– Written by Victoria Philpott
Belfast’s nightlife is buzzing, the parks are clean and green, and the city is filled with history. Just two of Belfast’s many claims to fame include the fact that the Titanic was built here, and the other is that C.S. Lewis found his inspiration for Narnia in the many open spaces. The city has also spawned a great wealth of musical talent, and whether they’ve made it worldwide or locally it’s certainly a town that loves its music.
Belfast’s close proximity to the sea and buzzing city centre make it a great place to spend your holidays.
We’ve got loads of cheap hostels in Belfast, starting from just €7.42pppn.
1. Soak up some history
Visit the political hotbed of Failte Feirste Thiar in West Belfast. In between Clonard Monastery and the many cemeteries you’ll be faced with political murals challenging ideals and leaders in history and from the modern day. The walls are often painted over and redone and serve as a quiet protest ground for residents.
If you’re on the search for history in Armagh, check out Armagh County Museum – with its unique architecture it’s easy to spot. It’s also free to get in and you’ll get a taste of what it was like to live in the city throughout the ages.
For more stunning design find your way to the ornate Belfast Cathedral, commonly known as The Cathedral Church of St. Anne (top). It’s stunning from the outside, but you’re welcome to go in and learn more about its place in the community.
Cost: All free
2. Mourn the Titanic
Belfast was the building ground of the infamous Titanic ship, and they have a whole area of the city dedicated to its memorial. The new 110 million Titanic Belfast exhibition is now open, charting the ship’s story from its Belfast birth to its discovery on the ocean floor.
You can also board the SS Nomadic for a look around. Built in 1911, this ship carried the first and second class passengers out to the ill-fated Titanic from the French port of Cherbourg.
Cost: €15.73 for adults when you buy through the website.
3. Visit drinking haunts
If you’re fussy about where you’ll sup your gin and tonic, what about a National Trust protected bar? The ornate Crown Liquor Saloon, built in 1826 and in the centre of Belfast, is one of the city’s best-known landmarks, and serves a tasty pint.
Cost: free entry / Fish and Chips €10.70
To carry on the historical pub crawl, try the Kitchen Bar just ½ a mile away. It’s a bit more modern, by 33 years anyway, dating back to 1859. The Kitchen Bar serves ‘real ale and real food’ and they boast that their chef ‘does not merely believe in feeding you, he also wants to fatten you!’ Be careful.
Cost: free entry / Award-Winning Mayallon Handmade Steak & Guinness Sausages on a bed of champ with rich onion gravy €9
To top off all that boozing, or to get it started, take a tour around the Old Bushmills Distillery. It’s Ireland’s oldest and you can still watch them at work today, plus you can have a wee taster while you’re at it.
Cost: free entry / €6.80 for tour
4. Walk along the seafront
Just half an hour away from Belfast city centre you’ll find beautiful coastal walks and Ireland’s largest marina in Bangor. You can take a shoreline stroll to the Sunken Gardens to see the McKee Clock and Bregenz House – HM Coast Guard HQ. During the summer you’ll find a funfair and open-air events going on. You’ll also find Eisenhower Pier – perch yourself on the end and you can get some great pictures of the Irish Sea.
If you fancy a bit more than just a stroll, aim for the North Down Coastal Path – it’s the most varied shoreline in Ireland. Over 16 miles from Holywood to Portavoe you’ll enjoy natural feature and beautiful habitat. Again, great for taking some piccies.
5. Get close to animals
Visayan warty pigs, monkeys, zebras, flamingos, blue-bellied rollers and over 130 more species call Belfast Zoo home. Located on Cave Hill the 55-acre site has stunning views over the city. They run breeding programmes for endangered species who just wouldn’t thrive in their natural habitat. Giraffes are their speciality, with 28 born in the last 15 years, awwww.
If you can’t cope with all those animals looming over you with their long necks, fat trunks and human-like hands, you might prefer Streamvale Open Farm. You can cuddle the baby cows, rabbits and lambs, go for a wildflife walk and take a tractor or pony ride to feed the deer. You can even milk a cow, or, or, race a sheep!
