Ferries and cruises to Belfast, Ireland

Did you know that Belfast comes from the Irish Beal Feirste which means ‘mouth of the sandbanks’?

Did you know that it is situated in County Antrim and County Down?

Did you know that Belfast is the capital city of and largest city in Northern Ireland?

Well it is, and now you do know. But there is so much more to Belfast than facts and figures (even though these can be utterly fascinating). Belfast has been known as a city since 1888, and since then it has more than lived up to the title.

Belfast is where RMS Titanic was built, and although that might be the most famous piece of its history for the uninitiated, there is plenty more to uncover as you explore the gorgeous city streets and enjoy the famous Irish hospitality you’ll find there.

The regeneration in the city over the past few decades has been incredible, and you won’t believe how quickly it has happened, or how wonderful it looks. Belfast may have a troubled past, but today it is a beautiful place to visit.

Getting to Belfast

Ferry Routes

Operator Route Services Travel Time Price
Birkenhead Belfast 13 weekly 8 hours See prices °
Cairnryan Belfast 5 daily 2¼ hours See prices °

This information is for reference purposes only. Journey times are approximate. Frequency is based on typical schedules. Schedules are subject to availability and weather conditions. Information correct at the time of writing.

Taster Cruise Ship Itineraries

Cruise line Typical itinerary Prices
Southampton; Dover; Falmouth; Harwich; Liverpool; Newcastle; Tilbury; Rosyth; Greenock Ports such as Belfast See prices °

This information is for reference purposes only. Information correct at the time of writing.

Top 3 Cruise & Ferry Deals

  1. Irish Ferries Ireland mini cruise from £38pp
  2. Day trip to Rosslare with Stena Line from £5.50pp
  3. Sail to Belfast with Stena Line from £10pp each way

Belfast's top attractions

  1. Enjoy a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus tour of Belfast to soak in lots of the key sights.
  2. A visit to the Giant's Causeway is a must.
  3. The much-raved about Titanic Experience is also worth a visit.

Sightseeing

If you have never visited Belfast before, don’t worry. It may seem daunting because there is so much to do, but a bit of planning in advance will ensure that you don’t miss the major tourist destinations (and little known gems) that will make your break away a truly memorable one.

Titanic Belfast

The fact that the RMS Titanic was built and designed in Belfast is well known, and during your trip to this fascinating city it is well worth visiting some of the many Titanic exhibitions and experiences that are on offer. There is Titanic Belfast for example.

This interactive experience offers to let you in on all the secrets and all the information that you could possibly need or want to know about the famous (infamous?) doomed ‘Ship of Dreams’.

There are nine different galleries inside the museum, and they start at the very beginning, with a look at Belfast at the time of ship building, and finish with a chance to explore the wreck of the Titanic!

Within the galleries visitors will have a chance to enjoy sound and light effects, rides, and interactive videos to follow the journey of the ship. There is a café and shop on site, as well as various live events throughout the year.

Crumlin Road Gaol

Crumlin Road Gaol is almost 170 years old, and has a lot of history to tell within its thick, stone walls. It has a lot of events too, and plenty to keep any visitor to Belfast entertained for a day or evening.

Why not take a guided tour through the prison itself and learn about its dark history? How many prisoners were kept there, and what were the crimes that put them there? It is even possible to travel through the underground tunnel that connected the prison to the courthouse.

Not only is the prison open as a general visitor attraction, there are a number of other reasons to visit it; the paranormal tours are terrifyingly fun (and for over 18s only) for example. Learn about the ghosts that haunt the corridors and old cells.

Who knows, you may even spot one! ‘The Crum’ also hosts a number of tribute nights throughout the year, including U2 and Jailhouse Rock – fun and atmospheric.

Ulster Museum

For those looking for excitement, adventure, and knowledge, look no further than the Ulster Museum.

Permanent displays include ‘Earth’s Treasures’ (which includes minerals and rocks), ‘The Sea Around Us’ (which is all about the sealife around Ireland), ‘Fossils and Evolution’ (including some very odd looking specimens!), and ‘Early Peoples’ (showing what life was like 9,000 years ago).

There are also events on at the museum which can range from opera to talks and lectures, and cover a wide range of subjects.

Antrim Castle Gardens

The Antrim Castle Gardens are beautiful, and ideal for whiling away a few hours during your time in Belfast. Visitors often come away feeling relaxed, happy, and ready for more exploring. It’s a great place to stop off when you need a little bit of nature to keep you going!

