Top 10 things to do in Belfast (as recommended by a local!)
Belfast in Northern Ireland is a fantastically fun weekend getaway! What started as a tiny, ancient Gaelic settlement is now a thriving, cosmopolitan city. With a lively art and music scene and a fascinating industrial and maritime history!
There’s plenty of great craic to be had in this incredible Irish city! But I’ve narrowed it down to the top 10 things to do in Belfast as recommended by a local (i.e. one of my oldest and dearest friends who was born and raised in the area, Alistair 😉).
Other Northern Ireland posts you might like…
- Find the most iconic Game of Thrones locations in Northern Ireland!
- How to get from Belfast to the Giant’s Causeway (by car, train, bus and tour!)
1) Visit the Titanic Museum at the Harland & Wolff shipyard
If you’ve been fascinated by the story of Titanic since watching James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this museum!
No trip to Belfast is complete without a visit to the award-winning Titanic Museum which is based in the city’s “Titanic Quarter”.
This is where the largest and most luxurious ship in the world was conceptualised, built and launched in the legendary Harland & Wolff shipyard.
Find out all about the history of Titanic and her creators as well as how she was designed and built. You’ll also learn about the impact Titanic had on Belfast’s social and political fabric and the aftermath of the sinking in the harrowing survivor stories.
The museum is a wonderful monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage and is unforgettable – just like Titanic herself.
If you’re looking to head to the Giant’s Causeway whilst visiting Belfast, you can save money on Titanic Museum entry by purchasing a combined Giant’s Causeway and Titanic Experience day trip ticket.
2) Visit SS Nomadic – the last White Star Line ship in the world
Whilst you’re exploring the Titanic Quarter, I highly recommend visiting SS Nomadic.
Built at the same time as the Titanic (by the same workmen, using the same tools and materials!), SS Nomadic is very special. She’s the last remaining White Star Line ship in the ENTIRE world!
Originally built as a way to take first and second class passengers aboard the Titanic, the ship has had an interesting career – including as a restaurant and party venue moored beside the Eiffel Tower!
Incredibly, SS Nomadic was due to be scrapped but was thankfully brought back to Belfast and restored to her former Edwardian glory.
Visiting the ship is about as close to being on Titanic as you can get. With the luxury that first and second class passengers came to expect aboard luxury streamliners of the time.
It’s incredible, living, breathing history. And we’re very fortunate that she was saved!
If you’d like to learn more about the Titanic Quarter, you can download a self-guided audio tour for only £4.00. It tells you more about the history of the area and you can go entirely at your own pace.
3) Go on a Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour
A bus tour is a great way to get your bearings in any new city. But is also a convenient way of getting around at the same time!
There are a few different companies you can choose from but they pretty much run the same route. Highlights include: Belfast City Hall, Titanic Museum and Dock, Crumlin Road Jail, St Annes Cathedral, Belfast Peace Wall and the Parliament buildings.
Most notably the tour buses take you through the famous Falls Road and Shankill Road areas, featuring political murals from The Troubles.
For anyone who isn’t aware, The Troubles was a conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted over 30 years until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
The Nationalist (mainly Catholic) population of Ireland wanted an independent and united Ireland. However, the Loyalist (mainly protestant) population wanted to remain a part of the UK.
There’s an awful lot to unpack when it comes to the history of The Troubles (as you can imagine!). So if you’d like to find out more and get a local’s take, my friend Alistair recommends a Black Taxi Mural Tour.
You’ll hear all about Belfast’s past from the perspective of a local guide and get a personalised trip in your own taxi.
4) Watch the Belfast Giants play at home
What’s amazing about the success of the Belfast Giants is that ice hockey has absolutely no history in Belfast!
Before the team was established in 2000, sports fans in Northern Ireland mainly followed rugby, football and Gaelic games. But were divided by where sports took place whether it was in the Nationalist West of Belfast or Protestant Ulster.
It was decided less than two years after the peace agreement in 1998 that Northern Ireland needed to introduce a new sport that would bring the whole city of Belfast together. No matter what their beliefs.
Ice hockey is now one of its most popular sports and you’ll understand why when you watch the Belfast Giants play at home!
I’m not a big sports fan usually. But after hearing the amazing story of how the Belfast Giants came to be, I had to watch a game.
And let me tell you – the players don’t hold back for a minute! They’re smashing each other into the side of the rink to get to the puck, with fights regularly breaking out between halves!
It’s much more exciting than football in my opinion. 😂
5) Go on a Belfast City Free Walking Tour
Learn about the recent history and political struggles in Belfast during a free walking tour of the city centre. Visiting popular landmarks such as the Cathedral Quarter, Belfast City Hall, the docklands, the ‘Big Fish’ and City Laneways.
I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Belfast’s culture, legends and folklore too!
