We didn’t originally plan to have just 24 hours in Belfast during our recent trip to Northern Ireland in July. After planning for a year, we were excited to spend 3 nights in Belfast as part of our Northern Ireland road trip. Unfortunately, weather-related travel delays cut our short trip by two whole days. That meant we missed a lot of time originally planned for the capital city of Belfast.
With Belfast having overcome a lot of the conflict from the later half of the 20th century, the city is full of lively pubs, art and museums, while still embracing its past throughout. You could easily spend a week in Belfast and not get to everything, but it’s totally worth the stop if you’re short on time as well. As it turns out, you can have just as much fun for one night in Belfast as you can for a longer trip in this lively city.
While our two year old son was with us on this trip, nothing we did in Belfast was specifically for kids. (And he still had a blast!) The entire city of Belfast is very kid-friendly, and this itinerary equally as great for a trip to Belfast with kids as it is for a kid-free trip.
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How to Get to Belfast
Belfast has two airports- the George Best Belfast City Airport and the larger, Belfast International Airport. If you’re coming from the United States, however, it can be fairly expensive and require more connections to fly directly into Belfast. For that reason, we opted to fly in and out of the Dublin International Airport and rent a car from there. It’s an easy drive from the Dublin Airport to Belfast and took us just under 2 hours. (We also took advantage of flying through Dublin by spending two nights in Dublin before leaving Ireland.)
Although a car is the preferred method of transportation for getting around Northern Ireland, Belfast is also accessible by both bus and train. Regular transportation via Translink operates from Dublin and connects Belfast to the rest of Northern Ireland.
Note: If you drive from Dublin to Belfast, be aware that the speed limit and rental cars in Dublin are based on kilometers per hour. The speed limit in Northern Ireland, however, is in miles per hour. This can make for a somewhat confusing roadtrip in Northern Ireland if you rent a car from Dublin!
Related Post: Tips for Renting and Driving a Car in Europe
Where to Stay in Belfast
With so many options in a city as large as Belfast, it can be overwhelming to know where to stay. If you’re looking for a central location with easy access to nightlife, the area around the Belfast City Hall is extremely walkable. (This Hampton Inn in Belfast’s City Center is a central and affordable option.)
Alternatively, if you’re looking for more of a neighborhood feel like we were, I highly recommend the Ormeau Park area. There are several local restaurants and coffee shops within walking distance. And you get the benefit of staying in a quiet, tree-lined street with easy access to everything Belfast has to offer. (The free street parking is also a plus!)
We stayed in this luxury townhouse in Ormeau Park, and I can’t say enough good things about our Belfast AirBnB. The home is beautifully decorated with tasteful and stylish decor and furniture. The host was also super helpful with local recommendations and extremely responsive leading up to our trip. (She even helped us find accommodations when our rental in Portstewart was cancelled a few weeks prior to our trip. Definitely a lifesaver!) Note: This AirBnB has a 2 night minimum, so if you’re only staying in Belfast for 1 night it may not be an option for you. We ended up keeping this rental after our travel plans changed and are so glad we did!
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How to Get Around Belfast
Belfast offers a number of transportation options for getting to and around the city. In addition to the trains and buses that connect Belfast to the rest of Ireland, Belfast offers metro buses throughout the city. (See Translink‘s website for more information.)
With a short amount of time in Belfast, we found that the easiest way to get to places we couldn’t walk to was to use Value Cab. It’s similar to Uber in that you just download the app to book a cab. The only difference is that you pay the driver directly, versus paying through the app.
As previously mentioned, the easiest way to get around Ireland in general is by renting and driving a car. The city of Belfast is also fairly easy to navigate by car, with ample parking options throughout. Just be sure to pay attention to the road signs and roundabouts, since they can get confusing.
Itinerary for 24 Hours in Belfast
We arrived in Belfast around 11am and left the following day around 12pm. Below is our itinerary, which also included breaks since we traveled to Belfast on a red eye. (One of the benefits of traveling with a 2 year old is built in nap times!)
