1 Day In Belfast: Your Must-See Stops
On our trip to Northern Ireland, we planned time to visit Belfast and once we were there really wished we had planned more. Belfast was a city that surprised us. We found a city full of culture, art, a lively bar scene and many important historical sites to visit.
In this blog, we will highlight what you should do with 1 day in Belfast. And we will also give you some ideas of other things to see in hopes you will stay longer than 1 day.
The Plan for 1 Day in Belfast Itinerary
With only 24 hours in Belfast, it is suggested that you see the following at a minimum:
- Titanic Belfast
- Lunch at St Georges Market
- Black City Taxi Tour
- Cathedral Quarter to hit the Pubs – but first, see the cathedral!
- Dinner at Fish City
- *If you were really keen you could get up early and walk the Glass of Thrones trail since it is in a public area, it is always accessible.
No trip to Belfast is complete without visiting the museum dedicated to the Titanic. Belfast is the city where the famous ship was built and an incredible Museum to commemorate the fateful vessel was erected right on the shipyard location.
The Museum is in the Titanic Quarter on the Maritime Mile. This is an area of Belfast that is up and coming as the city works on an exciting regeneration project of its waterfront.
Surrounding the Museum is a large plaza that includes many symbolic representations of the grand ship that was built here. One example is the Memorial Garden.
It is here where you can see a visual representation made of grass and wooden areas depicting the number of passengers who survived juxtaposed with the number who perished. This is broken down by class type (First, Second,Third) and where the passengers were located on the ship. This is quite sobering to walk through.
The actual museum building is a spectacular structure. It is 11,000 square metres. The façade is amazing to look at with 3000 different shaped aluminum sheets covering the entire surface. The walls lean at different angles of up to 72 degrees and are further enhanced by reflective pools. The project cost £100 million!
The inside of the museum is very thoughtfully laid out with 9 interactive galleries that can be toured on a self-guided basis.
You begin with a walk through the early years in Belfast and learn how shipbuilding became a secondary industry to the city which was previously focused on linen and tobacco production. You then progress through the plans and building of the ship through to engaging exhibitions that show how the ship looked and what the onboard life was like.
From this point, the displays focus on the launch and the excitement of the pending maiden voyage with many displays of personal correspondence and pictures.
Ultimately the demise of the ship is explored along with the enormous number of lives lost. Further displays explore the inquiries and lessons learned which were applied for the future of passenger ship travel. All the exhibitions are very detailed, many interactive and very thoroughly covered. A fantastic display!
You can visit with a self-guided audio tour, or you can book a group tour. Plan for a 2 ½ to 3 hour visit if you want to immerse yourself in the experience.
If you are looking to combine some Belfast attractions check out this great tour option that will provide you with your Titanic Belfast ticket plus take you to some of the other sights of the region. No need to worry about transportation!
Right out front of the Titanic Belfast is the SS Nomadic. Entry to tour the ship is included with your Titanic Belfast ticket. This is the last remaining White Star Line ship in the world. Originally operating as the Titanic’s tender ship, it is modelled in the same style and is a quarter of the size of the original ship.
The SS Nomadic was in service as a tender ship for over 50 years and then operated as a restaurant in Paris for 30 years. The vessel is now permanently located in place in Belfast where she has been restored and open for tours.
Lunch at St George’s Market
After all the brain usage in the morning, you will be hungry for lunch. You can take a quick taxi ride or walk 20 minutes to St George’s Market. Open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays this is a fantastic place to visit for lunch and for some shopping.
This market location dates to 1604 with the existing building being built in the 1890s. It is one of Belfast’s oldest attractions. We enjoy visiting long standing markets and this one reminded us of the oldest market in Ottawa.
Friday is the Variety Market where you can visit over 240 stalls for produce, fish, and local specialties – in fact, there are 23 fish stalls alone! On Saturday the offerings include food, crafts, and garden necessities.
And on Sundays, you will see a combination of both. On any day you go, you will hear local musicians playing and singing to entertain the crowds.
The stalls are full of clothing, art, antiques, handicrafts and jewellery and loads of interesting trinkets and souvenirs to take home. And of course, there is a large food court where you can purchase drinks, sandwiches, hot items, and treats.
There is something for everyone here. In the centre area, there are tables where you can enjoy your lunch and take in the atmosphere.
