A Backpacker’s Guide to Belfast
The difference between Belfast and Dublin is nearly night and day. While Dublin is a big city packed into a small space, Belfast is a small city spread over a large area. While Dublin runs rampant with thousands of tourists from all over the world, Belfast is much quieter. And most of all, while Dublin won’t shock you with it’s historical past, Belfast will. This city has been through a lot over the years and although the signs might not be evident to the average observer they can easily be pointed out by the locals. Still, despite its historical troubles Belfast has quickly turned into a cultural hub for not just Northern Ireland but the Emerald Isle as a whole. Why so many people skip out on Belfast might not be so hard to believe, it’s no reason for you to do the same. You’d be doing yourself a massive disservice by skipping out on this incredibly rich city.
Days Needed: 2-3
Backpacker’s Budget: 35-40 pounds a day.
Things to do in Belfast
On the surface there definitely isn’t the huge amount of things to do and see in Belfast like there is in Dublin. That’s partly due to the fact that Belfast isn’t as well travelled and is still a relatively new travel destination. That being said, I found that the attractions and sites in Belfast were much more profound and relevant than those in Dublin.
- Black Cab Tours: If you can only do one thing in Belfast make sure this is it. You’ll be shown Belfast in a whole new light. As they say, this isn’t a sugar coated fairytale tour of Belfast, this is the hardcore story. The tour is more than worth the 10 pounds it’ll cost you. Check them out at http://www.belfastattractions.co.uk
- Museums: There are a lot of museums in town so take your pick. You’d be best served to spread your wings and go to a variety of them here. I’d check out the Ulster Museum and the Folk Museum for sure.
- Sights: There are a couple of sights worth seeing including one that’s just being built. The capital in Belfast has a beautiful City Hall which you can go inside of as well for free. I think that the Queen’s University campus too is worth checking out; it’s beautiful. There are also, as you can imagine, a number of churches. However, I warn you, the churches will charge you a “donation” to enter.
- Gardens: There are botanical gardens next to Queen’s University which are a nice stroll, as is the waterfront. If you’ve never seen the sport of hurling before, you’ll often see kids practicing on the fields here and it’s quite impressive.
Tips on Eating in Belfast
As is the case basically anywhere in the UK and Ireland, eating can be expensive unless you follow the little tricks. Doing things like eating at the early bird special hours, getting some pub fare for dinner, and cooking at the hostel all apply here. However, if you’re coming from Dublin you’ll probably think that everything is quite good value and in Belfast; and in comparison to Dublin it is.
There are more pubs in Belfast than you can ever imagine. If you have to visit one pub in the city check out Queen’s Pub. Queen’s is actually owned by a mixed loyalist/republican couple. The husband wasn’t too happy with his wife’s choice for a name, so he placed a crown out on the step for people to scrub their feet off on before entering.
Where to Stay in Belfast
While in Belfast I stayed at a hostel called City Backpacker which was up by the Queen’s University on a quite street. I doubt that you’ll find a more accommodating hostel in Belfast, and although it’s a bit far from the center it’s in a great neighbourhood and both the services of the hostel and helpful/friendliness of the staff makes it more a great stay. Check out my review of City Backpacker Belfast.
To check out all the hostels in Belfast click here.
Getting out of Town
There is just one main bus/train station in town which makes it really easy to get anywhere. If you’re heading to Dublin I would recommend taking the bus rather than the train as it’s nearly half the cost and only takes an extra 20 minutes or so. If you’re heading to Scotland you can buy a fare that will take you on the bus to the ferry, across on the ferry, and then onto a new bus bound for Glasgow at a pretty good price. You can also catch a ferry to Liverpool via the bus station. Of course, smaller destinations are also served.
Back to the Western Europe travel guides