Belfast has stolen my heart.
I’ve visited this cool and quirky city twice so far in 2018, and I’d go back a third time if I thought I could fit it in before the end of the year. And you know what? Maybe I can.
As adults with full-time jobs, families and responsibilities, the traditional gap year is out of the question for most of us. But you shouldn’t have to give up your travels just because you can’t get the time off work, or don’t have the money for an extended trip!
That’s where a microgap comes in.
Visit Britain wants to show the world that you don’t have to go far or spend lots to enjoy new experiences. They’ve got tons of information on their website about destinations all across the UK, and it’s definitely worth having a look for inspiration. I found so many British places I’d never even considered visiting before!
They sent Michelle and I to find out what Belfast and Northern Ireland has to offer for a microgap traveller, and we were incredibly impressed.
It’s a perfect microgap destination: a city small enough to be easily walkable, with an interesting history, tons to see and do, incredible food, and that special something that just makes you feel instantly at home. Get out of the city, and the scenery morphs into the rugged Causeway coastline, and the lush green landscape that has featured on hundreds of films and famous TV series.
It’s hard to know where to start when you’ve only got a short time to enjoy a new place, so I’ve put together a list of fun things to do in and around Belfast that I hope will help you organise your own trip!
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If you’re only in Belfast for a day, the number one place I’d say you absolutely must visit is the Botanic Park.
It’s home to the small but perfectly formed Palm House, the Botanical Gardens, the Tropical Ravine, and the glorious rose gardens (when they’re in season). It’s all completely free to visit, and if you’re lucky enough to have a bit of sunshine, it’s absolutely glorious.
(And if it does start raining, you can pay a visit to the Ulster Museum next door, or pop into Maggie May’s for a fry-up!)
Find it: 1 Colenso Parade, Belfast, BT9 5AN
The Ulster Museum is right next to the Botanical Gardens, and it’s definitely worth spending a couple of hours in there.
There are some really fascinating exhibitions, and it’s a great way to learn more about the history of Belfast and Northern Ireland. Whether you’re interested in art, history, or nature, there’s something for everyone. (And if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, make sure you don’t miss the massive timeline tapestry, depicting all the key scenes from every episode and every season!)
Best of all: it’s totally FREE!
Find it: Botanic Court, Belfast, BT9 5AB
You can’t go to Belfast and not try an Ulster fry.
It’s the Northern Ireland equivalent of a full English breakfast, with the delicious addition of soda farls (Irish soda bread cut into quarters), potato bread, black pudding (a type of blood sausage made with oats, pork fat and pig’s blood), and white pudding (like black pudding but without the blood!).
You’ll find an Ulster Fry on most cafe menus in Belfast, but Maggie May’s was the place everyone recommended me. Their full fry is just £5 AND they offer both vegetarian and vegan options.
Try it at: 50 Botanic Ave, Belfast, BT7 1JR
I’m cheating slightly on this one, because we ran out of time to visit the Titanic Museum. However, I had SO many people tell me that it was an essential Belfast experience that I couldn’t leave it off the list.
The Titanic Museum is a beautiful building on the outside, and inside you’ll walk through nine interactive galleries that tell the history and downfall of the famous ship. You can also book an extended ticket and explore the interior of the SS Nomadic, the last remaining White Star Line ship in the world, which has been restored to it’s formal glory.
Tickets are available online, and they do recommend booking in advance!
Several people recommended the Taste and Tour food tours when Gary and I visited Belfast in April, but unfortunately they were fully booked on the dates we were in town. So I was very excited to see their Gin Jaunt tour on our itinerary in October!
Our lovely tour guide Sinead was brilliant, really friendly, and with an impressive knowledge of both gin and local produce. We had a faaabulous time tasting local gins in some of Belfast’s best bars, as well as enjoying a variety of award-winning snacks.
Definitely one to book if you love gin and good food!
Book it: Taste and Tour NI
Co Couture was the only non-gin stop on our food tour, but Michelle and I loved it so much that we went back again the next day!