Any time we’re adjusting to a time change, we try to get lots of sunlight and fresh air. This is especially true for an overnight flight. With Belfast having several parks and being easily walkable, it was perfect for that. And it didn’t hurt that the weather in Belfast was warm and sunny during our trip to Northern Ireland in July.
Day 1 in Belfast
- Arrive in Belfast at Ormeau Park at 11am
- Brunch at General Merchants
- Walk around Ormeau Park
- Photo shoot and walking tour of Belfast
- Cathedral Quarter
- Dinner at Cloth Ear
- Ice cream at AL Gelato (or spend more time around the Cathedral Quarter if you’re not in Belfast with a kid like we were!)
Day 2 in Belfast
Things to Do with 24 Hours in Belfast
There are so many great things to do in Belfast that it can be hard to know what to focus on with limited time. Any time I go to a new city, I always try to leave time to walk around and see some of the major statues, art monuments. Below are a few places filled with history and great photo opportunities in Belfast.
- The Big Fish (a.k.a. the Salmon of Knowledge) and the harbor behind it
- Spirit of Belfast sculpture in Cornmaket
- The RISE sculpture (which you also can see from the M1 motorway)
- C.S. Lewis Square, dedicated to the author’s famous book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”
- A number of great murals and street art in Belfast (see here for a map)
- The Belfast Entries, which are narrow alleyways with historical significance (Joy’s Entry in particular is beautifully decorated and is home to The Jailhouse Belfast)
If you’re short on time and are going to pick just one tourist attraction in Belfast, the Titanic Belfast should be it. The Titanic Belfast is a huge, interactive museum with several floors and 9 different galleries. It starts with the industrial history of Belfast and the inception of the titanic. There’s even a Shipyard ride, which gives a first hand perspective on what it’s like to work at the Harland & Wolff shipyard. (In fact, the Titanic museum is housed by the H&W dockyard- at the very site the Titanic was built.) In addition to the Shipyard ride, we particularly enjoyed the gallery full of artifacts from the ship itself. This included models of a lavish suite and dining areas, to give you a sense of what it was like being on board the Titanic.
The Titanic Museum also takes you through the events leading up to the Titanic’s maiden voyage, including the trial run and official launch day. We learned a lot about the ship actually hitting the glacier as well, including some myths that were shaped by the media. The last few galleries of the museum included video footage of the Titanic underwater and a history of ocean exploration.
Full disclosure, we were somewhat limited in our ability to really take everything in at the Titanic Belfast with a toddler in tow. But you can easily spend a day at the museum and not get to everything. There are also several restaurants both within the museum and surrounding Titanic Quarter area.
The Titanic Belfast uses a timed entry system to manage the crowds. You can purchase tickets to the Titanic Experience and S.S. Nomadic here.
- Address: 1 Olympic Way, Queens Road, Titanic Quarter, Belfast
- Website: https://titanicbelfast.com
AirBnB Experience: Photo Tour of Belfast
If you’re looking for an easy way to see Belfast while having pictures taken to document your trip, I highly recommend a photo tour. Our son turned two just before our trip, and we wanted family pictures taken to commemorate both his 2nd birthday and his first trip to Europe. We discovered Lucy’s Belfast Photo Walk and Photoshoot on AirBnB Experience. It was the perfect way to see some of the main sights in the center of Belfast, and we got some awesome family pictures out of it too. (It’s great for solo travelers and couples too, since it can be so difficult to have great pictures taken with you in them!)
Lucy grew up outside of Belfast and lived in the area her entire life, making her an awesome local guide. She brought us to places like City Hall, the Titanic Memorial Garden and the Cathedral Quarter. Plus, we visited several other unique photo spots that we likely wouldn’t have found just wandering on our own. Lucy is a genuinely nice person and we really enjoyed her company. She also helped us out with recommendations for both Belfast and our next stop in Carrickfergus. Below are just a few of the great pictures we received from our family photo session in Belfast. You can find Lucy’s Photoshoot in Belfast on AirBnB experience here.
