Belfast has come a long way since the days of the political violence. Having grown up with news reports of the IRA, I must admit that this Northern Irish capital was never really on my bucket list. But after interviewing Sarah Arnold who had grown up in Northern Ireland, I was inspired by the things to do in Belfast and had to visit for myself.
It took me less than 48 hours in Belfast to notice how far this nation had come. Todays' Belfast is world's apart from the Belfast in the 80's. Yes, there were still isolated cases of violence but they were minimal and barely even made it to the international press.
It seemed that Northern Ireland was now in the media for all the right reasons – the biggest one being the Game of Thrones. If you’re not a fan (which I’m in the minority of people who aren’t), then you can still enjoy touring around the stunning landscapes chosen for this popular Netflix series. Just seeing the beautiful Irish coastline is worth a visit in itself.
Belfast has redefined itself from the past. After spending 5 nights in this Irish city, here are my recommended things to do in Belfast as a solo.
Things To Do in Belfast
The Titanic Museum
Everyone has heard of the Titanic but if you are like me, you may not have realised that the Titanic was actually built in Belfast. You may not know that the Titanic was just one of three super liners to have been built at the same period. And you may not know that one of its sister ships came to the rescue of the lifeboats and saved the survivors.
Having grown up near Southampton where the Titanic had its maiden voyage, and having sailed over the area near Halifax where it sank, it seemed only fitting that I should discover more about this famous journey at Belfast’s main attraction.
There's a reason that the Titanic Museum was voted the Worlds Leading Tourist Attraction in 2016. That's because it is! It's not just a museum, it's a complete experience of the world's most famous shipwreck. It's so interactive and even if you're not really into ships, it takes you back in time to Belfast when this capital's industry was booming.
There's a short rollercoaster ride that takes you through the working shipyard where you can see the virtual workers and listen to the sounds. You can even try your hand at morse code. There are over nine interactive galleries here but my favourite has to be the underwater discovery room where you can see the projected image of the Titanic as it is today, under the depths of the water.
Don’t think that it’s just for kids either as it provides an education for everyone. I stayed for lunch in the cafe afterwards just to squeeze the most out of my Titanic experience. And even if the world's most famous shipwreck isn't really your thing, it’s still worth visiting (I promise).
- Find it at: Hamilton Dock, Queens Rd (right near the Titanic Museum)
- Time needed: 3-4 hours (there's so much to see!)
- Opens at: 10am – 6pm every day
- Costs: £18.50. Reserve now: The Titanic Experience with SS Nomadic Visit
Your ticket also allows you onto SS Nomadic, one of the Titanic’s tender ships (a ship which carries you from the port to the ship). This ship was used to transport passengers to the Titanic. Inside its champagne bar and opulent interior gave the excited passengers a taste of first class before experiencing the real thing.
What makes this attraction so good is its use of virtual characters which are projected on the walls. You can watch how they used to shovel coal into the engines and listen to the coal worker telling you his story. It only takes about 30 minutes to walk around the whole ship but it adds an extra dimension onto the Titanic tale.
- Find it at: Hamilton Dock, Queens Rd (right near the Titanic Museum)
- Time needed: One hour maximum
- Opens at: 10am – 6pm every day
- Costs: Included within the Titanic Museum ticket
St George’s Market
St George's Market is only open from Friday to Mondays and the stalls vary depending on the days. If you love fish visit on a Friday for more than 20 fish stalls. Saturday and Sundays are more for arts and crafts where local craftspeople sell their creations.
Having visited a few markets in my time, I honestly had no expectations of the city’s award-winning market. But this last surviving Victorian covered market surprised me.
Once inside, the dulcet tones of a live musician singing a rendition of a U2 classic blew me away. In fact, the musician was so good that I came back to get some food and soak up more of the atmosphere later that day whilst enjoying an Ulster fry. If you haven’t yet tried the Irish soda bread or potato cake, this market is a great opportunity to do it. It is a great hub for people to come, eat and enjoy the music but there really is so much more to this market which is one of Belfast's oldest attractions.
You can buy beautiful framed photographs of the Irish coast, crystals at the holistic stands or pick up an Irish antique. You’ll also find other cuisine such as smoked fish chowder and thai curries but as they say, when in Ireland…
- Find it at: 12-20 East Bridge St
- Time needed: One to three hours (depending on whether you stay for food)
- Opens at: Friday 6am – 3pm, Saturday 9am-3pm, Sunday 10am-4pm
- Costs: Free!
Near the Titanic Museum sits the only surviving battleship from The Battle of Jutland in World War One. Once a vessel of war, HMS Caroline is now a floating museum which tells the tale of the battle.
Having never heard of The Battle of Jutland, I knew nothing about HMS Caroline and the role that it played in the battle that apparently changed the course of the First World War.
Luckily the exhibition begins with a short movie cleverly projected onto the gallery walls. The Battle of Jutland was fought over 36 hours and was known as one of the largest surface battles in naval history because of the numbers of vessels involved. The battle took place in the North Sea against the German Navy.
After the short film you explore the rest of the ship, or like me, you go to the gift shop and ask them if that is the end of the tour without realising that there is a lower deck and engine room to discover! You can even climb to the bridge and touch the steering wheel, before wandering through all the cabins below to see the sleeping and eating quarters during the crew’s time at sea.
Each area is self-guided and interactive. All you have to do is aim your torpedo-shaped audio stick at the interactive points to listen to each chapter in your headphones. You discover the stories of the crew as well as how they used to communicate at sea. It’s such a good attraction if you like exploring different rooms and corridors. I even found my way down to the engine room. The torpedo room was definitely a first for me.
