If you are planning a day trip from Dublin to Belfast, then this is the article that you will need to plan your itinerary. Discover the best of things to do for 24 hours in Belfast - including the place where the tragic ship Titanic was built.
Belfast is a dynamic city that well and truly deserves global recognition as one of the best European cities to visit on a day trip. While the majority of visitors to Ireland tend to base themselves down South in Dublin, the numerous Belfast landmarks have attracted several of them. The city has slowly grown into an affordable, excitable destination in North Ireland, UK. The city is best known as the birthplace of the famed Titanic ship. However, there is just plenty more to see and enjoy when you visit Belfast.
In this blog post, I am going to outline the best way to spend 24 hours in Belfast. I will give you recommendations of what to do during your day in Belfast, where to stay in the city and even some handy travel tips for spending 24 hours in Belfast. You are bound to find these useful if you are one of those travelers contemplating a day trip from Dublin to Belfast.
- 1 About Belfast – Is it a part of the UK or the Republic of Ireland?
- 2 A brief history of Belfast in UK
- 3 Where to stay for a day in Belfast?
- 4 How to get around Belfast?
- 5 Best things to do for 24 hours in Belfast
- 6 Places to eat and drink during your one day in Belfast
- 7 Alternative suggestions for spending 24 hours in Belfast
- 8 Frequently Asked Questions about Belfast
- 9 Booking Resources
About Belfast – Is it a part of the UK or the Republic of Ireland?
Belfast is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland – which belongs to the UK. However, it is quite close to Dublin – the capital of the Republic of Ireland. This is why people tend to confuse the exact location of this city. The proximity of Dublin to Belfast is another reason why this city makes a popular day trip from the Irish capital.
The city is based along the banks of the River Lagan. In fact, the sandbars of the river were what gave the city its name. It was initially called Béal Feirste which in Irish means the “mouth of the sandbars”. It is known as a major port and an industrial center
A brief history of Belfast in UK
The history of Belfast can be traced back to the Bronze age when it was settled by the Celtic tribe of the Ulaid. You can still see remains of this in the famous Belfast landmarks like the Giant’s ring and the Iron age castles around the city. In the 17th century, Belfast was established as a town by English and Scottish settlers, who in fact, bought the land from Conn O’Neill of the O’Neill dynasty. The town was developed as a plantation town until the 18th century.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Belfast experienced rapid growth and industrialization, becoming a major center for shipbuilding and linen production. In the early 20th century, Belfast was a major port and industrial city and was heavily bombed during World War II. In the late 1960s, The Troubles began a period of sectarian violence and political conflict between the Catholic and Protestant communities, which lasted for more than 30 years. In the late 1990s, the Good Friday Agreement was signed, bringing an end to the violence and leading to a period of relative peace and stability.
Today, Belfast in the UK is one of the most vibrant cultural hubs. It has been given Gamma+ status by the GaWC in 2020 – making it one of the key global cities. The city is also, a popular day trip from Dublin. So, if you are one of those travelers contemplating this trip from Dublin, then you have come to the right place that will help you spend the best 24 hours in Dublin.
Where to stay for a day in Belfast?
If you only have 24 hours to explore the wonderful city of Belfast, then you are going to want to stay in an area that is conveniently located in the center of the city and many of the major Belfast landmarks.
For this reason, it is recommended you opt for one of the best places to stay in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast. The Titanic Quarter, as you may have gathered from the name, is the area of Belfast that helped to build the famous Ill-fated ship. The undoubted highlight of the area is the award-winning Titanic Museum – the largest Titanic-themed exhibit collection in the world.
The most unique place to stay in the Titanic Quarter is the Titanic Hotel. The hotel was built in the Harland and Wolff dockyard office buildings, the exact buildings where the original designs and plans for the Titanic were formulated. If you are looking for mid-priced stays in this area, you could consider The Dream Apartments which has some good reviews.
How to get around Belfast?
Belfast is a well-connected city. You will find with easy transport links from Dublin to Belfast by road and rail, and the UK via plane or ferry. Once you get into the city itself, the easiest way to navigate your way around is to use the local bus network. Translink operates a large fleet of regular and metro buses that can easily transport you all over Belfast (See Translink’s website for timetables, routes and prices).
There is also, an option for the Belfast hop-on hop-off buses with audio guides. This covers all the major attractions of Belfast.
If you want to hit many of the major sights of Belfast as quickly as possible during your 24 hours in the city, then taxis are probably your best option. Value Cabs are the most reliable option in Belfast. Simply download their app, book a taxi and pay the driver by cash or card once you’ve completed your journey.
Belfast is a relatively small, European capital city, which makes it easy to explore on foot. Belfast City Hall is often referred to as the ‘center of the city’ and from here, you can happily walk to many of the major Belfast landmarks (such as the Titanic Museum, Crumlin Road Gaol, Queen’s University Complex etc.) under 30 minutes.
