Europe > Britain and Ireland > United Kingdom > Northern Ireland > County Antrim > Belfast
- For other places with the same name, see Belfast (disambiguation).
Belfast (Irish Béal Feirste) is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland. Historically most of it is in County Antrim west of the River Lagan, with about a third on the east bank in County Down; but it's always been governed as a separate metropolis, which in 2020 is estimated a population of 630,000. It has had a troubled history but is nowadays safe to visit and has the best-developed visitor facilities in Northern Ireland. And its situation means that Belfast can confidently claim to be the most fascinating city in both the United Kingdom and in Ireland.
This noble city is named for a mud bank and built upon sludge. The lower River Lagan is tidal and receives a dozen small tributaries (nowadays culverted) which drop their silt, forming banks of sand and mud. The lowest point at which you could ford the river at low tide is where the Lagan road bridge now crosses, and in Irish this is Béal Feirste, "river-mouth of the sand-bank ford". The tributary joining at that point, the Farset, is likewise named for the mud bank, not vice versa. And besides the man-made channels and culverts, a great volume of water seeps through the alluvial silt on both sides of the Lagan. It's a slimy, thixotropic impediment to building - clay dug out of a trench quickly feels homesick and slides back in - and a deterrent to high-rise; but Paris grew up on similar foundations.
Pre-industrial Belfast was a small provincial place. It grew rapidly in the 18th century with the linen trade, and in the 19th with smokestack industry, especially ship-building along the estuary. It sucked in labour, including Catholics moving off the land. In 1921 Ireland was divided: Dublin and the Republic fell behind economically, while Belfast found itself the capital city of Northern Ireland and, after the Depression, busily tooling up to fight the Second World War.
It slumped in the late 20th century as textiles and smokestack industries were lost to foreign competition. Tension rose between factions and communities, the Catholic minority faced blatant discrimination in many aspects of their lives, and both sides had a 200-year old tradition of paramilitary thuggery, which escalated. All of Northern Ireland, but especially Belfast, then suffered a notorious 30 years of "The Troubles" from 1969. Civilian rule broke down and the British Army was heavily deployed to keep order; they too became targets of violence. Riots, shootings and bombings were the daily grist of the newsreels. Barriers, checkpoints and armoured vehicles marked the junctions, helicopters throp-throp-thropped over a scarred, smoke-blackened city.
By the 1990s all sides were war-weary, and a confluence of political drives within Northern Ireland and externally from Britain, Ireland, the European Union and the USA led to the 1998 "Good Friday Agreement". There had been so many short-lived ceasefires and peace initiatives, and the Omagh bombing suggested that the GFA might be yet another - yet for the most part this one stuck. Cautiously the city de-militarised and normalised, though the "Peace Walls" to separate warring communities still stand. Hotels, pubs and other visitor amenities re-opened, and the city's Victorian and Edwardian heritage re-emerged. There was some mileage in "Troubles Tourism" but the final ingredient that Belfast needed was a new story to tell of itself with pride. This it received in 2012 with the opening of the Titanic Quarter east of the river.
The tourist information centre is Visit Belfast, 9 Donegall Square North BT1 5GB (facing City Hall), ☏ . M-Sa 09:00-17:30, Su 11:00-16:00. They can book accommodation and tours, recommend itineraries and places of interest and sell you tacky souvenirs.
George Best Belfast City Airport
1 George Best Belfast City Airport (BHD IATA) (Two miles east of city centre). This is very close to the city and has flights mainly from the UK: British Airways and Aer Lingus have a code-share from London Heathrow, and KLM fly from Amsterdam, both with global connections. Eastern Airlines fly from Southampton, Exeter and Teeside, Loganair fly from Glasgow, Aberdeen and occasionally Dundee and Inverness. Until March 2020 Flybe were a major operator here but they went bust, leaving a huge gap in connections. Several routes were taken over by Eastern and Loganair as above; others (e.g. from Manchester and Birmingham) went to Easyjet but they fly to Belfast's other airport 20 miles west at Aldergrove.
Between BHD and city centre: Bus 600 runs every 30 min from the airport to Queens Square, Victoria Square, Wellington Place and Europa bus station. It runs 06:00-22:00 daily, taking less than 15 min, adult single fare is £2.60. Taxis might cost £11 to most parts of the city, but check at the outset whether the fare you're quoted includes the £2.50 airport supplement, else the fly beggar will try to add it on when you arrive.
Elsewhere: Sydenham railway station is 1 km southwest of the terminal and there's a free shuttle bus (or walk), enquire at the info desk. (It's walkable, the difficulty is in crossing the busy A2.) Sydenham is on the railway line from Portadown via Lurgan, Lisburn, a dozen stops downtown including Great Victoria Street, then west from Sydenham to Bangor on the coast. Trains run 06:00-23:00 every 30 min, adult fare £2 to the city and £4.70 to Bangor. So you can use it instead of Bus 600 to reach city centre for a small saving but the main advantage is to reach south-side locations (e.g. Botanic, for Queens University) for a single flat fare.
Belfast International Airport
2 Belfast International Airport (BFS IATA), Aldergrove BT29 4AB (20 miles west of city centre). This is Northern Ireland's main international airport, with mostly budget direct flights from UK and Europe. Those carriers aren't good for connections, which limits your ability to get in here via, say, Amsterdam. Easyjet are the main operator: their UK destinations are London (Gatwick, Stansted and Luton), Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Their European links include Amsterdam, Paris and Barcelona. Jet2 serve mainly Med resorts (as do Tui) but also Keflavik (for Reykjavik). Ryanair fly from London Stansted and Manchester, with seasonal flights to Spain and the Canaries, Berlin–Schönefeld, and East Europe. Wizz fly from Vilnius. Virgin Atlantic in summer fly between Orlando and Belfast, but in 2020 this was an indirect service via Amsterdam. See Antrim for accommodation and other facilities close to the airport.
Between BFS and Belfast: Ulsterbus 300 runs every 30 min daily from the airport via Templepatrick and Queen St to Europa bus station, taking just under an hour. The last bus from airport to city is towards 22:00 and the first bus out from the city is at 05:30. Adult fare is £8 single, £11.50 return. Taxis might cost £40 to Belfast city centre.
Elsewhere: Ulsterbus 109A runs every couple of hours from Antrim town to the airport and on south via Crumlin to Lisburn. Antrim is on the railway to Ballymena, Coleraine, Portrush and Derry, and those passengers can buy a £2 Airlink supplement to their rail ticket to include the bus. Antrim bus station and train station are beside one another; platform one is for Derry and Portrush, while platform 2 over the footbridge is for Belfast. Lisburn is on the railway from Bangor and Belfast to Lurgan and Portadown. You might also travel that way to reach south-side Belfast but it's much slower for little saving compared to the 300 bus.
Dublin Airport (DUB IATA) is often a good way to reach Belfast, with excellent flight connections from UK and Europe, many by budget carriers. Its big advantage is direct flights from North America (with US pre-border clearance on return) and from the Gulf (e.g. connections from Australia) - and the full-fare carriers handle connections much better than the budget carriers. Dublin airport is also some miles north of Dublin city, so by rental car you turn straight onto the motorway north, 100 miles (160 km) to Belfast. Hourly buses from Dublin Busáras call at the airport then take two hours to Belfast Europa station. Operators are Ulsterbus, Bus Éireann and Aircoach, so there's price competition. Don't take the train as this involves doubling back via Connolly station in central Dublin. And don't have any truck with the taxis hanging around the airport bus stop. One other wrinkle is, don't change money here (though it's a decent rate) as you'll get euros, use your bank card to pay for transport then buy pound sterling in Northern Ireland.
