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If you’re wondering how to spend a weekend in Belfast, you’ve come to the right place. Follow my itinerary to discover the top things to do in Belfast in two days – day trips from Belfast included.
We’re travelling back to autumn 2017 today, which is when I spent a solo weekend in Belfast. I know, this post has been sitting in my drafts folder for way too long. Anyway, I had heard mixed reviews about Belfast before my visit. Some people said it wasn’t anything special, while others offered rave reviews. I decided I needed to visit to draw my own conclusion. What I found in Belfast was a gritty city with a heartbreaking history that’s surrounded by beautiful natural attractions. As it doesn’t have an overwhelming number of tourist attractions, it’s the perfect UK weekend destination. If you’re also looking to travel alone to Belfast for the weekend, here are my top recommendations for things to do in Belfast.
General weekend in Belfast travel tips
How to get to and around Belfast
Firstly, you’re probably wondering how to get to Belfast. I got the bus from Dublin to Belfast, which leaves from the city centre and only takes about two hours. Several bus companies operate between Dublin and Belfast, including Dublin Coach, Aircoach, Bus Eireann and Expressway. Other transport options include flying into Belfast or getting the ferry from Glasgow. The Stena Line ferry and bus option was the route I took when I left Belfast and it was definitely a unique mode of onward transport.
As for getting around Belfast, I did use the public bus system on a few occasions and simply paid on board. I recommend visiting the official Translink website before boarding to work out the exact fare.
Check out my tips for travelling alone in Europe and for travelling across Europe on a budget.
Where to stay during a weekend in Belfast
I stayed at Vagabonds, a hostel located about a 10-minute walk from the bus station. Although it isn’t in the most central location, it is walking distance from the Botanic Gardens and Queen’s University. A cosy and welcoming space, I stayed in a six-bed female dorm, which was small but the mattress was extremely soft. There were shared bathrooms down the hall, which were always kept clean too. With comfortable communal spaces, friendly and helpful staff, and free breakfast, I would recommend Vagabonds to other solo and budget travellers spending the weekend in Belfast.
If you don’t fit into either of these categories, there’s an ibis Hotel in Belfast City Centre, which is always an affordable option. Alternatively, two of the best hotels to stay in Belfast are the Grand Central Hotel and the five-star Fitzwilliam Hotel, as they each have amazing reviews.
Here are my top tips for staying in hostels and my other favourite hostels across the UK and Europe.
Solo travel in Belfast
I also wanted to quickly mention my thoughts on solo travel in Belfast. After hearing mixed reviews about the city, I didn’t know how comfortable I’d feel visiting Belfast. But overall, I’d recommend the city to fellow solo female travellers. It was easy to catch public transport, although I did find the city centre very compact and walkable. Furthermore, there are enough things to do in Belfast in two days to keep you busy. I also did end up walking back to my hostel at dusk one night along the main road and didn’t feel unsafe. However, always follow your instincts in these kinds of situations.
Check out this post for my entire Ireland and Northern Ireland itinerary for fellow solo travellers, which features a few places not to miss in Ireland.
How to spend a weekend in Belfast – top things to do in Belfast in two days
1. Do a day trip from Belfast
I know, you may not want to do a day trip with only a weekend in Belfast. However, I saw everything I wanted to see with only one day in Belfast, so I highly recommend looking into day trips from Belfast. When I arrived in Belfast, I headed to the Irish Tour Tickets shopfront near the bus station and organised a day tour for the following day. I did this Giants Causeway Tour from Belfast. It was a big bus tour, but there were a guide, a bus driver and plenty of interesting stops. You begin by driving along the famous Causeway Coastal Route to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Giant’s Causeway.
Northern Ireland’s most famous landmark, Giant’s Causeway is a geographical marvel. It’s home to 40,000-plus hexagonal-shaped stepping stones and basalt columns, which were formed some 60 million years ago by volcanic activity. Hugging the Atlantic Ocean, I recommend join a locally-guided tour once you reach Giant’s Causeway. Our guide, Mark told us a lot more about the area then I would have gathered from Wikipedia.
The next stop is lunch at the Old Bushmills Distillery before you arrive at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. You may not want to cross the bridge if you’re afraid of heights, but I thought it was a cool experience. With pitstops at places like Dunluce Castle, Carnlough and Carrickfergus Castle, I really enjoyed this tour. Along the way, the guide also told us a lot of interesting facts about Northern Ireland’s tumultuous history.
After doing two tours with Irish Tour Tickets, I highly recommend the company. Here are several more of their day trip options, as they organise different Games of Thrones tours if that’s more your vibe.
2. Visit Queen’s University and the Botanic Gardens
Down the road from my hostel was Queen’s University (hello, pretty main building) and the Belfast Botanic Gardens. If I have time, I don’t mind a wander through botanic gardens when I visit a city. Visiting these botanic gardens also happens to be one of the best free things to do in Belfast. The public park is home to numerous walking routes, as well as the historic Palm House, which is filled with tropical plants. Meanwhile, the Tropical Ravine houses the oldest seed plants.
Another place to visit within the Belfast Botanic Gardens is the Ulster Museum. The largest museum in Northern Ireland, its diverse permanent collection includes pieces from the UK and around the world in fields like fine art, archaeology, botany and zoology. Here’s a comprehensive guide to the best things to see in Ulster Museum, which includes Peter the Polar Bear, an ancient Egyptian mummy and a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture.
