Belfast is Northern Ireland’s buzzing capital and largest city. Although it’s often still associated with “the Troubles” (a conflict that ended in 1998), modern Belfast is on the rise, and it’s begging to be explored!
Start your Belfast activities with an iconic “Black Cab Tour,” where taxi drivers take you on a whistle-stop tour of the city’s most important attractions. You’ll see the sights and learn what it was like to live here during the Troubles from the local drivers.
Next, it’s time to visit the Ulster Museum, Belfast City Hall, the Botanic Gardens, and Stormont Estate, where you’ll delve into the history and culture of Northern Ireland. You can escape the city with a hike in the surrounding hills, and when you’re feeling peckish, St George’s Market is waiting to satisfy your hunger pangs with gorgeous street food.
With so many exciting things to see and do, you might not know where to begin your Belfast sightseeing itinerary. To help you out, we’ve put together our list of the absolute best things to do in Belfast for you. Stick to these fun and unique Belfast bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’re going to have an amazing time exploring this beautiful corner of the United Kingdom!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to do in Belfast
1. Take a ‘Black Cab Tour’ of Belfast
One of the best things to do in Belfast is a Black Cab Tour. This unique tour is a mixture of history, culture, and sightseeing that takes you to some of Belfast’s most important attractions, but it’s also a tour that’s bound to leave you moved by the personal tales of the cab drivers.
You’ll see Belfast’s black cabs zipping around the city when you arrive. They are similar to the London black cabs, the difference being that most of the drivers lived through the period of time known as the Troubles. This terrible era of Northern Irish history saw the city awash with violence between Catholics and Protestants, but now that the Troubles are over, the cab drivers take visitors to the most poignant locations.
A Black Cab Tour will take you to Belfast’s political murals, to sites of protests and political upheaval, and to places where the Troubles made their mark on the city and on the drivers. It’s an unusual way to see Belfast, but you’ll learn more from your driver than you ever could in the museums purely because these are the people who lived and worked through the worst of it.
Belfast’s Black Cab Tours are branching out from the political, too. You can also join Black Cab trips that take you to places like the Titanic Quarter, or that take you away from the city itself in search of Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland!
2. Explore history and botany at the Ulster Museum and Botanic Gardens
If you’d love to learn more about Northern Ireland, there’s no better place to start than the Ulster Museum. This expansive national museum is the largest in the country, and it covers everything from pre-history and paleontology to the modern era. And as a bonus, the Ulster Museum is also located within Belfast’s beautiful Botanic Gardens, where you’ll find 28 acres of landscaped gardens and vegetation-rich greenhouses to explore.
You’ll need time to visit both, and it’s easy to get trapped in either for hours at a time as you’re drawn in by the exotic flora or mesmerized by the archeological finds. Start in the Ulster Museum by browsing through the natural history sections, where you’ll see exhibits of birds, mammals, insects, and marine life that have inhabited Northern Ireland in the past and present.
There are Mesolithic stone tools, Bronze Age trinkets and jewelry, and weapons of war from ancient times. There are also impressive art collections on display, a section devoted entirely to wildlife artwork, and exhibitions on textiles, fabrics, and Northern Ireland’s contributions to science and botany.
After wandering through the Ulster Museum, exit into the Botanical Gardens, where your journey continues through the greenhouses and conservatories that house Northern Ireland’s most important collection of flora.
3. Take a ghostly tour through Crumlin Road Gaol
Belfast is a curious place. So it might come as no surprise that in a city of fantastic museums, murals, restaurants, castles, markets, and squares that it’s an old prison that tourists rank as the No. 1 best thing to do in Belfast!
Crumlin Road Gaol is a place of infamy in Belfast, but that hasn’t stopped the locals from turning it into a tourist attraction that’s complete with an events space and a restaurant and bar. Crumlin Road Gaol is an epic work of Victorian architecture and the gaol was opened in 1846 and only closed in 1996.
You’ll be able to undertake a self-guided walking tour through the prison, learning about the multitude of prisoners – men, women, and children – who were kept in the cells. You’ll hear tales of poverty and crime from the Victorian era and tales of political and religious violence from the more recent Troubles. In the evenings, the gaol often hosts supernatural ghost tours, offering a spookier insight into the past.
At the end of your tour, you can stop off in Cuffs Bar & Grill for a beer and a steak, or you can stay on for one of the venue’s many live music and entertainment nights, where tribute acts play “Live at the Crum.”
4. Enjoy 360-degree views of Belfast from The Dome
You’ll discover a glorious vista of Belfast when you take a tour of The Dome, a glittering glass dome that sits on top of the Victoria Square shopping center.
This unique design project adds an impressively modern touch to Belfast’s skyline, but better yet are the 360-degree panoramic views that The Dome offers of the surrounding skyline.
Take the guided tour to the top floor of The Dome, and you’ll be able to spot other famous landmarks from this lofty vantage point. You’ll see the rooftops of Belfast arrayed before you, as well as the Titanic Quarter, Belfast Lough, and many more famous spots around the city.
