“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
This a quote by C.S. Lewis we’ve come to live by. After a week-long adventure in Ireland, our travels brought us to his hometown – Belfast in Northern Ireland, which is actually part of the UK. We loved getting to know the fascinating history and beautiful scenery, which was the perfect amount of time to tick off the best things to see in Northern Ireland.
We started the visit by going through our Belfast bucket list (including C.S. Lewis, of course). Belfast is the capital and the largest city of Northern Ireland, with a turbulent history and bright future. It’s a former ship-building town and the birthplace of Titanic, which the city prides itself on and commemorates dearly as you’ll definitely notice when you visit. Then, we moved on to see more of Northern Ireland by opting into taking day tours from Belfast. The stunning nature is the main attraction. And if you are a fan of Game of Thrones, visiting Northern Ireland will be extra special for the multiple filming spots scattered across the region.
To help you plan your journey, here is our travel guide to Northern Ireland, including the best activities in Belfast and day trips. But first, before you go, make sure to check Belfast’s official tourist page for any special events during your stay.
Best Activities in Belfast
Have a Picnic in Front of the City Hall
The City Hall is probably the most beautiful building in Belfast. Well, the stateliest, at least. The baroque structure is an important tourist attraction and marks the very center of the city. Around the building, there are beautiful sculptures, including the iconic statue of Queen Victoria. Since we visited in the summer, we lucked out with good weather and could join the locals in having picnics on the green expanses around the City Hall. And inside the City Hall, you’ll find interesting exhibitions explaining Belfast’s history that are worth a visit.
Visit the Titanic Belfast Museum
Located at Harland and Wolff shipyard, the massive structure in the shape of a ship’s stern serves as the Titanic museum and memorial. However, the museum tells much more than the all-familiar story of Titanic. It also encompasses the full history of Belfast in the form of interactive displays and guest exhibitions.
Here you can learn about how Belfast evolved from a village to a linen and tobacco trading point, to a world-leading ship manufacturing destination, and how that ended after the tragic sinking of Titanic. Our visit coincided with the Exodus exhibition of murals by Terry Bradley that honor the people who were shipbuilders and migrated to different countries to start a new life.
The museum building’s interiors are designed to make guests feel like they are on board a ship. And after visiting the main building, you can pay tribute to the dock where the Titanic set sail from. The Titanic Museum is the most popular place in Belfast and one the locals are very proud of since it earned the title of the best attraction in Europe at the World Travel Awards in 2016.
Take a Tour of Belfast’s Murals
In Belfast, the iconic black taxis double up as tour guides. Taxi Tours Belfast can take you on any trip you desire – Game of Thrones filming locations, Instagram-worthy spots, nature’s delights? You got it! But the one we recommend taking, especially if you are into history, is the Belfast Political and Mural Tour.
During the violent civil unrest, referred to as The Troubles, Belfast was the epicenter. The conflict occurred between Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland, traces of which are still very much visible today. On this tour, the taxi driver takes you around the city’s most significant landmarks and explains the political murals, often sharing stories from first-hand experience. You’ll be taken through relevant neighborhoods, driven past peace walls that separate the communities, and see the emotion-stirring murals that arose during this troublesome period.
Visit the C.S. Lewis Square
Fans of C.S. Lewis absolutely must visit the spots in Belfast that inspired his writing. Start with ‘The Searcher’ sculpture outside Hollywood Arches Library and continue to C.S. Lewis Square, where 7 bronze Narnia statues are an homage to his creations. Here you can take a break at Jack Coffee Bar, named after Lewis’ affectionate name given by his friends and family. After admiring the sculptures and street art, move on to St. Mark’s Church, where Lewis was baptized, and finish where it all started – his birthplace at 47 Dundela Avenue.
Stroll Around the Cathedral Quarter
Get there before sunset to wander around the cobblestone streets, take photos, and peruse the bar selection. Before you set your eye on your watering hole of choice, pay a visit to the Umbrella Passage, admire murals portraying revolutionary icons, and visit St Anne’s Cathedral, from which the quarter gets its name. Enter the majestic cathedral to marvel at the mosaics, stained glass, and a handcrafted funeral pall, dedicated to the lives lost in the Titanic tragedy, made to resemble the midnight sea in which the Titanic sank. Afterward, visiting the Duke of York is mandatory. Not only is it one of the oldest bars in Belfast, it is considered an institution. And if the music and atmosphere won’t entertain you, then the kitschy, old relics plastered from floor to ceiling will.
Indulge in Local Fare
The restaurant scene in Belfast is buzzing, and the variety is diverse. Start your mornings with an Ulster Fry, which is a breakfast spread big enough to feed a village, similar to English Breakfast. For lunch, pop into a diner to grab the best of local delicacies – a platter of fish and chips, which is as fresh as it gets, thanks to Belfast’s prime waterfront location.
If you are staying over a weekend, make sure to visit St George’s Market – Belfast’s favorite weekend spot that’s been going since 1604. Open Friday (8am to 2pm), Saturday (9am to 3pm), and Sunday (10am to 3pm), this market can’t be missed during your visit to Belfast.
It’s a great place to find treasures of vintage clothing, antiques, or souvenirs, or Fridays, indulge in Belfast’s best eats on Saturdays. Or combine both worlds on Sundays. Make sure you save plenty of stomach space for your visit to St George’s Market.
For a sophisticated take on local fare, pay a visit to the Muddlers Club, a Michelin Star restaurant located in the vibrant and historic back streets of the Cathedral Quarter. The restaurant features dishes made from handpicked homegrown produce and offers tasting menus so you can enjoy a well-rounded experience. Besides the unique modern atmosphere and palate-intriguing food and drink, the open kitchen is designed so you can watch as ingredients are transformed into your order.
Day Trips from Belfast
Climb the Cave Hill
To burn off the pub grub of the previous day, we recommend starting your day with a hike up Cave Hill. Technically, a trip to Cave Hill is not even a Belfast day trip since it’s located less than a 15-minute drive away. It’s an easy hike since the elevation goes up to only 1207 feet, but the views are stunning nonetheless. In fact, the entire trail is full of beautiful sights, like the stunning Belfast Castle, Devil’s Punchbowl caves, and views over mountains in the distance. And if you are lucky, you might even have enough clarity to see all the way to Scotland if the weather permits.
Immerse Yourself in Outstanding Natural Beauty
If you are looking for a nature escape a little further out of the city, Belfast is surrounded by nature reserves called Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We love that! Mourne Area is one of the most popular among locals and travelers for its majestic mountain and coastal views. It’s located less than an hour south of Belfast and offers scenic hiking trails accessible to all fitness levels.
Explore the Antrim Coast
Just an hour north of Belfast, you will arrive at North Ireland’s most popular nature reserves with a stunning coastal drive – the Antrim Coast. It is also home to some of the most popular tours from Belfast. This breathtaking park is full of castle ruins, a heart-gripping walk along a skinny rope bridge that connects two cliffs, and the Giant’s Causeway. Tours from Belfast to the latter, are always in high demand for the peculiar nature and intriguing legends of this place, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The causeway is essentially a shoreline of column-shaped rock formations that stick out at different levels, some of which have created the perfect photo spots. Scientists explain the phenomenon is a result of a volcanic eruption, but according to the local legend, the causeway was a former bridge connecting Ireland and Scotland, which was used by giants until it was ripped apart by one of them due to a falling out.
We recommend taking a guided tour, if you don’t have a rental car, so you can hear these stories first-hand. But what you choose to believe is all up to you. We would appreciate it if you use our link above.
As for us, our trip to Northern Ireland sparked our imagination and charged us with new energy for the big adventures to come in our third travel season.