The Enterprise Train runs from Dublin Connolly station via Drogheda, Dundalk, Newry and Portadown to 3 Belfast Lanyon Place, taking just over two hours, with eight M-Sa and five on Sunday. It doesn't serve Dublin Airport, or Belfast Great Victoria Street station which is next to the main bus station - change at Portadown for this and other suburban stations to Bangor.
Lanyon Place was formerly called Central Station but it's half a mile (800 m) east of the centre, and a 20-min walk to Europa / GVS station. It's close to the Courts, the Waterfront Hall and bus stops towards east Belfast.
Great Victoria Street Station is in the city centre on the street of the same name. If you are intending on coming into the city centre this is a better bet than Lanyon Place. GVS is in the same building as Europa Bus Centre which has regular buses across Northern Ireland and into the Republic of Ireland to Dublin city centre and Dublin Airport.
Other trains stop at several city stations:
- - hourly from Derry via Castlerock, Coleraine, Ballymena and Antrim (for Belfast International Airport) to Lanyon Place and Great Victoria Street.
- - every 30 min from Portadown via Lisburn and a dozen city stations, to Sydenham (for Belfast City Airport) and Bangor.
- - hourly from Larne via Carrickfergus and Whiteabbey (for Newtownabbey) to Lanyon Place and Great Victoria Street.
Translink is the rail and bus operator across Northern Ireland. Check their website for timetables, fares and ticket purchase.
Buses run hourly from Dublin Busáras and airport to Belfast Europa station, taking 2 hr 20 min, adult fare about €20 single and €30 return. Operators are Ulsterbus, Bus Éireann and Aircoach, so there's price competition. There are also daytrip excursions from Dublin to Belfast.
Citylink / Ulsterbus 923 runs 2-3 times a day from Edinburgh via Glasgow, Ayr and the Cairnryan ferry to Belfast
Ulsterbus / National Express buses normally run at least daily from London Victoria and Manchester, but as of Sept 2020, they are all suspended. Their route is via the Cairnryan ferry, which is still sailing; but reaching that ferry port is no small journey and from England and Wales it's simpler to take a ferry to Dublin.
Bus routes across Northern Ireland radiate from Belfast hourly from Derry taking 2 hours.
The transport hub is 4 Europa bus station, enter via Glengall St. It's next to Great Victoria Street railway station which has local trains, but not the Enterprise Train from Dublin. All inter-town buses run to Europa, except those from Bangor and Newtownards a few miles east: they terminate at Laganside, see below.
Belfast is the focus of the road network in Northern Ireland, and has good links to the Republic. The main roads are well-maintained and patrolled, your main task is to avoid rush hours.
From Dublin follow M1 / N1 / A1; there's a toll at Drogheda (€1.90 for a car). There are no checks at the border, all you'll see are signs that speed limits are in miles per hour.
Car rental: all the major companies have desks at Belfast City Airport, International Airport, and central Belfast (though in 2020 some city centre offices are closed). Their fleets are small so best book in advance. You should be able to hire from any of the above locations and return to any for no additional charge, but a one-way rental from Dublin to Belfast (or vice versa) will cost plenty. Check that a Dublin-to-Dublin rental is insured for Northern Ireland.
Park and Ride if you're only visiting for the day. There are four sites, all free, you just pay the normal bus fare. They close around 19:00 which rules out evening use. They're at:
- - Sprucefield, M1 junction 8, near Lisburn, for bus 651
- - Black's Road, M1 junction 3, for bus 650
- - Cairnshill, A24 Saintfield Rd, for bus 652
- - Dundonald, A20 Upper Newtownards Rd, for buses G1 and 655
Foot passengers should always look for through-tickets by bus, train and ferry. They are considerably cheaper than separate tickets, and they take care of the connection between city and ferry port, which can be the trickiest part of the journey.
In 2021 the ferries are plying the equivalent of a winter service until further notice.
- From Cairnryan near Stranraer in Scotland, Stena Line sail a fast catamaran five times a day taking 2 hr 15 min. P&O also sail from Cairnryan to Larne.
- From Birkenhead across the Mersey from Liverpool, Stena sail daily, 8 hours. Cabins and meals are available.
- From Douglas, Isle of Man, IOM Steam Packet sails to Belfast 4 days a week, taking just under 3 hr.
You can also sail to Dublin from Birkenhead, Holyhead, Isle of Man, Cherbourg, Rotterdam and Zeebrugge. The Holyhead-Dublin route is usually the most convenient from England. There are no direct ferries to Northern Ireland from the Continent and it may be easier to sail into Rosslare or Dublin rather than trundle across Great Britain. Dublin port is connected by tunnel to the motorway north, so you're quickly on your way and not snarled in central Dublin traffic.
5 Belfast ferry terminal is at the foot of Dargan Road, 3 miles northeast of city centre. Bus 96 meets some sailings and runs to Upper Queens Street, a short block away from Europa bus station; adult fare £2.10. Otherwise a taxi to the centre might be £10. Motorists should head west on Dargan Road to join M2.
Walk to all the central sights. The centre is within a mile or two of the Botanic Gardens, Queen's University and Titanic.
Belfast buses are run by Translink, a public corporation - check their website for timetables and fare deals such as day tickets. A single adult fare within city centre is £1.60 in 2020. There are three types of buses, which run from around 06:00 to 23:00; there are no night buses.
- - Metro are pink. Buy on board if you don't have a card.
- - Glider is a long purple bendy-bus, and for these you must buy your ticket before boarding from the machine at the stop. There are two Glider routes: G1 crosstown from Stewartstown Road and Falls Road in the west to Newtownards Road east, for Stormont and Ulster Hospital; and G2 from city centre to the Titanic area.
- - Ulsterbuses are blue and run to the outlying towns but you can use them for city travel, e.g. the bus for Lisburn to reach the Botanic Garden.
Almost all Ulsterbuses run from Europa bus station; the Metro and Glider buses don't go in there.
6 Laganside Buscentre by the river weir is the terminus for buses from Bangor, Holywood, Newtownards and the Ards peninsula. It's also a hub for the Metro buses, but you normally just board those on the street.
By Black Taxi
The Black Taxi is Belfast's equivalent to the dolmuş or marshrutka - they're shared taxis running over a fixed route for a fare similar to the bus. They mostly pick up and drop off at the bus stops but will stop anywhere that traffic allows along the routes, which connect the centre and the outlying housing estates.
The Black Taxis came about in the 1970s when it became difficult for buses to run. Especially in west Belfast, there were terrorist attacks against buses, passengers and staff, and roads or whole districts might be blocked off by riots or makeshift barricades. The worst attack was on 21 July 1972, "Bloody Friday", when the Provisional Irish Republican Army planted 24 bombs against the city transport system. Twenty exploded; nine people were killed and 130 were injured. Oxford St bus station was the worst hit, and bombs also went off at Smithfield bus station, three railway stations, the ferry terminal, a truck depot, a taxi firm, and several bridges and filling stations. This deepened the spiral of violence and among the many repercussions, it left the outlying districts without a bus service.