5. Learn about the world’s most infamous ship at Titanic Belfast
Titanic Belfast is an experience not to be missed because this excellent exhibition tells the detailed story of the world’s most infamous ship. Belfast became a center of shipbuilding in the Victorian era, an industrial period that culminated in the city’s shipyards building the largest ships in the world, including the Titanic.
We all know what happened to the Titanic on its fateful first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, but you can learn more about the ship’s design, its construction, its sinking, and its legacy at Titanic Belfast, an exhibition that opened in 2012 to mark the centennial of the disaster. The exhibition tells the full story of the Titanic, so be prepared to be moved by tales of the passengers and crew who lost their lives on the Titanic’s maiden voyage.
Titanic Belfast is located within a modern, purpose-built building that sits next to the Titanic Slipways. You’ll love how you’re surrounded by history because this is where the Titanic was designed, built, and launched.
The exhibition is part of the Titanic Quarter, Belfast’s impressive urban regeneration project which preserves history while also providing a wonderful waterfront location for new hotels and restaurants. You can even spend the night in the Titanic Hotel, where you’ll feel as if you’re setting sail across the Atlantic (but with no danger of hitting stray icebergs!).
6. Explore civic history at Belfast City Hall
Belfast City Hall is one of the most iconic Belfast attractions. This imposing landmark is found right in the center of the city, and as well as being an important government building, it’s home to an excellent exhibition on Belfast’s history.
This is the place to learn more about the city, as the exhibition starts in 1613, a date considered to be Belfast’s founding year. You’ll learn how the city grew to prominence, became an industrial center for shipbuilding, and how Belfast was bombed during World War II. You’ll also learn about the Troubles and what could be in store for Belfast in the future as the city continues to grow and diversify.
Belfast City Hall also offers guided tours of the magnificent building. Construction began in 1888, and on a tour of the interior, you’ll be able to see the City Hall’s famous stained-glass windows in all their glory. You’ll learn more about the history from the guides while also being shown around the hidden “backstage” areas where unique ceremonial artifacts are held and where city hall traditions and ceremonies take place.
7. Explore the Cathedral Quarter – Belfast’s most cultural district
The Cathedral Quarter might overlap with the city center, but this quirky district has a life of its own! This is one of Belfast’s most happening districts, where historical sites and heritage-listed buildings fuse together seamlessly with trendy bars and restaurants.
The Cathedral Quarter is the place to get cultural, and you can start your tour with a visit to St Anne’s Cathedral (which gives the quarter its name). The cathedral is also commonly referred to as Belfast Cathedral because this is the city’s most important place of worship.
Take a stroll through the cathedral gardens, then onto Writer’s Square. You’ll continue on past historic Victorian-era architecture, the Albert Clock, and many more places of historical significance. There are bars, restaurants, and pubs to stop off at, too, as well as boutique shops and art galleries (including the MAC).
We recommend ending a tour of the Cathedral Quarter at The Merchant Hotel, where you’ll find an impressive domed ceiling in the Great Room Restaurant and a five-star menu of gourmet food and drink to indulge in.
8. Get artsy at the MAC
One of the highlights of the Cathedral Quarter (and one of the top things to do in Belfast) is the MAC. This is Belfast’s award-winning arts venue, and the exhibitions are almost always completely free to view!
MAC stands for Metropolitan Arts Centre, and since opening in 2012, the venue has hosted an incredibly diverse range of artistic events and exhibitions. There have been art installations, cultural events, music festivals, and performing arts shows.
The schedule is ever-changing, and there’s only ever one permanent exhibition on display at the MAC. This is called the “Permanent Present,” and it’s a sculpture that is said to represent the aspirations of the young people of Belfast. Check the MAC website to find out what events and exhibitions are scheduled during your trip to Belfast.
9. Satisfy your hunger pangs at St George’s Market
If you’re visiting Belfast on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday (which we highly recommend!), then you can satisfy your hunger pangs and foodie cravings with a trip around St George’s Market. You’ll find this Victorian-era marketplace is packed with local traders serving up some of the best local eats and quirky street food in Belfast.
On Friday, you’ll find the Variety Market at St George’s, where there are a variety of stalls to browse. The Friday market is a mixture of antiques, handicrafts, grocers, and food stalls, and you’ll be able to gorge on curries and pies, while also shopping for a few souvenirs.
On Saturdays, the market is devoted to food, and you’ll not only find fresh fruit and veggies, alongside fresh fish and meat, but gourmet burgers, vegan pastries, French crepes, Spanish tapas, and much, much more. There’s also a selection of handicrafts on Saturdays, but the primary focus is for foodies.
Sundays see the market taken over by a mixture of food stalls and antique sellers, and you can come away with a few historic souvenirs, while also enjoying a street food-style Sunday lunch.
St George’s Market is not just a bustling marketplace, but it’s a destination in its own right. The market is one of the oldest in the United Kingdom, and its history can be traced back to the first stalls that set up shop here in the early 1600s. The covered marketplace was built in the 1890s before a high-profile refurb took place a century later in the 1990s.
