Belfast’s modern history has associated it with conflict and violence. “The Troubles” or the North Ireland Conflict left a mark on the history and kept tourists away for decades. Since the 1998 Good Friday Peace Accords, Belfast is a rising star. With important history, modern museums, and the Game of Thrones association, it is well worth a visit.
What to Do in Belfast – 1 Day Itinerary
Belfast is a large city, not huge, but with enough to do to fill several days, especially if you do a day trip to the Giant’s Causeway. We hope to share some of the highlights, including how you can fit it all into one day. If your visit is longer, farther down we share some other ideas on how to spend your time.
Black Cab Political Tour
Estimated time: 90 minutes – 3 hours, depending on the tour.
Is it possible to think about Belfast without thinking about “The Troubles.” The Troubles is a highly euphemistic term for the violent conflict that embroiled Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom from the 1960s until the 1998 Good Friday Peace Accords. Over 3,700 people died, mostly civilians.
A black cab tour is the best way to learn about the conflict from a person who lived through the experience. As well, your driver and guide will talk about how Belfast continues to transform. Your tour should take you to a variety of murals and historic locations along Shankill Road, Falls Road, and the “Peace Wall.”
We did a 90-minute private tour with Hugh Jordan and highly recommend this tour! 90-minutes was enough time to see key sites and hear more about the history and experience. Hugh did a great job keeping the kids engaged. He will also pick-up at your accommodation and drop you where you like afterwards, which is convenient. If you’re looking for a longer tour or a heavier focus on political murals, check out other black cab political tours on GetYourGuide:
Belfast City Hall Tour
Estimated time: 15 mins – 1 hour, depending on if you decide to take the FREE tour inside.
In 1888, Queen Victoria granted Belfast city status. Before this is what just another borough. Since it had grand new status, it clearly needed a grand, new city hall. Behold, Belfast City Hall! It really is a beautiful building. So beautiful that Durban, South Africa copied it for their city hall. A walk around the gardens outside is worth your time. Don’t miss the Titanic Memorial Garden.
We did not take the free guided tour inside City Hall. If you do, you will see areas not accessible to the public. The tour takes about one hour and happen every day except Sunday. Check the official webpage for the current schedule.
Opening hours: grounds are open 7:00 am – 9:00 pm / 21:00 (1 May to 30 September); 7:00 am – 7:00 pm / 19:00 (1 October to 30 April).
Estimated time: 1 hour. Possibly longer if you decide to do some shopping.
St. George’s Market is a thriving market bustling with food stalls, crafts, artists, and more. This is a great place for lunch or souvenir shopping! Originally built between1890-1896, the classic Victorian covered market underwent significant restoration in the 1990s. An outdoor market has existed at this location since 1604.
Open weekends only! St. George’s Market is only open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. If you visit Belfast on another day, we recommend the Cathedral District for lunch instead.
Opening hours: 08:00 am–14:00/ 2 pm (Friday), 09:00 am–15:00 / 3 pm (Saturday), 10:00 am–15:00 / 3 pm (Sunday). Sensory sensitive families can check the website for “quiet hours” on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings.
In case you need a reminder about the Titanic, it was a huge and luxurious passenger steamship built in Belfast. On April 15, 1912, the “unsinkable” Titanic sank on her maiden voyage to New York City. Tragically, 1,517 people died. 706 survived.
The Titanic Belfast Museum covers it all – the history of Belfast, the building of the Titanic, the luxurious ship itself, the sinking, and the aftermath. The exhibits are interactive and informative. Every single one of us loved this museum!
Outside, you can see the size of the slipways needed to build Titanic and her sister ship Olympic. You can also go onboard the SS Nomadic, a tender ship for the White State Line, including for the Titanic’s only voyage.
Titanic Belfast has several different experiences. We opted for the basic self-guided “Titanic Experience” package, which includes entrance to the SS Nomadic. You can purchase tickets ahead of time at Titanic Experience including SS Nomadic (GetYourGuide). If you prefer a guide, book the “Discover Experience”, which includes a guided tour of the outdoor sights before heading inside for a self-guided trip through the galleries.