Black City Taxi Tour
If you are asking what is the most famous thing in Belfast? The answer is the Black City Taxi tour. Belfast has a difficult history and if you are visiting the city, it is important to understand the complexity of the events that happened here and how they continue to shape the community.
The tour that we took was expertly led by a gentleman who grew up in the city of Belfast at the time of the Troubles. He witnessed firsthand how his community was divided and the violence that took place during those years.
When you book your Black City Taxi tour you can arrange to have your pick-up point at the St George’s Market. The driver will come and meet you at an agreed upon location and you will start your 90-minute tour.
We highly recommend this 5 star company for booking your tour. They did a top notch job for us and we found it exceeded our expectations!
Our guide provided a very unbiased explanation of the events and the issues that this city faced during that time. He drove us in an original black city taxi – the same kind that was used during this historic time.
We were taken to many of the significant sites on both sides of the peace wall. We viewed memorial sites and saw the homes that still have cages on their patios for protection. He really brought to light the people who were the main leaders and who died for their belief in their cause.
We received a detailed explanation of the stories and meaning behind the murals that are located along the main streets of both the Catholic and Protestant sides of town. We saw so many fences and barriers still intact and were advised that while things are better – they are certainly not perfect.
The tour was an incredible walk through the history of this city and provided us with insight into the people who live there, the past political (and continuing) conflict and the struggle to maintain a peaceful environment. This is a must-do activity when in Belfast!
The nice part of having the private Black City Taxi tour is that the driver will drop you off wherever you like in the city. We suggest being dropped off at the Cathedral Quarter as your next central location. An easy spot for leaving off your tour is St Anne’s Cathedral.
Belfast Cathedral (locally known as St Anne’s)
The parish of this church dates to 1776 when a smaller, classical-style building was consecrated. As the community grew it was determined to build a larger church in the Romanesque style with the nave being completed in 1904 and additional building taking place for more than 80 years. There is one window that was retained from the original structure.
Inside is an impressive design including mosaic floors and massive pillars. On the outside of the church is a large Celtic cross – the largest in Northern Ireland and well worth a visit.
Also of note is the Spire of Hope which was installed in 2007. Rising 80 metres above the ground, this spire was constructed from a design contest held in 2004.
Unfortunately, the cathedral is slowly sinking due to the soil composition in this area, and it was determined that only a lightweight spire could be installed. The spire can be seen through a glass platform and allows visitors to look up through the spire towards the sky. It is also lit up at night.
🍺 Hit the Pubs
Now that you have seen the most significant historical sights in the city it is now time to enjoy the lighter side of Belfast. Interestingly, surrounding St Anne’s Cathedral is the art and cultural centre of Belfast and this is where many pubs are located.
The pub culture of Belfast is very popular and is very much a part of everyday life in Belfast – they love good craic! The people are quite social, and many will make a stop at a pub on the way home from work or meet friends on the weekends to catch up.
Similar to the beer scene in Brussels, Belfast has a very lively pub scene and there are many options that are available to try.
The area is great to walk around – cobblestone roads, quaint streets full of street art and loads of bars, beer gardens and restaurants. If you get there early enough, you can check out the Metropolitan Arts Centre or the Oh Yeah Music Centre.
But most people come here for the food and drinks. Be sure to check out some of the following that we enjoyed:
🍻 Duke of York in Commercial Court. This popular spot is where you will see umbrellas hanging between the buildings. A noticeable spot for Instagram pictures. We even saw a wedding party having their photos there!
The bar is a great spot with a lively atmosphere. Be sure to go inside and check out the memorabilia all over the walls. And they have an extensive selection of Irish whiskeys.
🍻 The Dirty Onion is a fun spot to visit. The building is of historical significance dating back to 1680 when it was originally a fishmonger’s home. They have done a fantastic job of highlighting the older features of the building.
There is a great beer garden in the front built under a wooden beam courtyard that we settled in with our drinks. We spent some time chatting with locals and thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere. Its specialties are craft beer and fine Irish whiskey.
🍻 You don’t have to go far – just next door to check out the Thirsty Goat. Another historic building – not quite as old as the one next door but still dating back to 1806. This spot has pub food and live music featuring local talent.
