I posted a little while ago about a lark of a trip I was able to go on last fall. I tagged along with a friend on her visit to the British Isles for work! We went to Dublin, Kilkenny, and Belfast. She now has a new position that requires less travel, so I’m glad I took advantage of this opportunity when it presented itself.
Belfast was wonderful; it is much smaller than Dublin, making it quick to navigate by foot and by car (aside from some confusing exit ramps at the river). The city was an interesting and enjoyable balance between the polished center and urban neighborhoods neatly lined with townhomes.
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When You Go to Belfast: Day One
Begin your day at historic St. George’s Market. This market, established in the 1800s, is the oldest surviving one of its kind in Belfast. Inside you will find hundreds of vendors offering food, drink, handmade items, art, and more. Treat yourself to a sweet or savory breakfast and a cup of coffee while you peruse the options.
After the market, do a mural tour. I highly recommend a guided tour with someone who is able to provide context and details about the troubles and the meaning of the different murals. An expert guide will provide a much richer experience. You can find walking or taxi tours to suit your budget, stamina, and weather conditions.
Aside from the murals, I think the other thing Belfast is most famous for is the Titanic. Shipbuilding was a huge industry in Belfast from the 1600s to the mid-1900s with a sharp decline after WWII. Harland and Wolff built ships, including the Titanic, and their iconic yellow cranes still rise above the city skyline. The Titanic Belfast museum provides an interesting history of what it took to build these massive ocean liners as well as the story of the fateful night the famous ship went down. Spend 2-3 hours exploring the history of the industry as well as the stories of those who were on Titanic.
Finally, to finish off the day, head into the city center for shopping and dining. Victoria Square contains shops to interest all (including House of Fraser and Marks & Spencer). The area is surrounded by loads of interesting food and drink options, too. There are also art galleries sprinkled throughout the neighborhood- maybe you will stumble upon the opening night of an up-and-coming artist.
More from The Voyageer: 48 Hours in Dublin, Ireland
When You Go to Belfast: Day Two
Brunch: I’m quite into craft coffee, so when I peeked into the windows of District and saw their setup, I knew it would be the right place. Took advantage of the full-service menu to try beans on toast for the first time, and was rewarded with a delicious and comforting breakfast (on sourdough!) that I need to learn how to make at home.
If I were you, I’d keep the morning short since the afternoon is the real star of your day two. The Belfast Botanic Garden in Queen’s Quarter was not only free, but a highlight of my visit. The expansive greenhouse contained expertly-maintained flowers, trees, and shrubs from all corners of the world.
I didn’t have time, but if you’d rather skip plants and focus on human history, swap this portion of the day out for the Ulster Museum.
After a leisurely walk through the botanical gardens, hit the road (1.5 hours by car) to spend the afternoon viewing an extremely natural wonder:
Giant’s Causeway was easy to visit by rental car, but if you don’t have one, you can easily book a guided tour and let someone do the driving for you. The on-site cafe was exceptionally good, but you can also hop into town for local pub fare.
Expanded: My visit to Giant’s Causeway
There are many other things to do up in the Giant’s Causeway area. If you only have 2 days in Belfast I’d say make a half-day of it, but if your time constraints aren’t so tight, you can spend a whole day in this area. There is the famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, Bushmills Distillery, and Game of Thrones sites, to name just a few things. Note the opening hours for the month you will be visiting; we arrived a bit too late to see the rope bridge, but the half-day was still worth it.
After you roll back into town, to finish off your Belfast experience, I recommend checking out the famous Duke of York pub. Recommended by many locals during our trip, the pub—the whole street, really—is a bustling hangout that is sure to please.
If that sounds like a lot to cover in 2 days, you’re right. Feel free to omit recommendations and take it all at your own pace.
Where To Stay:
It’s pretty quick to get around Belfast, but I’d still try to select a hotel near one or two of the sites I plan on seeing.
- A luxurious hotel with style to spare, Bullitt Hotel caught my eye big time. If I ever head back to Belfast with a cushier budget, I will definitely be booking here.
- Another hotel that made my head turn was The Flint. The photos tell a story of modern conveniences married to an antique building, which is a great metaphor for Belfast’s working-class roots.
- For a budget option, I will continue recommending ibis hotels especially to those who haven’t stayed in them before. For a clean, functional hotel with friendly service, this chain is a great way to stretch your money while traveling.
- Bonus: I normally try to recommend 3 lodging accommodations with my city write-ups but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to link to a houseboat you can stay on!
Have you been to Belfast? Anything else readers should squeeze into their 48 hours? Let me know in the comments!
The global COVID-19 pandemic has affected travel in every way. Please refer to local ordinances in the country, state, or city, and look up the website of the museum, tour, restaurant, or hotel you are considering visiting.
All photos by Staci Jackson and Rachel Christensen for The Voyageer.