10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Belfast
Once a powerful ship-building center, Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland and the birthplace of the famous doomed ocean liner, The Titanic. Mention Belfast, and, to a certain generation, images of conflict may spring to mind. It would be wrong, however, to jump to such conclusions these days. In recent years, the peace process and power-sharing government mean that Belfast, along with the rest of Northern Ireland, has undergone a rebirth and remarkable transformation. Visitor numbers continue to increase year-on-year and with good reason. Expect a warm welcome, a wicked sense of humor, and an enthralling history including the impressive must-see Titanic Quarter. Excellent shopping can be found at Victoria and Donegal Squares. Other tourist attractions include superb Victorian architecture and noteworthy museums.
See also: Where to Stay in Belfast
1 Editor's Pick Titanic Belfast
Billed as "the world's largest titanic visitor attraction," this distinctive landmark building is a tribute to the story of the Titanic and Belfast's interesting maritime history. Nine interactive exhibitions show how Belfast has developed from a city that once boasted the most powerful ship building industry in the world into a reborn visitor destination. More than a century ago, the infamous and ill-fated ocean liner, Titanic, was built at this precise spot. There are guided tours around the slipway and gigantic dry-dock. The building, which is star-shaped to represent the logo of the White Star Line, houses a number of fascinating artifacts including letters, brochures, and menus. A particular treat is the fully restored tender to the Titanic, the SS Nomadic, which visitors can board and explore for an additional charge.
Hours: Daily June-August and April 9am-7pm, May & September 9am-6pm, October-March 10am-5pm
Admission: Adults £15.50, child (5-16) £7.25, child (under 5) free, family (2 adults, 2 children) £39.00, senior (over 60) Monday-Friday £11.00, senior (over 60) Saturday & Sunday £13.00, student £10.00
Address: 1 Queens Road, Titanic Quarter, Belfast
2 Waterfront Hall
Just over a mile from the Titanic Quarter and overlooking the River Lagan in central Belfast, the Waterfront Hall is a world-class entertainment and conference venue that, in no uncertain terms, reflects the regeneration of the city. Since opening in 1997, the center had seen more than five million visitors and now attracts top-musicians and performers from around the world as well as hosting a range of exhibitions. When lit up at night, the building is particularly impressive, and many visit not only for the many concerts ranging from pop to symphony, but also to eat at the on-site restaurant, The Arc Brasserie, which boasts panoramic views over the river and beyond.
Address: 2 Lanyon Place, Belfast
3 Ulster Museum
A five-six-minute drive from the Waterfront Hall will bring you to The Ulster Museum. Having undergone a major refurbishment in recent years, it's now one of Belfast's must-sees. This impressive national museum should be high on the list for any visitor for a number of reasons, not least of all that it doesn't shy away from the city's recent troubled past. Exhibits include a 2,500-year-old Egyptian Mummy (Princess Takabuti - unwrapped in Belfast in 1835), the Armada Room, modern masterpieces, ancient relics, and a richly diverse collection of art, history, and natural science exhibits spread over several floors.
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm
Address: Botanic Gardens, Belfast
4 The Botanic Gardens
A pleasant way to relax for a few hours, the Botanic Gardens was established in 1828 and has been owned by Belfast City Council since 1895 when it became a public park set on 28 acres. The elegant Palm House (designed by Sir Charles Lanyon) contains a diversity of tropical plants, including birds of paradise and lush hanging baskets. Comprised of curved iron and glass, the structure is one of the earliest examples of a glasshouse made in this way and demonstrates how advances in technology allowed horticulturists to grow exotic plants during the Victorian period. The Tropical Ravine (1889) houses exotic delights such as bromeliad, banana, orchids, and cinnamon, and protects some of the world's oldest seed plants. Just north of the gardens is Queen's University with its fine Tudor-style buildings.
Hours: Open 7.30am (seasonal closings)
Address: College Park, Botanic Avenue, Belfast
5 St. Anne's Cathedral
Designed by architect Sir Thomas Drew and begun in 1898, St. Anne's Cathedral is the main church of the (Anglican) Church of Ireland. It was built in neo-Romanesque style of the basilican type and has three west doorways adorned with sculpture. The baptismal chapel features an exquisite mosaic ceiling. Further points of interest are the carved stonework, many fine stained glass windows, marble tiles on the floor and walls, and delicate woodwork. In the chapel you'll find the tomb of Sir Edward Carson (died 1935), leader of the Ulster Unionists.
