Northern Ireland

23 things to do in Belfast – attractions, bars, tours + more

A couple walk in front of the Titanic Belfast building lit up in pink at dusk

There’s no shortage of things to do in Belfast. You could easily spend a couple of weeks in this vibrant city and still not get around to everything you want to see and do. However, if you are visiting Belfast,  this list will hopefully help you plan your trip. No doubt you’ll discover some other gems yourself when you get there. Feel free to share your favourite things to do in Belfast in the comments!

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Stroll through the stalls at St George’s Market

A visit to St George’s Market is one of the most popular things to do in Belfast’s. It’s also one of the oldest attractions in the city, making it as good a place to start your exploring as any! Arriving to Belfast by train, that’s exactly what we did, as St George’s Market is just a few minutes walk from Lanyon Place railway station.

  Golden sunlight bathes St George's Market

The beautiful Victorian building which houses the market was built between 1890 and 1896 and refurbished in 1997. However, there has actually been a Friday market on this site since 1604. St George’s Market is now open from Friday to Sunday and has a huge variety of stalls offering food, crafts, records, clothing and more. The stalls differ depending on the day you visit.

There is a free bus that connects the city centre and St George’s Market, so if you go mad shopping, you don’t have to worry about lugging your haul back to your accommodation!

Take a trip back in time at Titanic Belfast

Not surprisingly a visit to Titanic Belfast, is top of many people’s list of things to do in Belfast. It’s the largest Titanic visitor experience in the world and is located on what used to be Queen’s Island, the birthplace of the Titanic. This area is now called the Titanic Quarter and is undergoing a huge regeneration. Titanic Belfast opened in 2012 and attracts a large number of visitors to this vibrant and growing area of the city every year.

The Titanic Experience allows you to self-guide through nine fascinating interactive galleries exploring the story of Belfast and the Titanic. Your Titanic Experience ticket also includes access to the SS Nomadic, the last remaining White Star ship and little sister to the Titanic. The Nomadic is located just in front of the iconic Titanic Belfast building and it’s well worth seeing.

A woman reading one of the displays in the Titanic Experience

The SS Nomadic with Titanic Belfast in the background

This was my second time doing the Titanic Experience and there’s so much to take in, I could easily go again! My mam also spoilt us with afternoon tea this time, which was a lovely treat. Available on Sunday’s only, you can have afternoon tea in the Titanic Suite, complete with replica Titanic staircase. If you’re booking, just make sure you leave enough time to explore the galleries before or after. You need a couple of hours, at least, to get around it all. Add additional time for the SS Nomadic. We spent a further hour there.

Work up an appetite at Cave Hill Country Park

Wherever you are in Belfast, it’s likely you’ll have noticed Cave Hill. It’s one in a row of hills that form a beautiful backdrop to the city. Named because of the caves found in it’s cliffs, Cave Hill offers breathtaking views of Belfast.

It’s also recognisable due to it’s distinctive shape, which is said to have inspired Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. He thought the shape of the hill similar to that of a sleeping giant. Cave Hill is also referred to as ‘Napoleon’s Nose’, resembling the profile of the emperor from another vantage point.

The view of McArt's Fort and Belfast from Cave Hill

While Cave Hill is a little outside the city centre, it’s definitely worth heading out there to see the city from a different perspective. There are three walking trails throughout the park. We took one leading up to McArt’s Fort at the top of the cliffs and the views are just spectacular. On a clear day you can see the Isle of Man and Scottish coast.

It’s around a 15 – 20 minute drive to Cave Hill from the city. Any number 1 bus from Donegall Square West will get you there. If there are a few of you it’s probably just as cheap and much easier to get a taxi. We found the prices pretty reasonable. It cost us £7.50 to get from the city centre to the start of the trails. There are a number of entrances to the park but we went to the one at Belfast Castle.

