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Things To Do In Belfast
Belfast is situated along the banks of the River Lagan on the east coast of Northern Ireland. The largest and the capital city of the country, Belfast has served many historically significant roles in the past. Apart from being a major port in the 19th-century, Belfast is also home to the shipyard where the famous liner Titanic was assembled and launched. After running into a troubled and violent past, Belfast has risen to become a well-known powerhouse of tourist attractions and a fascinating culture that drives people to this city from all over the world. To know more about what’s in store for you here, check out our recommendations of the top things to do when in Belfast.
Spend an Afternoon at the Belfast Zoo
The 22 hectares of Belfast Zoo is easily one of Northern Ireland’s top attractions. The leafy location is home to about 130 species, which include universal favourites like lions, tigers, giraffes and zebras, but also accommodate exotic animals like moloch gibbons, red howler monkeys, cotton-top tamarins etc. The spacious enclosures allow visitors to participate in scheduled feeding programs and learn more about the animals through talks given here on a regular basis. Children, in particular, will enjoy interactions with the miniature donkeys, Shetland ponies, Tamworth pigs and the African pygmy goats. There’s also a sea lion and penguin pool with underwater viewing programs.
Tour of the Peace Lines
A tour of Belfast’s Peace Lines or the so-called Peace Walls requires the accompaniment of someone with an in-depth knowledge of the city’s violent past. The Peace Lines extend for 34 km and divide Belfast along controversial Republican and Catholic, and Protestant and Loyalist lines. The first of these lines were put up around the late 1960s, and they have increased in number since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Currently, there are about 60 Peace Lines in the city. With a sensitive history attached to the origin of the Peace Lines, a guided tour will take you across the hotspots on both sides of the lines.
Family Visit to the W5
While technically a museum, the W5 is more of an interactive science centre that will appeal specifically to children. The name of the centre is an acronym and stands for WhoWhatWhereWhenWhy. With more than 250 exhibits and hands-on stations divided among four sections, the kids will find themselves caught in a multi-sensory overload that also allows them to learn in a fun interactive manner. Activities like Climbit (a 3-D climbable sculpture), the Spacebase activity zone, the air harp where kids can compose their own tunes, participating in the creation of tornadoes and cloud rings, and even building their own race cars and robots will keep children busy and entertained for hours at end. In the ‘Go’ exhibition, activities deal with health, hygiene, natural forces, flights and electrical circuits, while the ‘Discover’ exhibition is meant for younger kids and has a virtual rock-pool, a soft-play area and digital storybooks.
Discover Belfast’s Arts & Crafts Scene
Belfast has a pretty artsy background, which is evident in its numerous craft stores where visitors can admire and even take back the stunning souvenirs home with them. More than 40 local artists and designers have their work displayed in a shop here known as Space Craft. All the pieces are of high-quality and include jewellery, cushions, ceramics, artwork and even greeting cards. Studio Souk is a spot with three-floors and also filled with pieces created by local artists. Most of the items here are Belfast-themed and include tea-towels, printed canvas bags, pottery and some original artwork. The Wicker Man offers crochet and knitting classes in addition to selling a wide variety of contemporary Irish craft and gift items.
Shop at St George’s Market
St George’s Market has been in existence since 1604 and is held every weekend. A new iron and glass design with a beautiful brick façade was added to the building in the 1890s, which was again restored in 1997. Every Friday, there are almost 250 stalls set up in this ‘variety’ market that sell everything from books, antiques, and clothes to even fruits and vegetables. There are also more than 20 stalls with fishmongers who bring in their fresh catch every week. Saturdays are devoted to delicious delights from the ‘food and craft’ market here where visitors can indulge in tapas, crepes, exotic cheeses and Northern Irish delicacies like Cookstown pork and Armagh beef. Sundays are a mix of Fridays and Saturdays with the addition of live music and handmade crafts.
Enjoy Live Music Performances
There are plenty of spots in Belfast where travellers can enjoy a taste of Irish music, along with live performances that are held almost daily in the pubs and bars here. Limelight is one such combined club and pub, which is regarded as one of Belfast’s top venues for enjoying live indie and rock music. Some of its past acts have included Franz Ferdinand, the Kaiser Chiefs, and Oasis among many others. Belfast Empire is another prime location with three whole floors dedicated to entertainment and boasting a legendary live-music scene. Previously a Victorian church, the building also hosts stand-up comedy shows and quiz nights.
Hike Up to Black Mountain
The highest peaks in the Belfast region, the Divis and the Black Mountain encompass the entire western horizon of the area. The limestone and basalt cliffs stand at 478 and 388 metres respectively and are a favourite among adventure enthusiasts for hiking and trekking. Located quite close to the city centre, there are four trails here that lead up to brilliant views of Scotland, the Strangford Lough, Donegal, Sperrins and the Mournes. Hiking through these trails will take you through grazing cattle and horses, up into the heath and blanket bog.
Drive Through A2 Road
For an unforgettably scenic drive in Belfast, get behind the wheel on the A2 to Derry – also known as the Causeway Coastal Route and the Antrim Coast Road. The drive won’t just be splendidly beautiful but there’s also a ton of things to see on the way; like the Giant’s Causeway that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, breath-taking ruins of castles, majestic basalt cliffs and glens, and a wide range of other spots that have been featured in the show ‘Game of Thrones’. Feel free to park at a fishing village for a picnic or tea, enjoy a sunny afternoon on one of the beaches, or head on to a cliff-walk.
Explore Belfast’s Gardens
On the eastern slopes of Cave Hill – a set of basalt cliffs riddled with caves that were probably iron mines and then used as bomb shelters during World War II – is the Cave Hill Country Park that has several waymarked trails that are great for hiking and also an adventure playground. The views from this location, which is situated at a height of 368 metres, encompass sprawling vistas of the city and the surrounding hills. Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park is a natural and landscaped park covering an area of over 50 hectares. Here, visitors get to enjoy the Japanese Garden and the Walled Gardens, and also a formal Rose Garden with 40,000 roses. The entire parkland is covered in meadows and forests situated along riverbanks. Don’t forget to pay the Botanic Gardens a visit, which was established in 1828 as a private park and was eventually opened to the public 70 years later. The highlight of the Botanic Park is the beautiful Palm House, constructed in 1852 and showcasing an architectural beauty.
Visit the Historic Ships of Belfast
Once a major port with important shipyards, Belfast has launched some of the most significant ships in history from the city’s docks. The most popular identity of Belfast is that of being associated with the Titanic. While the ship is naturally not there for visitors to explore for themselves, they can, however, visit the Harland and Wolff shipyard where the ocean liner was assembled. Also, visit the Titanic Belfast museum where you can see the last moments of the ship’s sinking come to life. The HMS Caroline, which fought in the Battle of Jutland and was the Royal Navy’s headquarters in the World War, was converted into a floating museum and docked in the Titanic Quarter. Tours of the ship take visitors through restored cabins, mess halls, the captain’s quarters, the engine room and also the galley kitchen. The SS Nomadic sits in the dry dock next to Titanic Belfast. During the World Wars, it was used for sweeping mines and carrying troops, after which it spent three decades docked next to the Eiffel Tower and serving as a restaurant ship. It returned to Belfast in 2006 and has been open for tours like the HMS Caroline ever since.