Hours: Open 8am-6pm Monday-Saturday, 8am-4pm Sunday
Admission: Suggested donation £2 per adult
Address: Donegall Street, Belfast
6 Grand Opera House
West of the City Hall on Great Victoria Street, the highly ornate Grand Opera House is well worth visiting to take in a show. Dating from 1895, it has seen its share of troubles over the years. In 1972, at the height of conflict in Northern Ireland, the building was sold to property developers and nearly demolished. Thankfully, due to a campaign, this didn't happen. Between 1976 and 1980, the structure was extensively restored, including the restoration of the ceiling panels in the main auditorium. A large extension was added in 2006. These days it hosts musicals, operas, and live performances and is one of the city's true landmarks. Guided tours are available.
Address: Great Victoria Street, Belfast
7 Crumlin Road Gaol
When it closed in 1996, many believed the infamous prison would never reopen. How wrong they were. The once notorious jail has quickly become one of Belfast's premier visitor attractions since reopening just a short time ago in 2012. This is a great place to get to grips with Northern Ireland's history. Fascinating guided tours tell of the women and children who were incarcerated here as well as the segregation of republican and loyalist prisoners. You can wander through the underground tunnel that used to connect the jail to the courthouse, sit in the Governor's chair and, rather gruesomely, pay a visit to the condemned man's cell.
Hours: Open daily 10.00am-4.30pm (last tour)
Admission: Adults £8.50, children £6.50, family £25.00 (2 adults & 2 children)
Address: Crumlin Road, Belfast
8 Belfast Castle
Around four miles from the city center (A2/A6 - Antrim Road) is Belfast Castle. There are plenty of events here year round, and it's a popular wedding venue due to its picturesque location and beautiful historic building. A castle has existed on this site since the 12th century in many different incarnations. The current structure dates from 1870, although additions and embellishments have taken place since then. There's a restaurant on site as is Cave Hill Visitor Centre. Cave Hill Country Park and the Adventure Playground are well worth exploring, and the grounds are particularly popular for picnics during summer months.
Address: Antrim Rd, Belfast
9 Belfast Zoo
Around three minutes' drive from Belfast Castle is Belfast Zoo, set on 55 acres with views over Belfast Lough and home to more than 140 species of animals. Dating from 1934, this is one of the oldest tourist attractions in Northern Ireland and has been extensively upgraded in recent years. Nowadays in excess of 300,000 people visit annually. Highlights include the ring-tailed lemurs, Asian elephants, monkeys, Malayan sun bears, Sumatran tigers, and Barbary lions. The rainforest exhibit brings together tropical plants with fascinating animals such as sloths and fruit bats.
Hours: Open summer (April-September) 10am-7pm, winter (October-March)
10am to 4pm
Admission: Adults £8.20, children (4-17), senior citizens & students £4.10, children under 4 free, family day ticket (2 adults & 3 children) £22
Address: Antrim Road, Belfast
10 Stormont (Parliament Buildings)
No visit to Belfast, or indeed Northern Ireland, would be complete without at least seeing this grandiose and often controversial building. This is the home of the "Power Sharing Executive," or Northern Ireland Assembly, the place where former foes sit down together and carry out the day-to-day business and politics of running the state. Dating from 1921, it was built to house the then newly formed government of the Province. It's impossible to miss the statue of Unionist Sir Edward Carson on the front lawn. Despite its controversial legacy, the scenic grounds are popular with day-trippers, joggers, and those simply wishing to escape the city for a while.
Hours: Open Monday-Friday 9am-4pm (guided tours)
Address: 587 Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast
Where to Stay in Belfast for Sightseeing
We recommend these great hotels in the center of Belfast close to the top attractions:
- Merchant Hotel: luxury heritage hotel, sophisticated style, Art Deco wing, rooftop gym, upscale restaurant, pampering spa, turndown service.
- Europa Hotel - Belfast: mid-range pricing, well-appointed rooms, piano lounge, modern bistro.
- Holiday Inn Belfast City Centre: affordable rates, on-site mini gym, ample breakfast buffet, multilingual staff.
- Premier Inn Belfast City Centre (Alfred Street) Hotel: budget hotel, central location, quiet street, spotlessly clean.