, except that it’s real. This henge monument is a Megalithic tomb, and carbon dating has dated the structure to before even the Egyptian pyramids.
The structure consists of five huge stones placed upright, and the center of the structure, a tomb, has indicated that the Neolithic people may have venerated the dead as gods.
- Location: Ballylesson, 15 minutes south of Belfast down Malone Road
- Cost: Free admission
- Insider Tip: The entire surrounding grassy area is ideal for a picnic.
Drink, Drank, Drunk on a Pub Crawl
Some could say this is for the young of heart but in Ireland everyone drinks. We regularly found ourselves amongst all manner of people in Ireland’s traditional pubs. Young or old, rich or poor, everyone finds a home in one of Ireland’s pubs.
They’re focal points for Irish culture and the best way to experience Celtic music. A pub crawl involves a tour across a collection of different pubs. Some of these tours target backpackers looking for a party while others focus on history or live music.
Enjoy a Fantastic Meal in Belfast
The food scene in Belfast is quickly changing. On our stay in the city, we found a number of tantalizing restaurants to choose from and ended up trying Causerie Bistro in the Europa Hotel and Yügo a new Asian fusion restaurant. Causerie Bistro was the easy choice as it was located on the first floor of our hotel.
It serves up many Irish staples such as bangers and mash, curries, fish and chips, and steaks. All of it locally! To top it off I tried their “chocolate brownie” what I got was a massive sundae that was intoxicating, and so delicious I left reeling from a sugar high. I couldn’t say no!
Yügo serves up some amazing food and one of the best meals we’ve had in Europe thus far. It’s menu consists of various small plates of menu items inspired by Japanese and Korean cooking.
Of course, there are many places to eat in the capital city. I recommend checking out reviews on Trip Advisor or asking a local to see what you like best.
Stay at Europa Hotel
Belfast has an ever-growing selection of hotels in the city and we stayed at the Europa Hotel. It is more or less the most well-known hotel in Belfast.
While the large marble lobby and beautiful first floor piano bar seem like a far cry from the hotel’s former claim to fame it is actually known in history as the most bombed building in Europe. That’s right the hotel was bombed 36 times throughout the period known as the Troubles.
Day Trips from Belfast
Drive the Coastal Causeway route
This coastal causeway route is one of the most beautiful road trips in the world. Some of the best things to do in Northern Ireland is along this lovely route, and it’s well worth at least a day or two to explore. We were able to hit most of the main sights in one day. However, we recommend two to three days to visit most of the sights and leave some time to enjoy and get out of the car. The scenery along the route is some of the best in the world. The way is full of Game of Thrones locations, so any fan (like me) will enjoy seeing where the magic came to life. You can even book a Game of Thrones tour!
If you’re not up for driving the route yourself, you can book a tour to all of the sights on the Coastal Causeway route.
If you know any of the natural landmarks of Northern Ireland, it has to be Giant’s Causeway. Almost 60 million years ago the Giants Causeway was formed from, and this series of basalt rock columns is Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO world heritage site. It is the one destination that you can not miss on a trip to Northern Ireland. It’s a world-famous destination, and after visiting, we could see why. Rarely do we find such naturally beautiful spots on this planet.
We had two days of sunshine in Ireland, and we were lucky to spend one of them at the Giant’s Causeway. If you are driving yourself, note that it is £8.50 to park and have access to the cafe. However, we were able to avoid this charge by parking down the street and walking about 10 minutes to the main tourist entrance.
It is the most beautiful castle we saw in Ireland. It’s not much of a surprise as it’s one of the most visited sites in Northern Ireland. It’s only ruins now, but its setting and sheer scale are still impressive. As it is one of the most photogenic spots along the coast, make sure to arrive with early for good light and bring your favorite travel camera.
- Hours: Open daily 10:00 am- 5:00 pm (last entry 4:30)
- Admission: Adults £5.00, children £3.00, family £21 (The causeway is free, but the museum and parking costs money)
- Address: 87 Dunluce Road, Bushmills County, Antrim
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
The Causeway Coast is a stunning place for a walk. Nearby to Giant’s Causeway, you can take a walk along the coast to check out a famous rope bridge perched between the beach and a small island. It’s a small bridge, but given its height and precarious location it well worth checking out.
We were a bit disappointed that it now costs money to walk across the bridge. So, we didn’t feel like dropping £7 to walk across a 15-meter long bridge. Instead, we enjoyed the beautiful coastline and snapped photographs of people crossing the bridge from the mainland.