Replenish yourself at Belfast Castle

Belfast Castle is nestled in the slopes of Cave Hill, very close to the start of the walking trails. It’s the perfect place to relax a little after your stretching your legs! The castle is a striking sandstone building, designed in the Scottish Baronial style. Completed in 1870, it replaced the original Belfast Castle which was located in what is now the city centre but burned down in 1708.

We headed straight down to the cellar, in search of food! The Castle Tavern offers a great selection on the all day menu. My dad went into silent mode as he tucked into a hearty seafood chowder, while my mam and I went for Italian mozzarella toasties with some chunky chips for good measure. Delish!

A cat shaped from the hedges in the formal gardens at Belfast Castle

The formal gardens are beautiful and you can also enjoy great views of the city from here. The gardens celebrate the castle cat and apparently there are nine cats hidden throughout the gardens if you fancy doing some searching. I only noticed the one in the photo above, which was pretty easy in fairness!

Take a Black Cab Tour of the political murals

While you can walk around to view the murals and peace walls on your own, I highly recommend taking a tour to get a better understanding of The Troubles, a 30 year conflict which tore apart the nationalist and unionist communities here and throughout Northern Ireland. We took a tour with Paddy Campbell’s Black Cab Tours. The guides are local and share their experience of growing up in Belfast during the conflict. With three of us taking the tour, the rates were very reasonable and our guide Brendan, was fantastic.

Colourful art stretches along one of the peace walls in Belfast

Mural of two young boys surrounded by rubble. Text at the top of the wall reads Summer of 69.

Go back just a couple of decades and there was no chance we would dare to pass through some of the areas we went to on the tour, let alone stop to get out and view murals. While there’s no doubt that the 1998 Peace Agreement has changed lives for the better, there’s no such thing as an instant fix and naturally tensions still exist between some members of the communities.

As we drove the most famous of the peace walls, which separates the Falls and Shankill Roads, we passed through sets of large metal security gates which are still locked every evening and reopened in the morning. Fortunately though, the vast majority of people are committed to lasting peace and Belfast is a very safe city to visit.

Steal a quiet moment in Belfast Botanic Gardens

The gardens were established in 1828 and were originally private gardens but since 1895 they have been open to the public and are free to visit. There are two greenhouses within the Botanic Gardens, the Palm House and the Tropical Ravine and also a playground and bowling green. It’s a popular meeting spot for residents and tourists, particularly during long summer evenings.

The palm house at the Botanic Gardens with white flowers in the foreground

The gardens are a significant part of Belfast’s Victorian heritage and the Palm House is one of the earliest examples of a curved cast iron glasshouse. It you’re lucky you might even catch a recital or performance taking place in the gardens when you visit. I didn’t, but there’s always next time!

Discover the many wonders of the Ulster Museum

The Ulster Museum is located just inside the main entrance to the botanic gardens and if you’re looking for free things to do in Belfast, this is one of the best. Inside, you’ll find five levels within the museum that cover art, history and natural sciences. The museum is open daily, except for Mondays.

Things to see include an ancient Egyptian mummy, a dinosaur skeleton, a meteorite slice, Peter the Polar Bear and much more. The museum also has a number of temporary exhibitions. Fans of the Game of Thrones TV series will want to check out the incredible 77 metre long Bayeux style tapestry.  It’s part of a temporary exhibition and will be on display until the end of July. The tapestry depicts all the events, locations and action from Season 1 through to 7. Season 8 will be added in June 2019.

An image of a fire breathing dragon on the Game of Thrones tapestry at the Ulster Museum

Mingle with the students at Queen’s University Belfast

Just a few minutes walk from the Belfast Botanic Gardens and Ulster Museum, you’ll find Queen’s University Belfast. It’s worth taking a little time to have a stroll and admire the magnificent Lanyon Building.

Queen’s is the UK’s 9th oldest university and was founded by royal charter in 1845. The main building was designed by Sir Charles Lanyon in 1849. Lanyon designed other notable Belfast landmarks like the Customs House, Crumlin Road Gaol and the nearby Palm House in the Botanic Gardens.

