Visiting Belfast – A City Guide
Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland, a bustling port fringed by rolling green countryside, with a proud history of shipbuilding and linen-making. Its docks and old industrial zones have been redeveloped to make room for 21st-century commerce and culture, but traditional Irish art, music and hospitality are still essential to the city’s appeal.
Belfast: city layout
Built around the mouth of the River Lagan, on the shores of Belfast Lough, the city is informally divided into cultural quarters that occupy most of the urban centre.
Recent urban renewal has transformed rundown areas into fashionable shopping and entertainment zones, most notably the so-called Linen Quarter.
Top attractions in Belfast
Titanic Belfast is the focal point of the redeveloped shipyards. The museum’s high-tech exhibits tell the story of the doomed ocean liner while introducing you to Belfast’s rich industrial history.
Free daily tours take you past the stone façade of Belfast City Hall, while Victoria Square Shopping Centre is a more recent landmark with a glass-domed roof and views over the skyline to the Mourne Mountains.
Belfast is renowned for its lively pub scene, with many local favourites along the Golden Mile, and new cocktail bars lining the trendy Linen Quarter.
The concierge recommends…
Hotels in Belfast
Belfast hotels include business-friendly accommodation in the city centre and quiet rooms on leafy streets near Queen’s University – ideal for weekend breaks and shopping trips. If you’re working or sightseeing outside the city, nearby towns provide comfortable places to stay.
It’s a short walk from city centre hotels to the shops, bars and restaurants of the Cathedral Quarter. Belfast Harbour is also nearby for waterfront concerts and conferences.
Queen’s Quarter makes a great base if you’re visiting the university, or planning a break near the Botanic Gardens and Ulster Museum. Just south of the city centre, the area’s green spaces and student hangouts give it a relaxed, cultured atmosphere.
The rugged green Ulster countryside begins right outside Belfast, and the neighbouring town of Antrim makes for a charming rest stop, barely 20 miles from the city with handy road and rail links.
Eating Out in Belfast
Fish from the Irish Sea, meat from the farms of County Antrim, wild game from hills and glens – Belfast chefs have access to the finest produce.
Old-school cafés and chip shops, or “chippies” still serve up the greasy, hearty fried meals Ulster is famous for. But local tastes are now more varied, as you’ll discover in the city’s modern delis, bistros and tapas bars.
Recent years have seen pop-up restaurants and street food vendors become regular fixtures in the Cathedral Quarter, where pan-global dishes are made from locally sourced and sustainable ingredients.
You’ll find quality fish at St. George’s Market every morning, and more specialist food and craft stalls on Saturdays. The redeveloped Titanic Quarter is home to waterfront restaurants with outdoor terraces.
Pub grub options range from classic Sunday Roast in a dependable local pub beside the River Lagan to fancier fare like ham hock fritters in an upmarket urban gastropub.
The chef recommends...
Shopping in Belfast
As a port city and major trading hub, Belfast has developed a buzzing retail culture over the centuries. You’ll find original Victorian markets and ultra-modern malls in the main shopping district, and colourful craft stores along backstreets once occupied by mills and warehouses.
Browsing for flowers, antiques and fish under the 19th-century arcade of St. George’s Market is an essential Belfast experience. It’s especially lively at weekends, when jazz bands and flamenco dancers perform amid busy stalls. Folktown Market on Bank Square, brings together butchers, cheese makers and local artisans.
Familiar high-street brands are gathered under the glass-domed roof of Victoria Square Shopping Centre, and it’s a short drive out of town for bargain designer goods at The OUTLET in Banbridge.
You can buy clothes, art and accessories by emerging local talents in the hip independent boutiques of the Cathedral Quarter and Linen Quarter.
Best things to buy in Belfast
Culture & Nightlife in Belfast
Belfast’s cultural scene is strongly linked to its industrial past. You’ll find popular museums housed inside Victorian prisons and 19th-century gin palaces still thriving alongside 21st-century craft beer bars. These are joined by impressive new art spaces and concert venues.
Belfast’s notable cultural monuments are clustered in the city centre. You can read up on city history in the ornate interior of Linen Hall Library, hear dark tales of the Victorian era in Crumlin Road Gaol and dress your best for a performance at the Grand Opera House.
Titanic Belfast dominates the nearby shipyards, while just south in Queen’s Quarter, the Ulster Museum takes you back to the Celts and even the time of the dinosaurs. Also close to Queen’s University, regular concerts and comedy shows at Belfast Empire Music Hall draw rowdy crowds of laughing, dancing locals.
The city’s nightlife is defined by its pub culture, from the old-fashioned watering holes of the Golden Mile to the hip, artisanal ale houses and cocktail joints of the Cathedral Quarter and Linen Quarter. You’ll often stumble upon a live traditional music session in full swing.
Contemporary art galleries in Belfast
Visiting Belfast with a Family
Belfast is full of kid-friendly historic attractions and high-tech activity centres, and surrounded by the rugged coast and rolling landscape that inspired ancient Irish legends. From boat tours and farm visits to scenic hikes and drives, the city and countryside are ideal for family adventures.
After learning all about the world’s most famous shipwreck at Titanic Belfast, you can get a feel for early 20th-century sea travel aboard her restored sister vessel the SS Nomadic. A boat tour of Belfast Harbour will take you past the seal colony at Musgrave Channel.
South of the city centre, along the River Lagan at Queen’s Quay, you’ll find the W5 interactive discovery centre, which is filled with climbing walls, play areas and interactive science exhibits.
At Aunt Sandra’s Candy Factory, you can taste old-fashioned sweets and even make some in the workshop.
Family day-trips around Belfast