Belfast or Dublin, which is better? It is a tricky question. You are deciding between the capital of the Republic of Ireland and the capital of Northern Ireland. Both cities have huge personalities and lots of attractions (cultural, historical, and otherwise). You can’t even decide based on the season of your visit. Belfast and Dublin are beautiful for exploring on late summer nights and also beautiful to wander with a thick coat under Christmas lights in winter.
This guide will make your decision for you. Will you venture out of the UK or stay put? Is Dublin or Belfast better to visit? I’ll weigh up all the most critical factors, from the atmosphere to the weather and things to do. Let’s dive straight in.
Belfast or Dublin: Things to do
We’ll start with the question that is most likely on the tip of your tongue. What is the difference in things to do? You won’t be short of things to do in Belfast or Dublin. However, there are some essential differences that we will cover now.
The best things to do in Belfast are the Titanic Belfast, Crumlin Road Gaol, Royal Mile, the Peace Wall, and the murals. As you can tell, many of these attractions are historical and political. So, if you love politics and history, you are in for a treat. Regarding the Troubles, the Black Taxi tours are the most popular way to visit the Peace Wall (a massive wall built to divide Protestant and Catholic communities) and the various murals dotted around the city. These tours usually stop by Shankill Road and Falls Road to see the Protestant and Catholic murals.
Of course, there are other fun things to do in Belfast, like visiting Belfast Zoo and the party-central Cathedral Quarter. Walking the Royal Mile to the Stormont parliamentary buildings is a lovely active activity, as is hiking Cave Hill for views over the city. However, overall, I’d recommend Belfast if you love history and politics and have a keen interest in the city’s background (check out a complete guide here).
So, with that said, what are the best things to do in Dublin? Like Belfast, Dublin has a lot of political and historical attractions. You can visit Kilmainham Gaol (where the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were executed), the Irish Emigration Museum, and even the General Post Office, which was the base during the uprising.
But Dublin also has much more outside the realms of politics and history than Belfast. The Irish Whiskey Museum, Teeling Whiskey Distillery, and Jameson Distillery are must-visits. As is the Guinness Storehouse. There’s also a lot of academia and beautiful architecture. You could visit the Book of Kells and the Old Library Exhibition at Trinity College (think Oxford University in Dublin).
The Ha’penny Bridge, cobbled streets, live music venues, and the likes of Temple Bar will keep you busy shopping, drinking, and socialising. There are lots of things to do in Dublin city centre within walking distance of each other as well, which is different from Belfast, where most attractions are spread out across the city.
The winner: Dublin is the winner for this round. The city still has political and historical attractions. But, it also has more varied things to do – including many distilleries, architecture, and academic attractions.
Belfast or Dublin: Atmosphere
Belfast and Dublin actually have polar opposite atmospheres, so this should be an easy one for you to decide. The cities vary depending on which area you visit, so I’ll focus on just the atmospheres of the city centres for this section.
Belfast City Centre is metropolitan and built up. The city has a modern feel, despite the presence of older buildings like Belfast City Hall. CastleCourt Shopping Centre has amplified this atmosphere. The vast, glass-domed building is full of bright lights, a constant crowd, and all the latest shopping deals. Belfast City Centre’s atmosphere is fast-paced and fun.
On the other hand, Dublin’s City Centre often feels more like a town than a modern city. The city centre still has major shopping malls (like Jervis Shopping Centre). But, it has a more historical, slow-paced atmosphere. The area just below the River Liffey from Dublin Castle to Trinity College is especially beautiful.
Winner: This is controversial, and it massively depends on your preferences. For this round, though, I’d choose Dublin. The atmosphere is slower-paced, often coming across as friendlier, and it has a more historical, personal feel in its city centre.
Belfast or Dublin: Weather
Okay, how could there possibly be a difference in weather when these cities are so close? Well, there is – it is just very slight. But if the weather is really important to you, then it might be worth considering these differences when debating between Belfast or Dublin.
Dublin is generally one degree warmer than Belfast for most months. For example, Dublin averages 19 degrees in July and August, while Belfast sticks at 18 degrees. Belfast also has more wet days, which become more intense between October and March. If you are torn between Belfast or Dublin and want to visit over autumn and winter, just know that you’ve got a higher chance of a dry experience in Dublin.
Winner: The difference is so subtle that most people won’t notice it. But the winner of this round is Dublin. The city is slightly warmer and drier than Belfast, which could be a swaying factor in a Dublin or Belfast debate.