The gardens themselves won the Special Award in 2012 in the Tanlink Ulster in Bloom competition, and are widely regarded at the most intact and beautiful historical gardens in the UK and Ireland.

The gardens are over 400 years old, but look as fresh and delightful now as they ever did. Why not sign up for a short course while you are there? Classes are run in the buildings around the gardens, and can include anything from flower arranging to photography.

Belfast Zoological Garden

No trip to a new city is complete without visit the zoo, and the Belfast Zoological Gardens is certainly a good one. With everything from African wild dogs to Grant’s zebras (and many things in between, including baby meerkats, Chinese water dragons, and the beautiful Barbary lion), this is a full day of adventuring and exploring.

In fact, there are over 1,000 animals there (and over 150 different species), which makes it a very impressive zoo!

There is an adventure playground for the smaller ones, and parents can relax knowing they are perfectly safe to play there as it has just been refurbished.

The Rainforest House is a fantastic area in which you can experience the rainforest first hand. Kept at a constant 27 degrees, the Rainforest House is home to various different creatures including bats. There are three different cafés on site, but it is also possible to bring your own picnic; the choice is yours!

Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum is superb. The folk galleries chart life in rural Northern Ireland (and specifically Belfast) with information about farming methods, housing, food, jobs, and a special display about Victorian times.

There is an air transport gallery, and a railway one, as well as interactive dioramas and there is also, of course, a Titanic exhibition. Discovery Farm is fantastic too – stroll through old farm buildings and meet some much younger farm animals as you find out all about farming methods and crops.

Meet the farmers and their families and chat to them about how things have changed in their lifetime. As a bonus, there is also an exhibition charting the history of Irish dance!

Belfast Castle

The Belfast Castle Estate is a wonderful attraction to make a beeline for during your time in Belfast. With gorgeous gardens and an amazing adventure playground, there is more to this castle that just, well, a castle.

But if castles are definitely your thing then Belfast Castle is certainly one to add to your list of places to see. To make everything even better, the Cellar Restaurant provides fantastic afternoon teas which include mini pastries, finger sandwiches, and a vast array of different teas.

Not only that, but it also serves lunches and dinner, and includes a great children’s menu so the whole family can enjoy a meal out.

And there's more...

If you have visited Belfast once or more before, and you’ve already done the major tourist attractions, what else is there to do? Plenty!

  • There’s the T13 Urban Sports Academy for example. For those who love skateboarding, BMX bikes, and break dancing, this is the place to come. You can watch the experts really show off their skills, and even join in with specially designed workshops. Not into urban sports? No problem – the academy also hosts a number of other edgy events, including fashion shows, dance competitions, DJing, beat-boxing, and video production. And what’s more, as a bonus, these activities are free to anyone who wants to join in! It’s different and fun, and there’s nowhere else quite like it.
  • The W5 at Odyssey is the Belfast's answer to London’s Science Museum. Launch rockets, fly planes, and meet Darth Vader for starters! There are over 250 interactive exhibits to play with, as well as a variety of different shows and workshops. One entry fee pays for everything inside, including any temporary exhibits, talks, or live science demonstrations (that run throughout the day and are fascinating for both adults and children alike). With specific learning zones for under 8s, for the creative, for those who love being active, and for those who have the blood of an engineer running through their veins, this is a full day of learning and exploring in one massive space.
  • Now, although you may have thought you had already experienced every variation of Titanic lore, you haven’t. Not until you try the incredible Titanic Segway Tour. You’ll have around an hour and a half to follow your tour guide around the important areas of the city that relate to the infamous ship, including Titanic Dock, the SS Nomadic, and the Titanic Studios. This is for over 10 year olds, and you do need to weight under 17.5 stone, but other than that there are no restrictions, and you can be a first time Segway rider or a complete expert in this bizarre art.
  • The Belfast Print Workshop is an art gallery which only includes original artwork. It has been named as one of the top 5 galleries to visit in Northern Ireland, and although small, is crammed with gorgeous artwork. Not only can you examine and enjoy the final product, you can go to the top floor and watch the resident artists working on new exhibits too. Or did you fancy your hand at a bit of art? Perfect, since the Belfast Print Workshop offers the chance to make lithographs, screen printing and more.
  • For football fans, and George Best fans especially, there is a special George Best Trail. It is self guided, and maps can be picked up at various locations across Belfast, or downloaded from the website. See where the famous footballer grew up, the places he knew, and what shaped him. If you prefer literature to football, there is an alternative C.S Lewis tour to try.
  • The Belfast Sea Safari is a great way to see the city and enjoy a boat ride at the same time. This tour will even take you close to ‘Slipway 3’ where Titanic launched on its way to Southampton for its maiden (and final) voyage over one hundred years ago. You will sail at 24 knots, just like Titanic did, so you can really experience just what it must have felt like to be on board. It lasts for 50 minutes, and this fast and furious speedboat tour is suitable for the whole family.