Whilst you’re exploring the city centre, make sure to visit St George’s Market as well. It’s only five minutes walk away from Victoria Square (and personally recommended by my local friend, Alistair!).
Built between 1890 and 1896, St George’s Market is the last surviving covered market in Belfast. It has also won countless awards and titles for its fresh, local produce – and great vibe!
There are over 200 market stalls selling antiques, books, clothes, hot food, fresh pastries, homemade crafts – you name it.
So make sure you don’t miss out!
6) Visit the Ulster Museum
Ulster Museum is a treasure trove of the past and present. With collections in art, history and natural sciences, located at Belfast’s beautiful Botanic Gardens.
There’s plenty to explore in the museum, including exhibitions with dinosaurs and other fossils, meteorites and Egyptian mummies.
You’ll also find out about ancient Ireland, with artefacts dating all the way back to the Bronze Age!
There are also displays and information on Belfast’s more modern history and the future.
7) Visit Crumlin Road Gaol
Once a bustling Victorian prison, Crumlin Road Gaol finally closed its doors in 1996, before reopening as a museum to give tourists a glimpse into the city’s dark past.
Built in 1845 as a way of combating rising crime, it became known as Northern Ireland’s most notorious prison.
The building itself was a pioneering design. With a layout that allowed guards to see cells down four separate wings from the prison’s central hub. Essentially the Victorian version of CCTV. 😬
It was a system of solitary confinement that kept prisoners away from each other too. This was against previous set ups where prisoners were kept all together in larger cells.
But one of the more disturbing aspects of the prison’s history is the 17 executions that took place here.
Executed prisoners still lie in unmarked graves in the jail yard today. With only rough engravings in the walls where people are believed to be buried.
Is there any wonder that Crumlin Road Gaol is believed to be extremely haunted?!
You can also take a guided tour around the cells, Governor’s chambers and execution room or explore at your own pace.
But I would definitely recommend the guided tour! The fantastic guides bring the prison’s gruesome history to life with facts and stories you won’t otherwise learn about.
It may be morbid but it’s a fascinating time capsule of Victorian Belfast!
You can also stop off here on the Belfast Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour so it’s super easy to get to.
8) Visit Belfast Castle
Belfast Castle sits on the slops of Cavehill Country Park, just 10 minutes outside of Belfast city centre.
Situated 400 feet above sea level, the castle provides a magnificent view of the city and Belfast Locke – which is worth the visit alone!
The original castle on this site was built in the 12th century by the Normans. With a second castle, made of stone and timber, constructed by the Baron of Belfast in 1611.
However, the castle’s second incarnation sadly succumbed to fire in 1708 and wasn’t rebuilt until 1870.
The third (and current!) castle was rebuilt entirely from sandstone, boasting impressive stone turrets and staircases.
In 1934 the 9th Earl of Shaftesbury kindly presented the castle to the City of Belfast. The council then began a major refurbishment over a period of ten years before officially re-opening the castle in 1988 to the public.
As well as an incredible view and grounds to explore, Belfast Castle has an antiques shop, visitors centre and ‘Castle Tavern’ where you can enjoy a spot of afternoon tea.
You can also stop off here on the Belfast Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour so you can avoid trekking up that hill!
9) Take a tour around Belfast City Hall
Belfast’s grand city hall is in the heart of Belfast city centre. It’s also been at the centre of some pretty landmark occasions – from royal visits to political demonstrations!
Built in 1906 as a response to Queen Victoria awarding Belfast “city status” in 1888, it has now been home to the city’s council for over 100 years.
Tours take place every day and are a great way to find out more about the history of Belfast City Hall. You’ll also get to see inside the atmospheric great hall and council chamber.
But don’t forget to take a closer look at some of its finest features too! These include, its impressive towering dome and the stone facade adorned with the same quarried marble that was used to build classical Rome.
Belfast City Hall has so many tales to tell – you definitely don’t want to miss this tour!
10) Have a pint of Guinness in the Crown Liquor Saloon
The Crown Liquor Saloon (or Crown Bar) is a Belfast treasure – and one of its most famous pubs!
Restored to its former glory thanks to some extensive renovation work by the National Trust, the pub is one of the finest Victorian pubs in the UK.
Just imagine elaborately carved wooden drinking booths with ornate mirrors, red and gold ceilings and brocaded walls.
You just won’t find another place like it!
The bar is lavishly decorated with polychromatic tiles and mosaics that were created by Italian craftsmen in 1880.
There is also a bar and restaurant upstairs to get some classic pub grub and a pint of Guinness. Because what would a trip to Northern Ireland be without a pint of Guinness? 😉
The bar has got a fantastic atmosphere and of course – the finest Irish hospitality.
What would you like to do most on this top 10 things to do in Belfast list? If you’ve already been, is there anything you would add to the list? Let me know in the comments below. 😊
Quick FYI guys – this post contains affiliate links to various tours. I will receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. Thanks so much for your support!