Individuals then bought up traditional London black hackney cabs and brought them to Belfast; this became an organised community initiative, and small businesses were formed. Belfast Taxis CIC emerged as the leading operator and are still plying routes. They've operated now for 50 years though the Black Taxis were suspended in summer 2020 because of Covid-19. Dolmuş literally means "stuffed full" and an old joke asks how many passengers can you fit in? Answer: "Mmm, maybe another two?" In autumn the taxis resumed with much reduced capacity and other anti-Covid measures, but this makes them non-viable unless they hike their fares. Meanwhile the buses are running and benefit from public subsidy, schools contracts, concessionary fares, greater safe capacity and so on. So it's not clear what the future holds for Black Taxis: ask around for which routes are running, and with what hours and frequency.
The Black Taxis are also comparable to the tuk-tuk or rickshaw, as a piece of cultural history. They're used for organised tours, especially of west Belfast - see "Do".
By conventional taxi
Uber is available in Belfast. In Sept 2020 they quoted around £10 for downtown rides including City Airport.
Belfast Bikes, the public bike hire scheme operated by Nextbike, has 40 rental stations. You need to register once and pay either £6 for a 3-day membership or £25 for a year. This gives you free bike rides for 30 min. Rentals up to 1 hour cost £0.50, then £1/hr to four hours, thereafter £2/hr, an incentive to release the bike between trips. The maximum rental is 24 hours then you're stung for a £120 late-return penalty. You can only rent bikes between 06:00-24:00, but you can return them at any time.
Belfast city centre is focused on Donegall Square and Belfast City Hall. The main thoroughfare north from the square is Donegall Place, a retail street leading to the Cathedral. The centre is bounded to the east by the River Lagan, to the south by Donegall Pass, and to the west by the convenient but ugly dual carriageway Westlink. The centre is safe enough at all hours but falls very quiet after 20:00.
- The Crown is the gorgeous Victorian pub that greets arrivals emerging from the bus station. It's owned by the National Trust, see Drink for hours etc, but it's worth looking in even you don't intend a drink. Aw go on, maybe just a quick one then.
- 1 City Hall, Donegall Sq North BT1 5GS, ☏ . M-F 08:30-17:00, Sa Su 10:00-16:00. Grand confident municipal architecture, built in 1906 of white Portland limestone in baroque style. Durban city hall in South Africa has the same design. Here are housed Belfast's Council chambers and admin offices. You can look in to the glorious entrance hall and rotunda anytime, but for a proper look, join one of the free guided tours held 2 or 3 times a day. (Check website for times: in 2020 they are suspended.) Outside stands a memorial to victims of the Titanic and a statue of Queen Victoria. Free.
- Linen Hall Library is north side of the square facing City Hall. Amongst others, it has a huge collection of Irish books. It's open M-F 09:30-17:30.
- St Malachy's Church is Roman Catholic, opened in 1844. It has a Tudor Revival exterior but what's most remarkable is the elaborate fan-vaulted interior, likened to "a wedding cake turned inside out". It's on Alfred St at the corner of Clarence St, two blocks south of City Hall.
- 2 Saint Anne's Cathedral, Donegall St BT1 2HB, ☏ . M-Th 11:00-15:00, F Sa 11:00-16:00, Su 11:00-12:30. This Church of Ireland (Anglican) cathedral was built in Romanesque style around the previous parish church and opened in 1904. It's been added to and reconstructed in stages ever since, most recently in 2007 by the addition of the 130-foot, slender metal spire, floodlit at night. It couldn't have a traditional sturdy tower or spire as the soft clay foundations wouldn't support that. There are regular services.
- 3 Belfast Exposed, 23 Donegall St BT1 2FF, ☏ . Tu-Sa 12:00-16:00. Photography gallery with changing exhibitions in a refurbished warehouse. There's also an extensive photo archive. Donation.
- 4 Belfast Central Library, Royal Ave BT1 1EA, ☏ . M Th 09:00-20:00, Tu W F 09:00-17:30, Sa 10:00-16:30. The Victorian library building houses an excellent Irish section and a newspaper library, containing archives of all Northern Irish newspapers.
- 5 The Legal Quarter is the block between Victoria shopping centre and the river, with the courts and other legal buildings. You can't go inside them unless you're already in trouble, but the exteriors are interesting. Good examples are the former town hall (now a court house), the Royal Courts of Justice, and the Bar Library.
- Lagan Weir and footbridge was built across the river in 1994 just upstream of Lagan road bridge. It raised the river level, covering mudflats that were ugly and smelly at low tide. The weir can open as a gate or close as a barrage against high tides, and you can see the mechanism at The Lookout visitor centre. The 1994 footbridge was replaced in 2006 with a more accessible structure. On the bank, The Big Fish is a large ceramic artwork looking on in approval of the weir, which has greatly enhanced river water quality.
This starts with a commercial area along Bedford St and a loyalist neighbourhood on Donegall Pass. Then south of Shaftesbury Square you come into the student quarter around Queen's University. A retail-and-pizza strip straggles along Lisburn Road while the rest is leafy streets and student accommodation. It's the most affluent part of the city, often referred to by its postcode BT9, and generally safe at all hours apart from the occasional aggressive drunk. Buses 8a,b,c,d run to this area from the centre, plus Ulsterbus 22 / 24 towards Lisburn.
- Golden Mile is the ironic name for the strip from Europa bus station south through Shaftesbury Square to Queen's University. It's more for retail and bars than sight-seeing, and the only gold deposits you see on the pavements are upchucks of turmeric-stained rice.
- 6 Queen's University, University Rd (bus as above), ☏ . Visitor Centre M-F 08:30-17:00. August red-brick Victorian building in Tudor style modelled on Magdalen College, Oxford, with extensive grounds. On University Square note the fine Union Theological College: the Northern Ireland Parliament spent its early years here until Stormont was ready in 1932.
- Naughton Gallery is on the first floor of the QUB Lanyon Building. There's a large permanent collection of University artwork plus rotating exhibitions, mostly modern. It's open Tu-Sa 11:00-16:00, free.
- 7 Botanic Gardens (Multiple access points, main entrance is off University Rd by the museum). Daily 07:30-dusk. Established in 1828 and becoming a public park from 1895, this is an extensive leafy green space, popular with office workers and students from nearby QUB. The Palm House, completed in 1840, is an elegant cast-iron glasshouse by Lanyon and Turner (who went on to build similar glasshouses at Kew, London and Glasnevin, Dublin) with a cool and a tropical section. Near it is the Tropical Ravine House, where visitors walk around a raised balcony observing tropical flora and fauna. There are also extensive lawns, a herbaceous border as long as the Zambezi, a rose garden and woodlands. Presiding over the main entrance is Lord Kelvin, who famously declared that X-rays are a hoax and that heavier-than-air aviation is impossible, but he earned his peerage and statue here for opposing Irish Home Rule. Free.
- 8 Ulster Museum, Stranmillis Road BT9 5AB (in the Botanic Gardens), ☏ . Tu-Su 10:00-17:00. Excellent comprehensive museum, covering natural history, archaeology, history including the Irish conflicts, textile and fashions, and a significant collection of art. The original neoclassical building was extended in the 1970s in a modern Brutalist style. It's part of the National Museums of Northern Ireland, who also run the Transport and Folk museums at Holywood, and the Ulster American Park at Omagh. Free.