They offer a good menu of Irish whiskeys, beer, and gin. We enjoyed the outdoor beer garden that is built into the stone-walled courtyard. Here there are large wooden tables and stools where you can socialize while enjoying drinks and music.
🐟 Time for Dinner!
After several hours at the pubs, it will be time to make your way to dinner. We chose a great option called Fish City. Being in Belfast – right on the sea, we felt it was necessary to have an expertly prepared fish and seafood meal.
We weren’t disappointed! Everyone in our group had an amazing fresh dish. The service was great, it had a terrific wine list, and the atmosphere was casual but classy. This is a spot we would return to.
Can You Do 1 Day In Belfast?
So, if you are asking is it worth going to Belfast for a day? Absolutely! You could enjoy one full day here and see some major highlights, enjoy the atmosphere of the city, and have some great local foods. But we would really recommend spending more time here if you can. A single day would be very full and you haven’t even seen all the sights.
Additional Things to See In Belfast
Glass of Thrones Trail
If you are looking for unusual things to do in Belfast, we can highly recommend the Glass of Thrones walking trail. Especially if you are a Game of Thrones fan!
There are a series of 6 large glass panels that depict highlights from several of the Family Houses and there is even one dedicated to the Iron Throne where you can sit upon it and imagine yourself as the ruler of the lands.
The panels are extremely detailed, and the stained glass is truly amazing. The panels are spread out along the water’s edge and are free to see. And since they are in public spaces you can view them at any time.
Belfast City Hall
Located in Donegall Square this majestic Baroque Revival-style building dates to 1906. The towers and copper dome in the centre make this a focal point of Belfast’s skyline.
This is the location of municipal offices for the city, and they do offer guided tours where you can see areas not typically accessible to the public.
Another notable highlight is the stained-glass windows that have been unveiled in celebration of historic events or those acknowledging significant contributions by organizations and groups.
On the grounds surrounding the City Hall, there are many Memorials and Statues. Included are plaques dedicated to people and historical events, most notably the Cenotaph and the Titanic Memorial Gardens.
If you don’t have enough time to do a full Black City Taxi tour, then at a minimum you should visit some of the Peace Walls in Belfast.
In 1969 the government decided that due to the ongoing political issues that were leading to violent acts in the region, they would create a Peace Line that divided the Shankhill and Falls Road communities. Initially, this was a barbed wire fence that was patrolled by the police.
Eventually, they evolved into much larger and sturdier structures made of corrugated fencing and brick. There are 97 peace walls and barriers in Belfast that span over 30 kms. The government put forth a directive to take down the walls back in 2013. While some have come down the work has been slow, and many are still in place.
Our guide took us to a very long section of the wall that was covered in writing and graffiti. We were encouraged to write a message of hope or peace on the wall which we readily did.
While many of the walls make for some of the most colourful artwork in Belfast, it is still a sobering reminder of the difficult past this city lived through.
If you are looking to understand some of the history of these murals check out this highly rated small group walking tour that explains the meaning of the street art and takes you on a walk through all the significant walls.
Albert Memorial Clock
One of the most notable historical landmarks in Belfast is the Albert Memorial Clock. Erected in 1865 this clock was installed to commemorate Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert – there is an actual statue of him on one side.
It was built in the Gothic style and the top part looks similar to Big Ben in London. It is quite ornate with carved crowned lions, gargoyles and floral decorations. And there is a massive bell inside.
Unfortunately, the clock was built on reclaimed land on a wooden base that wasn’t super sturdy and as a result, the 113 ft tall structure now leans slightly. It is often referred to as Belfast’s leaning tower!
The Europa Hotel
Another part of history can be experienced at The Europa Hotel. This property was used often by the journalists covering the Troubles and as a result, was bombed 36 times during this period.
Now known as the “most bombed” hotel in the world it has a fascinating history. If you have a few minutes, be sure to pop into the lobby to see this piece of Belfast’s past and read the signs posted near the front door.
Known as the Grand Dame of Bedford Street this is one of the oldest concert halls in the UK and Ireland. Dating back to 1862 this hall has made it through two world wars and has been used for various purposes over the years.
People have attended everything from plays to concerts to dances to boxing matches in this famous location.
Nowadays Ulster Hall is a premier concert venue for rock music hosting many well-known bands over the years – Rolling Stones, The Who, AC/DC, U2 and many others. Check out the current schedule here to see what may be playing while you are in town.
