7 Things To Do On A Day In Belfast, Northern Ireland

Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

Many Things To Do On A Day In Belfast, Northern Ireland

On our cruise through the Nordic countries, we were excited to enjoy a day in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Our Oceania Cruises ship docked in Belfast. And then we toured along the scenic Ards Peninsula.

When I travelled to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland, I was surprised to find it a mighty industrial power. But I must admit that we were not sure what to expect in Northern Ireland. Growing up during the period of the civil unrest in Ireland, our preconceived view of Belfast were pretty grim. We found lots of reminders of those past troubles. But we were delighted to see a vibrant city that has recovered well.

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We had one rainy day. But we found lots to see and do on a day in Belfast. And we only just scratched the surface.

1) Visit The Titanic Museum

When our ship docked for a day in Belfast, we were surprised to be able to see the Titanic Museum close by. The museum front was shaped like a shiny bow of a ship. The museum maintained the dry dock where the infamous ship was built. And the museum displays talked about the building and history of this ship. We saw murals in Belfast that also paid tribute to the Titanic and its builders.

Belfast Titanic Museum - Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

Titanic Mural.jpg

As we moved around Belfast, it was evident that Belfast had a major ship building past. Other pieces of street art showed less polished ship statues.

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We cruise a lot. So we don’t often like to think about major disasters at sea. And the Titanic certainly proved that ships are not unsinkable. We passed on a visit to the Titanic Museum on our day in Belfast.

2) Street Art In The Modern City Of Belfast

What we saw of Belfast we got through the bus windows as our guide provide background information. She talked about “The Troubles”. This was the period between 1978 and 1998 when there was mass unrest and violence.

The Troubles were usually spoken of as a battle between the Protestants and the Catholics. But the line was not drawn along religious beliefs. It was really between the sectors in Northern Ireland that either wanted to stay or leave the United Kingdom. As we drove along we saw a lot of street art that depicted the historical conflicts. And showed that not all of the conflict was forgotten.

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Belfast City Murals Ulster Volunteer Force WW-2019 - Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

Belfast City Murals Ulster Young Militants - Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

Belfast City Murals Unite The Union - Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

We always love to look for street art when we visit cities. Much of the street art talks to local history or traditions. That was certainly true on our travels during our visit to Belfast. And not all of the street art was about war and violence. We saw colourful murals. And other pieces of art in the streets.

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Belfast City Art Hoolla hoop - Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

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It was obvious that the end of The Troubles has resulted in a resurgence of Belfast. Shops and restaurants lined the streets. Our guide talked about the entertainment now available in the city. Belfast certainly looked like a spot to return on a visit to Ireland from North to South.

3) Stop At The Parliament Buildings In Belfast

We saw some of the key tourist spots in Belfast as we moved through town. On the way out of town, we made one quick stop at the Belfast Parliament at Stormont to take pictures. After the Troubles, the main political parties in Northern Ireland established some political agreement. Talks led to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. This Agreement restored self-government to Northern Ireland.

Belfast Stormont and Parliament - Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

Stormont and Parliament.jpg

Our guide noted that self-government has not gone smoothly over the years. Parliament had been dissolved for over a year when we visited. The Brexit talks brought many issues to the head again. Brexit will again divide the island of Ireland. Northern Ireland would leave the European Union (EU) while the Republic of Ireland will remain in the EU. This has stirred new unionist tensions.

4) Drive Along The Ards Peninsula

We left Belfast and drove out to the Ards Peninsula. Twice a day the water rushes in and out of the fjord. It was named violent fjord’ (Strangford) after the fierce currents in these tidal narrows.

The tide was out and most of the Strangford Lough was wet mud which made it an ideal spot for bird watching. Especially when the Brent geese arrived for the winter. I was sure this drive along the Ards Peninsula would have been stunning on a sunny day. And a great way to spend a day in Belfast.

5) Visit The Grey Abbey Ruins

Along the Ards Peninsula we found the Grey Abbey ruins. The Grey Abbey was one of Ireland’s most impressive examples of early gothic architecture. This Cistercian abbey was the first established by a woman (in 1193 by Affreca, wife of John de Courcy, the Anglo-Norman invader of East Ulster). Today only ruins remain. But we were amazed at how big the site was.

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Grey Abbey Ruins - Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

We walked around the grounds and looked at the abbey ruins in a beautiful park setting. We passed through the cloister to the church. The ruins showed what a stunning gothic site this must have once been.

