Things to Do in Belfast
Titanic Belfast is a rich multimedia spectacle standing on the site where the eponymous ill-fated luxury liner was built and first launched. Opened in 2012 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s infamous maiden—and only—voyage, Titanic Belfast swiftly became one of Northern Ireland’s most visited tourist attractions. Exhibits chronicle the rise of Belfast as an industrial superpower, re-create the city’s shipyard experience circa the early 1900s, and chart every detail of the construction of the Titanic, from bridge to passenger quarters.
West Belfast’s Falls Road was a violent flashpoint during the Northern Irish conflict. Falls Road is in a predominantly Catholic nationalist neighborhood that borders Shankill Road, a mostly Protestant unionist area. The two areas are now separated by a peace wall that is adorned with hundreds of colorful politically themed murals.
Crossing the nerve-racking Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a feat for the sure-footed—the narrow 66-foot-long (20-meter) swinging span is suspended high above the choppy Atlantic waters, connecting the Northern Irish mainland to Carrick-a-Rede Island. Originally built more than 300 years ago by salmon fishermen—and since rebuilt with sturdier materials—the National Trust-managed footbridge is now traversed by wobbly-kneed travelers who want to soak up the rugged coastal scenery.
Now permanently berthed at Belfast’s Hamilton dry dock, the SSNomadic is the last surviving vessel from the White Star Line, the once-prominent shipping line behind the ill-fated RMSTitanic. Built in the Harland and Wolff shipyards, the SSNomadic was the tender to theTitanic, ferrying passengers to the luxury cruise liner.
The picturesque Dark Hedges tree tunnel, formed by the overhanging and intertwined branches of beech trees that line either side, was planted in the 18th century in an effort to spruce up the nearby Gracehill House, a Georgian mansion. Amateur and professional photographers have long been drawn to its eerie beauty, and Dark Hedges is now a popular pilgrimage site for fans of HBO’sGame of Thrones, having been featured in the show.
The first Belfast Peace Walls were built in 1969 in response to Northern Ireland’s sectarian conflict. Initially intended as temporary barriers, the continuation of the Troubles led to the extension and reinforcement of the walls. Today, they’re political and philosophical murals and attract visitors looking for insight into this part of Irish history.
Nestled high along the Antrim coastline, Dunluce Castle offers dramatic views and insight into the life and legends of old Irish clans. Explore ancient ruins, discover township remains, or descend into a hidden cave to experience the site that inspired CS Lewis’ Cair Paravel and served as a filming location for HBO’sGame of Thrones.
This working-class neighborhood of West Belfast came to prominence during the Northern Irish conflict, when it served as a stronghold for loyalist paramilitary organizations. The peace walls that separated Shankill from the neighboring Falls Road to curb sectarian violence are now covered with political murals.
The world’s oldest legal distillery, Bushmills was first granted its whiskey-producing license back in 1608, though historical records suggest production began even earlier. Distillers used malted Irish barley, grains, and water from St. Columb’s Rill to produce their oak-aged Bushmills Original and their Black Bush blend.
The neo-Baroque Belfast City Hall is home to a memorial garden and visitor exhibition that provide insight into the city’s history. Built to commemorate Belfast’s new city status in the late 1800s, the building survived the Belfast Blitz, and was at the center of the 2013 dispute regarding its continued use of the Union flag.
More Things to Do in Belfast
Located along the scenic Antrim coast, the harbor of the traditional fishing village of Ballintoy offers striking Atlantic views and insight into a rural way of a life. The village has remained virtually unchanged over the last few centuries, and as such was chosen as a filming location for Pyke’s harbor inGame of Thrones.
The turreted Scottish Baronial-style Belfast Castle stands high atop a promontory overlooking the city. It was built using the fast-diminishing funds of the third Marquess of Donegall, and the castle now serves as a restaurant, wedding reception site, and events venue. A visitor center in the basement chronicles the history of the castle and the surrounding Cave Hill Country Park with which it shares the hillside, while the ornamental gardens promise stellar views over Belfast City Centre and Belfast Lough.
Perhaps the most celebrated stretch of Antrim Coast Road is known as the Antrim Coastal Drive, which winds along a 25-mile (40-kilometer) route and provides scenic views from Belfast to Derry. Discover landmarks including the Mourne Mountains, Glens of Antrim, and Giant’s Causeway on one of the UK’s most picturesque routes, and explore the towns, harbors, and beaches along the way for insight into local life.
