The Best Time to Visit Belfast

Sunset over Belfast and river

 Maciej Grabowicz / EyeEm (Getty Images)

In recent years, Belfast has become a major Irish destination, with new restaurants, hotels, and attractions drawing more tourists than ever into the capital city of Northern Ireland. To plan the ultimate trip to see what all the buzz is about for yourself, the best time to visit Belfast is May through October, when a combination of warmer weather and a full calendar of cultural events make the city irresistible. Christmas is also a great time to visit Belfast when the city lights up the center and hosts a festive holiday market at City Hall.

Ready to experience Belfast for yourself? Here is how to plan your trip based on weather, crowds, and prices, plus a helpful guide to the most exciting events in the city.

Weather in Belfast

Like most of the country, Belfast has a wet but temperate climate. Belfast averages around 160 days of rain a year, but it rarely drops below freezing. You are risking a few wet days at any time of year, but October to January are usually the wettest months with up to 15 days of rain each. At the same time, you never have to worry too much about heat. The hottest summer day ever recorded in Belfast was a scorching 85 degrees F. Belfast tends to be slightly rainier than more southernly Dublin, but the warm air from the Gulf Stream ensures that the temperatures never drop too low despite the showers.

Peak Tourism Season in Belfast

Belfast has remained under the tourist radar for the most part. However, a recent spate of new openings of everything from hotels to restaurants and museums is slowly drawing larger crowds to Northern Ireland’s capital city. The busiest times in Belfast overlap with the best times to be there in terms of events and weather. Summer tends to be the most crowded, but even this peak season is manageable in terms of the size of tour groups. If you prefer to travel in the offseason, Belfast’s main attractions are open year-round, and accommodation is always available. That means that the only potential downside will be cooler and more unpredictable weather.

Prices

Flights in and out of Belfast are likely to be most expensive in May and August, when several public holidays make this a popular time to take a vacation in Northern Ireland. Hotel prices also spike around Christmas, when many people from around the country and the Republic of Ireland head to the capital to take in the festive scenery and shop downtown. However, the price of major things to do, like the zoo and the Titanic Museum, stay consistent throughout the year.

Spring

Spring is an incredible time to visit Belfast to avoid the crowds while taking advantage of the slightly warmer days. The famed Botanic Gardens begin to bloom as the temperatures go up, with average highs ranging from 49 degrees F in March to 58 degrees F in May. You may still need a light jacket in the evenings when temperatures dip into the low 40s F, and an umbrella is a good idea at any time of year. Spring months average about 11 days of rain each.

Spring is also a time to be aware of public holidays with Good Friday and Easter usually falling in April, and May bringing two bank holiday weekends (the first and last Monday of the month). These can mean closures of private businesses and public attractions, which close for the day in question.

Events to check out:

  • St. Patrick’s Day: While Dublin steals most of the spotlight on March 17, Belfast has its own lively St. Patrick’s Day events. Head to City Hall at 12:30 p.m. to see the parade kick-off and follow the floats and performers as they pass through the city on their way to Writer’s Square. There is also a free outdoor concert in the afternoon at Custom House Square.
  • Easter: The date of Easter changes every year, but it falls on a spring Sunday. Good Friday is a national holiday in Northern Ireland, and while it has its religious meanings, it is also symbolic of the peace process that brought an end to the Troubles.
  • Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival: The Titanic Quarter pulls out all the stops with its maritime festival, which is usually scheduled to coincide with the late May bank holiday weekend. Tall Ships sail up the River Lagan and dock at Queen’s Quay to be admired by the crowds. Family-friendly events are also planned in the area around the Titanic Museum, with music and street food available.

Summer

Summer is the peak time to visit Belfast when fun festivals are planned to take advantage of the longest and sunniest days of the year. Crowds tend to be most common in July and August, but there is so much to do while exploring the city that you are unlikely to run into any issues getting into different attractions. Temperatures are the warmest of the year during summer, but rarely reach above the mid-60s F. Average lows are in the mid-50s F, and rain can still be expected about 11 days out of every month.

Events to check out:

  • Let’s Rock Belfast: This huge summer concert is dedicated to all things 80s and features a full line-up of international performers for that decade.
  • Orangemen's Day/Battle of the Boyne anniversary: While this might not be an event to attend, it is one to be aware of if you plan to visit Northern Ireland around July 12. The day is marked by protests and marches, and it may be wise to plan your trip around this divisive date.

Autumn

Autumn in Belfast is a wonderful time to visit the city to take advantage of its full calendar of musical and artistic events. The cultural festivals that take place from September to November celebrate the homegrown talent that Northern Ireland has to offer. While the relatively warm days of summer are soon forgotten, temperatures tend to hover around highs in the 50s F, dipping down to average lows in the 40s F. The crowds of summer disappear which means shorter waits to get into Belfast’s main attractions, but the tradeoff is that October is usually one of the rainiest months in the Northern Ireland capital. Expect an average of up to 15 days of rain per month, but rest assured that things should stay comfortably above freezing.

Events to check out:

  • Belfast International Arts Festival: A full program of theater, dance, and cultural encounters that takes place over two weeks each autumn.
  • Sound of Belfast: This 10-day music festival (usually held in early November) celebrates local musicians with DJ sets and performances at venues across the city.
  • Halloween: Take a day trip out of Belfast for Derry, where the town hosts one of the largest Halloween celebrations in Europe. Expect parades and lots of parties.
  • Remembrance Day: At 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, two minutes of silence are observed to remember those lost in WWII. Many people will wear red poppies on their lapels.

Winter

Winter is the least popular time to visit Belfast, but that can mean great deals on city escapes and smaller crowds at main attractions like the Titanic Museum. December is a busy time to be in Belfast as many hotels host Christmas events, and the city is transformed by lights and markets. The chill in the air and rainier weather tends to feel offset by an abundance of mulled wine and good spirits. Plus, there are plenty of indoor concerts and events to keep everyone cozy inside. January is one of the rainiest and coldest months to be in Belfast, however, there are some great deals to be found on accommodation as the cooler weather and post-Christmas lull keeps crowds away. February also has highs in the 40s F and lows in the 30s F, but the days start to get longer and the extra hours of sunlight are a welcome perk of the end of winter.

Events to check out: From mid-November until a few days before Christmas, Swiss-style chalets take over the area in front of Belfast City Hall for the Belfast Christmas Market. Stop by to shop for unique gifts and drink mulled wine while kids wait to meet Santa in his holiday grotto.

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