Hotels

There are a number of excellent hotels in Belfast, and no matter what your budget, your party size, or your reason for visiting, there will be something just right for you.

Value accommodation in Belfast

If value is your key requirement, why not check out some of these hotels?

The Queen’s Elms is a no-frills hotel ideal for those who want to save their pennies for other Belfast delights. Good prices (which can be made cheaper if you don’t want an ensuite) that include breakfast, this hotel is centrally located, has free WiFi, and, an added bonus, is clean and comfortable too.

As budget hotels go, the Balmoral Hotel has some advantages. With room service available, and packed lunches provided for day trips, these are extras that don’t necessarily reflect in the price. It’s a bargain of a place to stay in, and the on-site bar and great breakfasts more than make up for the 10 minute drive to the city centre.

Family-friendly hotels in Belfast

Family is wonderful, but it can be hard to find a suitable place for everyone to stay. Not in Belfast, though – there are lots to choose from here.

The apartments available at Malone Lodge Hotel & Apartments have everything you need to keep your family happy. They have microwaves, dishwashers, washing machines, seating areas, and enough bedrooms for everyone. Alternatively, the hotel rooms are comfortable and great for those who prefer a more relaxing stay away.

The La Mon Hotel and Country Club hotel includes leisure facilities which have family changing rooms to make everything that much easier, and there are interconnecting rooms available so you can have your own space but also keep an eye on the kids. With friendly staff and lovely food, this is a great place to stay.

Luxurious hotels in Belfast

You love a bit of luxury, and a hotel room needs to be plush and lush and gorgeous. Well, thankfully you’re in Belfast and luxury hotels are easy to find.

The Merchant Hotel is a cool mix of new and old – contemporary styling mixed with Victorian chic that is in no way understated! Large, comfortable, beautiful rooms with gorgeous ensuites are an excellent way to begin, but add to that a knowledgeable staff, afternoon teas, and a resident Rolls Royce Phantom to borrow, and you’ve got the hotel of your dreams.

Even the name oozes quality, and you won’t be disappointed once you step through the doors of the Fitzwilliam Hotel. Bright and vibrant, this five star hotel is where the famous like to stay, and there are suites to suit every taste. The green hatted doorman who greets you will make you feel very special, and the hotel itself is in a perfect location, close to every attraction you might wish to visit.

Restaurants

Food and holidays go hand in hand, and it is often the time when we have the best meals we’ve ever experienced. So where to go get the ultimate in value for money?

Situated in the beautiful Cathedral Quarter, the John Hewitt bar serves some fantastic food for some even more fantastic prices. Enjoy tandoori marinated chicken breast, roast fillet of salmon, or roast sweet pepper and goats’ cheese tart as you listen to live music and drink some of the wide selection of beers on offer. This is more than ‘pub food’.

It looks sleek and modern, but the food served at Grub is homely and comforting. Dishes include Irish stew, chilli, and chicken chowder (its speciality is one pot food), as well as a variety of sandwiches. The nice thing about Grub is that anything left over at the end of the day is given to the homeless, so you know nothing goes to waste.

Family restaurants are occasionally hard to come by, but in Belfast, where family is seen as very important, they are all over the place!

The Bank Café Bar is proud of its kids’ menu and dedicated family space. Not only can parents relax and enjoy good food and drink (it’s open from 9am until 9pm), but the children can have some fun at the same time. The kids’ menu is varied and familiar enough not to worry them, but is made from all fresh ingredients (as it the adult’s version!).

Kids love pizza, as everyone knows. So if parents can take their children to a traditional, good value, well respected pizzeria, they can not only guarantee the children will eat their dinner, but they will also know that the food is fresh and prepared on site. Ideal. Little Wing Pizzeria is a great place to take the family for a real treat.

Luxury restaurants have many things in common – excellent food, superb service, and an intriguing wine list.

