48 Hours in Belfast
A guide for your weekend trip to Northern Ireland’s capital
By Katie Christoff, University of Dayton
Belfast is the second largest city in Ireland, but it’s not actually part of Ireland.
How is that possible?
This culturally and historically rich city is the capital of Northern Ireland, although located on the island of Ireland, is not part of the Republic of Ireland – it’s part of the United Kingdom.
The division of the island was the result of a debate between Irish Catholicism and British Protestantism, and there was a great deal of violence in Belfast in the ‘90s because of this split. Disagreements have since been settled and Belfast is now just as safe a place to visit as any European city. With so much recent history, I’d say it’s a can’t-miss destination.
Since Belfast is part of the UK, they use the pound as their currency. You’ll find telephone booths similar to those iconic red ones in London, and extremely different accents from those in Dublin. This may not seem very jarring if you’re coming from Paris or Italy, but I took a weekend trip to Belfast from Dublin, and I found it strange how much it actually felt like a different country.
In a city with such a unique culture, how does one make the most out of only 48 short hours there? It may not be enough to see the best of everything in Belfast, but 48 hours is all the time I had there. Here is a guide to ensure your time isn’t wasted during your trip.
The city centre is the heart of culture and nightlife in Belfast, but it’s also more expensive than some other parts of the city. I stayed in a hostel near Queen’s University, which was another area rich in dining, pubs and nightlife, but geared towards a college student’s price range.
The hostel was called Global Village, and it was probably one of my favorite hostels I’ve ever stayed at. It was small enough that we got to know everyone else staying there, and some of the staff members even took us out to the trendiest local bars once they were off duty. I’d highly recommend this hostel and this area in Belfast. It was perfect for young travelers and backpackers.
With only 48 hours in Belfast, one of your first stops should be the Titanic museum. The iconic ship was constructed and set sail from Belfast, so this is a unique piece of history that can’t be missed. The museum is located where the Titanic set sail once upon a time, and features nine interactive galleries and a “Discovery Tour.” No matter how you choose to spend your time there, be sure to make it one of your first stops in Belfast. Student tickets are only ten pounds. There are no excuses to miss this.
Your next stop should be St. George’s Market. This is one of Belfast’s oldest attractions, and there has been a Friday market offered there since 1604. On Fridays, there is a variety market featuring fish and fresh fruit, among other fresh and local eats. Saturdays offer a food, craft and garden variety market which is often complimented by live music. On Sundays, there is another food, craft and antique market, so no matter what day of the weekend you make it, you’re sure to be pleased. The fresh seafood in Belfast is unparalleled, so don’t leave without trying some from St. George’s Market.
When it comes to nightlife, you should head back to the Queen’s University area. It’s packed with student bars and pubs where you’re sure to find cheaper pints and fun, local university students. Ask the locals or hostel staff where to go depending on the night of the week, because each night usually offers different food and drink specials at different places. Just remember that you’re in Ireland, so be sure to get a pint of Guinness after a long day of sightseeing.
You may only have 48 hours, but you have to leave Belfast on day 2.
There’s no possible way to experience the entire city in just one day, but some of Belfast’s best attractions are actually located about two hours outside of the city, along the very Northern coast.
You can’t leave Northern Ireland without experiencing the Antrim coast and the Giant’s Causeway, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and also potentially the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my young life.
The hostel I stayed at (yet another plug for Global Village – it’s awesome, I swear!) directly booked day trips through tour companies, and the bus came to pick me up right from the hostel that morning. The tour lasted about 12 hours and only cost 25 pounds – it was an amazing deal.
A variety of tours are offered through different companies, including one for any “Game of Thrones” lovers (which is filmed in Northern Ireland!), but make sure that whichever tour you choose, it includes the Giant’s Causeway.
The bus trip along the Antrim coast provided me with one of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen – the water was Caribbean blue, even in the freezing waters of Northern Ireland. My tour also stopped at the Carrick-a-Rede bridge, which is a rope bridge suspended over the Antrim coast. Even if you’re not brave enough to cross for yourself, it makes for some amazing pictures.
We also stopped at the Bushmill’s Distillery, which is not only a famous Irish landmark, but also provides visitors with free samples of whiskey. Need I say more?
The final stop was the Giant’s Causeway, which is near impossible to describe. The Causeway is one of the most unique rock formations in the world, jutting out into the ocean. Legend has it that mythical hero Finn McCool created the Causeway while running to Scotland.
The Irish are notorious storytellers, so prepare to hear the full tale of Finn and many more during your day exploring the coast and greenery of the Emerald Isle. Learning about the myths, sagas and history behind your sightseeing makes the day that much better.
A word of caution: all of these attractions require proper attire and footwear. It will most likely always be windy along the coast, so dress accordingly and layer. You will be climbing wet rocks while exploring the Giant’s Causeway, so take that into account as well when you pack.
No matter what you do, you can’t miss out on these sights.
Your 48 hours in Belfast will fly by, especially with so much to do and see. It will be an exhausting whirlwind of a trip, but it’s worth it for all the amazing experiences you’ll get to have in only two short days.
My advice: do everything you can to plan a trip to Belfast during your time abroad, even if you can only make it there for 48 hours.