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Top Things to do in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Updated: Apr 30

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Titanic Museum in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, which serves as the capital of Northern Ireland, left its mark on the world as a major linen manufacturer and shipbuilding hub during the Industrial Revolution. Most notably, the city was home to the Harland & Wolff Shipyard, which was responsible for building the ill-fated RMS Titanic as well as its sister ships, the RMS Britannic and RMS Olympic. Though a safe tourist destination today, it wasn't long ago that the city went through a 30-year period of unrest called "The Troubles." While visiting Belfast, you'll get the chance to learn about this and the city's most famous ship. If you have a few days to stay, here's a list of some of the top things to do in Belfast.

Titanic Belfast

Inside the Titanic Museum in Belfast

Exactly 100 years after the Titanic's demise, the Titanic Belfast opened its doors to provide a window into the building, launching, and sinking of the ocean liner. Visitors can learn how each cabin appeared, listen to recordings from surviving victims, and further understand what led to the ship's demise. Outside, you can visit the slipways where both the Titanic and Olympic were launched.

Titanic Dock & Pump House

Titanic Dock and Pump House

History lovers can continue their Titanic journey at Thompson Dry Dock, located just down the road from the museum. The purpose of a dry dock is to allow shipbuilders to work underneath the hull as it rested on blocks in the center. The dock could be filled with water when it was time to launch and drained with pumps from an adjacent building. Built specifically for the Titanic and Olympic, much of the Titanic's construction was done at the dock as well as the slipways by the Titanic museum.

Titanic Distillery in Belfast

Today, tours of the dock and pump house are conducted by Titanic Distillers. Tours vary in length and began in 2023. As a big Titanic fan, I partook in the Legacy Tour, where a knowledgeable guide took my husband and I into the dock and inside the pump house while sharing stories and history relevant to the ocean liner. Of course, visitors will also learn about the brand's distilling process and sample their trademark liquor.

SS Nomadic

SS Nomadic in Belfast, Northern Ireland

As you've probably noticed by now, some of the top things to do in Belfast involve the maritime industry. The Titanic's history continues with the SS Nomadic, the last White Star Liner still standing. When the Olympic and Titanic arrived to Cherbourg, France, the dock was too small to allow for passenger pick up. Because of this, the Nomadic served as a tender to and from the ships. The SS Nomadic is open for tourists to walk inside and explore.

Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices & Titanic Hotel

Titanic Hotel in Northern Ireland

Nestled inside the Titanic Hotel are the original Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices from the 1880s. The two drawing rooms were where many high-end ships, including the Titanic, were thought up and designed. Many of the same materials used for the liners were also used to construct the drawing rooms. Guests of the hotel and the biggest Titanic fans can now enjoy a drink in the very room where the ship was born.

Ulster Museum

Belfast's Ulster Museum

The Ulster Museum is a great place to learn more about the surrounding area and beyond. There are numerous sections where you can discover local history and archeological finds from Northern Ireland, as well as artifacts and pieces of art relevant to the whole of Ireland. The museum also includes objects from numerous eras, plants, and mammals, making it one of the most interesting things to do in Belfast.

HMS Caroline

HMS Caroline in Belfast

Restored and transformed into a museum, the HMS Caroline was a combat ship for the Royal Navy during the first World War. It also played a role in World War II, though this time as a communication ship. Built in 1914, it wasn't decommissioned until 2011, almost 100 years later. Stepping aboard the ship will take you back in time as you explore crew chambers and various exhibits.

Belfast Castle

Belfast Castle is situated on Cave Hill, serving as an impressive site in itself. One notable feature of the hill is a cliff called "Napoleon's Nose," which it's said Jonathan Swift used as inspiration for "Gulliver's Travels." Due to its location, the castle offers amazing views of Belfast. The current building, constructed from 1867 to 1870, was built for the 3rd Marquis of Donegall. Those who visit today can experience the visitor center, the gardens, and a restaurant. Unfortunately, there's not much to see inside the mansion.

Black Taxi Tour

Belfast Black Taxi Tour

Throughout Belfast, you'll find multiple companies conducting black taxi tours designed to give insight into "The Troubles." From the 1960s to 1998, the Catholic and Protestant communities engaged in war due to their inability to agree on the state of Northern Ireland. The former believed Northern Ireland should reintegrate with the Republic of Ireland whereas the latter preferred staying under British authority. Peace Walls covered in murals were built to stand between the two groups, and they can be visited and further explained during one of these tours.

Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Hall

Built in Donegall Square more than 115 years ago, the Belfast City Hall is crafted in the Baroque Revival style. Its exterior is decorated with four towers, while its interior boasts an impressive banquet hall, a reception room, a grand staircase, and other significant rooms. Outside, you can stroll through the Titanic Memorial Garden, which honors citizens of Belfast who aided Titanic's victims, and the Garden of Remembrance, which was built for Irish Army members who died during The Troubles.

Crumlin Road Gaol

This Victorian-style jail opened in 1846 as a high-security establishment designed to hold nearly 500 people. Like many jails from this time period, Crumlin Road Jail experienced issues with overcrowding that often led to three inmates sharing a 12-foot by 7-foot area. Several executions happened within the space, some in public sight and some inside the building. During its lifetime, the jail experienced suicides, escapees, and juvenile inmates. In 1996, the jail shut its doors, and in 2012, it reopened as one of Belfast, Northern Ireland's top tourist attractions.

The Stormont Estate

The Stormont Estate serves as the official home of Northern Ireland's government buildings. Within the area, you'll find the Parliament Buildings, Stormont House, and Stormont Castle. Completed in 1830, Stormont Castle is the site of the Executive Office. Furthermore, the Stormont House is the home of Northern Ireland's Speaker of the House. These buildings aren't the only thing to marvel at on the property — the grounds are decorated with several impressive statues.

Where to Stay

If you're a Titanic fanatic like I am, you can't pass up the opportunity to stay at The Titanic Hotel. Here, you can dine in the very rooms White Star Line used to design its ships. Another option is the Fitzwilliam Hotel — a luxury spot with a notable fine-dining restaurant. These choice are a bit pricey, so if you're looking for a nice stay with a lower price tag, Leonardo Hotel might be a better match. This hotel is easily accessible by train and close to the airport.

History lovers will easily find something to do in Belfast. On your visit, you can learn about the industries that fueled the city, the history of the most popular, ill-fated ship, and the recent conflict that is The Troubles. Just make sure to bring pounds instead of euros; though Belfast is in Northern Ireland, it's actually a part of the United Kingdom.


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