At once a major business hub and bona fide party town, Belfast has defied all odds to become a thriving, bustling city.
Game of Thrones fans, whiskey drinkers and anyone with a passing interest in politics will be in their element, while Michelin-starred restaurants, museums galore and thriving nightlife make Belfast the complete city-break package.
Arriving at George Best Belfast City Airport
When you fly from London City Airport to Belfast you'll be arriving at George Best Belfast City Airport. The airport is conveniently located just three miles (5km) outside the centre of Belfast, making it incredibly easy to make your way into the city. It will cost around £10 to reach the city centre if you use one of the approved taxis that queue up in the rank outside the terminal building.
Alternatively, if you prefer to use public transport, the Airport Express 600 bus runs every 20 minutes during the day from outside the terminal and costs under £3 for a single ticket.
There is also a train from nearby Sydenham strain station with a shuttle bus connection. If you want to catch the train, go to the information desk at arrivals to book your place on the shuttle bus.
If you only have a few short hours to explore Belfast, start by immersing yourself in the city's history with a revealing tour of its political murals. Try a Black Cab political tour for a guided journey around the most important and interesting sites related to Belfast’s past conflicts. As well as showing you the Peace Wall and many colourful murals, your driver will explain the wider context of the Troubles.
Following your tour, visit the Cathedral Quarter, where the historical alleyways are decorated with more recent street art with an urban edge. Choose to take a guided tour around this area, or wander up and down the narrow lanes exploring at your own pace.
The Cathedral Quarter is also home to many of the city’s most beloved traditional Irish pubs, including the Duke of York and Kelly’s Cellars. These local institutions are frequented by both residents and tourists and are well-known for their friendly atmosphere, extensive selections of whiskeys and live folk music. Don’t leave the city without sampling a couple of whiskeys and enjoying the craic.
If you have time for one last drink before you leave, the Crown Liquor Saloon is just a 10-minute walk away on Great Victoria Street. This spectacular Victorian gin palace is the most ornately decorated pub in the city, boasting several wooden drinking snugs to sit in to enjoy a pint of something local.
Start off your weekend in Belfast by paying a morning visit to one of the most highly regarded museums in the city. The visually stunning Titanic Belfast Exhibition Centre is located on the dock where the ship was built. The museum tells the story of the ill-fated ship through a series of interactive exhibits, including footage of the wreck and audio accounts of survivors. A visit here is always a poignant experience.
Hop on a number 26 bus into the centre of Belfast (15 minutes) to enjoy lunch at St George’s market. The Victorian market is particularly impressive on a Saturday, when it is full of food vendors. There are plenty of traditional and contemporary dishes to choose from, but an Ulster Fry is almost guaranteed to hit the spot. This classic Belfast version of a full English breakfast offers the usual bacon, sausage, eggs and black pudding alongside Irish soda bread and potato bread.
In the afternoon, follow our half-day itinerary and enjoy a Black Cab tour and a trip to the Cathedral Quarter, known for its street art and traditional Irish pubs. On a Saturday night, you’re sure to find live music to watch or even dance along to as you sample as many whiskeys as you dare.
Spend your Sunday exploring Queen’s Quarter, south of the city centre (easily reached by bus). The Ulster Museum provides hours of entertainment with its comprehensive collection, including exhibits on the history of Northern Ireland as well as archaeology, art and natural history. The museum is set in the grounds of the Botanic Gardens, making it easy to combine a visit to the two. Highlights of a visit to the 19th-century gardens include the Palm House and Tropical Ravine, although the park itself is also pleasant to stroll around, particularly on a sunny afternoon.
End your stay in Belfast by exploring the independent book, clothes and record shops that line the streets of the Queen’s Quarter. Eat in one of the many local cafes or restaurants, before enjoying a Guinness in one of the popular bars and pubs in the area.
If you’re lucky enough to have an entire week in Belfast, take the chance to get out of the city and explore the nearby countryside and coastlines.
If you're a Game of Thrones fan, then a themed tour is a must in Belfast. The most popular tours take in the north coast, visiting the Dark Hedges, caves, castles and cliffs that were all featured in the programme. Most tours will also stop off at Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, making this a great way to see the dramatic scenery this area of Northern Ireland is famed for.
Visit the largest inland body of water in the UK, Lough Neagh, just a short journey from the city centre. Take a relaxing boat trip from one of the three marinas located around the lough, or head to Craigavon Watersports Centre to try out water-skiing, kayaking, rock climbing or one of the many other adventurous activities on offer. You’ll also find many nature reserves, forest parks and historic buildings surrounding around the lake.
If you’re enjoying the fresh air, spend a day hiking in the hills, taking in the views of the surrounding countryside from an elevated vantage point. There are five main public sites in the Belfast Hills, with Cave Hill Country Park being the most popular for visitors.
Visit Belfast Castle first, before tackling the challenging circular walk that leads up to the summit of the hill, where you can relax and take in the panoramic vistas. Along the way you can spot a limestone quarry, ancient forts, nature reserves and a children’s adventure playground.
Anyone with an interest in golf should head out to Royal County Down or Royal Portrush to admire the world-class courses. If you’d rather stay within the boundaries of the city, there are 14 courses to choose from where you can tee off and pretend you’re Rory Mcllroy.
Keen shoppers should make time for a day in the city centre. Victoria Square is the destination for designer and high street stores, but if you’re searching for unique purchases, head to Queen’s Quarter or Lisburn Road. It’s also worth popping into St George’s Market (open Friday to Sunday) a couple of times over the weekend, as the focus of the market shifts daily.
Days six and seven
Our weekend itinerary is a good plan for your final days in the city; however, there are many other activities that would make equally delightful ways to end your trip. You might prefer to spend a day or two soaking up culture and visiting the City Hall, Grand Opera House, St Anne’s Cathedral and the Metropolitan Arts Centre, all conveniently located in the centre of the city. A great selection of cafés, restaurants and pubs are handy when you feel like a rest, and you can watch the many street performers that flock to this area. Check ahead of time for exhibitions at the City Hall and Arts Centre, and concerts at the Opera House.