Image of statue in front of the Lanyon building at Queens University Belfast

Wander the cobbled streets of the Cathedral Quarter

The Cathedral quarter is the oldest part of the city and Wandering around the narrow cobbled streets and laneways of the Cathedral quarter was one of my favourite things to do in Belfast.

The area gets it’s name from St Anne’s Cathedral, a beautiful Romanesque style building in the heart of the area. You can take a tour of the Cathedral, which features stunning stained windows, elaborate stonework carvings and impressive mosaics. Cathedral Quarter was also the literary heart of the city at one time and still has a thriving culture and arts scene. Opposite St Anne’s Cathedral, Writer’s Square celebrates famous local writers while murals and art adorn the walls of many of the nearby streets and laneways.

An angel surrounded by gold, part of a mosaic ceiling inside St Anne's Cathedral

Part of a mosaic ceiling inside St Anne’s Cathedral

A mural of famous people in the Cathedral Quarter

Famous faces in the Cathedral Quarter

Learn to play the bodhrán at The Dirty Onion

Also in the Cathedral Quarter, The Dirty Onion is a fantastic pub in one of Belfast’s oldest buildings. Inside, people were cozied up by the fire. Outside is a massive beer garden. There is entertainment 7 nights a week, including traditional Irish music and  bluegrass.  On Tuesdays you can go along for free bodhrán (Irish drum) lessons. Unfortunately we weren’t around Tuesday night, as I would have loved to give it a go. 

Mural above The Dirty Onion bar. A popular pub with live music every night.

Get lost in fantasy at CS Lewis Square

The author CS Lewis was born in Belfast and became one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. He wrote over forty books but is best known for The Chronicles of Narnia series.

CS Lewis Square is a public space commemorating him and it features seven bronze sculptures of characters from ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. The square is open 24/7 and the sculptures are illuminated at night. There is also an annual CS Lewis Festival, which usually takes place in November. The festival celebrates the legacy of CS Lewis and includes talks, exhibitions, tours, film screenings and more.

Sculpture of Aslan from the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at CS Lewis Square

Unfortunately we couldn’t really take the time to enjoy the sculptures as it was lashing rain when we visited. Thankfully the square is located next to the EastSide visitor centre though, which offers the perfect place to escape the rain and grab a drink or bite to eat.

Retro-stalk Van Morrison

In the EastSide visitor centre my mam purchased a small booklet and map of the Van Morrison Trail. As it was lashing down and the trail takes about two hours to complete, that’s one we’ll save for next time. If you’re a fan of ‘Van the Man’, make sure it’s on your list of things to do in Belfast.

The trail is 3.5km and takes you to places that were part of Morrison’s life, as he was growing up in East Belfast. Along the way you’ll learn about some of those places and people that shaped his musical journey.

Snog a big fish on the Maritime Mile

The Maritime Mile walk links the waterfront at Donegall Quay to the tip of Queen’s Island. Stretching along the River Lagan, this self-guided walking trail takes in a number of attractions related to Belfast’s maritime and Titanic heritage. 

Start at the colourful statue of the Big Fish (or Salmon of Knowledge) on Donegall Quay. Its tiles are painted with imagery related to the history of Belfast. If you’re mad enough to stick your tongue in the mouth of the fish, you’ll apparently be rewarded with its wisdom. Eh no, thanks. Kissing the Blarney Stone was enough for me and at least that didn’t involve any tongue!

Belfast's Big Fish with a Harland & Wolff crane in the distance across the river Lagan.

The Great Light on Belfast's waterfront

The Great Light

After your fill of fishy kisses and selfies, head cross the river to the Titanic Quarter.  The walk includes the SS Nomadic and Titanic Belfast. Continue on from there till you reach the Great Light. 10 tonnes in weight, 7 metres tall and around 130 years old, it’s one of the largest optics of its kind ever built. The Titanic walkway then leads you to the HMS Caroline and the Titanic Dock and pump house.   

