Tips + Trends

Northern Ireland at Your Fingertips: Explore the Wonders in Belfast and Beyond

Belfast’s appearance on travelers’ radars is no surprise — the capital of Northern Ireland has come into its own as a cultural and foodie hub with a unique Ulster twist.

The city has been going through something of a renaissance, and many of its top sights are near the centrally located AC Hotel by Marriott Belfast. With the Belfast Hills as a backdrop, uninterrupted views of the River Lagan, and just a short walk from world-class museums, natural escapes and the best places to eat and drink, it’s an ideal base from which to explore this burgeoning city.

Once you’re set to explore the wonders of Belfast and beyond, these top spots are at your fingertips.

Discover the Story of the Titanic

Titanic Belfast is the city’s most popular attraction, located on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard where the Titanic was built.

The museum takes visitors on a journey through the life of the ill-fated Titanic. Nine immersive, interactive galleries interpret the tale of the ship, highlighting Belfast’s industrial work in the early 20th century before leading visitors past special-effects-filled reconstructions and underwater exhibits.

Visit the shipyard and experience the launch of the Titanic, and learn about the sinking and devastating aftermath of what was once the largest passenger cruise liner in the world.

The museum building is a destination and architectural masterpiece in its own right.

Visit the Ulster Museum

Located in the Botanic Gardens in Stranmillis in the south of Belfast, this brutalist building has housed the Ulster Museum since 1929, though many of the artifacts on display were first collected by the Belfast Natural History Society in 1821.

things to do in belfast
Visit Northern Ireland’s largest museum. (Photo: Courtesy of Ulster Museum)

Northern Ireland’s largest history museum is also considered one of its finest. Collections showcase the history and unique culture of Ireland and further afield, from early Neolithic axes and dinosaurs to Bronze Age gold jewelry and tropical butterflies of Malaysia.

Walk with Giants on the Causeway Coast

The Giant’s Causeway on the Causeway Coast is among the most picturesque sights in Northern Ireland. More than 40,000 interlocking basalt rocks and geometric columns define this UNESCO-listed and national nature reserve, an impressive multistory stepping stone path that crosses a rugged, windswept coastal bay on the North Antrim Coast.

things to do in belfast
Stroll among the giants. (Photo: Getty Images)

Legend has it that the causeway was built by a giant named Finn McCool, who was challenged to a fight by a Scottish giant and built the causeway that once stretched all the way to Scotland so that the two could meet. The area is famous for its notable features, including the multilayered basalt columns, a giant boot-shaped stone, and stone chimney stacks that protrude from the cliffs.

Visit Mount Stewart

Mount Stewart is undoubtedly the finest stately home and gardens in Northern Ireland. This 19th-century former home of the Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Marquesses of Londonderry family is located in County Down, south of Belfast.

The palatial gray-stone mansion has witnessed many historical events in Ulster, and visitors can tour the full 950-acre estate. Inside the home is a wealth of art collections, unique furnishings and treasures, and the expansive gardens hide many secrets, including a sunken garden, a dodo terrace, a lake and menagerie filled with exotic birds.

Visit “Game of Thrones” Filming Locations

Many visitors to Northern Ireland are surprised to learn that many of the locations in the hit TV series “Game of Thrones” are filmed here. The real-life Westeros is thought to have been inspired by Northern Ireland, and many filming locations from the show are near Belfast by road or train.

things to do in belfast
Revisit “Game of Thrones.” (Photo: Getty Images)

There are several iconic filming locations worth visiting when in Northern Ireland. The dark hedged archway of trees in Ballymoney, which represented the King’s Road used by Arya Stark on her way to join the Night’s Watch, is simply spectacular, as is the swaying Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge that hangs over the rough seas in Larrybane, the backdrop of the scene where Lord Renly swears to Lady Stark that he will avenge Ned Stark’s death.

Downhill Beach, where the seven idols of Westeros were burned and Melisandre the Red Priestess tells her followers that the night is full of terror is popular with “Game of Thrones” fans. The Tollymore Forest Park in County Down is where the Night’s Watch first catches sight of the white walkers, and it is a chilling place to visit, particularly at night. And the 18th-century Castle Ward mansion near Strangford is the iconic “Game of Thrones” location, the home of the House of Stark.

Brave the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is a real test of endurance and bravery near Ballintoy in County Antrim. The rickety, swinging rope bridge connects the mainland with the tiny islet of Carrickarede, spanning 65 feet in length and hanging nearly 100 feet above the rocks and rough sea below.

things to do in belfast
Feeling brave? (Photo: Getty Images)

It is thought that the bridge was built by salmon fishermen, and its first rendering had only one handrail and large gaps between the wooden slats. Below the bridge lie caves that were used by boat builders, though if you’re too nervous to look down, it’s still possible to see an epic view of the Scottish mainland in the distance along with countless small islands along the Northern Irish coast.

Sample Irish Fare at Holohan’s Irish Pantry

Irish food might not be your everyday staple, but it does exist. Holohan’s Irish Pantry is Belfast’s only boxty house — serving the traditional Irish “boxty” potato pancake that was once the staple of the working-class Irish.

Holohan’s, located in the vibrant Queen’s Quarter, was first established three generations ago as a homey Irish restaurant, and today its original recipes are still being served. Diners can choose from local dishes such as the peasant food Cráibechán, a savory pearl barley porridge, or the boxty potato pancake.

Dine at Novelli at City Quays

The brainchild of award-winning celebrity chef Jean Christophe Novelli, and the first true riverside restaurant in Belfast, Novelli at City Quays brings all-day Mediterranean dining to the Northern Irish capital inside the AC Hotel Belfast.

things to do in belfast
Dine with waterfront views. (Photo: AC Hotel by Marriott Belfast)

Inspired by Novelli’s French heritage, the brasserie serves food and drinks, from lunch and afternoon tea to dinner and after-work cocktails. On a sunny day you can enjoy al fresco dining on the terrace overlooking the River Lagan or tapas by the bar.

Refresh in The Crown Bar

Said to be the most famous bar in Belfast, The Crown has been sating the city’s thirst since 1826. While sipping your ale or tucking into a plate of traditional pub food, take a moment to admire the architecture around you.

The Crown is a Victorian masterpiece, with a stunning exterior of polychromatic tiles, a mosaic of a crown on the entrance floor, carved ceilings and intricate tile mosaics throughout the interior. Peer at the stained glass windows and see if you can spot the fairies, fleurs-de-lis and clowns embedded in the design.

Drink in the History at the Dirty Onion and Yardbird

It may have a bizarre name, but the Dirty Onion and Yardbird is one of the oldest timber-framed buildings in Belfast, built in 1680. The building was formerly used as a spirits warehouse and once housed Jameson whiskey barrels, so it is apt that it is now an Irish pub.

The building houses two bars, a restaurant and the biggest outdoor beer garden in the city. Authentic Irish musical performances are held every day of the week, with many performers coming from the nearby An Droichead Irish music school. An extensive beer, whiskey and cocktail menu, combined with its historic location, creates a memorable Belfast experience.

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