- Further south the city breaks up into parklands and golf courses along the Lagan valley towards Lisburn. Minnowburn is an attractive section upstream of the A55 bridge.
- 9 Malone House is a Georgian mansion edge-of-city that's primarily an events venue, but you can see the art collection and stroll the extensive grounds and sculpture park.
- 10 Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park is a large park by the river at the south edge of the city. The big attraction is the extensive Rose Garden.
- 11 Giant's Ring is a Neolithic earthwork 200 yards in diameter with a dolmen in the centre.
- 12 Lisnabreeny is a woodland walk, passing a memorial at the temporary graveyard for US servicemen, up to a Rath - an ancient hillfort, now just grazing land.
This area suffered the worst of the Troubles in Belfast. It was - and remains - the largest example of an "interface area" where a Protestant / unionist / British-loyalist community lives alongside a Catholic / nationalist / Irish-republican community: the former to the north along Shankhill Rd and Crumlin Rd, the latter south along Falls Rd. Most sights of interest relate to that conflict.
- 13 Crumlin Road Gaol, 53 Crumlin Rd BT14 6ST, ☏ . Daily 10:00-17:00. Self-guided tour of this grim old prison, opened in 1846 with a typical Victorian hall design, and in use until 1996. Their other offerings sound faintly desperate: wedding photo location? Gift cards? Paranormal experiences? And there are plans to open a distillery in one of the halls. Adult £12, conc £10, child £7.50.
- 14 Peace Wall: these are found in several places across Northern Ireland, but especially in West Belfast, and this one along Cupar Way is a good example. Walls were built from 1969 as civil unrest grew, and they became ever longer, sturdier, and higher to prevent bombs and bricks being hurled over. They continued growing after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement: both communities felt safer that way, and the Omagh bombing showed that murderous splinter groups remained active. There are several gates in the wall, open in daytime (and safe to visit) but closed by dusk. There is agreement in principle to remove all the walls by 2023, but this ideal prompts deep intakes of breath and slow sad head-shaking by residents.
- Political Murals are likewise found in many places but especially in the interface areas. They're mostly seen on gable walls of buildings along the Shankhill Rd and Falls Rd, reflecting local allegiances. They come and go with political events, ask around if there are any out-of-the-way examples worth tracking down.
- Divis Tower is the dreary high-rise block of flats at the start of Falls Road. It's named for the hill seen to the west, and is the last survivor of 12 blocks built here in the 1960s. Divis Tower was mired in the Troubles: in 1969 a 9-year old boy was killed when an army patrol machine-gunned the Tower in the approximate direction of a sniper. Like Divis hill, the top floors of the tower became an army lookout, with troops helicoptered in and out since they didn't dare venture into the lifts and stairwells. Nor should you. The space was refurbished as flats in 2009, but it's people's homes not a zoo or museum.
- 15 Irish Republican History Museum (Eileen Hickey Museum), Conway Mill, 5-7 Conway Place BT13 2DA, ☏ . Tu-Sa 10:00-14:00. Museum in a former mill depicting the history of Republicanism in Belfast. Eileen Hickey was a Provisional IRA organiser within Armagh prison and amassed a great collection of artifacts and memorabilia relating to her side of the conflict. This is the version where 1200 Catholic civilians died in Belfast during the Troubles. You'll have to cross the city to the Orange Heritage Centre for the version where 600 Protestant civilians died - and both are correct. Donation.
- 16 Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich (Irish Language Cultural Centre), 216 Falls Road BT12 6AH, ☏ . M-Th 09:00-18:00, F Sa 09:00-21:00, Su 11:00-16:00. The hub of Irish language activities in Belfast. An Chultúrlann (for short) is a cultural centre with visitor information, art, trad music, a cafe and a bookshop. They put on regular Irish language classes, from beginners to advanced.
- Three large cemeteries demonstrate different aspects of Belfast's history: City Cemetery, Milltown, and Balmoral.
- 17 City Cemetery is at the corner of Falls Rd and Whiterock Road. It opened in 1869 and is full of Victorian funerary statuary, with separate areas for Catholics and Protestants, plus Commonwealth war graves. There's a large Jewish section: this community fled Russia and Poland in the 19th century and set up in the Irish linen trade. Famous members (though buried elsewhere) included Otto Jaffe (twice Lord Mayor of Belfast), Chaim Herzog (6th President of Israel), and Gustav Wolff (co-founder of Harland and Wolff; his family had converted to be Protestant).
- Falls Park is the large green space just south of City cemetery and north of Milltown cemetery. Buses 10a-h run this way.
- 18 Milltown Cemetery at 456 Falls Road is best known for its republican burials, but its range is far broader. It too opened in 1869 to receive the city's growing Catholic population, and its "poor grounds" hold some 80,000, many of them casualties of the 1919 flu pandemic. There is also a mass grave for casualties of the 1941 Blitz, Commonwealth war graves, and a Priests Row of leading RC clerics. The Republican plot, beneath the Irish tricolour, holds paramilitaries and other activists killed in conflict or dying in jail (including the 1981 hunger strikers), and there's a memorial garden. Other republicans lie in their separate plots around the graveyard. But not necessarily "rest in peace": in March 1988 at the funeral of those shot dead in their attempted bomb attack on Gibraltar, a loyalist attacked the mourners with hand grenades and pistol fire. Three mourners were killed and 60 were injured.
- 19 Balmoral Cemetery is across the motorway and social boundary into South Belfast, but it's only a mile south of Milltown. It was opened in 1855 by Presbyterians, in a huff because they were refused burial at C of I (Anglican) graveyards elsewhere. It's probably only worth visiting this one to track down ancestors.
- 20 Divis is the basalt crag and moorland west of the city, rising to 1568 ft / 478 m. It was long a military area, for training, telecoms and lookout, but in 2005 was handed over to the National Trust. It's easiest approached by the lane from the car park on Divis Road to the southwest.
Titanic Quarter and East
East Belfast is mainly residential, traditionally Protestant, bounded to the west by the river and A24. The inner parts are terraced housing, further out are leafy suburbs. Its northern part along the riverbank had the shipyards, and remains industrial. But in 2012 the area was revitalised and re-branded by the opening of the Titanic Exhibition.
- 21 Samson and Goliath. 24 hours. These are two massive gantry cranes near the entrance to the Titanic Quarter. Goliath is the first you encounter, built in 1969 and 96 m / 315 ft tall; Samson built in 1974 is 106 m / 348 ft tall. They stand over the Harland & Wolff dry dock and each has a load capacity of 840 tonnes. They're painted yellow and have become an iconic part of the Belfast sky-line. They've been kept in working order even though large-scale shipbuilding and associated heavy lifting has ended on site, but there are no tours up into their structure. Harland & Wolff evolved to concentrate on smaller-scale work, such as offshore wind turbines. Their business declined and in 2019 they went into administration, being bought out by London-based firm InfraStrata, who also bought Appledore a Devon shipbuilder. It's not clear what use InfraStrata will have for Samson and Goliath or where financial responsibility lies for the upkeep; both cranes are scheduled as Historic Monuments.
