By Rachael Funk
A city once avoided by nervous travelers for its Troubles and conflict, Belfast has undergone a transformation into a trendsetting destination full of hip parties, artsy venues, and music-filled pubs. While you’re soaking up the culture in Belfast, check out some of these enriching activities without emptying your pockets!
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1. Spend an afternoon in the Botanic Gardens
Established in 1828 by the Belfast Botanic and Horticultural Society, Belfast’s Botanic Gardens hosts many exotic tree specimen and plant collections which can be observed in the park. You can also check out the glasshouse, which is made from curved iron and glass, or enjoy one of the many walking routes in the area.
2. Brush up on your music history
The Oh Yeah Music Centre is nestled comfortably in the artsy Cathedral Quarter and gives a comprehensive overview of the Northern Irish music industry. Here, you can find memorabilia like playlists, records, posters and jackets for everyone from Van Morrison to Snow Patrol. A must-see for music lovers!
3. Catch a free exhibition
The city has a thriving art scene and there are several options for fee-free art viewing! The MAC, Space Craft, Malone House, and the Golden Thread Gallery are all great resources to find local, amateur, and professional art to explore while you’re in the city.
4. Walk through the Stormont Parliament Buildings
Free tours are available of the Stormont Parliament Buildings, where the Northern Ireland Assembly is housed. You can examine the building and its surroundings while you get information on its history and architecture.
5. Discover CS Lewis Square
Located on the corner of the Connswater and Comber Greenways, CS Lewis Square is sure to bring childhood memories of your favorite stories to life. The square is open to the public 24 hours a day and features seven bronze sculptures from “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” including Aslan, the White Witch, Mr. Tumnus, the Beavers, the Robin, and the Stone Table.
6. Explore the Ulster Museum
A repository of history, science, and art, the Ulster Museum is free to all visitors. Learn about the history of Northern Ireland, interact with discovery zones, and walk through impressive galleries. The museum is a great place for kids and adults alike and even has a café in case you want to splurge on lunch after all.
7. Peruse Belfast Castle Estate and Cave Hill Country Park
Belfast Castle was built in 1860 and is one of the city’s best-known landmarks. You can visit the estate and its gardens as well as Cave Hill, which features the Cave Hill Adventurous Playground, archaeological sites, ecotrails, and more.
8. Follow the Gruffalo Trail
Located in Colin Glen Forest Park, this family-friendly attraction is where you can find the eight foot tall Gruffalo and his magical forest friends. On the 45-minute trail, you can follow the characters from The Gruffalo through the forest and meet the silly old fox, owl, and snake along the way. After, you can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea at the visitor center.
9. Go on a scavenger hunt for murals
Belfast is chock full of poignant murals. Take an afternoon to visit a few of the must-sees and learn a little about the history and culture of Belfast and Northern Ireland. The passion and politics of the people who created the art is powerfully reflected all over the city.
10. Pop by St. George’s Market
Sample the local flavor with a jaunt through the last surviving Victorian covered market in Belfast. Even if you don’t buy anything, you can still soak in the atmosphere, listen to the live music, and explore an important part of the city’s history!
11. Slip away to the Titanic Slipways
An iconic piece of the city’s history, this is where Titanic first entered the water. There is a life-size plan of the Promenade Deck and plenty to check out while you’re here!
12. Take a hike
Throw on a pair of sturdy shoes and head for the new 4.2 mile Ridge Trail on Divis and Black Mountain for a spectacular view of the city! Rumored to be the muse for the novel “Gulliver’s Travels,” the Belfast Hills have several sites open to the public to enjoy.
13. Tour Belfast City Hall
An experienced guide leads free tours each Monday – Friday at 11 am, 2 pm, and 3 pm, and Saturday and Sunday at 12 pm, 2 pm, and 3pm. There, you can hear about the building’s history, see the architecture, and get a close-up look at the monuments and memorials on the grounds. Tours are done on a first-come, first-served basis and leave from the reception area, so be sure to get there in plenty of time!
14. Visit the oldest library in Belfast
The Linen Hall Library is over 225 years old and the last subscribing library in Ireland. The library holds a notable genealogy collection, a 350,000-item “Troubles” archive, and comprehensive Irish and Belfast collections.