Outdoor markets, warmly lit downtowns, cozy restaurants, cheerful locals... there is something special about American…
When it comes to Northern Ireland’s capital city, you’ll quickly discover just how much there is to do and see. Whether you’re exploring important landmarks, taking in the nearby coastal views, or learning more about the world’s most famous ship, there are a ton of unique things to do in Belfast. I’ve been to many places in Ireland and Northern Ireland but this was my first in this city, and I can safely say its charm is highly underrated. Trust me when I say you’ve got to add it to any trip you’re planning to the UK.
8 Things to Do in Belfast, Northern Ireland
1. Visit Belfast Castle and Stroll around Cave Hill Country Park
If you’re looking for a great view over the city, head over to Belfast Castle in Cave Hill Country Park. Now, the current building is fairly new as far as historic castles go. The original Belfast Castle is believed to have been built sometime in the 1100s and then another was built in 1611 but burned down in the 1700s. Both were in different locations around the city. The Belfast Castle you can visit today was built under the Marquis of Donegall between 1862 and 1870 and designed in the Victorian Scots Baronial style.
The best way to enjoy the area is to pop into the Cave Hill Visitor Centre before checking out the castle’s grand interiors. Then follow the loop walking path to take in the various views over the city. Keep an eye out for Napoleon’s Nose which inspired Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.
2. Learn about Belfast’s History via a Black Cab Tour
If you’re going to do a history tour in Belfast, make sure you do it from the back seat of one of their iconic black cabs. I personally had a blast learning about this city’s history from blue badge-certified Billy Scott and his company, Touring Around Belfast. Through him I learned about one of the city’s more turbulent times known as The Troubles.
Essentially the Troubles started in the 20th century after the British divided Ireland between Northern Ireland and Ireland. While Ireland would become its own sovereign nation, Northern Ireland was meant to stay under British rule. Within Northern Ireland, there was a growing divide between both religion and government. You had the majority of Protestant unionists who wanted to stay with England and then you had the large Catholic nationalist minority who wanted independence. Within each group was a more extreme faction known as the loyalists (unionists) and the republicans (nationalists).
I’m sure if you grew up in the latter half of the 20th century like me, you remember just how extreme the violence got between not only both sides but also from Great Britain’s counter-terrorism attempts. Things escalated until the 1990s when each side was able to agree that this continued violence was solving nothing and brokered a peace deal famously known as the Good Friday Agreement on April 10th, 1998.
Belfast doesn’t shy away from its history, and Billy not only talked to me about it but he took me to the Peace Walls. Originally, they were created to be separation barriers between neighborhoods. Now they’re full of incredible murals and signatures from significant visitors like President Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama and serve as a reminder of Belfast’s past and hope for continued peace.
3. Check out Filming Locations from “Game of Thrones”
Believe it or not, one the most famous shows ever was largely filmed right in Belfast! While much of it was filmed around the world from Croatia to Morocco to Iceland, the main studios are located here. Tour the iconic sets and check out some of the incredible costumes and prosthetics.
Once you’ve seen the studio, journey from Belfast to see all the filming locations they used in County Antrim and County Down to represent northern Westeros and Winterfell.
4. Visit Belfast’s Titanic Quarter
Speaking of Belfast’s relationship to major cinematic creations, did you know the RMS Titanic was built here as well? And while the tragic love story of Rose and Jack captured all our hearts in 1997, the real stories of Belfast’s shipbuilders are even more compelling. Today, you can visit Belfast’s Titanic Quarter to not only learn more about the fated ship as well as Belfast’s illustrious shipbuilding history but also witness one of Europe’s largest and greatest waterfront regeneration projects.
First visit Titanic Belfast. It’s located at the head of the slipways where RMS Titanic would’ve launched and has nine interactive galleries to tell the ship’s history from early conception to its tragic maiden voyage. Next visit the Titanic Hotel Belfast (you could also stay there) which is located in what was once the Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices. Be sure to tour the SS Nomadic, which was a tender to the Titanic and the last remaining White Star Line ship in the world.