- 22 Titanic Belfast, 1 Olympic Way, Queens Road BT3 9EP, ☏ . Daily 10:00-16:30. For a century this was the "T-word" in Belfast, even more than the Troubles, an unwelcome reminder of a catastrophe reflecting badly on the city. This exhibition, opened in 2012 in a striking modern building, has revitalised a whole city quarter and rescued RMS Titanic as a source of local pride, for its construction and its crew. You progress through the metal-bashing boomtown of Victorian and Edwardian Belfast, through the design, construction by Harland & Wolff, fitting out and test sailings, to events of the first and final voyage. Titanic left Southampton on 10 April 1912, picked up passengers by tender from Cherbourg and Cork, and sailed out into the Atlantic. She left behind a confident Britain that daily expected news of Captain Scott's triumphant return from the South Pole. They show excerpts from films about her sinking, gashed by an iceberg that calved from a Greenland glacier about the same day the ship was launched. One myth that is nixed is the 1997 James Cameron film treatment, where patrician British officers near-as-dammit hold the Irish 3rd-class passengers' heads underwater while the gilded rich are helped to safety and the band plays on. In truth one group had an even worse survival rate than 3rd class, and that was the ship's crew, many of them Irish. The final part of the exhibition has submersible images of the wreck, which lies in two pieces 12,500 ft / 3800 m deep off Newfoundland. Adult £19, child £8.50, conc £15.50.
- SS Nomadic, Hamilton Dock BT3 9DT (in front of Titanic Exhibition). Closed in 2020. Titanic and her sister-ship Olympic were too big to dock in Cherbourg, so in 1911 two tenders were built to transfer passengers, baggage and mail. SS Nomadic was the more luxurious and took first and second-class passengers, while SS Traffic took third class. During World War I they served as auxiliary military vessels then resumed as tenders for Olympic, until 1934 when Cherbourg harbour was enlarged. They saw further military service in World War II, after which the slow, accident-prone Traffic was scrapped. Nomadic was reprieved because bombed-out Cherbourg was again unable to receive large liners, so she tendered to the likes of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth before retiring in 1968. After a spell in Paris as a floating restaurant she looked destined for scrap, but was bought by a charitable trust and taken to Belfast for restoration. Adult £7, child & conc £5.
- HMS Caroline, Hamilton Dock BT3 9DT (behind Titanic Exhibition). Closed in 2020. Royal Navy light cruiser built in 1914 and engaged in the Battle of Jutland. After the war Caroline had a spell in the Indian Ocean then was mothballed until 1924, when she came to Belfast as a training ship and navy headquarters.
- The Great Light is a navigation light on the quayside behind the Titanic Exhibition, distinctly over-engineered for its purpose. It's two huge Fresnel Hyper-Radial first-order lens made in 1887 for Tory Island lighthouse off Donegal. In the 1920s they were re-cycled as a repair for Mew Island lighthouse at the entrance to Belfast Lough, and remained lit until 2014 when they were replaced by an LED. They're now housed here in a glass obelisk, looking like two cosmic gherkins in a pickle jar.
- Titanic's Dock and Pump House, Queens Rd BT3 9DT (behind Titanic Exhibition). Daily 10:00-17:00. Impressive dry dock where the ship was launched, and the pump house which drained and flooded the dock. Adult £6, child £2.50.
- W5, Queens Quay BT3 9QQ (behind Odyssey Stadium). Closed in 2020. Interactive science museum aimed at younger children. Adult £7.80, child £6.20.
- 23 Short Strand is a Catholic enclave within the mostly Protestant east side. So it's an interface area with a sorry history of sectarian troubles, most recently in 2011 with an armed riot and in 2015 with a tit-for-tat murder. By day you can view the political murals and sections of Peace Wall. Don't wander around here after dusk.
- 24 Belmont Tower is a Gothic-style building of 1890, formerly a school.
- 25 Stormont Parliament Buildings, Ballymiscaw, Stormont BT4 3XX (3 miles east of city, take bus 3 towards Ulster Hospital), ☏ . Closed in 2020. These massive buildings, built in neo-Georgian style in 1926, are the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly. In 2020 they are closed to visits but you can take an online tour of the imposing marble interiors. They stand on the wooded Stormont Estate, you approach along the long avenue from Newtownards Road and Massey Ave. There's a nearby cluster of modern government office buildings, plus the 19th-century baronial Stormont Castle, only open on special occasions.
- 26 Museum of Orange Heritage, Schomberg House, 368 Cregagh Rd BT6 9EY, ☏ . Tu-F 10:00-17:00. Oranges don't grow in Ulster, so how come there are so many institutions and events that sound like a Spanish street fiesta? Well, in 35 BC Roman army vets founded Arausio in the south of France, named for a Celtic water god, which grew into the city of Orange and became conflated with the name of the fruit. This museum picks up the story from the 17th century, when William, Prince of Orange, ousted the Catholic king of the British Isles and began Protestant rule. The Orange Order was founded in the strife that followed, and which has continued on and off for over 300 years. Adult £5, child £2.
- Further out, see Holywood for Ulster Folk Museum and Ulster Transport Museum, facing each other across the Bangor Road 8 miles northeast of city centre, and easily combined on a visit. Take the Bangor train to Cultra, two stops beyond Holywood station.
- Comber Greenway is a walking and cycle path along the route of a disused railway. It runs east from Dee St near Titanic to Dundonald then Comber.
The patch around Antrim Road and Limestone Road is an "interface area"; you have no reason to linger there.
- 27 Cave Hill is the basalt crag that looms north of the city. With a summit at 1207 ft (368 m) there are great views over Belfast, and on a clear day you can see the Isle of Man and Scotland. The Castle is on the east slope. Higher up are three large caves, and McArt's Fort which is a ringfort. The White Stone was a WWII navigation marker for RAF planes approaching Aldergrove airfield, now the international airport. Buses 1a-j run up Antrim road on the east side, by car you can also use the west car park on B95 Upper Hightown Road.
- 28 Belfast Castle, Antrim Rd BT15 5GR (Buses 1a-j), ☏ . F-Su 09:00-16:00. Baronial pile built on Cave Hill for the Shaftesbury family in the 1860s. It's nowadays an event space for weddings and the like, plus a posh cafe; assistance dogs only. You might be able to peek in at some of the grand rooms, but mostly you come for the view over the city. Free.
- 29 Belfast Zoo, Antrim Rd BT36 7PN (Buses 1a-j), ☏ . Daily 10:00-18:00. Extensive zoo on the north slopes of Cave Hill, daily talks and feeding sessions, free parking. Adult £13.50, child £6.75.
- What's on? For local events and listings listen to Belfast 89FM on 89.3 MHz or read The Belfast Telegraph, The Irish News and The News Letter, all published daily.
- 1 Waterfront Hall, 2 Lanyon Place BT1 3WH, ☏ . Large events venue on the west bank of the river, see website for upcoming shows.
- 2 Odyssey Pavillion (SSE Arena), 2 Queen's Quay BT3 9QQ (Bus 26), ☏ . This complex contains a 12-screen cinema, the multi-use SSE Arena, W5 science museum (see above) and restaurants and bars.
- Parks and open spaces: lots and lots. See above for:
- - South: Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park, Ormeau Park and Botanic Gardens, and the Lagan towpath to Lisburn.
