Underrated Belfast has been overlooked in favor of cities in the Republic of Ireland for decades. Though it is sometimes overshadowed by Dublin, the capital of Northern Ireland has an entirely diverse set of offerings for even the most experienced Ireland visitor. Having moved forward past the Troubles of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, Belfast has that elusive balance of historical landmarks and classical architecture coexisting alongside modern gastropubs, vibrant street art, and cutting-edge cocktail bars. For the perfect weekend away, here’s how to spend 48 hours in Belfast.
Day 1: Morning
10 a.m.: After you land at Belfast International Airport, make your way into the city center to check into the Bullitt Hotel, one of the best new boutique hotels downtown. Drop off your bags while they put the finishing welcome touches on your sleek, industrial-style room. Located between St. Anne’s Cathedral and St. George’s Market, you will have all of central Belfast at your doorstep.
11 a.m.: The Bullitt has breakfast bags delivered each morning, but pop into Flame just next door for a hot traditional morning meal. The full Irish comes with bacon, sausage, fried egg, and local potato bread with a side of black pudding and will keep you powered up throughout the day. For a real treat, try the red velvet pancakes slathered with Nutella and topped with fresh raspberries.
Day 1: Afternoon
1 p.m.: To stretch your legs after a morning of travel, head out to Belfast’s Cave district. Here you’ll find Belfast Castle, with its artistic cats in the garden, as well as walks to the aptly named rocky outcropping known as Napoleon’s Nose. Most of the castle’s appeal lies in the surroundings, so plan to spend more time at the brilliant city Botanic Gardens. The gardens have an incredible array of rare plant life and beautiful trails for strolling outside the city. However, even if some Irish rain appears, there is plenty to experience inside the two Victorian greenhouses, or at neighboring the Tropical Ravine and the Palm House. In the warmer months, the gardens are the best place to find outdoor concerts and festivals.
4 p.m.: Located inside the Botanic Gardens, the fabulous Ulster Museum is one of the national museums of Northern Ireland. Housing an art gallery as well as exhibits that cover everything from the Spanish Armada to fashion and textiles or archives of Irish natural history, something is intriguing around every corner of the expansive museum complex. Given the setting, there is a beautiful botanic collection as well.
Day 1: Evening
7 p.m.: Head back to the city center for dinner out of on the town by snagging a reservation at Mourne Seafood Bar. Cut in half by the River Langan, Belfast is a city that is defined by the water that surrounds it, so it is only natural to indulge in the very best local seafood while in town. This busy restaurant is so dedicated to having the freshest products that they even own their own oyster bed in nearby Carlingford Lough. You’ll want to order at least half a dozen, but save room to try the seafood chowder, which is arguably the most excellent take on the dish in all of Northern Ireland.
8:30 p.m.: Have you really had a night out in Belfast if you haven’t been to the pub? For a classic watering spot, stop into The Dirty Onion. The beloved Belfast bar always has an energetic crowd ready for banter and live music seven days a week. Sing along to Irish tunes while tucking into one of the best pints of Guinness in the city.
11 p.m.: Escape the energy of the pub to unwind with a nightcap at the Observatory Bar. The classy bar in the new Grand Central Hotel is up on the 23rd floor and offers incredible views over the twinkling lights of the city. You can order from a range of Belfast-themed cocktails while admiring major landmarks like the Opera House from above, all while plotting the city explorations that await the next day.
Day 2: Morning
9:30 a.m.: Shake off the cobwebs from the night before and start the day with coffee at Established Coffee. Known for its specialty roasts, this is the best cup of joe in the city. Slide into a seat at the communal table and order a plate of huevos rancheros. Once properly caffeinated, get a sense for the city center by taking a walking tour of the fantastic Victorian architecture and the impressively imposing edifices of City Hall, the Belfast Opera House, and St. Anne’s Cathedral. On weekends, make sure to wander through St. George’s Market for everything from bric-a-brac antiques to homemade cheeses from local farmers.
11 a.m.: To see another side of Belfast, get outside of the walkable center with a Black Cab Tour. The trained taxi guides are all locals who will drive you through areas of the city that played essential roles during the period known as the Troubles. The distinctive taxi tours venture outside of the well-touristed Cathedral Quarter to residential neighborhoods where local heroes have been immortalized in portraits that cover the sides of buildings. While the Troubles are over, the impact of the tour can be both enlightening and sobering.
Day 2: Afternoon
1:30 p.m.: Head back into the center for a quick lunch of local specialties at Made in Belfast before skipping over the River Langan to the Titanic Quarter for an unforgettable exhibit. Belfast’s most talked-about museum pays homage to the city’s most famous export: the Titanic. The Titanic Experience is housed inside a startlingly modern steel and glass building on the very docks where the ill-fated cruise liner was built. Wander through the artifacts and interactive galleries for a sense of what it would have been like to be aboard the infamous ship.
4 p.m.: While the Black Cab Tour will show you some of Belfast’s most famous political murals, Street Art is experiencing a kind of metropolitan Renaissance. Rather than the divisive figures of the Troubles, Belfast’s new street art movement is decorating the city center with colorful symbols of the city’s complicated past and its bright future. Wander through the Cathedral Quarter to discover some of the coolest Belfast murals at your own pace, or sign up for a tour led by the art organization that spurring the artistic efforts. Just be sure to wrap up the urban adventure with enough time to head back to the hotel to dress for dinner and show.
Day 2: Evening
7 p.m.: Plan in advance to book a table at OX, one of the only Michelin-starred restaurants in Belfast. The seasonal menu changes regularly to make the best use of the highest quality products available at any given time. The multi-course tasting menu is the best way to sample the chef’s creativity in dishes like chateaubriand fillet with quince, parsnip, and kale.
8:30 p.m.: The Grand Opera House is one of Belfast’s most recognizable landmarks, but as impressive as it is from the outside, the real experience requires getting tickets to an evening show. The spectacular venue hosts everything from Christmastime performances of the Nutcracker, to classical concerts, dance competitions, and musical theater versions of Titanic the Musical and Beauty and the Beast. Whatever happens to be on the program will turn into a night at the theater that you will never forget.
11 p.m.: After the performance of a lifetime inside one of Ireland’s most stunning venues, end the perfect weekend with a cocktail at the Treehouse at AMPM. Slide into a cozy booth under twinkling fairy lights and hanging foliage while you sip on the imaginative drinks dreamed up by the talented mixologists. Raise a glass of the signature Mimi Dubous and savor the sparkling rose water, cucumber, and gin concoction while reliving your favorite Belfast moments and plotting your return trip.