3. Pick up a souvenir at St George’s Market during your weekend in Belfast
Another one of the best free things to do in Belfast is to stop by St George’s Market. The Victorian-era covered market is one of the oldest Belfast tourist attractions, open from Friday to Sunday every week. With nearly 250 stalls on Friday alone, it’s one of the best places to visit in Belfast. Stop by and sample some of the city’s best food, pick up a unique souvenir and listen to great live music. I purchased three A5 postcards from Flax Fox, a local artist. You can spot them in this travel decor ideas post.
4. Visit Titanic Belfast
If you happen to visit on a clear day, I recommend walking along the waterfront towards Titanic Belfast. The world’s largest Titanic visitor experience, it’s also been recognised as the world’s leading tourist attraction, which is an accolade and a half. Visitors can explore nine interactive galleries inside the Titanic Museum, join The Discovery Tour, walk the decks of the SS Nomadic and find a gift inside the Titanic Store. Located in the aptly-named Titanic Quarter, other things to do in the area include going on a tram ride, visiting the HMS Caroline and following the Titanic Pilgrimage Walk.
5. Spot street art during your weekend in Belfast
In case you didn’t know, I am a big fan of street art and seek it out in every city I visit. For evidence, please see these posts from London, Vilnius, Melbourne… 😬. So naturally, I had to check out some of Belfast’s most popular street art murals. I saw quite a few on the walking tour I mention below. However, there are also pieces scattered across the city centre. This Virtual Street Art Tour post by Visit Belfast highlights some of the city’s top street art spots. However, for an insider’s knowledge, Seedhead Arts do weekly street art walking tours too. Spotting street art is another one of the best free things to do in Belfast.
6. Do a Belfast political tour
You may have heard of the world-famous Belfast Black Taxi Tours. There are several local companies offering mural and historic tours of the city from the comfort of their black cabs. However, they’re quite expensive if you happen to be enjoying a solo weekend in Belfast like me. Instead, I did this Political Walking Tour. If there’s only one activity you add to your weekend in Belfast itinerary, make it this tour. It’s guided by two ex-prisoners, so you learn about The Troubles – the city’s most tumultuous period from 1968 to 1998 – from both a Republican and Loyalist perspective.
They each shared both fascinating and heartbreaking stories in an objective manner. Our first guide, the Republican took us down Falls Road (known for its politically-motivated murals) and told us about his experience before and during his imprisonment in what was basically a concentration camp. Then you reach the Peace Wall, which you can sign, and walk down Shankill Road with the Loyalist guide. This road is lined with memorials, where we stopped as the guide described different attacks and his time being a part of the front and accepting his imprisonment. As we stood outside a pub, he told us how he left only 20 minutes before it was heavily bombed.
This walking tour was one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve had on my travels and if you have any interest in learning more about Belfast’s past, I highly recommend joining this particular Political Walking Tour.
7. Visit Crumlin Road Gaol
Another one of the most popular Belfast tourist attractions is Crumlin Road Gaol. Established in 1845, it only closed its prison doors in 1996. After extensive renovations, it’s now a visitor attraction and events venue. There are several guided tours available of Crumlin Road Gaol, where you can learn more about its history, former prisoner stories and the political segregation of Republican and Loyalist prisoners.
8. Head out to Belfast Castle
Set on the sloping hills of Cavehill County Park, Belfast Castle is today a popular wedding and events venue. From its elevated position, it offers sweeping city views, which are worth a visit alone. But from Belfast Castle car park, markers point you towards a popular hiking route for even better views.
The best things to do in Belfast at night
9. Head to the Cathedral Quarter during your weekend in Belfast
If you walk past the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast’s city centre during the day like I did, you wouldn’t believe it’s the city premier nightlife epicentre. However, the historic area truly comes alive at night, as its home to a plethora of buzzing bars and contemporary restaurants. Check out this guide by Discover Northern Ireland to decide which bars and restaurants to visit during your weekend in Belfast.
10. Listen to live music at Kelly’s Cellars
Built in the 18th century, Kelly’s Cellars is one of the best places to visit in Belfast to have a drink and listen to live music. Head there during your weekend in Belfast to see local musicians take to the stage. Alternatively, if you happen to visit during the week, Kelly’s Cellars has traditional Irish music performances every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening.
11. Enjoy dinner at Crown Liquor Saloon
Another one of the best things to do in Belfast at night is to visit the Crown Liquor Saloon. One of Belfast’s most famous pubs, the beautiful and historic Victorian building is owned by the National Trust. Naturally, it’s bustling at night, but being a solo traveller, I, fortunately, snagged a spot for dinner. Known for their Irish comfort food and seafood specials, I couldn’t look past a bowl of delicious Irish stew, washed down with a Magners cider, of course.
12. See a show at the Grand Opera House
When I’m travelling solo, I’ve been known to see a musical or two alone. Belfast’s Grand Opera House is as grand as its name suggests and hosts a range of amazing theatre productions. For example, you can already buy tickets for its 2021 shows, which include Mamma Mia!, The Nutcracker and Grease.
13. See Belfast City Hall illuminated at night
Belfast City Hall is one of the city’s most beautiful buildings. Free public tours are available during the day. However, if you head here from dusk onwards, you will see it lit up in a variety of bright colour combinations.