Belfast or Dublin: Budget
It is no secret; Dublin is expensive. If you are on a budget, repeat this: Belfast, Belfast, Belfast. Of course, there are ways to visit Dublin more cheaply. You might stay outside the city centre in cheaper accommodation, visit for fewer days, or book accommodation with a kitchen to limit how much you eat out. But, if budget is a significant consideration, you’ll get more for your buck in Belfast than in Dublin. Just check out the comparison table below (thanks, Numbeo).
|Mid-range restaurant meal (for two)||Eggs||Petrol||Basic utilities||Rent for one bedroom apartment city centre||Imported beer|
Sure, most of the factors in Dublin impact those staying long-term. For example, the rent for a one-bedroom flat might not be relevant for someone visiting for a weekend. However, it does have a knock-on effect on hotels and Airbnb prices. Overall, Dublin is much, much more expensive than Belfast.
Winner: Belfast easily takes this round. It is much more budget-friendly, and you’ll get much better value.
Belfast or Dublin: Nightlife
Choosing between Belfast or Dublin based on the nightlife is a bit of a predicament as both cities are brilliant on this front.
Belfast has the Cathedral Quarter, where traditional bars spill out onto narrow streets illuminated by hanging lights. It has fantastic nightclubs like Alibi, Boombox, and Voodoo. There are live music venues, too, such as Limelight and the Belfast O2 Arena. Belfast is the definition of cheap and cheerful – with plenty of venues and low prices that mean you can keep going and going (at your own peril). It is rated as one of the most budget-friendly nights out in the UK.
Dublin is more expensive, so prepare to exercise some drunken self-control to stick to a budget. However, the pub atmosphere is infectious. The traditional pubs splattered with memorabilia and ringing with live music are just incomparable. Plus, you have the 3Arena to catch concerts and nightclubs like The Sugar Club, Mother, and Lost Lane.
Winner: This round is a draw. Belfast has cheaper nightlife, a mixture of clubs, and historic areas like the Cathedral Quarter. Dublin is more expensive but has a fierce pub culture that Belfast struggles to rival. Take your pick.
Belfast or Dublin: Day trips
This final round is another tough one, but it depends on what you deem a feasible day trip. For instance, Belfast is much closer to the Giant’s Causeway (a 1 hour 15-minute drive) than Dublin (a 3 hour 10-minute drive). If you were desperate to visit the Giant’s Causeway from Dublin, you still could. Sure, even if you don’t drive, plenty of marathon guided tours run visitors around Ireland in 12 hours stints. So, keep an open mind, and don’t be scared to think outside the box.
In the meantime, this section will evaluate whether you should visit Dublin or Belfast based on each city’s most convenient day trips.
Belfast is situated right underneath the Causeway Coast. In under two hours of driving, you could visit the Giant’s Causeway, Ballintoy Harbour (for the GoT fans), Bushmills Distillery, Carrick-a-Rede Bridge, whale watching, or snapping pictures at the Dark Hedges (another for the GoT fans). A visit to the Causeway Coast could be squeezed into a day or spread across a week. Look into hiring a car or booking a guided tour if not.
Belfast is also just an hour from Newcastle – the gateway to the iconic Mourne Mountains. This is the ideal day trip if you love hiking and dramatic mountains. You can hike Slieve Donard, wander around Silent Valley Reservoir, and unwind in Tollymore Forest.
Finally, for another taste of an iconic Northern Irish city, you could take a day trip from Belfast to Derry/Londonderry. You can check out a complete guide of things to do in Derry/Londonderry here.
So, onto the best day trips from Dublin. Dublin’s answer to the Mourne Mountain is the Wicklow Mountains Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You can reach the mountains in just over an hour. And, just in case you needed persuading, the scenery has been used in films like Braveheart (it is utterly desolate and windswept and romantically so).
Galway is another popular day trip from Dublin. Despite being a 2.5-hour journey, it is actually one of the most convenient day trips from Dublin. It is well-connected by speedy public transport if you don’t want to rent a car. You can catch the bus or train, which matches the average driving time of 2.5-hours. Galway is a fantastic city, and if you think that Dublin feels authentic and traditional you will fall over when you meet Galway. The little harbour city is surrounded by medieval city walls and is full of live folk music, red-painted shops and pubs, and classic stone buildings.
Winner: Dublin puts up a good fight here, but Belfast takes the crown. It has the Causeway Coast, Mourne Mountains, and Derry/Londonderry practically on its doorstep.
So, is Belfast or Dublin better to visit?
Overall, our winner is Dublin for a weekend break. Dublin’s atmosphere and lively, infectious nightlife are unrivalled, and the number of things to do is fantastic. It is the perfect way to experience Ireland in an intense, annual leave-friendly bite.
But (plot twist alert) Belfast wins as an extended holiday of seven days or more. Belfast is cheaper and ideally situated for day trips. It is perfect to use as a base for exploring Northern Ireland, plus it is packed with history and fun nightlife.
I hope you have a wonderful trip, whichever city you choose. You can read more about visiting Northern Ireland here. Feel free to drop any advice for future travellers in the comments below.