A trip to Belfast might not be the first place you think of for taking a city break, however, this city has turned into a secret jewel of the UK. Having recently recovered from a tumultuous 30-year civil war, best known under the name The Troubles, Belfast, to locals is now seen as a completely brand new city.

It is impossible to compare the Belfast from 20 years ago to the Belfast today. Tourists were almost non-existent – now Belfast welcomes around 8 million visitors a year! From the classic tourist attractions like the Samson and Goliath cranes, and the new seasonal attractions like the Continental Christmas Market, you will never be lost of things to do in Belfast!

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1. St.Georges Market 

St. Georges Market is probably one of Belfast’s oldest attractions. This is no surprise as the market dates back to 1890 and as on numerous occasions won awards for its fresh produce, events and its culture.

“One of the top things to do in Belfast is visit one of its top tourist attractions, St George’s Market. This Victorian Market welcomed over 1 million visitors last year and is a thriving community of local crafters, makers and street food traders. At Christmas this award-winning market, with its live music and festive cheer, is adorned with beautiful decorations and has an amazing Christmas vibe during its regular weekend opening hours and also it’s extra Christmas market opening days.” – Jeff Meredith, www.belfasttimes.co.uk

“Be sure to get along to one of Belfast’s oldest attractions, St. George’s Market, recently named the UK’s best market. The market is open from Friday – Sunday and showcases a range of local food and drinks producers, as well as local craftsmen and women. During November and December, the market embraces the festive spirit with additional opening days during the week. Music sessions add to the friendly atmosphere, especially over Christmas.” – Nial & Helen, www.Pikalily.com

2. Join Belfast Hidden Tours 

“The best way to discover Belfast is by walking through its streets, meeting its people and enjoying the craic. The tour, which runs throughout the week, passes many of the places to visit in Belfast city including art, history, politics and culture.

Belfast Hidden Tours are unique, working in partnership with many local artists, historians and trades people to ensure you get the maximum exposure to the real Belfast.

Like Berlin and Bethlehem, also famous for their walls, Belfast has become a place where street art has flourished, where artists from around the world have come to paint. Devised and led by the local artists who have driven the recent local street art scene,

Devised and led by the local artists who have driven the recent local street art scene, the Street Art Walking tour guides you around the ever changing face of street art in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter – available every Sunday at 12pm.” – Fiona, www.visitbelfast.com

things to do in belfast

copyright Northern Ireland Tourist Board

3. Have a cold pint in a traditional Belfast pub

“Great local food, beer and music can be found in a number of traditional pubs in Belfast’s city centre – the Garrick Bar, the John Hewitt, the Dirty Onion and Lavery’s are well worth searching out. But the No.1 place to visit in Belfast has to be the Crown Bar.

Owned by the National Trust, the Crown Liquor Saloon is probably Belfast’s most famous pub, a Victorian masterpiece, the pub decorated by Italian tiles and the stained glass window is still gas-lit.” – Fiona, www.visitbelfast.com

“My first stop for Christmas catch-ups and get-togethers would definitely be the Crown Bar, found conveniently opposite the main Great Victoria Street Station, and Europa Hotel (famously the most bombed hotel in the world during Belfast’s troubled past). The Crown is a truly beautiful pub, very traditional, and through a lot of effort and preservation, it is one of very few timeless drinking experiences left in Belfast. At the bar, there will always be the local classics on tap, like Harp Lager, but there are also a host of other locally crafted beers. For some local craic (banter) join the bar, or for a more intimate affair, grab a snug (private booth).” – Allan and Fanfna, www.live-less-ordinary.com

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“The Crown Bar, Belfast” (CC BY 2.0) by James Cridland

4. Carrickfergus Castle

Venture outside of Belfast to the seaside town of Carrickfergus. The small town of Carrickfergus makes for a lovely stroll, and if you want to discover what a real small Northern Irish town looks like then you have hit gold. Walk to the pier and you will find Carrickfergus Castle, built in 1177 by John de Courcy, to protect Eastern Ulster which he had conquered. It is one of the best kept medieval structures in the country.

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5. Filthy mcNastys

Situated in the Queens University area, Filthy McNastys is a perfect pit stop for some light freshments and snacks. Hangout with the students and get a feel for Universtiy life at Queens Belfast.

“A great place to go for drinks in the evening, Filthy McNastys has live music every night and an extensive selection of drinks. There’s also a garden and roof terrace, which are the setting of bustling club-style parties, fueled by cocktails and DJ beats.” – Bram, www.travel-experience-live.com

6. The Belfast Murals

“A difficult history meant that Belfast was once a city overlooked but, today, the reminders of its troubled past are one of its biggest draws and a must see on any visit to Northern Ireland.

Fascinating and colourful wall murals dotted across Belfast tell the story of the Troubles and a towering steel Peace Wall stands as a stark reminder of the tensions which once simmered over into violent clashes between those on opposing sides the conflict. The murals are best explored in one of the city’s famous Black Cabs driven by those who have experienced Belfast from its darkest hour to its finest moments.” – Elaine & Dave, www.thewholeworldisaplayground.com

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7. Enjoy pre-dinner cocktails at the Art Noveau Café Vaudeville

Belfast’s redevelopment has seen a rise in many high-end and fancy cafes, cocktail bars and restaurants. If you want to discover the new Belfast then step inside Cafe Vaudeville for an afternoon respite.

