Captial attraction

For a city break that blends tradition with innovation, and where stunning countryside is always within easy reach, Belfast is the ideal choice, says Tristan Parker

Northern Ireland’s capital is a vibrant and exciting place to explore, with ample attractions to entice more than a million people from around the world each year, but enough charm to let visitors feel immediately at home.

The city’s proud industrial heritage still shines through in some of today’s cultural and architectural offerings, including the excellent Titanic Belfast museum, which relays the city’s status as one of the shipbuilding capitals of the world during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

But as cherished as Belfast’s history is, this is also a forward-thinking, contemporary city, where modern art and gastronomic excellence – there are currently three Michelin-starred restaurants in the city – are celebrated and amplified.

Crucially, though, Belfast appeals not just for the unmissable attractions in the city itself, but for the many beautiful locations nearby. It takes no time at all to find yourself among Northern Ireland’s finest scenery and coastlines. CS Lewis (born in Belfast in 1898) is thought to have based the fantastical landscapes in his Chronicles of Narnia series on the surrounding rural areas.

Even if you don’t make it out of Belfast, you can make the most of 3,000 acres of parks and green spaces. With so much on offer, it can be a tricky trip to plan, so take your inspiration from our choice Belfast highlights over the following pages.



Belfast is a city packed with cultural riches. Within an incredibly constructed building, ever-popular Titanic Belfast tells the fascinating but tragic story of the ill-fated ship that was designed and built in the city, while the free-entry Ulster Museum displays everything from fine art to dinosaur skeletons, with exhibitions that champion diversity and don’t shy away from weighty historical and political subjects. For more than ‘just’ art, try multipurpose venue The MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre), where exhibitions rub shoulders with theatre shows, dance performances and more, including plenty of family-friendly offerings.


This award-winning weekend institution (the Friday market dates back to 1604) is a big draw, not least for the Victorian building that now houses it. Take your pick from a dizzying range of food and drink stalls, supplying treats like hearty breakfast baps speciality coffee, Lebanese cuisine and indulgent sweet delights. Or browse antiques, vintage clothing, locally made arts and jewellery.


Belfast’s most famous pub, The Crown – as it’s known – is far more than a drinking den. Built in 1826 as a grand Victorian gin palace, the building has been gradually and carefully restored, but retains original features and still makes for an incredible sight. Opulent tile displays line the walls and floor, a delicately carved ceiling contains intricate patterns, and lavish wooden booths enclose happy punters nursing pints of perfectly poured Guinness from the decorative bar. It’s no wonder the pub is now owned by The National Trust. Whether you’re a pub-goer or not, The Crown is an essential Belfast stop.


Another slice of historic Belfast that’s still entertaining visitors centuries later, the sprawling glasshouse that holds the Botanic Gardens was built in 1828 and continues to showcase all kinds of wonderful flora, plus a little fauna, too. There’s a lot going on inside the glasshouse, including an alpine garden, rose garden, palm house and the excitingly named Tropical Ravine (built in 1889), where you’ll find banana plants, orchids and cinnamon. Perfect for stepping out of the urban environment for an hour or two.

Three fantastic day trips from Belfast


These nine valleys scattered along north-eastern coastal stretches make up part of the Antrim Coast & Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You’ll find waterfalls, beaches and forests, as well as plenty of charming towns and villages, providing access points and picturesque pit stops for a Glens road trip. Among these, Ballycastle, Cushendun and Cushendall are three of the main towns to see en route, and each has plenty to entice visitors.


The pretty town of Ballymena is only a 40-minute drive from Belfast. Galgorm Castle & Estate is a golfing destination (there’s also a fancy spa), while The Braid holds an arts centre and the Mid-Antrim Museum, where you can dip into local history. Four miles from Ballymena is Arthur Cottage, former home of Chester A Arthur – 21st president of the US – and now a window into past times, while handsome Glenarm Castle is also worth a visit.


Just over an hour from Belfast, Dunluce Castle is perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Atlantic. The current castle dates back to the 16th century, built by the McQuillan clan who fought the Scottish MacDonnells for possession over the years. You won’t be required to battle anyone to enter Dunluce these days, so just wander the well- preserved ruins and admire the panoramic views.



As Northern Ireland is part of the UK, sterling is the official currency in Belfast and anywhere else you’ll visit. If you decide to extend your trip and travel south into the Republic of Ireland (no passport is required if you’re a UK citizen), you’ll need euros.

Getting there:

Direct flights to Belfast operate from major cities in England, Scotland and Wales, while ferries set sail from Liverpool, Cairnryan in Scotland and the Isle of Man.

Getting around:

It’s easy to navigate Belfast by bus and on foot where you can. A car is helpful for day trips outside the city, but buses operate from the city centre to popular locations like Ballymena.


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