- - North: Waterworks, Belfast Castle estate, Cave Hill and Alexandra Park
- - West: Dunville and Falls Park, and the City and Milltown cemeteries
- - East: Orangefield and Victoria Park
Theatre and Film
- Check Shows in Belfast as well as individual venue websites for what's on.
- Grand Opera House, Great Victoria Street BT2 7HR (next to Europa bus station), ☏ (box office). Opened in 1895, this is a splendid example of Victorian Oriental architecture, restored in 2006. A further restoration means it's closed until Dec 2020, whereupon it re-opens with a full programme of shows including panto. Oh no it won't! Oh yes it will!.
- 3 Lyric Theatre, 55 Ridgeway St BT9 5FB (south tip of Botanic Garden), ☏ . The Lyric, opened on its riverside site in 2011, has a main theatre seating 400 and the Naughton Studio seating around 150.
- Metropolitan Arts Centre (The Mac), 10 Exchange Street West BT1 2NJ (next to St Anne's Cathedral), ☏ (box office). The MAC opened in 2012 and is a centre for art, theatre and dance.
- Queens Film Theatre, 20 University Square BT7 1PA (at QUB), ☏ . Belfast's art house and repertory cinema, and the main venue for the Belfast Film Festival.
- Boat trips: Lagan Boat Co sails around the dockyards, recounting the tale of Titanic, then down the estuary where seals haul out. Trips start from Donegall Quay, west river bank just below the weir, and take an hour. Adult £12, child £10.
- Black Taxi Tours use the London-style taxis which also ply regular city routes. They pick up from central locations and a knowledgeable local driver takes you for a spin round some of the western sites. The main operator is Taxi Trax, +44 28 9031 5777. A 90 minute tour might be £40 for two.
- Bus tours are run by Belfast City Sightseeing and City Tours Belfast. Both use bright red open-top double-deckers, you hop-on and hop-off at the various sights. They also run tours to the Giant's Causeway and anywhere vaguely associated with Game of Thrones.
- Walking tours are run by Belfast Mural Tours.
- Watch Rugby Union ie 15-a-side. Ulster Rugby are one of the four Irish professional teams playing in Pro14, the top European (predominantly Celtic) league. Their home ground is Ravenhill (sponsored as Kingspan Stadium), capacity 18,000, south of Ormeau Park.
- Watch soccer: the city has four teams in the NIFL Premiership, the top tier in Northern Ireland:
- - Linfield FC often win the Premiership and qualify for European tournaments. Their home ground is Windsor Park (capacity 18,000) which also stages international matches. It's two miles south of city centre, take the bus down Boucher Rd or train to Adelaide station.
- - Cliftonville FC play home games at Solitude Stadium, capacity 3200, north side of the city on Cliftonville Rd.
- - Crusaders FC play at Seaview, capacity 3880, a mile north of the centre off Shore Rd.
- - Glentoran FC notoriously rejected the young George Best for being too small and light. Their home ground The Oval has a nominal capacity of 15,000. It's east of the centre in Sydenham towards the airport named for that light skinny fellow.
- Watch Gaelic games: Casement Park (Páirc Mhic Asmaint), by junction 2 of M1, was the principal stadium of the GAA in Ulster. In 2020 it's derelict (even before covid) and games are being played elsewhere.
- Golf: see Holywood for Royal Belfast Golf Club. The south edge of the city and Lagan valley is strewn with golf courses.
- Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival is in January. CQAF also run the Out to Lunch Festival in May.
- St Patrick's Day on 17 March is almost as big an event here as in the Republic.
- Belfast Film Festival is in late March.
- City Marathon is usually in early May, but has been postponed to Sunday 19 Sept 2021.
- Orange Order Parades are a piece of living history, watch one if you can. They're held across Northern Ireland throughout summer, but the biggest is in Belfast on 12th July, a public holiday commemorating the 1690 Battle of the Boyne. (When the 12th falls on Sunday, the parade and public holiday is Monday 13th - this next occurs in 2026.) There's a morning and an afternoon parade: both start as feeders from various quarters of the city, which combine around Donegall Square and then head south through the University area and Lisburn Road.
- Féile an Phobail is a community arts festival in August.
- Belfast International Arts Festival is held over the last two weeks of October. The next is 13 Oct - 2 Nov 2021.
- Central Belfast has a large retail area, with Castle Court on Millfield to the west through Corn Market to Victoria Square on the east.
- 1 Smithfield Market, Winetavern Street BT1 1JE. M-Sa 10:00-17:00. North side of Castle Court, but a much better experience than the main mall, with an array of independent retailers.
- 2 St George's Market, 12-20 East Bridge Street BT1 3NQ (One block west of Central railway station.). F 08:00-14:00, Sa 09:00-15:00, Su 10:00-15:00. Large indoor market in an 1896 building with a grand range of food, clothing and crafts. It's occasionally used as an event venue.
- No Alibis, 83 Botanic Ave BT7 1JL (junction with Ireton St), ☏ . M-Sa 09:00-17:30. Renowned quirky independent bookshop, specialising in crime and US fiction.
- 3 O'Neills Sportswear, Unit 45-46 Kennendy Centre, 564-568 Falls Road BT11 9AE, ☏ . M-W Sa 09:30-18:00, Th F 09:30-21:00, Su 13:00-18:00. They stock O'Neill brand sportswear, but their usp is an outlet for Gaelic Sports equipment, jerseys and memorabilia, ideal for a distinctive souvenir.
- Clements Coffee are a popular chain with five city outlets. They're open M-Sa 08:00-17:00, Su 12:30-17:00.
- Common Grounds, 12-24 University Ave BT7 1GY, ☏ . M-Sa 08:00-18:00. Coffee and light meals in Fair Trade community centre which supports local charities.
- Established Coffee, 54 Hill St BT1 2LB, ☏ . M-Sa 08:00-15:00. Coffee and light meals, with much connoisseur-type folderol over which coffee beans to grind.
- 1 Archana, 53 Dublin Rd BT2 7HE, ☏ . Daily 17:00-22:00. Good Indian restaurant, the lunchtime deals are great value.
- Boojum is a Mexican chain with five outlets, open daily 12:00-22:00.
- Bright's Restaurant, 23-25 High St BT1 2AA, ☏ . M-Sa 09:00-17:30. Old style breakfast and lunch, and traditional ambiance right down to the biddy brushing under your table as you're trying to eat. Their other outlet on Castle St has closed.
- Doorsteps, 455 Lisburn Rd BT9 7EY (by Adelaide railway station), ☏ . M-Sa 07:30-16:00. Stonking great sandwiches (hence the name) and trad meals, you'll need a hearty appetite.
- 2 The John Hewitt, 51 Donegall St BT1 2FH, ☏ . M-Sa 11:30-02:00, Su 15:00-20:00. Friendly pub with real ales, often live music, food served until 21:00.
- Little Italy, 13 Amelia St BT2 7GS, ☏ . Su-Th 17:00-02:00, F Sa 17:00-03:00. There when you need it - pizza takeaway next to Crown Bar and facing Europa bus station.