For someone who doesn’t hold much of an interest for anything naval, exploring a real-time life battleship and one which played such an important role in our history was so interesting.
- Find it at: Alexandra Dock, Queens Rd (15 minutes walk from the Titanic Museum)
- Time needed: 90 minutes to 3 hours (there's a cafe inside too)
- Opens at: 10am – 5pm every day
- Costs: £10.75 for a self-guided tour. Book this tour: HMS Caroline Self Guided Tour
Take a Political Tour
I personally couldn’t come to Belfast and not learn more about its political history. Having grown up watching the news about the IRA, I wanted to understand more about this conflict that they called ‘The Troubles.’ And taking a political tour with ex-prisoners who had first-hand accounts of the conflict was the perfect way to do it.
The three hour walking tour begins at legendary Falls Road, where The Troubles began more than 30 years ago. Back then, barely any of the residents were unaffected by the conflict and many fought for their beliefs.
You see the area where fifteen hundred houses were set on fire, bullet holes in the walls in Falls Road and the garden where Republicans are remembered (or known as a ‘shrine to terrorism’ depending on which side you were on).
Passing through gates to a mainly Protestant area you hear both accounts of the conflict from the Loyalist and Republican sides and the effects that the conflict has left.
Your guide then explains the political messages behind the colourful murals, before you have the opportunity to sign the Peace Wall. A mural of Bobby Sands, one of the most famous members of the Irish Republican Army who died on hunger strike adorns one of the walls, amongst pictures of Republican women and faces which periled during The Troubles.
The mural that most stands out is the ‘1916 – 2016 picture of guns and a harp; the message ‘From bullet to ballot: the evolution of our revolution,' sums up the three hour tour.
This tour really gives you an insight into the history of Belfast and how far it has come today.
- Find it at: Outside Divis Tower, Divis Street (at the bottom of the Falls Road)
- Time needed: Three hours for the tour plus getting there and back
- Opens at: Daily tours at 2.30pm
- Costs: From £18. Check pricing: Political Conflict 3-Hour Walking Tour
Take Yourself On a Self-Guided Tour
Belfast is a fabulous city to walk around. The city isn’t that large so it’s easily walkable. The walk back into the city from the Titanic Museum is a really calming walk which takes you along the marina past yachts. It's a great place to sit and enjoy a coffee whilst soaking up modern-day Belfast next to The Lagan River. Cross the bridge to see the quirky Big Fish statue.
As well as The Docklands, make sure you see the Botanic Garden, the Albert Clock, and some of the city' best architecture such as the Belfast City Hall. At night, head to the Cathedral Quarter which attracts the party dwellers.
If you don't want to walk and prefer to sightsee by bus instead take the city sightseeing hop-on hop-off bus tour.
- Find it at: Start from anywhere in the city if you walk or take the bus from over 31 stops
- Time needed: As long as you like. A bus ticket lasts for 72 hours
- Opens at: If you walk – anytime. The first bus leaves Custom House Square at 9.45am
- Costs: From £10. Check pricing: Belfast City Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Bus Ticket
Where To Stay in Belfast
I stayed at an Airbnb which was a 20 minute walk into the city. Save $20 off your first Airbnb stay here. Staying in a local's house meant that I didn't meet anyone during my stay so you may prefer to stay in a hostel to meet others to explore the city with.
The Belfast International Youth Hostel is a popular choice. It's close to bars and restaurants and just a short walk from the Botanic Garden. There's a cafe onsite which serves breakfast and a kitchen to prepare your own meals. The location is central and the hostel attracts international guests so you'll definitely meet other travellers here. Rooms are either 4 bed mixed dormitories or you can opt for your own twin room.
- Prices from £15 for a bed in a 4-bed mixed dorm
- To book, check prices or availability for the Belfast International Youth Hostel
Windermere Guest House is also a good option. This guest house offers bed and breakfast in near the Botanical Gardens in Belfast. Enjoy a full English breakfast in an old 19th century Victorian house then explore the city which is only fifteen minutes away on foot. The WiFi is fast and each room has tea and coffee making facilities. Choose from a single or double room with a shared bathroom.
- Prices from £46 per night for a single room
- To book, check prices or availability for Windermere Guest House
How To Get Around Belfast
Belfast is a walkable city. I walked around the city and didn't use any public transport except for the airport bus. If you prefer to cycle your way around, you can take a Belfast bike (£5 for three days), situated around Belfast city centre. Translink is the city's bus provider. You just pay for a ticket in cash when you get on the bus. Check here for routes and timetables.
From the Airport
Belfast City Airport – Some low cost airlines fly into George Best Belfast City Airport which is really close to the city (hence the name). A taxi costs approx £8 and takes about 10 minutes. The buses from the airport are number 600 and run every 20 minutes during peak times into Europa Buscentre. The cost is £3 for a single ticket. From Belfast City Airport you can also reach Derry (known as Londonderry), by Airporter which goes from outside the airport.
Belfast International Airport – The international airport is 18 miles outside of Belfast. The Airport Express 300 bus runs from opposite the terminal exit into the Europa Buscentre, Templepatrick, and Royal Avenue. It takes up to 40 minutes and costs £7.50 one way. If you are travelling onto Londonderry or Lisburn there is an Ulsterbus and Airporter bus to both places. Taxis are available from outside the airport exit and costs approx £45 into the city.
How good is Belfast for solos? Belfast still has the Irish charm without the tourist vibe and expense of Dublin. The locals are friendly and I felt really safe. I definitely recommend visiting.