5. Shop around St. George’s Market
One of the best things to do in Belfast on a weekend is shopping around St. George’s Market. Located opposite Waterfront Hall, this market has been a beloved part of the city since 1896. It’s still winning awards over a century later for its fresh, local produce. If you come on Friday, be prepared for the variety market which is a tradition in the city that dates all the way back to 1604. Come with time on your hands because you can shop around for everything from fresh fish to ancient antiques! On Saturday, St. George’s becomes a city food and craft market where you can find all sorts of specialty foods as well as shop for handmade goods. Then on Sunday, it becomes a crafts and antiques market focused on local businesses and craftspeople. It’s truly a fun experience no matter what day you manage to come, and it’s an excellent way to find unique souvenirs.
6. Follow Belfast Traditional Music Trail
There’s nothing quite like enjoying traditional Irish music. More than just music, the real joy comes in the intimate pub settings where everyone is gathered around to enjoy and even dance to a music session led by some incredibly talented musicians. The best way to do it is to find a pub and enjoy both the music and the local camaraderie. If you’re not quite sure where to go, I recommend either picking one from the Belfast Traditional Music Trail or joining one of their Saturday tours.
7. Try Some of the Best Chocolate You’ll Ever Have at Daisies
I promise you, the artisan chocolate at Daisies is some of the best chocolate I’ve had anywhere in the world. The whole operation has been years in the making for owner and founder Deirdre McCanny ever since she discovered the world of fine chocolate at Chocolat Michel Cluizel in New York City. Back in Belfast, McCanny created her own brand, Co Couture, and opened up Daisies to share her love with her hometown.
Everything is processed as little as possible and there’s a huge emphasis on sustainability and zero waste. Because of this, her chocolate is actually much healthier and tastes much better than what you can find on the market. Depending on what season you come, try either her hot chocolate or gelato and enjoy the peaceful environment she says is crucial to the health of both her visitors and chocolate.
8. Do a Day Trip to Antrim Coast
One of the things you must do while in Belfast is to head over to the stunning Antrim Coast. From exploring a castle to blokarting, it’s such an incredible way to see a bit more of Northern Ireland.
As far as ancient castles go, Glenarm Castle is up there. First built as a country house in 1636 under Randal McDonnell, the Earl of Antrim, this castle has passed through fifteen generations of earls. While it’s still primarily used as a family home for the McDonnell family, they do open it up to guided tours on certain dates through the year. Check out the stunning interiors with the help of the family butler and house staff before enjoying the stunning Walled Garden. If you’re with a bigger group, make the trip extra special with afternoon tea. Not only will you get an exclusive tour, you’ll also enjoy a traditional afternoon tea in the castle’s dining room.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is probably one of the most photographed landmarks in Northern Ireland. The way the story goes is that Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill was challenged to fight by Scottish giant Benandonner. Accepting the challenge, Fionn built this causeway of interlocking basalt columns from Antrim Coast to Fingal’s Cave in Scotland. Apparently, upon seeing Benandonner, Fionn had his wife, Sadhbh, disguise him as a baby. When Benandonner sees this baby, he then imagines Fionn must be absolutely massive to have such a large baby and runs back across the causeway, destroying it in the process.
Really, Giant’s Causeway was not once a path for giants to meet to fight but is the result of a volcanic fissure eruption millions of years ago. One of the cool things about this formation is that you can walk across it!
If you’re visiting the coast in nice weather, you’ve got to try blokarting! Invented in New Zealand, blokarting allows you to sit in a 3-wheeled kart with a sail and use wind power to get moving. Think of it as a safer alternative to sailing out on the water. Go to Blokart World, which is owned by British Champion Pat Letters and see how much speed you can pick up!
And there you have it – all the best things to do in Belfast, Northern Ireland! With such an interesting history and stunning scenery, you’ll see why just what makes this city a place to love.