Cost: Zoo €10 / Farm €5
6. Stay inside on a rainy day
It’s raining, so why not go somewhere even wetter? Lagan Valley LeisurePlex is the biggest waterpark in Ireland. Complete with a 25-metre competition pool, diving pool, leisure pool, huge galleon, master-blasters and thrilling water rides, it’s a great day out.
If you don’t fancy being that wet, the Exploris Aquarium has tanked all the marine wonders of the Irish Sea – including some cool seals – and made them all accessible via pool demonstrations and interactive experiences.
Depending on how rainy it is and whether you’re expecting to see a star, the Armagh Planetarium is great fun on a rainy day. It supports the work of the Armagh Observatory in its quest to raise interest in astronomy. They hold star shows, 3D digital theatre viewings, telescope nights, rocket building classes, and talks on space robots, dinosaurs and electricity.
Cost: Lagan Valley LeisurePlex €7.35 / Exploris Aquarium €7.80 / Armagh Planetarium €6
7. Eat in castles and suck lollies
At the Gaeltacht Experience you’ll find an authentic Irish evening filled with food, music and dance all in one place. Located in the heart of Belfast’s Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) Quarter you’ll enjoy a 3-course Irish meal to the sounds of fine harpists, dance to traditional music, enjoy moody, haunting Gaelic songs and experience the thrill of céilí dancing.
If you’re celebrating a special occasion the Cellar Restaurant at Belfast Castle is a relatively cheap at €25 for 3 courses. Not only will you have the extravagance of the castle but you can also enjoy the parkland, woodland and incredible views.
For something sweet while you’re hotfooting it around Belfast pop into Aunt Sandra’s Candy Factory. The reclaimed windows, old Belfast brick walls and slate floor has been carefully done to replicate the original 1953 shop. Sweets are delicious and you can even go on a tour around the factory to see the candy handcrafted following 100-year-old recipes.
Cost: all free entry / food less than €25 / candy shop tour €5
8. Chill out in the park
Belfast is full of lush, green parks for you to take a picnic or indulge in a little ultimate Frisbee. For blooming lovely parks head to the Carrickfergus Borough, they’ve won ‘Ulster in Bloom’ seven times, try Shaftesbury Park or Bashfordsland Wood for the best spots.
Ormeau Park is the oldest park in Belfast and still one of the largest – it’s filled with woodland, wildlife and sports areas. Check around for summer listings – they also have concerts and band performances.
If you’re in the south of Belfast Lagan Meadows has a variety of wildflowers, birds, butterflies and other animals managed by the Ulster Wildlife Trust.
9. Go on a tour
If you’re only in Belfast for a few days taking a tour can help you to make the most out of the city. Allen’s Open Top City Bus Tour allows you to hop on and off as you please and covers all of Belfast’s main attractions. If you’d rather have more control over your route, hire a bike and head out alone, or join one of the Belfast Bike Tours to experience the city’s natural beauty from a closer viewpoint.
For a tour with a twist how about treading in the steps of Mr Narnia himself, C.S. Lewis? He was born in Belfast and the city reportedly gave him much of the inspiration for the Chronicles of Narnia. You’ll pass his family home, stand where he was born and see his church and school, as well as getting a tour of Belfast into the bargain.
Cost: Open bus tour €10 / Bike tour €12.50 / C.S. Lewis tour €10
10. Absorb some natural beauty
The Giant’s Causeway is a geological phenomenon on the North Antrim Coast. With renowned amphitheatres made from layered basalt stone columns left from volcanoes and immense natural beauty, the site has World Heritage status. Walk the 12-mile path and you’ll end at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Please note, I’ve never crossed this – just look at it!
Cost: €6 to cross
Thanks to Supermac1961, AD2O9, sjdunphy, Paul Bowman, dblackadder, Andrew_d_hurley for the excellent images from Flickr! Please note, all images were suitable for use at the time of publication according to the Creative Commons License.