“Good food and drinks are essential to warm up those cold winter evenings! Set in the grand surroundings of a former bank, the Art Noveau Café Vaudeville is quirky and decadent and the perfect spot to indulge in pre-dinner cocktails and chats. For dinner, the Mourne Seafood Bar is a must for fish lovers with its delicious chowder a firm favourite or, if fine dining is on the agenda, James Street South always exceeds expectations with its outstanding food and vibrant atmosphere.” – Elaine & Dave, www.thewholeworldisaplayground.com

belfastcafe8. Explore all the hidden wonders of Queens University Belfast 

If you are a student traveller, then visiting Queen’s University should be number one on your list of things to do in Belfast. Stroll through the botanical gardens and discover the hide architectural beauties that the Queen’s University Building has to offer.

“Want to see one of Belfast’s best-loved buildings? Venture up to Queen’s University Belfast. Wander around the iconic 19th century Lanyon building and visit the stunning neighbouring Botanical Gardens & Palm House. Plus you are next door to the Ulster Museum which is well worth a visit!” – Gemma-Louise Bond, www.thatbelfastgirl.com
“While the Cathedral Quarter usually takes the spoils when it comes to places to eat and drink in Belfast, we’d recommend heading a wee bit outside the city centre towards the University area at Queen’s University. The streets of Botanic Avenue, Stranmillis, Malone Road and Lisburn Road offer a variety of choice when it comes to restaurants, cafes and pubs.
From the popular Mexican burritos joint of Boojum to the French inspired Shu on the Lisburn Road, you’ll have plenty to choose from. Our personal favourite is Deane’s at Queens, sister restaurant of the Michelin-starred Deanes EIPIC, and for drinks, look no further than the Empire on Botanic Avenue. From here you’re well placed to head towards Dublin Road and the popular Filthy McNastys, or head straight into the city centre to make a night of it.” – Nial & Helen, www.Pikalily.com
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9. Step Aboard the Titanic Belfast Visitor Centre

The icon Harland and Wolff cranes (AKA Samson and Goliath) can be seen from the plane, the visitor centre is an eye catcher on the ride into Belfast from the city. There is no question that visiting the Titanic Quarters should be top of your itinerary for the top things to do in Belfast.
“Get the inside story on one of the world’s most famous shipwrecks in the dockyard where she was built. Titanic Belfast is a striking building in the city’s new Titanic Quarter, designed to look like ships’ hulls. As well as the story of her construction and destruction, you can get a taste of life on board with an afternoon tea on Sundays in their replica ballroom.” – Lucy, www.ontheluce.com
“Make sure to do a tour in the Titanic Belfast Visitor Centre. The building alone is a masterpiece in architecture. Find out all about how the Titanic was built in Belfast and take a walk around the Titanic Quarter which is also home to the last remaining White Star boat, the S.S. Nomadic. There is also always a lovely Santa to visit at Christmas in Titanic Belfast if you have little ones.” – Gemma-Louise Bond, www.thatbelfastgirl.com
 
“If you want to see one thing in Belfast over the Christmas season you have to visit Titanic Belfast. The world’s largest Titanic attraction has recently been named Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction and has now been shortlisted for the title of the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction at the World Travel Awards; recommendations don’t get much higher than that. At Christmas they have a great Santa experience which is always worth a visit.” – Jeff Meredith, www.belfasttimes.co.uk

“From the ultramodern Titanic museum to the Thompson Graving Dock, Titanic Belfast is where you can see the city’s former shipyards. This is where some of the world’s biggest ships where built in the early-1900s, including the Titanic.” – Bram, www.travel-experience-live.com

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10. Take a hike up the Divis

Need a break from the bustle of the city? Then head up Divis and enjoy an afternoon stroll through the highest mountain of the ‘Belfast Hills’. Divis has experienced a lot of history, it was used as a protection base during the war as locals use to walk up to the moorland for protection from the bombing, it was a vantage point during the troubles and the vast plain of moorland was used to hide bodies. Today the hills are an ideal break from the city, walk up the Divis and view the entire landscape of Belfast in pure silence, it can’t get better than that.

11. Dine at Northern Ireland’s Master Chef, Michael Deane’s Restaurant 

No trip to Belfast is complete without having a proper Northern Irish fry up and there is no better place to go than Deane’s.
“If you want to sample traditional Northern Irish fayre, any of the Deane’s restaurants are perfect. Michael Deane is a well loved Northern Irish chef and his restaurants serve everything from local beef to freshly caught fish from Irish seas. Make sure to try some champ (mash potato with scallions & lots of butter) – my favourite Northern Irish comfort food!” – Gemma-Louise Bond, www.thatbelfastgirl.com

12. See the Laganside at Night

“To me, the Laganside symbolises the rejuvenated Belfast, of post-trouble times, and on arrival to the city the iconic Beacon of Hope will always welcome you on the crossing over the Lagan Bridge. 