You also, have several guided walking tours in Belfast that add those local lores to make your journey through this city even more pleasurable.
There are two types of Bike tours that you can consider to spend your day in Belfast. The first is the regular bicycle tours that cover all the major places to see in Belfast. You even get a guide on these tours. The other option and a unique one is Belfast City center Beer bike tour. The tour takes around 7 – 10 participants and you can even order or bring your own drinks to keep you company as you pedal around the city.
Best things to do for 24 hours in Belfast
Belfast is a relatively small city but despite its size, there are plenty of things to pack into such a small space.
I have put together a suggested itinerary of how you could spend your day in Belfast. The itinerary ensures you visit all the major spots of the city and also has suggestions of where to eat and drink during your stay in Belfast.
Visit the Titanic Museum – an important Belfast Landmark
If you have taken my recommendation of staying in the Titanic Quarter, it seems right that your 24-hour Belfast itinerary should begin with a visit to the world-renowned Titanic Museum.
Belfast and the Titanic are inextricably linked, with the city being the birthplace of the famous ship. The Belfast docks were used to design, create and forge the ship before it set out on its maiden (and ultimately, final) voyage. The museum tells the story of the ship, from its construction and launch to its fateful voyage and ultimate sinking. It features interactive exhibits, artifacts, and personal stories of the passengers and crew. One of the things that I really liked and also, recommend is that you take a guided tour of the Titanic’s dock and pump-house, and experience what it was like to work at the shipyard during the construction of the Titanic.
Important information for the Titanic Museum:
- Opening times: 9 am-7pm (closes earlier during the winter months)
- How to buy tickets: Here is a link that allows you to buy tickets to this place in advance. This ticket also, includes a tour of the SS Nomadic – the last of the White Star line vessel. Also, note that there is a timed entry system to visit the museum
- How much time to spend there? Typically 3 hours is the time recommended to spend at the Titanic Museum but as you only have 24 hours in the city, 2 hours should be plenty of time to explore the exhibits.
Go on a political black taxi tour around Belfast
Belfast hasn’t always been the inviting, hospitable place that it is today. Indeed, the city was in the grips of a brutal sectarian war for nearly 30 years from 1970 until the Good Friday Peace Agreement was signed in 1998.
The war locally referred to as ‘The Troubles’, has left an indelible mark on the people of Belfast and Northern Ireland. The best way to discover and learn more about the Troubles is to hear directly from those who lived and worked through the bloody conflict. A political black taxi tour of Belfast takes you to many of the most pertinent sites of the war and introduces you to people from both sides of the Protestant-Catholic divide.
The tour has a flexible itinerary and typically lasts around 2 hours, making it the perfect introduction to the history of Belfast during your 24-hour visit to Northern Ireland’s capital.
You can find prices and reviews for the Belfast black taxi tour here.
Explore Crumlin Road Gaol (Jail)
After learning all about the Troubles on your taxi tour around Belfast, the best place to head next is the infamous Crumlin Road Gaol (Jail).
Often referred to as simply ‘The Crum’, it was an active prison as recently as 1996 and was used to hold a number of notorious prisoners throughout the Troubles. Nowadays, it has been transformed into a fascinating Museum. I particularly found it insightful as I wandered through the old prison wings and heard the gory tales and misdemeanors of ex-inmates and prisoners that once called the Jail home.
- Opening times: 9 am-7 pm (closes earlier during the winter months)
- How to buy tickets: You can get a guided tour along with the tickets through this link. The tour can be booked in advance saving you time on your one day in Belfast.
- How much time to spend there? 2 hours is enough time to complete a self-guided visit to the Crumlin Road Gaol.
See a performance at the Grand Opera House
I recommend that you round off your perfect 24 hours in Belfast by seeing a live performance at the iconic Grand Opera House (GOH). As Belfast’s and Northern Ireland’s only Victorian-era opera house, the GOH is steeped in history and features regular opera, theatre, music and comedy performances.
Before seeing a performance, be sure to check out the famous Europa Hotel that is just across the road from the Grand Opera House. The Hotel still holds the rather chilling title of being the most bombed hotel in Europe, thanks to the number of journalists that chose to stay at the hotel during the Troubles.
Places to eat and drink during your one day in Belfast
Exploring everything Belfast has to offer in just one day will have certainly made you have a big appetite, and what better way to satisfy your hunger than sampling some food from one of Belfast’s finest Street Food Markets.
Common Market, found in the city center, is the best place to grab some world-inspired dishes and delights. Choose meals such as delicious Filipino fusion, fiery Mexican street food or even warming Canadian Poutine.
Still haven’t satisfied your tastebuds enough? Wander towards the Trade Market on the other side of the city center and take a seat under the outdoor-heated canopy. Here you will find options such as authentic stone-baked Pizza and yummy Italian Gelato – you can even wash it all down with a famous Irish coffee!