Photo Credit: Lucy Sempey
This sprawling park is the oldest municipal park in Belfast, having opened in the late 1800s. Ormeau Park holds several different sports fields and facilities. It also has a children’s playground and a number of pathways and trails for walking, running or biking. If you’re looking for a place to get some fresh air and pretty views, Ormeau Park absolutely perfect for that. We took a quick walk through the park on our first day in Belfast, and it was so nice to enjoy the sunshine during our trip to Belfast in July.
Additional Things to Do if You Have More Than 24 Hours in Belfast
As mentioned previously, we originally planned for 3 nights in Belfast. Here are the things we planned to do with our additional time in Belfast. And since we didn’t get to them, they’ll be on our Belfast bucket list for next time!
- Ulster Museum
- Botanic Gardens and Palm House
- Tour the Crumlin Road Gaol
- Black Taxi History Tour
- W5 Children’s Museum (if you’re visiting Belfast with kids)
Where to Drink and Eat in Belfast
Belfast offers a great combination of trendy and healthy food options along with traditional Irish cuisine. Since we were only in Belfast for 24 hours, we had most of our meals near our house in Ormeau Park. There was no shortage of cafes and eateries in this beautiful Belfast neighborhood, and I highly recommend it.
General Merchants has four locations throughout Belfast. We had a chance to visit the Ormeau Park location for a yummy weekend brunch. Our AirBnB was so close that I would have eaten there every day if we had more time! The menu is fresh and innovative, with a combination of unique and traditional items including avocado toast and an Ulster fry. General Merchants also serves great coffee, and the freshly brewed chai tea was one of the best I’ve ever had. If you’re visiting Belfast with kids, General Merchants also has high chairs and an all day kids menu. Gotta love a place that’s great for kids without having to compromise on food and atmosphere!
- Address: 361 Ormeau Road, Belfast
- Website: http://www.generalmerchants.co.uk
This independent, nordic coffee shop has a few locations throughout Belfast. We had a chance to visit the original location on Ormeau Road during our 24 hours in Belfast. Kaffe O is purely an espresso bar (meaning, it doesn’t serve drip coffee) and it uses beans that are roasted and shipped from Copenhagen. We had a latte and Americano that were both amazing. Kaffe O also serves food and it’s a great spot if you’re looking for a quick, healthy meal.
- Address: 411 Ormeau Road, Belfast
- Website: http://kaffeo.coffee
The Cloth Ear
The Cloth Ear is located within the Merchant Hotel in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast. It’s a great place for traditional Irish food in Belfast with a modern feel. The decor is cozy and sophisticated, yet surprisingly kid-friendly. (In addition to a kids’ menu at Cloth Ear, there’s a huge basket of toys for kids to play with.) My husband and son had the traditional fish and chips while I had the signature chicken curry, and it was so flavorful. The Cloth Ear also has a great beer list and cocktail menu. Plus, its location near the Cathedral Quarter makes it a great spot to grab dinner before a night out!
- Address: 16 Skipper Street, Belfast
- Website: https://www.themerchanthotel.com/bars-restaurants/the-cloth-ear/
We saw so many people walking around with gelato from here that we had to give it a try. Turns out, it’s rated one of the best places for ice cream in Belfast, and for good reason! This yummy spot for gelato has a number of unique flavors, including vegan and dairy free options. The ice cream at AL Gelato is also made fresh on-site with locally sourced ingredients. If you’re not in the mood for ice cream, AL Gelato also offers hot and cold drinks and baked goods.
- Address: 397A Ormeau Road, Belfast
- Website: https://www.algelato.net
Visiting Belfast with Kids?
Here are some additional tips for navigating Belfast with children:
- The entire city of Belfast is very stroller friendly
- Museums and attractions are typically free for little ones (Titanic Belfast, for example, is free for children under 5)
- If you’re using a taxi, car seats are not required for babies and toddlers
- The Hop on Hop off Bus Tour in Belfast is free for kids under 3 and discounted for children ages 3-15
- Translink offers summer family fares for public transportation
While we didn’t plan to have just 24 hours in Belfast, I’m so glad we at least got a glimpse of Northern Ireland’s largest city. If you’ve been to Belfast, what are some of your favorite things to do that we need to get to next time?
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