James Nesbitt sums Belfast up pretty nicely: ‘Belfast is a city, while not forgetting its past, is living comfortably with its present and looking forward to its future’.
Tourists can appreciate the fascinating blend of past, present, and future. From the Murals and the Titanic to the new hotels and cultural spaces popping up around the city this year, there is plenty to explore – old and new.
If you are searching for a UK city break, I can assure you that you’ll find plenty of things to do in Belfast. Having lived in the city for nearly four months, I’ve curated a tried-and-tested list of unmissable things you should prioritise on a visit. Happy reading!
Visit and learn about the Murals
Okay, okay. The Murals might be a popular recommendation. However, they’re also unmissable if you are to pay full respects to Belfast and its history. The Murals paint pictures of The Troubles and political viewpoints, mostly representing either Catholic or Protestant communities.
You can visit the Murals independently or through a tour, like the popular Black Taxis. If you don’t have a car, you might want to consider a tour. The Murals are spread across the city, with the most famous around Shankill and Falls Road. It is important to visit both Protestant and Catholic-associated murals to gain a balanced idea of the conflict, so exploring on foot is quite unrealistic.
Climb Cave Hill
On the outskirts of Belfast, Cave Hill Country Park is the place to go for a scenic walk and breath of fresh air. If you are looking for outdoor things to do in Belfast, climbing Cave Hill is a good place to start. Much like Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Cave Hill is a popular local hike and definitely worth scaling for sunrise or sunset.
The 368 metre hill treats hikers to views over Belfast and is completable in around two hours. The route is a little rough and ready, so prepare yourself for moorland paths and slippery surfaces. However, the ascent itself is not too extreme. Reaching the top of Cave Hill is an attainable goal for most.
To start your climb, head to Cave Hill Car Park. And, if it’s not too windy, bring a picnic to eat once you reach the summit.
Visit the Titanic Museum
Visiting the Titanic Museum is easily a must when visiting Belfast. The museum takes tourists through the story of the Titanic’s design, construction, and eventual demise. Whether you are a history or Leonardo di Caprio enthusiast, there is no better way to unpack the story of one of the world’s most famous tragedies.
The Titanic Museum is open from Monday to Sunday, although it often has reduced hours, so check on their website when booking. For ticket prices, I’ve compiled a table below from the museum’s 2022 Titanic Experience rates.
|Adult||Student 16+||Child 5-15||Child under 5||Senior 60+|
Let your hair down on a night out in the Cathedral Quarter
Looking to experience some Northern Irish nightlife? The Cathedral Quarter is where to start. The district is known for art and culture, though its bars offer a draw in themselves.
Commercial Court is a popular alley of well-visited pubs. Start your night out here with a drink under neon street signs, and make sure to spot the umbrella alley! Partiers tend to sit outside the pubs, drinking at picnic benches along the pedestrian street.
On Commercial Court, the Duke of York offers a maximalist yet traditional pub experience. Its walls and ceiling are plastered with old signs, adverts, and artwork – making it an interesting venue to stop by.
At the end of Commercial Court, Harp Bar often has live music to dance and sing along to. While another quite traditional pub, you can expect an upbeat atmosphere and plenty of oomph. And, if you are looking to mingle with new people, I suggest starting here.
Have a drink at ‘The Most Bombed Hotel in Europe’
On that note, why not stop by for a drink at Europa Hotel. Over the course of The Troubles, the Europa was bombed over thirty times, earning the property a global reputation as ‘The Most Bombed Hotel in Europe’.
While you can enjoy a bomb-free experience nowadays, it is a good way to celebrate Belfast’s resilience and appreciate history and hospitality at once. The Europa is a respected four-star hotel, and you can book a stay for some extra kudos. Non-guests wanting a drink or bite to eat are also welcome for shorter visits, though. You can drink in the Lobby Bar, Causerie, or Piano Bar.
Visit the CS Lewis Square
Literature fans, this recommendation is for you (although who didn’t love the Chronicles of Narnia). Belfast is a passionate advocate of its local artists, authors, and sportspeople – something the CS Lewis Square proves.
Grab a coffee at the JACK Coffee Bar and admire the bronze sculptures dotted around the square. You’ll spot Aslan, the White Witch, Mr Tumnus, the Stone Table, and a few more that I’ll leave as a surprise! Belfast celebrates, and it celebrates well. The CS Lewis Square has an atmosphere of community pride that justifies it as one of the best things to do in Belfast.
Tick off The Giant’s Causeway
For those with a little longer in Belfast, you might want to dedicate a day of your itinerary to The Giant’s Causeway.
The natural phenomenon is a cluster of basalt columns, rumoured to be the remaining side of a bridge joining Northern Ireland and Scotland. Legend has it that two giants had a scuffle and destroyed the bridge in their antics, but I’ll leave it to you to decide which tale you believe.
To visit The Giant’s Causeway, you’ll need to hire a car or take a day tour from Belfast. If you are driving, expect the trip to take approximately an hour and fifteen minutes. You can choose to pay £12.50 (or slightly less online) to park at the Giant’s Causeway Car Park. Alternatively, park in Portballintrae and walk around an hour on a pretty coastal path to reach the causeway.
Chase history or the paranormal at Crumlin Road Gaol
The Crumlin Road Gaol was a notorious prison up until 1996. Now, visitors can take tours of the historic premises in search of the paranormal and tragic stories.
If a self-guided tour of the Gaol sounds of interest, booking tickets online for cheaper prices and guaranteed entry is recommended. Adult entry tickets cost £10.80, but concessions are available for students, seniors, and children. You can learn about the history by walking through specific rooms, like the Hangman’s Cell, Holding Cells, and The Tunnel. Interactive displays educate and inform you throughout your visit, so it is a good option for those wanting independence and information.
To chase the paranormal, you’ll have to fork out a little extra. The Gaol runs four-hour investigations from 8/9 pm until 12/1 am, priced at £45.00 per person. If you want to splash out even more, a hospitality package includes a two-course meal for £60.00. The website warns, ‘paranormal investigations are carried out in low light conditions and are not for the faint-hearted’ – so take from that what you will.
Walk The Mile to Stormont
Parliamentary buildings tend to attract tourists for politics and architecture. While Stormont is definitely worth visiting for these things, walking The Mile is a recommendable activity in itself.
The Mile is, self explanatorily, a mile-long processional avenue. The avenue leads up to the imposing Stormont Parliament Buildings. The Mile is a gentle uphill stroll and a great way to combine outdoor things to do in Belfast with seeing the Parliament up close.
You can enter for free, which is fantastic for those on a budget! If you divert from the avenue path, you can also explore the woodland paths that wind through Stormont Estate.
I’d particularly recommend starting the hike at sunset (just check the gate closing times) so that you can appreciate Stormont lit up in the night. The Mile is beautifully illuminated after dark, and you can spot Stormont lit up from a distance in lots of places around Belfast.
Splash your cash at St George’s Market
St George’s Market takes retail therapy to an eclectic level. The covered market is in a red brick 19th-century building, perfect for appreciating Belfast character while escaping the rain.
Wanting a bouquet of flowers? Perhaps some clothes as a reminder of your trip? Maybe you’d really like to buy a fish to cook at your Airbnb. Who knows – it doesn’t actually matter. St George’s Market is somewhat like JK Rowling’s Room of Requirement. Despite the chaotic mix of products and services, you’ll always find something you need or want.
There are so many things to do in Belfast! Despite covering my ten top recommendations, there are many more activities and places to suggest. Perhaps a follow-up article is pending, but in the meantime, feel free to drop extra recommendations below.