Enjoy a tipple in Bittles Bar

This traditional Victorian bar is one of Belfast’s more unique bars to visit. Centrally located, close to Victoria Square this distinctive building is bound to catch your eye if you’re passing by. Red bricked and triangular in shape, it’s Belfast’s equivalent of the famous Flatiron Building in New York.

The unique building that houses Bittles Bar

Bittles was founded in 1868 and boasts and extensive selection of whiskeys. It wasn’t very busy when we popped in for a drink. We had plenty of opportunity to view the interesting collection of artwork on the walls and have a chat with the barman. The paintings include many of Ireland’s sporting and literary heroes and famous politicians and are the work of one of the bar’s patrons. It’s well worth stopping in for a drink or two. Going by the reviews, you shouldn’t ask about the quality of the Guinness, request cocktails or ask to taste the beers though. Don’t say you weren’t warned!

Soak in the 360° views from Victoria Square

While you’re right beside it, pop into Victoria Square shopping centre. Head to the iconic dome for panoramic views of Belfast. If you have time to shop, you’ll find plenty of stores here as well as lots of dining options and a cinema.

A couple walk towards the entrance to the iconic dome at Victoria Square Shopping Centre

Indulge in Tipsy Tea at Bullitt

If you’re a fan of quirky and cool, check out Bullitt Hotel. We just had a quick peek but it looks like a fab place to stay. It’s in a great location, with a restaurant and a selection of bars including Babel, a rooftop bar and garden with fab views. Bullitt is marketed as a no-nonsense hotel, offering quality service without the hidden costs. Choose from a Dinky, Comfy or Roomy bedroom based on your needs. Sounds perfect for a city break, as let’s face it, how much time do you spend in your room? Small but comfy is the way to go and you get a daily Grub to Go Bag with OJ, a granola pot and a piece of fruit to get you going in the morning!

Even if you’re not staying, head to Babel for the rooftop views and treat yourself to Tipsy Tea. Available every Friday – Sunday from 12pm to 4pm, Tipsy Tea includes savoury sandwiches, sweet treats and either gin cocktails or champagne cocktails depending on your preference!

Be wowed by the splendour of Stormont

The impressive Parliament Buildings at Stormont Estate are worth a visit if you have time. Entry is free, you just need to go through a security check before getting into the building. On weekdays there are free guided public tours at 11am and 2pm.

The tours will take you through the Great Hall, Senate Chamber and Assembly Chamber. I didn’t expect it to be so opulent inside and was pretty blown away by the Great Hall in particular. I arrived after a tour had started but the staff kindly led me to the group, so I could join in for the rest.

Colourful flowers in front of the main Stormont building

The tour informs you about the history and architecture of the buildings. Like the fact the building is 365ft wide, one foot for each day of the year! Or that the six pillars at the entrance represent each county in Northern Ireland. You might also find out how Hilary Clinton was responsible for messing up one of the carpets, or maybe our group were just particularly nosey!

Catch some tunes at Berts Jazz Bar

We stumbled upon Berts Jazz Bar by accident. Hearing the live music as we passed outside, it did the job of getting us in the door! It’s a very cool venue. Think 1930s New York jazz bar and you have the idea. The dining area, which is closest to the stage has plush red booths and smaller tables with red velvet chairs. Small lamps on the tables create an intimate atmosphere. 

As we weren’t eating we were directed through to the bar area. Although we didn’t have much of a view to the band, the ambience was still lovely. The music was loud enough to enjoy but we could still have a conversation easily. If you’re a gin lover, you’ll be more than happy with the options on the Irish gin menu, though your wallet will feel it. At £10 a pop for the gins, you could blow your budget here pretty quickly. Then again you’re not paying for the wonderful live jazz (though I think there may be a charge on Friday and Saturday night).

Berts is part of the 5-star Merchant Hotel so I guess higher prices go with the territory. However, going by the reviews, if you’re planning a special evening when you’re in Belfast,  dinner and drinks here could be the way to go. Choose a later table when booking as the live jazz starts from 9pm each night.