Opening hours: Extremely seasonal. Check the official webpage for your visit dates. Last entry is 1 hour 40 minutes before closing time.
The excellent dining scene in Belfast surprised us. I’m not sure why…too many 1990s IRA movies?
After the Titanic Museum, the closest choice is Drawing Office Two at the Titanic Hotel Belfast (official site). This light-filled bar is where earnest engineers drew up plans for Titanic. The fish and chips are excellent.
You also can’t go wrong heading to the Cathedral District where choices abound. We especially liked Dumpling Library (official site). We probably aren’t cool enough to eat there, but they still let us in. 🙂
Other Things to Do In Belfast
Belfast is a large city with tons to do. Here are a few more places visitors may want to consider, but by no means is this list exhaustive. If you prefer to have someone else organize your sightseeing, this Best of Belfast Walking Tour (GetYourGuide) gets great reviews or you can check out another walking tour.
Crumlin Road Gaol
From 1845 to 1996 (yep, 1996!), political prisoners, suffragettes, and impoverished children were imprisoned at Crumlin Road Goal. You can explore different parts of the building and see firsthand what prison life was like for the prisoners and staff. Plan on 70-90 minutes. Tickets can be purchased in advance at Crumlin Road Goal tickets (GetYourGuide)
Opening hours: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm/16:00 Sunday to Thursday and 10:00 am – 4:30 pm/16:30 Friday and Saturday (April to August). 10:00 am – 4:00 pm/16:00 Saturday & Sunday (September to March).
The cathedral that gives the Cathedral District it’s name, St. Anne’s has your typical cathedral features…plus one atypical one. The Spire of Hope, a hollow stainless steel spire, rises 250 feet (80 metres) above ground level. From the choir stalls, you can look straight up the spire into the sky.
No, this is not a gimmick, but actually a clever solution to a difficult problem. St. Anne’s is slowly sinking into the soft Belfast soil. Unable to handle the weight of a traditional spire or bell tower, a contest was held to build a lightweight spire. The Spire of Hope was the winning design and installed in 2007.
In addition to the spire, take a moment for the Titanic Pall commemorating the 1,517 lives lost on the Titanic.
Opening hours: 10:30 am – 4:00 pm /16:00 Monday to Friday.
Both sides of the River Lagan have a great boardwalk for strolling and city views. Notable sights include the Beacon of Hope statue (or ‘Nula with a Hula” for a catchier nickname) and The Big Fish.
For the few people in the world who, like us, are not familiar with Game of Thrones, this walk is also called Belfast Glass of Thrones. There are six stained class windows featuring different scenes from the Game of Thrones series. If you want spoilers on what to expect, check out the official Glass of Thrones site.
For fans that want to view the windows with an extra from the series, you can book a Guided Game of Thrones walking tour. Your guide will be an extra from Game of Thrones, who played roles such as Stark soldiers, Iron Born reavers, or Wildlings.
CS Lewis Square
For Narnia fans, this is a quick, quirky stop to see some artistic statues of Aslan, the Beavers, and more. We visited CS Lewis Square on our drive from Dublin to Belfast. The park is outside of central Belfast so visiting on the way in or out of town is easiest.
What to Read Before You Visit Belfast
For adults, and some teens, looking to learn more about The Troubles, we recommend reading Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. This non-fiction book introduces key figures and events through firsthand accounts. Keefe doesn’t sugarcoat the violence, so know that before suggesting to your teens.
We haven’t come across any good children’s or middle grade books about the Northern Ireland conflict. Instead, we’ll recommend some good Titanic books. In particular, our kids have liked What Was the Titanic? by Stephanie Sabol and Iceberg by Jennifer Nielsen.
What to Do After Belfast?
Honestly, you could head anywhere in Ireland after Belfast. Ireland is not a huge land mass. However, we highly recommend a trip along the Causeway Coastal Route. We have a great Causeway Coastal Route day trip itinerary, which includes travel time to your next Ireland destination.
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