Grey Abbey Ruins - Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

Grey Abbey Ruins - Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

Grey Abbey Ruins.jpg

Grey Abbey Ruins.jpg

On the same site we saw the newer St. Saviour’s Church. Beside it was the gate to the Grey Abbey House, a private estate owned by the Montgomery family for more than 400 years. This house was not given to the National Trust to run. But rather was kept for hosting historical, architectural and horticultural groups and was used a a filming location for period dramas.

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Even though it poured rain while we explored, we enjoyed the chance to walk around the ruins of the Grey Abbey. It was a very different stop on our cruise through the Nordic countries. But something to visit on a day in Belfast.

6) Stop For Irish Coffee At Pier 36 In Donaghadee

The final stop on our day in Belfast was in the small fishing village of Donaghadee on the Irish Channel. We walked along the waterfront. And were amused to find a group of women as they headed in for a swim. They totally ignored the pouring rain.

Donaghadee Town Pier. - Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

Donaghadee Town Pier.jpg

Donaghadee Town Pier - Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

Two large busloads of wet tourists piled into the Pier 36 Pub. I was sure that this large group scared all the locals away. Glass mugs were lined up on the bar. A shot of Irish whiskey was added to each glass. Then coffee and cream were added for our Irish Coffee treats. Definitely a great pub stop on a rainy day.

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Donaghadee Pier 36 Pub Bushmills Irish Whiskey - Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

As we drove back to Belfast, we drove up along the coast on the Irish Sea. This was a very different side of the Ards Peninsula. We saw some of the expensive real estate on the coast. And the small towns and farms in this area. When we returned for more than a day in Belfast, we would definitely want to spend more time around both shores of Ards Peninsula.

7) Head Out Of Town To The Giant’s Causeway

We visited the Giant’s Causeway when we did a cruise port stop in Londonderry on our travel from north to south in Ireland. But the Giant’s Causeway is also an easy day trip when you spend a day in Belfast. The Giant’s Causeway was a fascinating stop. Local folk lore tells a tale of the creation of this iconic spot. But a basic understanding of geology and volcanic action told a more scientific tale.

We were amazed as we moved from flat stones to higher basalt pillars. We hiked up the red path on the hill for stunning views over the Giant’s Causeway and the path beyond.

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Giants Causeway Stones.jpg

Giants Causeway Stones - Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

Giants Causeway Stones - Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

A walk along the Giant’s Causeway was a great way to spend a day in Belfast.

We Enjoyed A Day In Belfast, Northern Ireland

We were happy to spend a day in Belfast in Northern Ireland when did a cruise of the Nordic countries. It was interesting to see this before we headed to Dublin in the south. Belfast has recovered well from the Troubles. But you can feel political unrest stirring again.

Belfast had so much to offer. Whether you stay in the city, head into the countryside or take a day trip you will find so much to see and do in Belfast.

Have you spent a day in Belfast in Northern Ireland? Do you want to see more?

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Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

Things To Do On A Day In Belfast.jpg

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34 Comments

  1. I have never been to Ireland before so obviously not to Belfast either! Belfast has always been on my bucket list but the Irish city has always been on the very low bottom on that list and I don’t know why! Reading through your post I kind of wonder if I should add Belfast highter up on the list because there are so many interesting thing to see, more than I thought!

    Take the Titanic museum for instance! I didn’t know there was even one! And I love street arts so it would be fun to be strolling around searching for some arts! And the Giant’s Causeway, so magically beautiful!

    Thank you for the inspiration to visit Belfast!

  2. Belfast will be forever linked to its IRA history I’m afraid. However, my cousin lived there during a student exchange problem and she loved it. She said the people were so nice and friendly. I can imagine what it must have been like watching those women swimming casually in the cold waters 😉

    • Mireille, We really were not sure what to expect when we visited Berlin. We imagined it was far different during the “Troubles”. We definitely would want to go back. I was freezing watching the women swim. Good thing we had an Irish Coffee to warm up. Linda

  3. I love cruising but have yet to visit Belfast. It’s somewhere I would really like to go. I’d visit the Titanic Museum, the building looks stunning. The Giant’s Causeway is a natural wonder I’d love to see. I too like to try local specialities when visiting ports so the Irish coffee was a good choice! The street art looks really interesting and certainly tells a story, everyone should take the time to see them. Thank you for a great post.

    • Laura, We were not really sure what to expect for our stop in Belfast. We were interested to see so much variety in the things to do. And you are right, the street art tells a story. And does reinforce that the conflict is not all gone. Linda

  4. I would like to visit Belfast. The Titanic Museum would be a must see for me and I love that there is street art around memorializing the shipping industry. I have become interested in cities with a history of political unrest and would love to explore the reminders of “The Troubles” throughout Belfast. Grey Abbey Ruins looks gorgeous. Good to know Giant’s Causeway is an easy day trip

    • Sherianne, We loved our short stop in Belfast. I had only vague memories of the “Troubles” but as a local, our guide provided a real interesting view of living during those times. And how the city has changed with “peace”. Definitely a spot we want to return to see more. Linda

  5. Belfast strikes me as a sad city. That is because of the incidents that I come to know about in Norther Ireland. However, reading through your post, I can see that somehow, Belfast had risen and I can see it now on different light. Perhaps, I should see to city myself so I would know it better.

