Belfast is slowly rising from its dark past. Wounds are starting to heal and over the last few years, more and more international travellers discover the charms of this often misunderstood Northern Irish city. Less crowded and definitely cheaper than Dublin, you can find just as much ‘craic’ in its famous pubs, just as many historic buildings in the streets and just as much rain…
But the best thing about Belfast is that it doesn’t have to cost you a lot! Check out this list of 13 free things to do in Belfast!
1/ The Ulster Museum
If you are interested in Northern Ireland’s complex history, then let this museum be your first stop! From the first inhabitants of the country to international artefacts (did you know you could see an Egyptian mummy in Belfast?), from the Armada to the recent history of the Troubles: the different floors give you a detailed explanation of how this fascinating part of the UK became what it is today!
If you still have energy left, don’t forget to have a look at the art and natural history section! Or since it’s free, why not come back another time?
2/ St George’s Market
Winner of “UK’s Best Large Indoor Market 2014”, it is one of my favourite free things to do in Belfast! St George’s market is the best place to mingle with locals and taste local and international food in one of the many stalls. The market is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and is a mix of food, antiques, books and local crafts. The best time for a visit is during the weekend around lunch time when local musicians provide free live music!
3/ Queen’s University
Queen’s University is without any doubt one of the nicest buildings in Belfast! Its beautiful façade attracts students and visitors alike. Stroll around the courtyard or drop into its welcome centre for some further explanations. Make sure to visit the Great Hall and the Naughton Gallery, home to touring art exhibitions.
4/ Botanic Gardens
Situated next to the Queen’s University are the Botanic Gardens; the place where students, dog walkers and businessmen hang out for lunch on a sunny day (yes, it does happen occasionally!). It’s an oasis of peace and green open spaces. The Palm House, a curved iron glasshouse, contains a range of tropical plants and hanging baskets, while the Tropical Ravine is home to some of the oldest seed plants, as well as banana plants, orchids, …
5/ Live music
In Belfast, there’s no need to pay to enjoy some good live music. You can pretty much find it every evening in one of the city’s many pubs. Whether it’s blues, traditional music sessions, rock or jazz you are after, there is always something going on! Make sure you pay a visit to some of the best traditional pubs in Belfast!
6/ Views over the city
From the city centre take bus nr 1 up to Belfast Castle and enjoy the beautiful views from its gardens over Belfast Lough! Or take a 45 minute climb up Cave Hill (the trail starts at the Castle) and be rewarded with an even better view! On clear weather you can even see as far as Scotland!
The less adventurous can go to the upper floor of Victoria Square Shopping Centre, in the city centre, to enjoy a nice view over Belfast’s rooftops from the glass dome.
7/ Art galleries
Belfast has a huge number of art galleries for a relatively small city. The main one is the MAC. More than just a gallery, it calls itself an “art venue” and offers a mix of music, theatre, dance and art exhibitions. Have a look at what’s on while enjoying the lovely food at its canteen.
If you are more into photography, you should definitely pay a visit to Belfast Exposed, the city’s photo gallery. Ever-changing exhibitions and photography courses make this gallery a must for all photography enthusiasts!
8/ The City Hall
Belfast’s City Hall is situated smack in the middle of the city centre and one of the most recognizable icons of the city. There are free guided tours several times a day, they will take you along the beautiful marble steps, back into the history of the building and you get a chance to visit the Lord Mayor’s cabinet! And on top of that, there is also a free exhibition on the history of Belfast!
9/ The political murals
Despite the recent peace process Belfast is still a divided city in some areas. Most schools either have a protestant or catholic background, some pubs are pretty one-sided and the different communities do not tend to mix often, although the latter has changed a lot in recent years.
The best way to realize this or to get a glimpse of the city’s recent troubled past is to walk through West Belfast. The political murals and the huge “peace wall” that separates both communities is a must for every visitor to the city! No worries, it’s a safe area to walk in as long as you keep your personal views on the matter to yourself. (If you are looking to delve deeper into the history of the “Troubles”, it might be a good option to go on one of these Troubles tours of Belfast)
10/ The Oh Yeah Music Centre
This is a place often overlooked by visitors. Don’t ask me why, cause this venue in the arty and alternative Cathedral Quarter will give you a fantastic overview of the Northern Irish music industry! From The Undertones to Van Morrison, from Therapy to Snow Patrol: you can find memorabilia like playlists, records, posters and jackets. There’s even a timeline in case you’re memory’s a bit blurred. One of my favourite places in town!
11/ Free Walking Tour
Like most cities, Belfast has its very own free walking tour of the city centre. Twice a day ( 11am and 2.30pm), you can spot the enthusiastic guides with yellow umbrellas in front of the City Hall, waiting to take you around Belfast. There is a tour in English and Spanish for each time frame. The tour lasts +/- 2 hours and is a mix of history and fun facts. As is common with those tours, they are free, but you are expected to give the guide a tip at the end.
12/ Linen Hall Library
Housed inside a listed Victorian building, the Linen Hall Library is the only private library in Northern Ireland. It used to be a linen warehouse, back in the days when linen was Belfast’s main industry. It’s worth having a look inside this stunning building. Feel free to browse the collections for free and sit down for a cup of tea or a bite of lunch at the café. If you are interested in Belfast’s troubled past, there is a massive collection of posters dating back to the Troubles.
From Monday to Friday there are guided tours at 10.30am which cost £5, if you want to learn more about the history of the library and the building.
13/ Stormont Parliament Buildings
The beautifully landscaped grounds of Stormont Estate, situated in East Belfast, are a great place for a walk or a picnic on a sunny day. They are also home to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The impressive building has 6 floors and 6 pillars at the entrance, representing the 6 counties of Northern Ireland. You can pay a visit from Mon-Fri 9am till 4pm to view the Great Hall or visit the gift and coffee shop. There are also free guided tours from Mon-Fri at 11am and 2pm.
There’s plenty more to do in and around Belfast. Did you know that Lonely Planet proclaimed the Causeway Coastal Route as one of the best regions to visit in 2018? Or how about paying a visit to the historical city of Derry/Londonderry? You should have your ticket booked already!
Is Belfast on your list? Or maybe you’ve been? What are, according to you, the best free things to do in Belfast?