10. Explore nature and politics at Stormont Estate
You’ll find Stormont Estate on the eastern side of Belfast. It’s the perfect place to not only connect with nature but to delve into Northern Ireland’s politics, too. You see, this vast estate is not only home to walking trails and woodland, but it’s the site of Northern Ireland’s government buildings.
Stormont Estate dates back to the 19th century, with Stormont Castle (more of an elaborate country home than a medieval-style castle) being added in 1830. Northern Ireland’s newly-formed government took over the estate and the castle in 1921 when Ireland was partitioned in two.
The government added the purpose-built Parliament Building to the estate, built in the 1930s in a grand style reminiscent of the Georgian era. More buildings have been added since, but much of the estate remains open to the public, who can enjoy the peaceful surroundings of nature close to Belfast.
11. Walk along Belfast’s Peace Wall
The Troubles lasted from the 1960s until 1998, when the low-level conflict that had rocked Northern Ireland came to a close with peace talks between the sides involved. During the conflict, Catholic communities were often separated from their protestant neighbors by security fences, barriers, and checkpoints, which were somewhat optimistically called “Peace Lines.”
The walls still remain in places throughout Belfast, where they’ve often been covered in murals, graffiti, and artwork. Now called the “Peace Walls,” they remain standing as tributes and memorials to the conflict and a reminder that peace is possible.
You can join tours that visit the Peace Walls as part of their itinerary (including the Black Cab Tours), but it’s also easy enough to find them on your own accord. You may stumble across some murals during your stay in the city, but the best are found on Falls Road and Shankill Road.
12. Step back in time with a visit to Belfast Castle
Belfast Castle overlooks the city from its lofty perch some 100 meters above sea level. The castle is located within Cavehill Country Park, and for almost a thousand years, it’s dominated both the city and Belfast Lough.
It’s believed a castle has been here (now on the outskirts of Belfast) since at least the 12th century. The first structures were built by the Norman invaders who wanted to rule over all of Ireland. The castle was the scene of bloody battles and massacres for centuries, and much of it was destroyed and rebuilt in the ensuing wars for control over Northern Ireland.
The castle you see today is not Norman but was instead constructed in the Victorian era to replace the ruins of its predecessors. It is now a stately home rather than a defensive medieval castle (it’s more Downton Abbey than Braveheart), but that doesn’t mean it’s not packed with history. You can tour through the gardens, enjoy views over Belfast, and dine at the excellent Cellar Restaurant or Castle Tavern.
13. Hike to the top of Cave Hill
If you’re looking for a fantastic view of Belfast, you have to tackle the hike to the top of Cave Hill! This is one of the highest points in the surrounding area and one of the top Belfast attractions.
You’ll find that Cave Hill stands some 350 meters above sea level in Cave Hill Country Park. This is the same park where you’ll find Belfast Castle, which is where the Cave Hill hiking trail conveniently begins.
The hike is of medium difficulty, but make sure you’re wearing comfortable walking shoes and are carrying some form of raincoat or umbrella (yes, even in the summer!). Starting at the castle, you’ll walk through the country park grounds, passing woodland, caves, and the remains of an old military fort.
From here, you’ll begin climbing further uphill until you reach Cave Hill. Stand at the top, and you’ll have beautiful vistas of Belfast to the south. Look to the east, and you’ll be able to see far out into Belfast Lough (provided the skies are clear).
The walk is circular, and you can continue on past Cave Hill to join a loop that takes you back to Belfast Castle. In total, you’ll walk around five miles, which should take you around two hours, depending on your fitness level.
14. Hike the Divis and the Black Mountain trails
The two peaks known as Divis and the Black Mountain can be seen rising above Belfast to the west of the city. Divis is located at an altitude of 478 meters, making it the tallest peak in the Belfast Hills, while Black Mountain rises to a height of 389 meters.
If you’d like to experience spectacular views, then joining the Divis and the Black Mountain Ridge Trail is one of the coolest things to do in Belfast. This is a 4.2-mile walk along marked trails and boardwalks, which takes you to the top of both Divis and the Black Mountain and provides spectacular vistas over Belfast.
There are other walking trails in the area, too, all offering supreme views of the Belfast Hills and far out to the sea. If you do one hike in Belfast, make sure it’s here!
15. Join a ‘Game of Thrones’ day trip
The hit TV show Games of Thrones saw many scenes filmed in Northern Ireland, and if you’re a fan, then luckily, many of the filming locations are within easy reach of Belfast.
In fact, tour companies offer dedicated Game of Thrones day tours from the city, stopping off at castles and villages that stood in for famous sets in the show. But these tours aren’t just for TV buffs because the day tours are packed full of history and nature.
You’ll stop off at Carrickfergus Castle and Dunluce Castle, both medieval fortifications with their own Game of Thrones-style history. You’ll walk along the beautiful “King’s Road,” where beech trees arch over an ancient bridleway. You’ll even have the chance to stop off at Giant’s Causeway (which isn’t even featured in the TV show), one of Northern Ireland’s most spectacular natural attractions.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Belfast. What’s your favorite thing to do in Belfast?
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