Deirdre’s chocolates are award-winning (she’s ranked as one of the best chocolatiers in the world!), but it’s her incredible hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows that steals the show here.
Don’t miss the brownie bites either!
Find it: 7 Chichester St, Belfast, BT1 4JA
Belfast’s St Anne’s Cathedral is a beautiful building, and whether you’re religious or not, it’s definitely worth a visit.
You do have to pay to go beyond the entrance, however you can get in for free if you attend the Choral Evensong service – which I’d recommend as it’s such a lovely atmosphere.
The service usually starts at 5pm, but check the times before you go.
Find it: Donegall St, Belfast, BT1 2HB
The Duke of York is one of Belfast’s most well known pubs. The cobbled street outside its doors is lined with the red benches, coloured lights and hanging flower baskets that make it one of the most iconic streets in the city.
Head over on a Friday evening and the benches will be packed with locals and tourists alike, most of them drinking Guinness, and all of them having a whale of a time!
Inside the pub, the walls (and ceiling!) are lined with beer mats, trays, posters, and all sorts of amazing pub paraphernalia from over the years. Definitely one you shouldn’t miss.
Find it: 7-11 Commercial Ct, Belfast, BT1 2NB
This private car park is closed during the day, but it’s well worth carving out the time to visit on an evening (maybe before you head in to the Duke of York for a pint!). Behind the painted doors opposite the pub entrance is a short tunnel, leading to a small courtyard at the back.
Every inch of the walls is covered with an incredible mural of celebrities and politicians from Belfast. It’s fascinating to look at, and there are yellow umbrellas hanging from the ceiling of the “tunnel”, which are perfect for Instagram!
Find it: 30-34 Hill St, Belfast, BT1 2LB
If you’re in Belfast on a weekend, get yourself down to St George’s Market. This big warehouse is quiet during the week, but come Friday it starts to fill up, and by Saturday it’s full of stalls selling some of the best produce in Northern Ireland.
We only managed to visit St George’s Market on the Friday, so we didn’t linger long (there wasn’t much open!), but it’s meant to be much incredible on Saturday and Sunday, so add it to your list.
The Crown Liquor Saloon is one of Belfast’s oldest pubs, and it’s one of the most well-preserved buildings I’ve ever seen. We visited on our Taste and Tour gin tour, and had a fascinating conversation with one of the managers about its history.
The detailed carvings are all original, the authentic gas lamps are still in use, and you can even see the cracks in the mirror by the door (from where it was shattered by a bomb years ago, and painstakingly pieced back together as a puzzle).
My favourite part of the pub though, is their selection of private wooden booths, complete with stained glass windows, and original “Ring for Service” bells.
(Fun fact: Prince Harry and Meghan recently visited the pub on their tour of Northern Ireland, and if you ask nicely, you might even be able to sit in the same private booth they used!)
The pocket is one of my favourite cafes in Belfast. Gary and I went there for lunch in April, and I was so excited to go back for breakfast in October.
All the dishes are stunning, and the menu is like no breakfast I’ve ever had before. I’m a big fan of their garlicky green sauce with poached eggs on toast, but I was blown away by the balsamic mushrooms. Served on charcoal brioche, with a basil and walnut cream cheese, slices of maple bacon, crushed walnuts, roasted tomatoes and spinach – it’s one of the most decadent things I’ve eaten for breakfast in years. I LOVED IT.
The coffee is excellent, they offer several dairy-free milk options, as well as a great vegetarian/vegan menu, and the service is friendly and fantastic. What more can you ask for?
Find it: 69 University Road, Belfast, BT7 1NF
Our lunch at Holohan’s at the Barge was one of our favourite meals on our first trip to Belfast. The restaurant is actually on a boat on the river, and the food is both delicious and very reasonably priced, especially if you visit at lunchtime.
However, if you’re looking for a more authentic experience, head to their sister restaurant: Holohan’s Pantry, near Queen’s University. They do a great beer and a boxty* deal on a Thursday, with live music in the background!
