What to Do in Belfast, From Visiting Contemporary Art Galleries to Jazz Bars

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Despite being the largest city in Northern Ireland, Belfast is still technically a small town in footprint, making it the ideal location for wandering and soaking up the eclectic atmosphere. It may be most known as the capital city of Northern Ireland, but here’s something to bring to your next trivia session: It was also the birthplace of the Titanic, one of the most famous ships in history.

More recently, though, Belfast has evolved into a buzzy cultural destination, thanks to a lively music scene, more galleries than you can see in one visit, ample history, dusk-to-dawn nightlife, and top-notch food. Below, we share how to experience the best of the evolving city—from what to do in Belfast to where to sleep, and more. 

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How to get there

Belfast International Airport is a quick 30 minute drive from the city and is well serviced by a regular bus schedule and taxis. Dublin Airport—another popular option for travelers, given the larger selection of international routes—is a two-hour drive.

What to do in Belfast

No trip to Belfast is complete without dropping into the Maritime Mile, Belfast’s historic waterfront, and Titanic Belfast, a museum dedicated to the area’s seafaring heritage. In the early 1900’s, this area was home to one of the world’s greatest shipbuilders (Harland and Wolff) who began construction on Titanic in 1907, the largest manmade, moveable object in the world at the time, right in this spot. Sadly we know how its maiden voyage ended, but visiting the birthplace of the mammoth ship is an experience in itself. The self-guided tour transports guests through nine interactive galleries where you will experience the real-life stories of the ship and learn more about the people who built it.

For history buffs, the offerings at Taxi Tour Belfast are a great way to take in the city and learn about its turbulent history. There are a range of tours available, spanning local politics and mural spotting, to a Game of Thrones tour, which takes guests on a trip to 25 of the series filming locations.

The exterior of the Metropolitan Arts Centre (MAC)

Luke McCallum

Inside MAC’s library

Luke McCallum

If you prefer getting around by foot, head to the center of town to visit a community area beloved by those who call Belfast home. St George’s Market has been open as a market in some form since 1604. Don’t rush through: It’s a great way to spend an afternoon getting to know the locals, many of whom have been trading at this very space for generations. Visit on a weekend and you’ll be treated to live music performances.

Art enthusiasts should make time to visit the Metropolitan Arts Centre in the lively Cathedral Quarter. The MAC, as it’s known, has a great kids program if you are traveling with tiny ones in tow. To continue the art tour, head to The Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast’s leading contemporary visual arts gallery showcasing both local and international cutting edge artists. Exhibitions rotate frequently—a recent show put a spotlight on outstanding feminist and queer photographic artists from the Belfast School of Art.  

Where to eat in Belfast

For casual eats or a classic brunch, Established Coffee in the Cathedral Quarter is known for their legendary “pie and drip”—possibly the most fun way to say “coffee and pie.” There is also an excellent brunch menu for those looking to kick off the day a bit more traditionally (think: eggs on sourdough toast, house-made granola, and honey coconut porridge). Alternatively, Neighbourhood Café on Donegall Street is housed in a stunning room with exposed brick, blonde wood, and industrial-style lighting—all in all, the space manages to ride that fine line of being both airy and cozy at the same time. Brunch dishes include classics like French toast and scrambled eggs. Pizza fans should make a point to visit Flout Pizza, a slice shop in East Belfast where owner Peter Thompson creates Chicago-style deep-dish pies with freshly milled flour. Just across the street, you’ll find Boundary Brewing, a cooperative brewery run and owned by its members. Enjoy a couple of beers in the new Taproom, which is slated to open in late Summer 2022.

Neighbourhood Café on Donegall Street

Neighbourhood Café

Mushroom toast at Neighbourhood Café

Neighbourhood Café

Elsewhere in town, Ora Tapas serves up unexpected small plates, like pickled chili crab, marinated monkfish, confit baby back ribs, and Manchego caesar tacos. They may be far removed from the Iberian delicacies you would experience in Spain, but Ora offers its own take with confidence. For a non-traditional afternoon tea, A Peculiar Tea is where you will find chef Gemma Austin concocting all sorts of magical dishes in her self-described “emporium of imagination.” You can also opt for the six-course tasting menu with or without a wine pairing. For a heartier meal, head east of the city to Lottie, a contemporary brasserie with edgy vibes and excellent pasta and grilled offerings.

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