Fresh, local seafood. That’s the ethos of the Mourne Seafood Bar, a fine restaurant, and that’s what you will get if you choose to dine here. It is recommended that you make a booking for dinner as this is a popular place with locals and tourists alike. Here you can sample oysters, mussels, chowder, pan fried crab claws and some very grown up fish fingers. It doesn’t get fresher than this!

James Street South is all about making sure you are able to order and eat the freshest seasonal and local ingredients possible. Items such as crispy duck wings with scallops, braised rabbit leg, and grilled cod are the order of the day here, and on a Wednesday evening you can even be part of the critics’ table, trying out new dishes from the chef!

Family travel

For a family break away, Belfast is a great choice. It doesn’t matter if you are into museums, sports, boating, or just want to spend some quality time together without the worry of work and the stress of everyday life, you’ll find the ideal combination of days out and ways to enjoy yourself in Belfast to keep everyone happy.

From the numerous Titanic exhibitions to the fast paced BMX tracks, this family friendly city will take you to its heart and let you explore in comfort. Those family photos will bring back some magical memories in years to come! And because it’s easy to get to from mainland UK, even the travelling can be a fun and exciting adventure!

When to visit Belfast

As with anywhere in the UK, the weather in Belfast can be a bit hit and miss, but the driest, warmest months to visit are May and June. If you are bound by the school holidays, it might be best to wait until August, as the temperature should be good and the rainfall less than in July.

Another bonus of the summer months is that there are a variety of brilliant festivals, street entertainers, markets, and regattas. The city comes alive between May and September, but it is crowded.

If you are wary of Belfast’s past troubles, then you should probably visit either before 11th July or after 12th, as on these days there are marches around the city and they have been known to cause tension.

Most of the tourist attractions are open all year round, so if you prefer to explore somewhere without all the other visitors around you, the off season months might suit you better. Some activities, including the boat tours, can be subject to the weather though, so it’s best to bear this in mind.

Handy information

Where you will dock

The ferry terminal at Belfast is a small terminal on the edge of an industrial estate. It isn't too far from the city centre, at around 4 miles (about 6 kilometres) by car.

Belfast Harbour is where the cruise ships dock. In 2014 ships from Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Celebrity, MSC, Thomson, Fred Olsen Cruise Line, Saga Cruise and more docked in the port.  The harbour is fairly industrialised but if you are lucky you'll get fantastic views of the Harland and Wolff gantry cranes. The port is around a 3 miles (about 5 kilometres) road journey to the centre of Belfast.

Nearest airport

Belfast has a couple of airports to its name. George Best Belfast City Airport (BHD) is around 4 miles (about 6 kilometres) from Belfast Harbour by road. This small yet busy airport offers domestic flights around the UK and a small selection to Europe.

For long haul flights the Belfast International Airport (BFS) would be more likely. This sites around 19 miles (about 31 kilometres) to the west of Belfast Harbour by road but is a much bigger airport.

Nearest railway stations

The nearest railway station to Belfast Harbour is Yorkgate railway Station which is a 1.5 miles (about 2 kilometres) walk away. This also happens to be the nearest reailway station to the ferry terminal, with a more tiring 2.6 miles (about 4 kilometres) walk to endure. In this case a taxi or local bus service might be a better choice, at least to get you to the station.

Currency

The currency used in Belfast is the Great British Pound (£). 100 pence make up 1 pound. British coins are available in 1 pence, 2 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, £1 and £2 coins. Pound bank notes are available in £5, £10, £20 and £50 values

Ferry Routes

Operator Route Services Travel Time Price
Birkenhead Belfast 13 weekly 8 hours See prices °
Cairnryan Belfast 5 daily 2¼ hours See prices °

This information is for reference purposes only. Journey times are approximate. Frequency is based on typical schedules. Schedules are subject to availability and weather conditions. Information correct at the time of writing.

Taster Cruise Ship Itineraries

Cruise line Typical itinerary Prices
Southampton; Dover; Falmouth; Harwich; Liverpool; Newcastle; Tilbury; Rosyth; Greenock Ports such as Belfast See prices °

This information is for reference purposes only. Information correct at the time of writing.

Top 3 Cruise & Ferry Deals

  1. Irish Ferries Ireland mini cruise from £38pp
  2. Day trip to Rosslare with Stena Line from £5.50pp
  3. Sail to Belfast with Stena Line from £10pp each way

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