- Maggie Mays, Branches at 50 Botanic Ave, 2 Malone Rd and 44 Castle St. M-Sa 08:00-19:00, Su 10:00-19:00. Traditionally this is where you rock up with a hangover, for colossal servings of Ulster breakfast - bacon, sausage, egg, fried bread, soda bread, and anything else cardiologically incorrect. But maybe times are changing, they can even cater for vegans.
- Queen's Cafe Bar, 4 Queens Arcade BT1 5FF, ☏ . Daily 11:30-16:00. City centre pub does good grills.
- The Bridge House (J.D. Wetherspoon), 35-43 Bedford St BT2 7EJ. Su-Th 08:00-00:00, F Sa 08:00-01:00. Reliable chain pub, good value food and drink.
- 3 Lee Garden, 14-18 Botanic Ave BT7 1JQ, ☏ . Daily 12:00-22:30. Reliably good place, especially good value for lunch and dim sum.
- 4 Little Wing Pizzeria, 10 Ann St BT1 4EF, ☏ . M-Th 11:00-22:00, F Sa 11:00-00:00, Su 13:00-22:00. Slick friendly place serves pizza Napoli-style. Also has branches on Lisburn Rd and Upper Newtownards Rd.
- 5 Scalini, 85 Botanic Ave BT7 1JL, ☏ . M-W 17:00-22:00, Th-Sa 17:00-23:00, Su 16:00-21:30. Excellent pizzeria / trattoria near QUB, they make sure you realise they're Italian.
- The Merchant Hotel (see Sleep) has the magnificent Great Room Restaurant.
- Michael Deanes is a chain of bistros with five city locations.
- Shu, 253 Lisburn Rd BT9 7EN, ☏ . Closed until 9 Oct 2020. Stylish modern restaurant, closed for refurbishment to Oct 2020.
- Crown Liquor Saloon (Crown Bar), 46 Great Victoria St BT2 7BA (opposite Europa Hotel and bus station), ☏ . Daily 12:00-00:00. Gorgeous authentic Victorian pub. The stained glass windows have been replaced a few times, what with the earth tremors opposite, but the interior is mostly original and gas-lit. Inside, the booths can seat about a dozen people, and may be closed off from the bar with the attractive wood-paneled doors. They are hot property after work on a Friday afternoon, so move quickly if you want the chance to occupy one. And for sit-down meals you'd best book. Run by the Nicholson's pubs chain, but National Trust ensure the decor remains.
- The Garrick, 29 Chichester St BT1 4JB, ☏ . M-Sa 11:30-01:00, Su 12:30-00:00. Slick Victorian pub does good beer and grub.
- The Northern Whig, 2-10 Bridge St BT1 1LU, ☏ . M Tu 12:00-23:00, W-Sa 12:00-01:00, Su 13:00-00:00. The Northern Whigs were the United Irishmen who plotted the 1798 rebellion. The site of their seditious club became the offices of the newspaper Northern Whig, a liberal-unionist daily published 1832-1963. That in turn became a bar circa 1997, refurbished in Victorian style in 2016. It gets good reviews for drink and food.
- Bittles Bar, Musgrave Channel Rd BT1 9FZ (alley off Victoria St), ☏ . Su-W 12:00-23:00, Th 12:00-00:00, F Sa 12:00-01:30. Atmospheric little pub in a flatiron building.
- Kitchen Bar, 1 Victoria Square BT1 4QG (Victoria shopping centre), ☏ . Su-Th 11:00-00:00, F Sa 11:00-01:00. The original pub dated back to 1859 and was a favourite watering hole for performers at the Empire Music Hall. But in 2004 it was demolished to make way for the shopping centre, and the pub moved round the corner into an old converted warehouse. It's kept its Victorian atmosphere and gets good reviews for beer and food.
- Morning Star, 17 Pottinger's Entry BT1 4DT, ☏ . M-Th 11:30-00:00, F-Su 11:30-01:00. Grand alehouse since 1810, the food gets mixed reviews. LGBTQ-friendly.
- McHugh's Bar & Restaurant, 29-31 Queens Square BT1 3FG (north side of Laganside Buscentre), ☏ . M-Sa 12:00-01:00, Su 13:00-23:00. In Belfast's oldest building, dating back to 1711. Has a 100-seat restaurant, a basement bar offering live entertainment and the main gallery. Often has trad music.
- 1 Ryan's Bar & Restaurant, 116 Lisburn Rd BT9 6AH, ☏ . M-Sa 12:00-01:30, Su 13:00-01:30. The ground floor has an informal family-friendly grill restaurant and there's a late night bar.
- Katy Dalys (Limelight), 17 Ormeau Ave BT2 8HD, ☏ . M-Sa 12:00-01:00. Standard pub early evening, then late night there are four music and club areas: the main bar, Limelight 1 and 2, and the rooftop Rock Garden.
- 2 The Spaniard, 3 Skipper St BT1 2DZ, ☏ . Daily 12:00-01:00. Small friendly bar with tapas and cocktails. Great fun. Lesbian friendly.
- 3 Duke of York, 7-11 Commercial Court BT1 2NB, ☏ . M 11:30-23:00, Tu-Sa 11:00-01:00, Su 12:00-21:00. The main DoY Bar is a classic mirrored beer hall, Harp Bar is a trad saloon with live music, The New Orpheus is its swish extension, The Friend at Hand is the whiskey collection, and The Dark Horse is their events venue.
- 4 Whites Tavern, 2-4 Winecellar Entry BT1 1QN, ☏ . M-W 12:00-22:00, Th-Su 12:00-00:00. Founded in 1630 and may well be Belfast's oldest. Cosy bar with live music on Friday nights, the Oyster Rooms are the bistro.
- Europa Hotel (see Sleep): the Piano Bar tinkles away on the first floor.
- Belfast Empire, 42 Botanic Ave BT7 1JQ, ☏ . M-W 11:30-22:00, Th-Sa 11:30-23:00, Su 12:30-22:00. This former church has three floors of bars and music venues.
- Errigle Inn, 320 Ormeau Rd BT7 2GE, ☏ . Su-W 13:00-22:00, Th-Sa 13:00-23:00. Unchanged since it opened in 1935, this is a popular authentic southside Belfast boozer.
- Merchant Hotel (see Sleep) has Bert's Jazz Bar in Art Deco style, The Cloth Ear with Victorian decor, and the Cocktail Bar if your budget extends to Champagne.
- Robinsons Bar (Fibber Magee), 38-40 Great Victoria Street BT2 7BA (next to Crown Bar, opposite Europa Hotel), ☏ . M-Sa 11:30-01:00, Su 12:30-00:00. Good "long" pub, established 1895. The saloon (front end off GVS) is decorated with Titanic memorabilia, this is the area for a quiet pint. Head to the first floor bistro for food, served until 21:00. The back bar is Fibber Magees, which you can also enter via the alley behind Travelodge: this has trad music every night.
- 5 Hatfield House, 130 Ormeau Rd BT7 2EB, ☏ . M-Sa 11:00-01:00, Su 12:00-00:00. Buzzing southside pub in 1850s trad building, often has live music and Gaelic sport on TV.
- 6 Kelly's Cellars, 30-32 Bank St BT1 1HL (off Castle Street), ☏ . M-Sa 11:30-01:00, Su 13:00-00:00. Great pub with trad music at weekends. Claims to be Belfast's oldest bar - it was built in 1720, and the 1798 United Irishmen uprising was plotted here.