PS. A boxty is a Northern Irish dish of a potato pancake stuffed with yummy savoury fillings.
Find it: 1 Lanyon Quay, Belfast, BT1 3LG
Muriel’s is a fabulously quirky gin bar, right in the centre of Belfast. The bras and underwear hanging from the ceiling downstairs are a talking point, but it’s the jewel-toned parlour upstairs that really catches the eye!
They have a great gin menu, and food supplied by the brilliant Pablo’s next door. Some of you may remember me losing my mind over Pablo’s burgers in one of my previous Belfast posts. The meat they use in their patties is sold for an extortionate amount in Fortnum & Mason’s in London, but here in Belfast you can enjoy it in a delicious burger for under a tenner.
They also do great shoestring fries, and their selection of homemade dipping sauces is impressive. (Try the Guinness mayo if you’re feeling brave!)
Find it: 22 Church Ln, Belfast, BT1 4QN
READ MORE: 5 Cool Places to Eat in Belfast on a Budget
Fancy a great view of the city? Then head to the Dome at the top of the Victoria Square shopping centre. It’s a viewing platform covered by a glass dome that offers 360 degree views of Belfast.
It’s a quick activity, but a great one for getting your bearings.
Best of all: it’s FREE!
Find it: 1 Victoria Square, Belfast, BT1 4QL
Slightly further away, Belfast Castle is perfectly placed on Cave Hill, with glorious panoramic views over the city. You’ll need a car or coach to get you there, but it’s well worth the drive if you’ve got the time.
The castle itself is beautiful too, with enough turrets and towers to keep any princess happy, and a beautiful set of gardens to explore if the weather’s nice.
There’s also an adventure park nearby, and beautiful hiking trails available over Cave Hill.
Did you know that CS Lewis was born in Belfast? This square is named after the author, and features seven bronze sculptures from his Chronicles of Narnia books, including Aslan, the White Witch, Mr Tumnus, and more!
It’s a little bit of a trek from the city centre, but there’s a coffee bar nearby (also named after Lewis) if you need refreshing after the journey.
Find it: 402 Newtownards Rd, Belfast, BT4 1HH
The Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s definitely something I think everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. (We met the loveliest little old lady who was so excited to finally be ticking it off her bucket list!)
The famous hexagonal stone structure is of course worth the journey alone, but there’s so much more to see and learn in the surrounding area. Pick up an audio guide from the information desk, and listen to the tales of Finn McCool (the giant) as you walk the coastline and admire the stunning views of the Atlantic.
Travel Tip: Prebook your tickets to save a bit of money!
Find it: 44 Causeway Rd, Bushmills, BT57 8SU
Made famous by its feature on Game of Thrones (season 2, episode 1), the Dark Hedges is a tunnel made of beech trees that have grown up and over each other.
The trees were planted in the 18th century, to line the driveway of the big house at the end of the road. Now, the trees are so old that they’ve actually been classified as dangerous, and cars are no longer permitted to drive on the road below them.
It’s an absolutely beautiful scene though, and definitely worth visiting if you can. There’s limited public transport available, so your best bet would be to either drive, or join a tour. (You can usually find tours that cover the Hedges, the Causeway and the Rope Bridge all in one day!)
This was such a fun activity, but I just wish we’d had better weather for it!
The walk from the car park to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is stunning, with coastal landscapes that would rival any epic movie.
The bridge itself was first built 350 years ago, by salmon fishermen wanting to reach the single fisherman’s hut on the tiny Carrick-a-Rede island. It has (thankfully!!) been updated since those days, and it’s perfectly safe!
It’s a National Trust site, so they do have a ticket booking system in place for conservation purposes: £8 for an adult, and £4 for a child.
Also, make sure you check their Twitter feed before you go, as it does close if the weather’s bad. (But it was chucking it down the day we went and it was all still going, so unless it’s a hurricane, you’ll probably be OK!)
*** This post is sponsored by Visit Britain ***