I often find Belfast to be a relatively quiet city, even at its busiest, and a walk along the Lagan’s riverside will more than not be a serene, and somewhat romantic sight, especially when lit up on a winter night. There are also a handful of iconic attractions along this short central stretch of the Lagan, including the Bigfish and Fed & Watered, which serves Traditional Ulster Fries and other Northern Irish foods throughout the day.” – Allan and Fanfan, www.live-less-ordinary.com

“Belfast at night” (CC BY 2.0) by rovingI

13. Watch the Giants

Watch an Ice Hockey game in Northern Ireland might not seem like a natural thing to do in Belfast, yet this sport is booming. Go watch the Giants, one of the top teams in the Elite Ice Hockey League, on their home turf in the Odyssey Complex.
“If you’re looking for a fun filled night out in Belfast, look no further than a trip to the SSE arena, home to the city’s famous Ice Hockey team – the Belfast Giants. A cracking atmosphere is guaranteed, with fans of all ages attending the games. The guys have a busy festive programme, and with adult tickets beginning at £16, this really is value for money. If you’re a fan of sports, you’ll certainly enjoy the rough and tumble of a Giants game.” – Nial & Helen, www.Pikalily.com
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“Elite League Champions” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by jai-dee

14. Walk around West Belfast

If you really want to learn about and explore the turbulent past of Belfast, you should walk Shankill Road and Falls Road.

“Respectively in the Protestant (loyalist) and Catholic (republican) districts, these two former rivalling roads are lined with graffiti. They’re still separated by the so-called Peace Line, a huge graffiti-covered wall with spiked gates on both ends.” – Bram, www.travel-experience-live.com

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15. Scrabo Tower

Located just outside of Belfast, Scrabo Tower, a turreted tower is one of the main landmarks in Northern Ireland. It’s 160m above sea level and stands 38m tall, making it visible from most of County Down. Although, Scrabo looks as though it might have been part of defense mechanism, it actually serves no other purpose than a memorial to Charles Stewart, the 3rd Marquess of Derry.

It is now part of a National Park. If you are planning to visit Scrabo, making sure to bring energy and good walking shoes! The walk up to Scrabo, as well as the 122 step climb to the top of the tower is no easy feat!

things to do in belfast

“Scrabo Tower” (CC BY 2.0) by robertpaulyoung

16. The Merchant Hotel

Maybe not the most traditional of things to do in Belfast, yet how can sipping a cocktail beside a cosy fire in a fabulously decorated bar disappoint.

“Drink in style in the opulent bar at Belfast’s Merchant Hotel, draped with velvet and antique chandeliers. It’s extra cosy in winter too with a roaring fire burning. The huge cocktail list mixes up the classics and some more inventive new blends, helping them win the award for ‘World’s Best Cocktail Menu’ at the Spirit Awards. “- Lucy, www.ontheluce.com

17. The Christmas Market at Belfast City Hall

Number one on our list of things to do in Belfast, without a doubt has to be the Belfast Christmas Market. Situated in the heart of the city, Belfast Christmas Market has turned into one of the highlights of the year.

“Pack a Christmas jumper and embrace the festive spirit at the Belfast Christmas Market! Set in the charming surrounds of the City Hall, one of Belfast’s most beautiful buildings, the market is full to the brim of stalls offering delicious food, festive drinks and quirky gifts. The Christmas cheer flows freely and an evening at the market is guaranteed to make you feel warm, fuzzy and holiday ready.” – Elaine & Dave, www.thewholeworldisaplayground.com

“In the heart of the city in the grounds of the city hall, you’ll find the Continental Market. This award winning annual Christmas market is the festive season’s top place to enjoy a drink and some European nibbles. It’s where the city centre workers go to catch up with friends for a lunchtime tipple or an after work catch-up every Christmas under the beautifully lit up city hall right in the centre of the city’s shopping area.” – Jeff Meredith, www.belfasttimes.co.uk

“Belfast City Hall is the heart of the city, on Donegall Square, overlooking Belfast’s main shopping street, Donegall Place. It is easily one of, if not the, most magnificent building in Belfast, and it makes the perfect backdrop for Belfast’s annual Christmas Market.

This event normally begins in mid-November and runs up until Christmas, with a host of all sorts of traditional continental fare, as well as beer tents, nightlife and plenty of craic (pronounced crack, a Norn Irish term for banter). It’s also great if you fancy a kangaroo or crocodile burger.“- Allan and Fanfna, www.live-less-ordinary.com

“From 19 November to 22 December 2016 Belfast City Hall turns into a winter wonderland for the annual Christmas Market. Grab a mulled cider or a hot chocolate and browse through stalls selling art, crafts, jewellery and pottery. There’s also going to be lots of local food and drink producers to celebrate Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink 2016.” – Lucy, www.ontheluce.com

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Catriona Megahey

Catriona Megahey

Catriona (known correctly as Ka-tri-na or mistakenly as Ka-tre-o-na, but has given up trying and adheres to both) grew up in Hannover, Germany to Northern Irish parents. Spends her time trying to be active either cycling, playing football, GAA or drums.
Catriona Megahey