Eating Out in Belfast
Fish from the Irish Sea, meat from the farms of County Antrim, wild game from hills and glens – Belfast chefs have access to the finest produce.
Old-school cafés and chip shops, or “chippies” still serve up the greasy, hearty fried meals Ulster is famous for. But local tastes are now more varied, as you’ll discover in the city’s modern delis, bistros and tapas bars.
Recent years have seen pop-up restaurants and street food vendors become regular fixtures in the Cathedral Quarter, where pan-global dishes are made from locally sourced and sustainable ingredients.
You’ll find quality fish at St. George’s Market every morning, and more specialist food and craft stalls on Saturdays. The redeveloped Titanic Quarter is home to waterfront restaurants with outdoor terraces.
Pub grub options range from classic Sunday Roast in a dependable local pub beside the River Lagan to fancier fare like ham hock fritters in an upmarket urban gastropub.
The chef recommends...
Ulster Fry: Belfast’s favourite breakfast throws various fried meats in a pan with offal puddings and potato farls. Locals swear on it to start the day, and recover from the night before.
Champ: Potatoes are still a big part of the Irish diet, and this Ulster specialty mixes buttery mash with shredded scallions.
Soda bread: Another staple of local cuisine – dense, satisfying bread leavened with sodium bicarbonate, enriched with buttermilk and cooked on a griddle.
Scallops: Northern Ireland’s seafood is generally high-quality, but the freshly caught scallops are especially tasty.
Shopping in Belfast
As a port city and major trading hub, Belfast has developed a buzzing retail culture over the centuries. You’ll find original Victorian markets and ultra-modern malls in the main shopping district, and colourful craft stores along backstreets once occupied by mills and warehouses.
Browsing for flowers, antiques and fish under the 19th-century arcade of St. George’s Market is an essential Belfast experience. It’s especially lively at weekends, when jazz bands and flamenco dancers perform amid busy stalls. Folktown Market on Bank Square, brings together butchers, cheese makers and local artisans.
Familiar high-street brands are gathered under the glass-domed roof of Victoria Square Shopping Centre, and it’s a short drive out of town for bargain designer goods at The OUTLET in Banbridge.
You can buy clothes, art and accessories by emerging local talents in the hip independent boutiques of the Cathedral Quarter and Linen Quarter.
Best things to buy in Belfast
Knitwear: Thick Irish woolens have been keeping local farmers and fishermen warm for centuries. Belfast is a great place to buy high-quality jumpers, scarves and socks that will last a lifetime.
Whiskey: Irish whiskey is quite distinct from Scotch, with a flavour and appeal of its own. You can buy a bottle straight from the source at Old Bushmills distillery, in nearby County Antrim.
Claddagh jewellery: Handcrafted silver rings and brooches bearing ancient Celtic designs make for great souvenirs.
Culture & Nightlife in Belfast
Belfast’s cultural scene is strongly linked to its industrial past. You’ll find popular museums housed inside Victorian prisons and 19th-century gin palaces still thriving alongside 21st-century craft beer bars. These are joined by impressive new art spaces and concert venues.
Belfast’s notable cultural monuments are clustered in the city centre. You can read up on city history in the ornate interior of Linen Hall Library, hear dark tales of the Victorian era in Crumlin Road Gaol and dress your best for a performance at the Grand Opera House.
Titanic Belfast dominates the nearby shipyards, while just south in Queen’s Quarter, the Ulster Museum takes you back to the Celts and even the time of the dinosaurs. Also close to Queen’s University, regular concerts and comedy shows at Belfast Empire Music Hall draw rowdy crowds of laughing, dancing locals.
The city’s nightlife is defined by its pub culture, from the old-fashioned watering holes of the Golden Mile to the hip, artisanal ale houses and cocktail joints of the Cathedral Quarter and Linen Quarter. You’ll often stumble upon a live traditional music session in full swing.
Contemporary art galleries in Belfast
The MAC: This ultra-modern performance and exhibition space is now a cornerstone of Belfast’s creative scene.
Catalyst Arts Gallery: Artist-led and volunteer-run space showcases exciting, new, experimental work.
Mullan Gallery: Admire paintings and sculpture by established and emerging artists from across the city, the Ulster region and Ireland.
Charles Gilmore Fine Art: Owned and curated by one of Ireland’s leading art dealers, this elegant space showcases dynamic works by prominent contemporary talents like JB Valley and Markey Robinson.
Visiting Belfast with a Family
Belfast is full of kid-friendly historic attractions and high-tech activity centres, and surrounded by the rugged coast and rolling landscape that inspired ancient Irish legends. From boat tours and farm visits to scenic hikes and drives, the city and countryside are ideal for family adventures.
After learning all about the world’s most famous shipwreck at Titanic Belfast, you can get a feel for early 20th-century sea travel aboard her restored sister vessel the SS Nomadic. A boat tour of Belfast Harbour will take you past the seal colony at Musgrave Channel.
South of the city centre, along the River Lagan at Queen’s Quay, you’ll find the W5 interactive discovery centre, which is filled with climbing walls, play areas and interactive science exhibits.
At Aunt Sandra’s Candy Factory, you can taste old-fashioned sweets and even make some in the workshop.
Family day-trips around Belfast
Belfast Zoo: Just outside the city, the restful environs of Cave Hill Country Park house gentoo penguins and bearded dragons.
Streamvale Farm: You can pet spring lambs and other cuddly animals at this working Antrim dairy farm, which also offers nature trails and tractor rides.
Giant’s Causeway: This strange landscape of geometric rocks has long been fertile ground for Irish folk tales. Learn the Celtic myths and geological facts behind them at the visitor centre. Crossing the nearby Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is a test of courage for the whole family – it’s safe, but it’s scary.