Get a glimpse into prison life at Crumlin Road Gaol

Crumlin Road Gaol opened in 1846 and housed prisoners for 150 years, up until 1996. In 2012 the prison reopened as a tourist attraction and conference centre. It’s also used as a concert venue and even a wedding venue. It would certainly make for a unique wedding!

The daily guided tour will take you into the holding cells, centre circle, C-Wing and Hanging Cell. You’ll also enter the tunnel that linked the prison to the courthouse across the road. There are also evening tours and ghost tours that can be organised for groups.

Exterior shot of Crumlin Road Gaol in sunlight with a moody sky in the background

Lose yourself in Belfast’s incredible street art

If you’re a lover of street art, then you’ll certainly be kept busy in Belfast! In addition to the political murals of west Belfast, there are many more murals throughout the city. Many commemorate events such as the Great Famine or sinking of the Titanic. Others celebrate Irish mythology or local people, like legendary footballer George Best.

There is also an ever-growing and changing collection of modern murals that are unrelated to the city and it’s history. A large concentration of those murals can be found in the Cathedral Quarter. Head for The Duke of York pub, which is a good place to start. You’ll find lots of art in the alleys outside and around it. It’s also a great bar to grab a drink in after you’re done exploring. The interior is full of antique mirrors and other historic artefacts.

A black and white mural of a duel in the Cathedral Quarter

Laneway where the Duke of York Pub is located in Belfast

Laneway leading to the Duke of York bar

You’ll find plenty of art exploring on your own but if you’re interested in finding the more hidden pieces or getting information about the works and the artists behind them, then you can join the weekly Street Art Walking Tour with Seedhead Arts. Tours go every Sunday at noon but you can contact them for a private tour if that doesn’t suit.

Make the most of your time in Belfast with CitySightseeing Belfast

This hop-on hop-off bus is a great way to see a lot in a short space of time. While I prefer to walk around the central city attractions, the bus is great for getting to attractions a little further out of the city.

The route includes 23 stops around the city, covering pretty much anywhere you need to go. The only place missing really was a stop at Cave Hill and Belfast Castle. Not sure why it isn’t included but obviously it doesn’t work for some reason! However, we found the bus really handy to get to Stormont, the CS Lewis Square and a couple of other places.  that we otherwise probably wouldn’t have managed to fit in, had we had been trying to organise it ourselves and work out public transport.

The two day ticket is great as you never fit in as much as you think you will in a day! You can also pay a small fee to store your suitcase in the office at 10 Great Victoria Street, which was great on our last day. It’s close to one of the bus stops and just across the road from the train station too.

Savour the best vegan curry at Made in Belfast

I’m not vegan (just veggie) but nevertheless the Vegan Crispy Fried Cauliflower Katsu Curry is up there with the best meals I’ve had. Yep, it’s a bit of a mouthful to say but it’s damn tasty! There are a number of Made in Belfast restaurants located in the city. The branch we ate at was The Grill in Cathedral Quarter. The decor is quirky, the staff were lovely and we all really enjoyed our meals. However, even the meat eaters agreed the vegan curry was a winner after trying mine! 

Marvel at the grandeur of City Hall

When Belfast was granted city status in 1888 by Queen Victoria, it was agreed that the city needed a grand building, befitting its new status. The result was the beautiful City Hall which opened in 1906. 

With towers on each corner and a large copper dome in the centre, the City Hall is very distinctive and is often referred to as The Wedding Cake. There are guided tours every day, which take around an hour. The tours are free, though donations are accepted. Inside the highlights include the Grand Staircase and a collection of stained glass windows. Outside, take a stroll through the gardens which contain many sculptures and memorials.

Stormy clouds over Belfast City Hall at sunset

Woah, that was a long one. Well done if you’re still reading! Hopefully you found this list of things to do in Belfast helpful. If so, please consider sharing it and as always, happy exploring.


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1 Comment

  • Ann
    29th September 2020 at 8:08 pm

    Thank you so much for all of your wonderful reviews things to do. My husband and I will be in Belfast in night and can’t wait to see everything!


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