Originally a very active area where freight entered the city, this entire area has been regenerated and is now a lovely spot to enjoy along Belfast’s waterfront.
We walked much of this waterfront area and were impressed with the nice park areas, large walkways and the great art installations. And there were even charging stations for smartphones located within benches along the water’s edge.
Be sure to see the Bigfish – a large blue fish that the artist says is the “salmon of knowledge” and the SoundYard with 225 chimes that represent the metal sounds that used to be heard from the shipyards in this area. There are many more art installations in this area – just look around!
Scattered around the city are narrow passageways that date back to when the city was first developed – dating to 1630. Since the city was so densely populated, these narrow passages helped people move quickly from one area to another.
Some of the alleyways led to pubs and others connected streets for easy access around the city.
Many were destroyed during the Belfast Blitz in the second world war but those that survived have been restored and give you a peek back at life in the early days.
Crown Liquor Saloon
This location is owned by the National Trust and dates to 1826 and is probably the most famous pub in Belfast. This spot was originally a gin palace and was very well known in its original format. Now this location is one of the most popular pubs in all of Belfast.
This pub is like no other and when we were there it was absolutely packed! But aside from being a very popular location for drinks, you should take the time to look at the actual premises.
Here you will see a one of kind design. A gold ceiling, a floor with mosaic tiles, brocaded walls, wood carvings, ornate mirrors, wooden columns, and etched glass make for an incredible bar.
Be sure to check out the carved wooden boxes where you can sit to have a drink. These were originally created for those that preferred to drink quietly and not be seen while in the bar! This is a true piece of history.
We also had dinner upstairs where they serve traditional pub food. Not the same ambiance as downstairs but still a nice evening out.
If you are wanting to see many of the sights noted above then be sure to look at this fantastic walking tour offered in downtown Belfast. With awesome reviews you will receive a local perspective on this dynamic city.
👉 How many days in Belfast Is Enough?
This is a personal opinion, but we feel three days would be the ideal amount of time in Belfast. We felt we saw a good amount in two days but were a little rushed. If we had three days, we could have spread out our activities a little more and enjoyed some more downtime and pub time in this vibrant city.
👉 Can You Do A Day Trip To Belfast From Dublin?
Yes, this is doable but would make for a very long day as the driving distance is 2 hours each way. You would need to give up something in the 1-day itinerary to make this work. We recommend that you spend at least one night there.
You could take a tour and let someone else do the driving for you. This is a great option that will cover your two major highlights or provide you with free time in the city. And the best part is you don’t have to worry how to get to Belfast!
👉 Getting There
Belfast can be worked into a Northern Ireland tour. There is both an International Airport and City Airport located in Belfast. So, flying there directly is very easy. Additionally, there are train and bus options from Dublin.
If you are visiting the areas of Portrush, the Giant’s Causeway, and Ballycastle then it is an easy 1 – 1 ½ hour drive to Belfast. From Dublin, it is just under 2 hours. The drive is quite easy, and the majority of it is on standard highways.
👉 When To Visit
Weather in Northern Ireland changes regularly and this tends to drive the tourist season. The busiest time is during the summer from May to August. This is when the temperatures range between 14 – 18 degrees celsius.
We visited in September and found it still to be bustling and the weather was quite mild. The winter and early Spring tend to be cooler with temperatures ranging from 8 – 12 degrees. The best thing to do is always wear layers and bring an umbrella!
👉 What is the Currency?
Keep in mind that when you enter Northern Ireland this is a UK territory. That means the currency changes to the Pound Sterling.
👉 Where to Stay
For a centrally located spot try the Fitzwilliam Hotel. We found this stylish property to have very spacious rooms, well-appointed amenities, fast Wi-Fi and a very nice morning buffet. The staff onsite was helpful, and the bar had some great cocktails. Highly recommend this hotel as a great spot to stay on your trip to Belfast.
The Final Word on 1 Day in Belfast
Well, you can see that you can visit Belfast and see the major highlights of this great city in a 1-day itinerary. However, we highly recommend that you give this location a few more days.
There is so much history, culture and honestly just some great fun – that it really does deserve a few days. Trust us when we say that we will be back and will plan for several days in this dynamic city!