After undergoing a rebirth since “The Troubles”, Belfast is rapidly becoming one of the United Kingdom’s must-visit cities. It’s home to world-class museums, Victorian architecture and an enthralling past that involves one of the most famous ocean liners in the world. Beyond being the birthplace of the RMS Titanic, Belfast is a young people’s city that exudes a unique vitality unmatched anywhere else in Britain.
In this article, discover 8 of the most prominent attractions and spots to visit in Belfast on a holiday to Northern Ireland. Essential to any trip is finding a place to stay, with a wide choice available online at rental sites such as renthero.co.uk. It lists apartments in the city centre and family homes in the surrounding suburbs from where you can discover everything the city has to offer.
Opening to the public in 2012, this striking building tells the story of Belfast’s maritime past. It houses interactive exhibits that illustrate the city’s role as a powerful shipbuilding hub and its role in the construction of the Titanic. In addition to getting up close to menus from the ocean liner and letters written by its passengers, you can join a guided tour around the historic Harland & Wolff shipyards.
If you’ve ever wanted to step aboard a Royal Navy vessel, you can do just that in the Titanic Quarter. The HMS Caroline served during World War I and is the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland. After patrolling the North Sea, she is now permanently docked in Belfast and has been recently refurbished to her former glory. Guided tours offer a fascinating insight into the role of the Royal Navy and life aboard a combat vessel.
Nestled within the city’s botanic gardens is the Ulster Museum, which details Belfast’s tumultuous history. Its collection includes archaeological findings such as a hoard of Mesolithic stone tools, as well as botanical and faunal specimens. See a 2,500-year-old Egyptian mummy that was unwrapped here in 1835 and admire artworks by both past and current masters. Of particular note is the fashion and textiles collection, which features garments from as early as the 18th century.
While visiting the Ulster Museum, allow enough time to explore the Botanic Gardens, which was established back in 1828. Set across 28 acres in the city’s south, it is renowned for its elegant palm house envisioned by Sir Charles Lanyon. In addition to the tropical plants within this iron-framed glasshouse, the gardens include exotic species from the Southern Hemisphere. Concerts and festivals featuring big-name musical artists regularly take place in the Botanic Gardens.
St. Anne’s Cathedral
Also known as the Belfast Cathedral, St. Anne’s was designed by Sir Thomas Drew in the last decade of the 19th century. Built in a Neo-Romanesque style and without a spire, the cathedral has been the main house of worship in the city for more than 100 years. Take note of the sculptural entrances and the mosaic-adorned ceiling before admiring the stained-glass windows and marble-tiled floor. Guided tours are available, as are audio tours in numerous languages.
St George’s Market
While Northern Ireland might not immediately spring to mind as a culinary hotspot, the gastronomic delights in this city are genuinely impressive. Food aficionados should consider reserving a food tour to unearth Belfast’s top eating spots.
Kickstart your Belfast food journey at St George’s Market, a structure steeped in history, having been established between 1890 and 1896. As one of the city’s most venerable landmarks, your guide will lead you through its choicest stalls where you can savor tea, coffee, apple cider, traditional Irish breads, oysters, sausages, and beyond. My personal favorites were the spelt and black pudding potato bread and the Irish soda farl from Ann’s Pantry. And, being in Ireland, it’s only fitting to conclude your tour at a classic pub. Head to The Garrick Bar and indulge in a quintessential Irish pub lunch featuring champ (mashed potatoes with scallions) paired with a hearty glass of McGraths Irish Black Stout.
Grand Opera House
Designed by Frank Matcham, the Grand Opera House is one of the UK’s most beautiful theatres and opened its doors to the public in 1895. It was almost demolished in 1972 before being extensively restored to its former glory. Today, the Grand Opera House hosts not only operatic performances but also ballets, musicals and stand-up comedy shows. Guided tours are available outside of performance times for those who want to learn more about the building’s storied past.
Crumlin Road Gaol
In 1996, one of Northern Ireland’s most notorious prisons closed its doors, only to reopen in 2012 as a major visitor attraction. Guided tours of the Crumlin Road Gaol are now available, including fascinating insights into life for inmates over its 150 years of operation. Not only were hardened criminals housed here but also political prisoners, suffragettes and children. In addition to stepping inside a cell and seeing where 17 men were hanged, you can explore the underground tunnel that once connected to the Crumlin Road Courthouse.
Also known as “Stormont” due to its setting within the Stormont Estate, the Parliament Building is the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It was constructed in 1921 in a Greek Classical style, with Sir Arnold Thornely as its architect. It’s from here that the state has been run for the past 100 years. Dominating the front lawn is a commanding state of Sir Edward Carson, an Irish unionist who also served in the British Royal Navy. Tours of the interior are available throughout the week.
Belfast City Hall
So the next time you’re planning a UK staycation, don’t overlook Belfast for a unique getaway.