At the end of this itinerary, you can simply wander back towards your hotel in the Titanic Quarter or if you want to extend the night, perhaps you could aim for one of Belfast’s welcoming pubs to experience some traditional, live, Irish folk music while sipping on an expertly-poured Guinness. After all, a trip to Belfast wouldn’t be the same without Guinness!
Perhaps the most famous pub in Belfast, the Duke of York, located close to the Cathedral Quarter of the city, is the best place to experience some of that world-renowned ‘Irish Craic’ and is also home to the country’s largest selection of Irish whiskey. The Duke of York is one of my recommended things to do in Belfast at night.
Alternative suggestions for spending 24 hours in Belfast
Underneath you shall some suggestions for some alternative ways to spend 24 hours in Belfast. As has already been discussed, Belfast is a city with a wealth of things to do and see and so there are plenty of options to suit any travel itinerary.
- If you prefer getting out into nature when you visit a city, then you should head to North Belfast and aim for the hiking trails of Cavehill Country Park. Swing by the Belfast Castle on your way for a cup of tea and a delicious Belfast Bap! In fact, this is one of the free things to do in Belfast.
- Looking to do some shopping in Belfast? Spend hours exploring Victoria Square and Castle Court Shopping Centre to find everything you could possibly want! The city also has a number of historic marketplaces and street markets, such as St. George’s Market, which offers a range of fresh produce, crafts, and souvenirs. Additionally, there are a number of independent and specialty shops throughout the city that offer unique and locally-made products. Some of the popular areas for shopping include Lisburn Road, the Cathedral Quarter, and Donegall Place.
- Swap one of the museums with Ulster Museum – which incidentally is yet another one of those free things to do in Belfast. The Ulster Museum, Belfast, is the largest museum in Northern Ireland, located in the Botanic Gardens in Belfast. It has a wide-ranging collection that covers the natural sciences, including geology, botany, and zoology, as well as the applied sciences, local history, archaeology, fine art and industrial archaeology. Make sure you visit the Armanda Room here for its exhibit of the mummy of Princess Takabuti which is over 2500 years old. Plus you can also, keep an eye out for the exhibits of 1588 wreck of the Spanish galleon Girona
- Perhaps you’re looking for a more relaxed atmosphere to enjoy your day in Belfast? The University Quarter has a number of cute, independent coffee shops to choose from before spending your afternoon wandering leisurely around the historic Queen’s University complex and the beautiful Belfast Botanical Gardens.
Tips for a 24-hour visit to Belfast
Here are a few quick tips to make sure you get the most out of your day in Belfast:
- Download the Value Cabs app – it works similarly to Uber or Grab, but you simply pay the driver instead of registering a card through the app. It’s the easiest way to get hold of a taxi quickly in Belfast.
- You won’t be able to see every single thing in 24 hours – Belfast is a city that is currently thriving, which means there is a real plethora of things to do and see in the city. Prioritize what you really want to achieve from your visit because you definitely won’t be able to see everything in just one day in Belfast.
- Irish weather is very unpredictable – even in the height of summer, it isn’t uncommon for rain to fall in Belfast. Make sure you bring a jacket with you at all times during your trip to Northern Ireland’s capital.
There we have it, a conclusive round-up of how to spend 24 hours in Belfast. As you may have gathered by this point, Belfast is a lively and dynamic city that is looking to put its Troubles in the past and look towards a much brighter and more positive future.
Frequently Asked Questions about Belfast
Is one day good enough for Belfast?
If you have planned well, then you can cover most of the key Belfast attractions in one day – that is 24 hours.
Can you enter Belfast from Dublin with an Irish visa?
As long as it is a short-stay visa, some nationalities (Indian and Chinese) can visit Dublin with an Irish Visa. This is a part of the British -Irish Visa scheme.
What is the best way to go from Dublin to Belfast?
There is excellent rail and road connectivity between Dublin and Belfast. You can either hop into one of those express trains that run multiple times a day from Dublin to Belfast or take a bus using the Translink network. There are also, numerous tourist buses that run between these two cities.
Before you go, pin this
- Booking.com has several good Belfast stays hotels listed on its site. You could use this link to browse and book the same.
- If you prefer Agoda.com as a platform to book your hotels in Belfast, UK, then you can use this link to get to the site and pick one.
- Viator.com offers several tours in and around Belfast and Dublin. Use the link to discover these and book one for yourself.
- GetYourGuide is one of the most popular websites to book local tours and tickets for your day in Belfast. In fact, you can book a complete trip from Dublin to Belfast using the link given.
- For any of your travel needs or general shopping, consider using Amazon through this link.
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This post & some of its images has been contributed by my guest author – Ben. Ben lives and works in Belfast, alongside his partner Orla, and they now share their love for the city and countless other worldwide destinations on their couples travel blog Ticket 4 Two Please. You can also find them here on Instagram