As a side note, the overflow carpark here is known as the Larrybane Quarry. The former quarry was another setting from the Game of Thrones. The scene takes places in the third episode of Season 2 as Catelyn Stark meets with Renly Baratheon. So, if you’re a fan of the show, it’s well worth seeing!
It is one of the best things to do in Ireland! A real highlight.
Surprise! Another Game of Thrones location that also happens to be one of the most photographed in Northern Ireland. The site is famous for a long row of beech trees that overhang a stretch of road. It produced the effect of a tunnel and was purposely built to impress visitors to the Georgian mansion the Gracehill House.
The tree-lined street has been standing for two centuries and has only grown with age. We arrived a bit too late in the day to snap many photos because we had spent too long admiring the beauty of Giant’s Causeway. Another reason why this trip is best in two days!
Parking: Free parking at the Hedges Hotel.
Brave the Gobbins Cliff Walk
Nearly a century ago some very bold Irishmen built a stunning cliff walk that defies the sea. Only to 20 miles North of Belfast, the walk makes for a great first or last stop on your way up the Coastal Causeway Route. It’s a series of bridges, tunnels, and paths that wind through basalt caves and cliff faces.
The walk was closed for nearly five decades until it was renovated and opened to visitors in 2014. It has quickly become a hit and must-see on the route. The new experience features a museum, tours, and cafe.
- Hours: Open Daily: 9:30 – 4:30 – Closed in winter!
- Admission: Adults £10.00, children £8.00, family £25.00
- Address: The Gobbins Visitor Centre, Middle Road, Islandmagee BT40 3SL
Tollymore Forest Park
Tollymore is dense forest feels like taking a step into a fairytale. Its playful garden designs date back to the 18th century, and since then it has only grown with age. You can find grottos, “castles,” caves, bridges, and rocky outcrops in an old wood forest.
Many of the trees here were planted as part of an experiment, as you can find monkey puzzle, eucalyptus, redwoods, and Monterey pines. The forest feels magical, and it shouldn’t be any surprise it has made a few film appearances including (what else?) Game of Thrones.
Quick Ireland Travel Tips
- ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank You’ in Gaelic: “Dia dhuit” and “Go raibh maith agat”
- Currency: Euro – (EUR) – €
- Visa: The Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland are separate countries on the island of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland known as ‘Ireland’ grants 90-day visas. Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom also grants 90 days.
- Weather: Expect lots of weather! Ireland is known for having rapid shifts in and lots of rain – it’s only the only reason a country like Ireland remains so green and fertile. See our full packing list here.
- When is the best time to visit Ireland? Ireland is a fantastic country to visit year round. Though you’ll find crowds during the summer. My favorite time to visit Ireland is in September when the weather is cool and the crowds are low. You can read all about the weather in Ireland here.
What to Pack for Ireland
It should go without saying that the weather in Ireland can be a bit rainy, this is the most important item in your suitcase. You have two options for style of rain jackets. The first one we recommend is a classic outdoor rain jacket that is a solid choice for outdoor adventurers. The second option being a trench coat for those looking to maintain style while dodging puddles. One of the best raincoats for travel is the North Face Resolve.
The fleece sweater is a perfect layer when combined with an outer shell to keep you warm. We purchased wool sweaters from independent retailers in Ireland, and good ones were fairly easy to find for a decent price. For those with less time a little bit of online shopping for wool sweaters will suffice. Start here!
Hiking PantsTechnical pants like these
are water resistant and dry quickly, not to mention they’re comfortable on long walks. These pants can be pretty ugly, but if you’re serious about exploring and hiking in Ireland I would suggest picking up a pair.
It’s wet in Ireland and you can expect a lot of boggy weather year round so packing a pair of good waterproof boots for hikes is crucial for protecting your feet. Good Boots or hiking shoes for Ireland are essential.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem everywhere so it’s best not to contribute to the problem by buying plastic water bottles everywhere – plus the water from the taps in Ireland is perfectly safe to drink.
We’ve shifted to using an insulated aluminum water bottle as it handles the hot sun well. However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottles for travel in our post.
We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen in a foreign country and it’s best to be prepared. World Nomads provides good short term coverage.
Remember that Ireland uses the three-prong British plug. Make sure you have a universal travel adaptor like we have before landing!
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