BELFAST Travel Guide

Travelling to Belfast

Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland and has a population of approximately 340,200 people. The city is well-known for building the famously tragic boat Ship of Dreams, the Titanic. Belfast is not to be confused with Dublin, which is the capital city of the Republic of Ireland. See the map below for further clarification.

map of ireland, differentiating northern ireland and the republic of ireland

The easiest way to get to Northern Ireland – or Belfast, more specifically – is by flying. Personally, I flew from London Stansted to Belfast International Airport, although there are two other airports within Northern Ireland: George Best Belfast City Airport and City of Derry Airport.

You can also take the train if you’re travelling from England, Wales, or Scotland. The trip, however, will be split partway to include the ferry trip to Ireland. There are also direct coaches to Dublin serviced by the National Express if you wish to have a cheaper alternative to planes and trains.

Where to stay in Belfast

As a solo traveller, I cannot recommend hotels unless you are travelling with two other people.

Belfast has a lot of hostels on offer, all within walking distance to the main city centre. Prices can range between £10-£15 per night at a hostel; I stayed at Lagan Backpackers for 2 nights and didn’t pay more than £26 total, and the place had a TV with a Netflix subscription, newly refurbished bathrooms, and they even offered a free breakfast to those who opt-in!

If you’re willing to spend a little more for privacy, then I would suggest Airbnb as an alternative.

Getting around Belfast

  • walking – the farthest I walked from one tourist destination to another was 20 minutes
  • by bike – Belfast bikes cost £1 per half hour
  • by bus – Belfast has THREE different bus services and I highly suggest using the Translink journey planner to navigate
  • by train – the main train stations in Belfast are Great Victoria Street Station and Belfast Central Station
  • by taxi / uber / car rental

Things to do in Belfast

I highly recommend just typing in “things to do” on Google Maps and see if any of the options offered are compatible with your interests. Getting into the habit of making bookmarks and lists on Google Maps is helpful in planning daily itineraries and, sometimes, choosing a hostel or Airbnb that is most convenient for you, the traveller.

Here is a list of places I visited within the Belfast city:

  • Ulster Museum
  • Belfast Botanic Gardens
  • The Palm House
  • The Tropical Ravine
  • Belfast Peace Wall
  • The Big Fish, Salmon of Knowledge
  • Belfast City Hall
  • Belfast Castle
  • Cavehill (I climbed to the very top!)

I also went on day trips, where I visited:

  • Strangford, where I spent the morning at Winterfell Castle and had lunch at The Cuan (where Sean Bean and all the other Game of Thrones actors stayed during their shoots!)
  • Bushmills, where I ate my lunch on the Giant’s Causeway steps and spent the afternoon walking the trail around the Shepherd’s Steps
reading a book, Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, on the giant's causeway
from September’s reading challenge

What to expect from Belfast

Expect the unexpected.

an ancient proverb, probably

Belfast – and Northern Ireland, in general – is a super friendly place. The bus drivers are really easy to speak with and they are more than happy to help a lost little tourist. I honestly believe the locals are psychic because they always know where you want to go and will just gently nudge you towards the right direction. Everyone I spoke with, from the waitresses to the random man I befriended as I walked the Cavehill nature trail, was softspoken and kindhearted. Belfast is brilliant!

Lastly, expect to receive some Northern Ireland banknotes. They are different to the ones in circulation around England, but they are still Sterling notes and can be exchanged for Bank of England notes at any bank in the UK.

And in conclusion…

I spent an approximate total of £270, including travel, accommodation, and food. Belfast is an amazing place with a lot of history and great architecture. The food is good, the people even good-er, and the only downside was the confusing bus network. 10/10 will recommend for other solo travellers to visit!

Northern Ireland Adventure: The Westeros Cycle Tour

My first full day in Belfast was a physically tiring one. Since I’m staying at a hostel, I woke up at 6am to avoid the morning bathroom rush and was out of the door and ready to explore the wonderful world of Northern Ireland by 7am. My goal for the morning? To be in Strangford before 10am for the Westeros Cycle Tour I impulse bought at Stansted Airport the day before.

Are you ready for today’s adventure recap?