Built in the late 1880s and expanded several times between 1900 and 1922, the Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices were where the plans for the RMSTitanic and numerous other White Star Line ships were drawn up. Though the offices are now occupied by the Titanic Hotel, key heritage rooms have been preserved.
Back in the early 20th century, the RMSTitanic sat in this vast 900-foot (274-meter) dock—then known as Thompson Dry Dock—while workers toiled to put the final touches on the luxurious liner. Next door, an Edwardian-era pump house, which was used to drain water from the dock, now houses original machinery andTitanic-inspired exhibits.
The 800-year-old Carrickfergus Castle is one of the best preserved medieval structures in Ireland. Built in the 12th century by Norman lord John de Courcy, it was used to ward off attacks from the Scots, Irish, English, and French, and also served as a garrison during World War I and an air raid shelter during World War II.
The Victoria Square Shopping Centre is one of the biggest and most expensive developments in Northern Ireland. It includes both residential and commercial space, with the British department store House of Fraser as its anchor tenant. The square's iconic feature is undoubtedly its glass dome that offers panoramic 360-degree views of the city. The 35-meter diameter dome has two covered, multi-level streets linking in, and an ornate Jaffee Fountain sits below the dome in what is the hub of the entire area.
Daily tours of the dome are offered, with guides providing information on some of the sights to see. Important buildings like Belfast Castle, Harland & Wolff Cranes, Belfast City Hall, Belfast Courts of Justice and the Albert Clock are some to be pointed out.
Retail outlets spread out over four floors include Fossil, H&M, Apple, Build-A-Bear Workshop, Hugo Boss and more, while entertainment outlets like Odeon Cinemas, restaurants and bars are also part of the commercial space at Victoria Square.
Built in 1850 to accommodate prisoners tried at the courthouse across the street, Crumlin Road Gaol (Crumlin Road Jail) housed some of Northern Ireland’s most notorious criminals as well as leading political figures during its 150 years in operation. The jail was also the setting for executions, riots, and hunger strikes.
Known for its neoclassic architecture and fine acoustics, the Victorian Belfast Customs House stands in central Belfast, and hosts regular outdoor musical events. The Italianate-style building boasts a traditionally ornamental facade, which contrasts with the modern city Belfast is today, providing excellent photo opportunities.
Founded in 1849 as a non-denominational alternative to Dublin’s Trinity College, Queen’s University Belfast is known for for its magnificent medieval-style campus. Visitors are drawn to the university’s eclectic mix of architectural styles and peaceful green space. Harry Potter fans will want to visit the red brick Lanyon Building that looks like a real-life version of Hogwarts.
Established in 1828, the flower-filled Botanic Gardens are Belfast’s loveliest green space and an ideal gray-day escape. The 28-acre (11-hectare) public park centers on the Charles Lanyon–designed mid–19th-century Palm House, a magnificent cast-iron and glass construction with a birdcage dome.
Known for its artistic atmosphere, the ever-expanding Belfast Cathedral Quarter is the city’s up-and-coming cultural hub. The former trading district, now home to a number of galleries, music spaces, and trendy restaurants, hosts a number of indoor and outdoor events suited to everyone, including young travelers, foodies, and families.
A huge renovation project turned this once-neglected waterfront wasteland into one of Belfast’s most vibrant and most-visited neighborhoods. As well as apartments and a science park, the waterfront area also features severalTitanic-related attractions, most notably Titanic Belfast and the Titanic’s Dock and Pump House.
The Odyssey Pavilion is a large sports and entertainment complex made up of several facilities that serve different functions, including the indoor SSE Arena, which holds more than 10,000 attendees for concerts and sporting events. There are several bars, restaurants and nightclubs in the Odyssey Pavilion, as well as the W5, a science exhibition center.
Major headliners such as Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, Metallica, The Who, and Depeche Mode have all played here at the arena. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) events such as RAW and SmackDown! have taken place here as well. The Odyssey also hosts conferences and exhibits, like Belfast Film & Comic Con, so if you're traveling with children, check the calendar for family-friendly events and musicals.
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