A trip to Northern Ireland’s capital tends to banish preconceptions. The tough times of the past have given way to a bright, trend-conscious city, with a dynamic cultural pulse and some genuinely world-class tourist attractions. From its pubs and hotels to its museums and regenerated docklands (where, of course, Titanic was built), today’s Belfast is somewhere to be taken on its own merits – and given the compact dimensions of both the city and Northern Ireland itself, it’s also a fine base for exploring further afield. And the other benefit of its size? You don’t always have to deal with big-city prices.
The main attractions
Previously voted the world’s leading tourist attraction, Titanic Belfast gives the full story of the ill-fated RMS Titanic through nine interactive galleries and series of other large-scale features – and all on the spot from which the vessel itself was first launched. If you opt for a Late Saver Ticket, you can save money on the entrance price: you’ll be able to explore for an hour before the exhibition closes. Keep an eye on the website too, as it often has other ticket offers, such as early-riser entry for people that can visit at the start of the day or off-season.
Elsewhere, the free-to-enter Ulster Museum is one of the city’s big draws, with collection highlights including everything from dinosaur bones and priceless artworks to cleverly curated exhibits on the region’s eventful past. On which note, Crumlin Road Gaol is a Victorian-era prison with a riveting (if sobering) history – book tickets online to save money on entrance and guided tours – while the famous Stormont Parliament Buildings offer free weekday tours for visitors.
One of the city’s newest attractions is HMS Caroline, a decommissioned cruiser that was the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland in the First World War. It makes for a fascinating visit, and you’ll save up to 20% on the admission price by booking tickets online. A fixture in the city for far longer, meanwhile, is the 110-year-old Belfast City Hall, topped by a baroque dome and offering free public tours three times daily.
If you want to get your bearings on foot, there are two different companies offering pay-what-you-feel guided walks: The Free Original Belfast Walking Tour, which gives three-hour tours, and the Belfast Free Walking Tour, which gives two-hour tours. Both outfits also offer alternative ways of exploring the city, from pub crawls around the centre to black cab tours of the city’s infamous murals. The latter work out well cost-wise if you’re in a group of four or more.
The city’s Botanic Gardens were first established in 1828 and still play home to a towering Palm House. The gardens are open year-round and free to visit. For outdoor thrills of another kind, try heading into the Belfast Hills and doing the 4.2-mile Ridge Walk on Divis and The Black Mountain – you’ll be rewarded with amazing views back across the city.
The most notable shopping area in the city is the modern Victoria Square – you’ll find a range of discounts and offers here. If you’re in search of a retro bargain, meanwhile, try browsing the three floors of vintage goods at Young Savage.
Getting there and around
The city has two airports: Belfast International, served by a wide range of UK and Europe destinations, and George Best Belfast City Airport, which offers flights to and from a smaller range of destinations. To get into and around the city itself, meanwhile, the Belfast Visitor Pass gives unlimited travel on buses and trains in the Belfast area for a very reasonable daily rate – it also grants money off a range of different attractions, including Titanic Belfast and Crumlin Gaol. The three-day pass works out as the best-value option. If you’re just making occasional journeys, meanwhile, be aware that the fares are lower when travelling on Metro buses after 9.30am.
Where to stay
The centre of town has a good variety of budget hotels, including the ibis Belfast City Centre, the ibis Belfast Queens Quarter, the Holiday Inn Express Belfast City, The Crescent Townhouse and Wellington Park Hotel (look out for its seasonal offers). Belfast International Youth Hostel has a number of double rooms with showers and toilets, and you’ll also find a big array of Airbnb short-term rental options.
Where to eat
The city has two Michelin-starred restaurants, OX and Eipic, both of which offer well-priced set lunch menus (on Fridays only, in the case of Eipic). They’re just the tip of the iceberg, however – this is a city with a wide range of quality restaurants, many of which can be enjoyed on the cheap with vouchers from Deal Zippy, Living Social or Groupon. And don’t forget historic St George’s Market, which offers well-priced street food and local produce at weekends. Lastly, don’t leave town without a pint or two at the much-famed Crown Liquor Saloon, where you’ll find opulent décor, real ale – and inexpensive pub food.
For more information on Belfast and the rest of Britain, head to VisitBritain.com
To purchase attraction tickets and more, head to VisitBritainshop.com