On my first visit to Belfast several years ago, I was excited to explore a new city, and see more of the beautiful Irish countryside.
During my second visit, in September of 2020, I spent plenty of time driving around the coast, but also did a bit more exploring in the city. Of course, activities in the city were a bit limited with COVID, but enough was open for me to check out a few sights and see more of Belfast.
Where to Stay
On my first trip, I stayed at an Airbnb about a 15-20 minute walk from the city centre – which, was fine, but on my return, I decided it’d be better to be closer to the centre of all the action.
When looking for a hotel, there were plenty of options in downtown Belfast, but Bullitt was the only place I found that was the perfect mix of affordable, excellent location and trendy.
The rooms are small, but have everything you need for a comfy stay, including lush king size beds, refreshing rain showers and smart TVs.
I loved being able to walk right out the hotel lobby into the heart of the city, mere steps from great cafes and awesome eateries, plus plenty of pubs. If you don’t feel like leaving the hotel, you’ll be chuffed to find room service available, plus a bar, cafe and restaurant downstairs.
In fact, I enjoyed my stay so much, I contemplated spending an extra night in Belfast and nearly did, but the Bullitt was sold out- that’s how good it is, fully booked, even in a pandemic.
What to Do
St Georges Market: Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, more than 150 traders set up stalls offering everything from crafts to antiques to fresh baked bread and gorgeous produce.
The Crown Saloon: Owned by the National Trust, this beautiful Victorian pub has been in operation since 1885. The decor is incredible- most of the finishings are original. A real gem. I’ve included a few more of the pubs we enjoyed below, but this should be considered a can’t miss for a glimpse into Belfast’s history.
The Cathedral Quarter & Commercial Court: The perfect spot for a night out- plenty of great bars and restaurants. Also, charm is everywhere with cobbled streets, colorful murals and beautiful brick buildings.
Titanic Belfast: As the city that built her, Belfast is the home of the Titanic. The museum is a tribute to Belfast’s shipbuilding industry with a focus on how the Titanic came to be- it’s even built on the slipways where the ship was constructed over 100 years ago. We were here for a little over two hours, and really enjoyed the experience. Definitely book tickets in advance though, the museum gets very busy, and if you buy day-of, you may have to wait over an hour to enter.
The Merchant Hotel: Renovated from the old Ulster Bank, the hotel’s restaurant and bar exude elegance. We popped in for a few drinks at the bar, it’s considered to be one of the best hotels in the world for cocktails. I loved the menu- it’s built on classic services, but offers alternate versions for each one in case you want to try something new.
Black Cab Tours: For over 30 years, Northern Ireland was enthralled in a bloody civil war, fought between the nationalist catholic community and the loyalist protestant community. Out of the turmoil came one of Belfast’s most recognisable attractions, its murals. On a black taxi tour, you’ll drive around the city from east to west and north to south, taking in both sides of the community and their detailed murals.
Explore the countryside: Regarded as one of the most beautiful drives in the world, Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route is the kind of rugged coastline you don’t really find anywhere else in the UK. You can take a guided tour, as I did on my first trip with the Game of Thrones tour experience, or rent a car and go at your own pace (as I did on my second visit). From living abroad for over four years and routinely driving on the left, I’ve become comfortable doing so and would definitely recommend that option over taking a tour- you’ll have way more flexibility in your schedule- where you stop, how long to spend at each place, and such. After almost getting left at the Dark Hedges on my guided tour experience, I can’t recommend a DIY driving tour of Northern Ireland enough.
Where to Eat & Drink
Cafes, perfect for coffee or brunch-
- Established Coffee: Proper coffee, the espresso was excellent
- General Merchants: Great coffee + brunch, about a 15 minute walk from the city centre and nearby Georges Street Market
- Root & Branch: Popped in here for flat whites on our second day on the way to our coastal tour, small simple cafe with good brews
- The Pocket: Love a cute local coffee shop
- Bootleggers: The food here is so good, Bootleggers is a must visit anytime I’m in Belfast. It’s rare you find a place with ace cocktails, great beer selection and lots of delicious vegetarian options on the menu. The halloumi tacos and burger were amazing
- Made in Belfast: Good craft brews, and dishes presented with an Irish flair
- Pizza Punks: Delicious wood fired pizza, great for takeaway if you’re staying in a nearby hotel and want to eat pizza and chill with Netflix
- Little Wing Pizzeria: Great lunch stop if you’re on a budget with a £6 pizza and salad deal
- Muriel’s Cafe Bar: Great cocktails, we came here for another pre-dinner tipple after The Merchant hotel
- The Duke of York: Adorable, lively pub
- Kelly’s Cellars: One of Belfast’s oldest pubs, it’s said to be the best authentic Irish bar in the city – was certainly lively on a Friday evening
- Bittles: An odd shaped pub with great music and a good selection on draft
- The John Hewitt: Another good pub, we came here because I heard they had a solid cider selection
Extra Belfast Travel Tidbits
Language: British English. Although, it’s likely you’ll encounter a range of accents while travelling around Northern Ireland.
Currency: GBP, the queen’s finest. You’ll find many places accept contactless (especially during COVID), even on small purchases.
Budget: In direct comparison to London, Belfast feels a tad cheaper and in comparison to Dublin, it’s definitely cheaper. For example, I’d pay €12-14 for wood-fired pizza in Dublin, but in Belfast at Pizza Punks, the same kind of pizza only cost £7. Of course there’s the pounds to euros conversion, but even so- you’ll find things are usually at least a few euros (or cents) cheaper than Dublin.
Getting Around the City: Walk. There are a few parking garages (I recommend the one on Queen Street) and street parking available, but the city is small enough, that it’ll likely be easiest to walk from place to place.
When to Visit: Having visited in August and September, I’ve lucked out with great weather on both trips. However, much like the weather in Ireland, conditions in Northern Ireland can change quickly and dramatically. Bring waterproof gear and layers to be able to flex between seasons at a moment’s notice.
Tipping: For exceptional service, tip 10%. However, much like in England, Scotland and Wales, tipping isn’t expected as workers are paid a living wage.
WiFi Access: If you’ve got an unlocked phone, you can easily pick up a cheap/quick activation SIM at Tesco (or any of the major phone contract carriers). On several instances, I tried connecting to wifi in restaurants and found the networks unlocked, but with verification required (phone number), so if you’re totally cut off from service and hoping to rely only on cafe/restaurant wifi to get around, you may have a tough time.
Have you ever been to Northern Ireland? Have you explored Belfast or drove along the Causeway Coast?
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