  6. I visited Belfast this year too! I had the same sentiments of not knowing what to expect as everyone knows Belfast for its troubled times. But I saw that Belfast has moved on, I didnt get to see a lot of the city itself as it was “raining” seems to be the norm. But I did go outside on the Game of Thrones Tour and the outskirts were breathtaking. Definitely worth doing GoT fan or not.

  7. I live in the UK and sadly have not had the opportunity to visit Belfast yet but reading this post makes me want to add it to my list for sure. There is no doubt a lot to do here it seems. To start with and one I would want to prioritize would be a visit to the Titanic museum without a doubt. Looks like a great place for some street art as well. There is much more on offer than i expected . If only you could get the weather on your side as well.

  8. So interesting! I would love to visit in Ireland. We love so much visiting old buildings and ruins, and they definitely have those. Also, The Giant’s Causeway looks so amazing. We visited something similar here in the U.S. called Devils Postpile, and we too, hiked to the top to see it from above. It looks magnificent from up above.

  9. I am glad you had a great time in Northern Ireland. I only been there once in the winter for a few days and didnt enjoy my time in Belfast. It was cold, miserable, grey, away from the centre the locals didn’t really want to know me (maybe because I am from London, but I don’t know, I am youngish and wasn’t around when the troubles happened, that’s the only reason I can think off). However hope to be back up there soon and doing some of the natural sights of that part of the ireland. I am glad you went to see the murals, that I did enjoy. 🙂

    • Danik, It is interesting to hear your feedback about your visit to Belfast. Our group was mostly Canadians and Americans. Most of the people we met were happy to have new tourists. But I can understand that the sentiments and memories are still pretty fresh. Linda

    • Carol, We didn’t have a sense of geography either when we visited. But the trip to the Giant’s Causeway was available from two different ports. So we figured it was likely an easy day trip from either. Hope you get to visit one day. Linda

  10. I can see why you were excited to spend the day in Belfast! I’d love to visit the Titanic Museum, the Grey Abbey ruins and take the drive out to the Ards Peninsula. I realize that I really didn’t know much about Belfast before your post!

  11. I’ve never been to Belfast and all I remember is about the fighting during that 20 year period. It’s great to read you article that the city has changed and evolved a lot. Though I’m saddened by what impact Brexit may bring. The street art is provocative and the Titanic Museum looks amazing. You’ve given me a new perspective on Belfast. Thanks for this article.

    • Rosemary, All we really had in our minds when we heard we were stopping in Belfast was the “Troubles” too. So we were happy to see that so much progress has been made. It is sad that Brexit will divide the country again. I hope you get to visit Northern Ireland one day. Definitely worth it. Linda

  12. Reading this is like a walk down the memory lane. I went to Belfast a few years back also on a day trip but from Dublin, which also covered Giant’s Causeway & Londonderry. Like you, I remember the period of the unrest in Ireland & the UK because I lived in London for the most part of the 90s, right until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. I loved Belfast & would have liked to extend my visit there but the trip to Londonderry was rather poignant for me, with all the (political?) street arts and flags of 2 different countries flying on top of, or in front of almost every house down every street. It was really an eye-opening experience and heart-wrenching at the same time.

    • Raw, I did not get to see Northern Ireland close to the “Troubles” or to really feel a personal impact from that period. But you can see that those memories are not far from the surface in places. Linda

  13. I haven’t been to Ireland yet and, of course, I’m mainly thinking of going to Dublin. However, I have the feeling that Belfast ist really catching up and becoming more and more popular. The Titanic museum looks great, but I would be mainly interested in the streetart – looks very powerful

  14. I have been to Ireland but never to the Northern Ireland. Belfast is really high on my list. And, your post has further pushed it up by several notches. I am dying to visit the Titanic museum and explore the street arts scene and the Giant’s Causeway.

  15. As I keep on reading about Ireland, my love for it keeps on growing. I so want to visit it at the earliest. Exploring Titanic Museum and learning about it will top our list. We will also love a walk along the Giant’s Causeway which looks super refreshing and explore Grey Abbey Ruins. The street art throughout the Belfast has make it prettier. And always a big yes for Irish Coffee.

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