LiberaTarts Goes to Winterfell

The walk from my hostel to the city centre took about 20 minutes and by the time the number 15 Ulsterbus arrived, I was frantically googling how much it cost for a day ticket to Strangford. And then I remembered that the buses here in Belfast don’t do day tickets, for some reason? Anyway, the kinder-than-usual bus driver tolerated my ramblings about “return tickets” and “changing buses halfway through my journey,” which was nice because if there’s anything I could take away from this trip, it was the fact that the people in Belfast are super friendly and nice.

Case in point:

  • I got lost (as I do) trying to find the meeting point for the cycle tour. Not only were the Castle Ward staff super helpful, but also the random early morning visitors who said to me “ah, you’re looking for Winterfell.”
  • One of the cycle tour guides told me – out of the blue and with no prompting whatsoever – that I can visit the ‘GOT Door’ in this pub called the The Cuan. The Game of Thrones actors such as Sean Bean stayed at this pub / hotel whilst they were filming the Winterfell scenes during the early seasons.
  • The waitress at The Cuan waved off the 5p from the £5.55 cheesecake I ordered. She didn’t have to do that? Why did she do that?
  • I didn’t have the right bus ticket to get back to Belfast from the Strangford village centre but the bus driver let me on anyway.

My conclusion? Belfast is a very, very nice city to live in despite the absolute chaos that is its public transportation system.

Anyway, let’s talk about Winterfell! Finding the cycle tour meeting point, having had taken the bus instead of driving (like what most people would do, I suppose), meant I had to walk through Castle Ward…

an image of 18th century Castle Ward
view of castle ward from the distance

…before you get to the castle’s farmyard, which is famously known as the filming location for Winterfell from the TV show Game of Thrones.

road leading to winterfell, featuring tower buildings and a wall surrounding the area
“there must always be a Stark in Winterfell”

The tour begins with a guide walking you to various places within the Winterfell courtyard, pointing out key filming locations and describing how the crew of Game of Thrones essentially CGI’d Winterfell into being. I saw the tower where Bran “fell”, the brothel where we first meet Tyrion, and I stood in the exact same spot the Starks stood to greet King Baratheon’s entourage. It was an entirely surreal experience.

Following the walking tour, the guide (his name was Hugo, by the way, for those who are interested) handed me a helmet and bike. It was bright red and looked like it could take me all the way to King’s Landing; there was also a map attached to the handlebars, but that only detailed Winterfell and the nearby Audley’s Castle and grounds, which is famously associated with Robb and his army during the early seasons of the show.

The Westeros Cycle Tour is supposed to last 2 hours and 30 minutes, but the entirety of the course can be completed in half that time. I spent a good chunk just sitting atop Audley’s Castle and enjoying the view, eating my lunch and contemplating the insignificance of my human existence. And aside from all the times I got lost on the trail because I can’t read maps for the life of me, I still returned to the base camp in Winterfell with half an hour to spare.

I used that half hour walking to Strangford. The muscles in my legs are still burning as I type up this post. On the plus side, the nature walk from Winterfell towards the little village of Strangford offered this scene of pure delight:

image of a nature walk with a sign saying "the wild wood: marry the hare say take care"
the wild wood

Overall, the Westeros Cycle Tour was a 9 out of 10 experience for me: the views were great, the weather was unbeatable, and my nerdy little soul was happy to pretend I lived in Westeros for an entire morning. My only criticism is the lack of clear signposts of the cycle tour. As much as I joke around about my inability to read a map and my wonderful habit of getting lost, the cycle route was quite difficult to parse and I wasn’t the only one confused! There was a group ahead of me who circled around Audley’s Castle twice because they couldn’t figure out how to get to Temple Water.

Total cost for the day: £38 for the cycle tour, £5.50 for dessert, and £20ish for the bus rides, which all totals to £63.50. The cost for getting to experience Westeros? PRICELESS.

Over to you guys: if you could go visit any fictional world, where would you go and why?

Subscribe to LiberaTarts if you want to hear more about my Belfast city break! Tomorrow’s plan is to check-out of Lagan Backpacker’s and into an airbnb. Places to visit will include the Botanical Gardens, Ulster Museum, and perhaps Belfast Castle if I’ve got time and/or energy to spare in the afternoon. My legs still hurt from all the biking I did today.