- Maddens Bar, 74 Berry St BT1 1FJ. M-Sa 11:30-01:00, Su 13:00-00:00. Buzzing pub with trad music at weekends. You may have to press the buzzer for entry.
- Union Street Bar, 8 Union St BT1 2JF, ☏ . M-Sa 12:00-00:00, Su 13:30-00:00. LGBTQ-friendly pub and wine bar with Med food. Shoe Factory is the late club next door.
- Muriel's Cafe Bar, 12 Church Lane BT1 4QN, ☏ . M-F 11:30-01:00, Sa 10:00-01:00, Su 10:00-00:00. Lesbian-friendly pub serves great gin.
- 7 The Botanic Inn (The Bot), 23-27 Malone Rd BT9 6RU, ☏ . M-Sa 12:00-01:00, Su 13:00-01:00. This bar near QUB is popular with students. Downstairs is a large, attractive bar with live sport, upstairs has a night club. Good food and drink.
- Thompsons Garage, 3 Pattersons Place BT1 4HW (off City Square, in alley opposite Titanic Memorial). Daily 21:00-02:00. Long-established club, but covid has forced them to morph into a late-night pizzeria and bar with music.
- Kremlin, 96 Donegall Street BT1 2GW, ☏ . F Sa 21:00-01:00. Soviet-themed gay dance club.
- 1 Belfast City Backpacker, 53-55 Malone Ave BT9 6EP, ☏ . Okay simple hostel near Botanics, a mile south of town. Dorm £15 ppn.
- 2 Lagan Backpackers, 121 Fitzroy Ave BT7 1HU, ☏ . Clean well-run small hostel. Dorm £12 ppn.
- 3 Belfast International Youth Hostel, 22-32 Donegall Road BT12 5JN (oOff Sandy Row), ☏ . Basic hostel, central location near Shaftesbury Sq.
- 4 Botanical Backpackers (formerly Arnie's), 63 Fitzwilliam St BT9 6AX, ☏ . Small independent hostel near QUB, well-run and good atmosphere, LGBTQ-friendly.
- Travelodge Belfast Central, 15 Brunswick St BT2 7GE (opposite GVS bus & railway station), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Chain hotel in great location, decor and cleanliness variable. Park at NCP Francis St, £15 for 24 hours. Double (room only) £50.
- 5 Global Village, 87 University Street BT7 1HP, ☏ . Hostel open all year, chilly in winter. Basic dorm, no private rooms. Dorm from £18 ppn.
- Premier Inn have three hotels: "Cathedral Quarter" on Waring St, "City Centre" on Alfred St, and "Titanic Quarter" at the marina.
- Ibis have two hotels: "City Centre" on Castle St, and "Queens Quarter" on University St.
- Jury's Inn is a reliable mid-range place a block north of the railway and bus station.
- Ten Square, 10 Donegall Square South BT1 5JD, ☏ . As central as you can get, facing city hall, can be noisy. Most visitors have a good stay but there's an occasional shambles. B&B double £110.
- 6 Malone Lodge, 60 Eglantine Ave BT9 6DY, ☏ . Well-run courteous hotel, southside near QUB. Some rooms are in the apartment block 200 m away. B&B double £80.
- 7 Tara Lodge, 36 Cromwell Rd BT7 1JW (by Botanics railway station), ☏ . Smart small hotel for B&B near Botanics and QUB. B&B double £100.
- Benedicts, 7-21 Bradbury Place BT7 1RQ (by Botanics railway station), ☏ . Lively clean mid-range hotel near QUB with good restaurant. B&B double £100.
- 8 Camera Guesthouse, 44 Wellington Park BT9 6DP (ignore wacky postcode on their website), ☏ . Smart comfy little place in a Victorian southside house. No dogs. B&B double from £80.
- 9 All Seasons B&B, 356 Lisburn Rd BT9 6GJ, ☏ . Clean friendly B&B near Adelaide railway station. B&B double from £70.
- 10 Ravenhill House, 690 Ravenhill Rd BT6 0BZ, ☏ . Cosy welcoming B&B open Feb-mid Dec, no children under 10 or dogs. B&B double from £175.
- 11 Old Rectory, 148 Malone Rd BT9 5LH, ☏ . Comfy charming B&B near university. No dogs. B&B double £100.
- 12 Hilton Belfast, 4 Lanyon Place BT1 3LP, ☏ . Decent mid-range chain hotel next to the Waterfront Hall. B&B double from £110.
- Europa Hotel, Great Victoria St BT2 7AP (next to GVS bus and railway station), ☏ . The Europa needed to be a sturdy place in the 20th century, but the only "Troubles" nowadays are raucous parties and the odd car alarm shrieking off. Great location, popular mid-range choice. B&B double £90.
- 13 Park Inn by Radisson, 4 Clarence Street West BT2 7GB, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Comfy enough, could do with a lick of paint. With fitness centre, sauna and meeting rooms. No dogs. B&B double £80.
- 14 Malmaison Belfast, 34-38 Victoria St BT1 3GH, ☏ . Jazzy mid to upscale hotel in a great location, but in summer 2020 a string of visitors had poor experience of comfort and service. B&B double £110.
- 15 Merchant Hotel, 16 Skipper St BT1 2DZ, ☏ . Slick upscale hotel in a converted bank, with spa and rooftop gym. The Great Room restaurant is a splendid ritzy place. B&B double £200.
Belfast is for the most part a safe, welcoming city. Though there is trouble beneath the surface, it's locals settling old scores, and tourists aren't involved. After dark you should avoid the "interface areas" noted earlier. Beyond that, just follow the same obvious rules you'd follow in any other big city. Keep your nose and big mouth out of local politics (which stretch back 300 years), and expect some banter if you wear the wrong colour of football jersey.
- 1 United States, Danesfort House, 223 Stranmillis Rd BT9 5GR, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. M-F 08:30-17:00. For out of hours emergencies involving a US citizen call +44 20 7499 9000, the US Consulate in London.
- Poland, 67 Malone Rd BT9 6SB (half a mile south of QUB), ☏ . M 11:30-15:30, Tu-F 10:30-14:30.
As of July 2021, the city has a good 4G signal from all UK carriers, and there is 5G from O2.
There is no land-based mobile signal on the ferries. Switch off in case your phone latches onto the ferry company WiFi, they'll be delighted to connect you at international rates.
- Transport routes radiate from Belfast so virtually all of Northern Ireland is within a day trip.
- Hillsborough is a picturesque village in County Down, with the grand powerbase of Hillsborough Castle.
- Giant's Causeway is the standout on the north coast, and can be reached by train or bus. But with a car you can meander along the whole coast, from Carrickfergus and Larne into the beautiful Antrim Glens to Ballycastle. The Glens are quiet so the Causeway will feel very touristy by comparison.
- Bangor is a cheery seaside town, with frequent suburban trains from Belfast.
- Derry is a fascinating historic city within its ancient walls.
- Dublin can be day-tripped by bus or the "Enterprise Train" but deserves much longer.
|Routes through Belfast|
|merges with ←||N S||→ Lisburn → Dublin|
|Derry/Londonderry ← Newtownabbey ←||NW SE||→ merges with /|
|END ←||W E||→ Cultra → Bangor|
|merges with ←||N S||→ merges with|