City guides

City guide: What to do in Belfast

January 16, 2023

Northern Ireland’s capital is famous for its shipbuilding and the ill-fated Titanic. It’s also infamous for the “Troubles” which blighted the city for three decades. Yet Belfast today is friendly, fascinating, and packs a punch with world-class attractions. It's reinvented itself. Moreover, it's an eclectic mix of political street art, lively folk music, trendy cafes and quality restaurants.

Belfast Zoo

What to do in Belfast with the kids

The Ulster Museum is a family favourite. It boasts dinosaurs (the only one found in Ireland), meteorites and an Egyptian mummy. Learn about Ireland’s ancient history, the revolutions and its wars. There are art galleries with modern masterpieces and an extensive natural history collection. Plus, there are several interactive zones to keep the little ones busy. What’s more, entry is free.

If 250 world-class exhibits, 8 interactive zones, and daily science shows don’t entertain the kids, nothing will. W5 is Belfast’s award-winning science and discovery centre. Each floor of W5 contains exhibits and experiences that are exciting or educational. The fun and engaging themes include film and TV production, optical illusions, nature, and climate change.

Animals are always a big hit with kids. Belfast Zoo, is full of wild critters, including elephants, lions and giraffes. Although the baby gorillas are currently everybody’s favourites. Then there’s Streamvale Open Farm where kids can handle and feed the farm animals. Think cute. Think lambs, rabbits, piglets and puppies. There are several play areas to explore as well, including a milking parlour, a vet clinic and a farm shop.

Belfast Botanic Gardens

What to do in Belfast as a couple

The Cathedral Quarter, a maze of cobbled streets, is home to art galleries, hip bars and cafes. This is the place to be if you like good coffee, great food, or live music. So, it’s ideal for a night out with many of the city’s best restaurants found here. Likewise, it’s home to some of Belfast’s best pubs and bars. They include The Duke of York, The Dirty Onion, The Harp Bar and The Spaniard.

Established in 1828, the Botanic Gardens are an exotic oasis in the city’s heart. It’s ideal for a cosy picnic, a romantic stroll, or enjoying the vibe of a summer concert. There’s an impressive collection of plants from the southern hemisphere and an incredible Palm House. Furthermore, the Tropical Ravine houses bananas, orchids, and Birds of Paradise.

Belfast’s theatre scene is buzzing. There’s the award-winning Lyric Theatre. This conducts a high-quality programme including classic theatre, music, comedy and dance. Then you have the Metropolitan Arts Centre Belfast, or the MAC. It has showcased everything from international art exhibitions and live theatre, to roller discos. Conveniently, it’s situated in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter.

What to do in Belfast with friends

One great reason to visit Belfast is for the music. Well, it is a UNESCO City of Music. Many of its pubs, bars and theatres, have welcomed international acts. From Bob Dylan and AC/DC to One Direction and U2. The iconic Ulster Hall has been hosting gigs since 1862. What's more, this is THE place where Led Zeppelin debuted “Stairway to Heaven”. Another good choice is the historic Empire. It provides a great mix of blues, jazz and traditional Irish acts. The Cathedral Quarter also offers plenty of choice but one that really hits the right note is the John Hewitt.

Looking for a fun and quirky activity with your mates? Explore Belfast’s landmarks and a famous pub or two, on a beer bike tour. The bikes take around 15 people, come with a driver, and need everyone to peddle. BYO drinks for plenty of laughs and Instagram moments. Two of the most popular tours include Wee Toast and Belfast Party Bike.

Fans of the ‘Crystal Maze’ will want to visit Prison Island. Especially if you have competitive friends. Teams of two to four people take on the 25 prison-themed cells. Each cell contains a mix of physical, tactical and skill-based games. The aim is to score more points than the other teams. It’s also very popular with families.

Belfast Black Taxi Troubles Tours

What we like to do in Belfast

One of the best ways to get under the skin of Belfast’s dark and turbulent past is to take a Black Taxi Tour. The eye-popping murals that decorate the city capture the real essence of the ‘Troubles’. Many murals highlight important figures and events. Some make powerful social or political statements. Your local drivers will explain the stories behind each mural while providing their own personal history lesson. You'll see the 25-foot Peace Walls that keep communities apart to this day. You will then visit Bombay Street where the ‘Troubles’ began. More modern murals are included on the agenda. See if you can identify some of Belfast's modern sporting and cultural icons.

Opened in 1906, the Belfast City Hall has a classical Renaissance style. Take a free tour and explore the superb art collection along with the magnificent formal rooms. Then visit the exhibition which examines the city's history through several interactive displays. The centrepiece though, is the stunning collection of stained glass windows. Outside, take a walk to the Titanic Memorial Garden. Here, you'll see plaques which list the names of all 1,512 of Titanic’s victims.

If you’re feeling energetic, then Cave Hill Country Park is a hive of outdoor activity. There are numerous walking paths, MTB trails and orienteering routes. But for unobstructed views across the city, walk up to the spectacular McArt’s Fort. It's a breathless 1,200 feet above sea level. Although little ones may prefer to burn energy at the park's own playground. Another highlight of the park is the 19th-century Belfast Castle.

Belfast titanic

What not to miss in Belfast

Titanic Belfast won the World's Leading Tourist Attraction in 2016, and for good reason. The museum sits within the famous Harland and Wolff shipyards. It's here that the Titanic was planned, built and launched, over 100 years ago. There are six floors, nine interactive galleries and an underwater cinema. The exhibitions use multi-media, special effects, and full-sensory experiences. Uncover Titanic's amazing story: from the drawing board to the launch, then her tragic maiden voyage to the discovery of the wreck. Afterwards, pop next door to the Titanic Hotel for a drink or food in the very room where the ship was designed!

Known as Titanic's little sister, the SS Nomadic has a big history. Built in the same shipyard, it carried passengers from Cherbourg to the Titanic for her maiden voyage. She then served through WWI and WWII and became a floating restaurant in Paris. Luckily, she escaped the scrap yard thanks to the people of Belfast. Walk her decks and you walk back a hundred years. Experience what it was like to be a passenger boarding the Titanic. Then see first-hand the large contrast between the different class areas onboard.

Crumlin Road Gaol voted one of Belfast’s top attractions, dates back to 1845. Despite closing its gates in 1996, the ghosts remain. It claims to be one of the most haunted sites in Belfast. So, if you fancy a spine-tingling adventure, take one of the Paranormal tours. You’ll visit activity hotspots, the gaol’s execution chamber and the flogging room. That said, the gaol does cater to families. They offer some educational and kid-friendly tours as well. Regular tours explain the prison’s history and its part in the ‘Troubles’. Plus learn about notable residents including murderers, suffragettes and political prisoners.

If you’re in Belfast on a weekend, then head to St George’s Market which comes alive in the mornings. Over 150 traders set out their stalls laden with antiques, craftwork and authentic local food. So, why not bring an appetite and tuck into fresh seafood, belly-buster soda bread, or go all out with an Ulster fry.

Where to stay in Belfast

There's always a warm welcome in Belfast. The city is small enough for a romantic weekend or a city break. There are plenty of cosy studio flats and apartments with stunning views to choose from. It also provides big-city attractions that will engage everyone on a group or family holiday. In which case, why not settle into a luxurious townhouse or spacious garden home? Living it large, or self-catering, it doesn’t matter. Whatever you choose, Pass the Keys can help you find your perfect Belfast base.

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