Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland—so while it is a part of the United Kingdom (and you’ll be using pounds rather than euros), it does have an open border with the Republic of Ireland to the south. And along with its natural and architectural charms, in the decades since the end of the Troubles, it’s become an ultra-artsy cultural mecca to boot! From exploring the amazing Giant’s Causway to snacking through St. George’s Market, these are the 18 best things to do in Belfast 2020.
Remember, internet lists can only tell you so much—the best way to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your stay in Belfast is to connect with a local for help planning your trip!
Belfast has an amazing maritime history—it’s where the RMS Titanic was built!—and the Titanic Belfast museum was opened in 2012 to honor that history. Explore the old Harland & Wolff shipyard, see where the Titanic was constructed, and learn all about how it tragically sank. While it’s not one of the most off-the-beaten-path places in Ireland, it is an awesome and fun experience.
Belfast is a super safe city to visit today—that’s part of what makes it one of the best places to stay in Ireland—but it has a very troubled past. There are just about 60 Peace Lines in Belfast, concrete barriers that once divided territories between Loyalists and Republicans, Catholics and Protestants. The barriers aren’t conventionally beautiful, but they’re a really important part of Belfast’s history and covered in colorful, politically-charged graffiti. We’d recommend asking your local to tell you all about what makes the Peace Lines so significant. No one knows better than they do.
A trip to Belfast would be incomplete without a stroll through St. George’s Market. This Victorian covered market has been around since the 1890s and is (in our opinion) one of the best markets in Ireland. You can find a ton of traditional Irish foods here, including cheeses, cured meats, and craft beers. We recommend going there for the Friday variety market or visiting on Sunday morning for a Full Irish breakfast.
Pro tip: The “Full Breakfast” is serious business in Ireland. In fact, eating one made our list of 30 essential things to do in Ireland.
The Giant’s Causeway is a little outside of Belfast, but we promise it's worth it. A stretch of massive, hexagonal basalt columns along Ireland’s northern coast, It’s a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most popular places to visit in all of Ireland—so definitely a must-see. It takes about an hour to get there from Belfast, and you should plan on taking a whole afternoon to see it.
High up on the hills of Belfast, you can find Belfast Castle—a beautiful 12th-century fortress that seems straight out of a fairytale. While there are tons of castles in the area (seriously, exploring castles is one of the most popular things to do in Ireland) Belfast Castle is unique because it’s so well-restored! In fact, the castle is so beautiful that it’s often used as a wedding venue. Swoon.
Calling all GoT fans! Belfast was one of the key filming locations for all eight seasons of Game of Thrones. If you loved the show, you need to take the opportunity to see where it was filmed. You can find the filming sets in Belfast yourself, take a guided tour, or (our recommendation) ask a local to show you the real-life counterparts of your favorite places in Westeros. Oh, and don’t miss the Game of Thrones exhibition—it’s packed with costumes, props, and other memorabilia from the show.
There’s only one Victorian-era jail left in Northern Ireland: Crumlin Road Gaol. It was founded in 1846 and remained open for 150 years; in that time it held all manner of people, from suffragettes to political prisoners. You can take a guided tour of the jail (heads up, it’s a little creepy) and even see the room where executions took place. If you’re interested in Belfast’s bloody history, Crumlin Road Gaol is a must-see attraction.
Cathedral Quarter is an up-and-coming district of Belfast where you’ll find tons of incredible bars and restaurants. If you’re looking for a night out in Belfast’s most happening neighborhood, this is definitely the place to go. You’ll also see some amazing street art here and have the opportunity to shop at some of Belfast’s uber-hip boutiques. Even if you’re not going out to eat, a walk down Hill Street is great for sightseeing and snapping that Instagram-perfect shot.
The Ulster Museum is one of the most popular stops in Belfast. It’s entertaining, educational, and, best of all, free! You’ll learn some amazing facts about everything from local history to natural science, and can even grab an espresso at the café when you’re done.
If you need a break from castles and cathedrals (we know, Ireland has a lot of them) head over to the Belfast Zoo for a fun and relaxing afternoon. They have over 130 different species from African primates to American reptiles. One of the city’s biggest attractions, though, is its location—it’s high up in the hills above Belfast, so wear your walking shoes and be prepared to trek!
If you’re looking for authentic things to do in Ireland, this should definitely be high up on your list! Belfast has great nightlife and some super unique pubs—ranging from the old, to the trendy, to the just plain weird. We’d recommend starting out at the Crown Liquor Saloon, an ornate Victorian pub that looks exactly like it did in the 19th century. Where you go from there is up to you—just remember that no one knows the city’s pubs like its residents, so connect with a Belfast local for help planning your ideal pub crawl.
Open since 1895, the Grand Opera House is a gorgeous historic theater in the center of Belfast. It was used as a cinema through the ’60s and ’70s, but today you can go there to catch a play or musical. Make sure you check what’s showing and buy your tickets ahead of time—this is one of Belfast’s top attractions. Not interested in theater? You can also take a tour of the building and learn about its history without seeing a show.
And speaking of history, taking a tour of Belfast City Hall is a great way to learn all about the city’s rich, tragic, yet inspiring past. It’s also a beautiful building—if you’re in Belfast around Christmas time, you’ll see it as the backdrop to the city’s charming Christmas market. You can walk inside on your own, or choose an organized tour for a more educational experience. This is a popular spot, so if you’re interested in a tour you should chat with a local to learn the best times to visit.
In the east of Belfast, you can visit Streamvale Open Farm, a commercial dairy farm that gives tours to the public. If you’re interested in Ireland’s fabled farming culture (think green pastures, rolling hills, and roaming cows), it’s well worth a visit. See the cows being milked, watch border collies herding sheep, and learn about the process of sustainable farming. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to eat the best, freshest butter of your life.
In the northern part of Belfast, there’s a set of huge basalt cliffs with five enormous caves that were used as bomb shelters during World War II. Cave Hill Country Park, which encompasses these cliffs, also boasts Ireland’s fabled green meadows and some really interesting archeological sites.
Pro tip: You can get an incredible panorama of the city from up here!
Ulster Hall Belfast is a gorgeous building, both inside and out. It’s fun to visit while you’re sightseeing in the daytime, but we recommend catching a concert or show in the evening. Belfast is a total cultural hub, so there’s always something going on at Ulster Hall—whether it’s standup comedy, a rock concert, or a dance performance.
One of the most classic things to do in Ireland is to take in each city’s famous cathedrals—and St. Anne’s is the most well-known cathedral in Belfast. It’s gorgeous to look at and has some amazing history behind it; it was built on the site of the old St. Anne’s Parish Church that dates all the way back to the 1770s! Cathedral Quarter gets its name from St. Anne’s, so you can stop by on your way to shopping or dining.
Feeling a little hungover after that pub crawl? The Belfast Botanic Gardens are a beautiful place to spend a sunny morning and take a break from sightseeing. There’s plenty of open space to play a soccer game, have a picnic or just stroll through the flowers. Entry is free, and you’ll meet tons of locals there on a sunny day.
Ready to visit Belfast? For even more things to do in this awesome city, connect with a local to help you plan your trip. They’ll design an entire itinerary based on your travel style and interests, answer all your Ireland questions, and even suggestion hidden gem activities that don’t make Internet lists like these. After all, no one knows Ireland like the Irish—so why see Ireland like a tourist when you could see it like a local?