Situated on the banks of River Lagan is Belfast, the largest city and capital of Northern Ireland and one of the United Kingdom’s most popular cities. Ever since the 19th century up to present day, Belfast has served as a major port city and is recognized as a global industrial hub. Additionally, the city serves as the seat of Northern Ireland’s government.
Apart from its political and commercial importance, Belfast has established itself as a beloved tourist destination; it is Ireland’s second most visited city and welcomes an average of 7 million tourists annually. The Northern Irish city is best known for its rich cultural heritage, music festivals and thriving dining scene.
With its global city status and high quality of life, Belfast isn’t exactly the cheapest destination to visit. However, it is relatively more affordable compared to other capital cities located in Western Europe. Moreover, there are numerous attractions and activities that you can do in the city without having to pay a single cent.
If you are traveling on a budget, Belfast may not be the first destination that comes to mind. However, don’t let your expenses stop you from visiting this beautiful city! Leave your bags with a Bounce luggage locker in Belfast and see the numerous free attractions and excursions suited for budget-conscious tourists. From world-class museums to lovely parklands, check out our list of top free things to do in Belfast.
Get a lovely view of the city from Cave Hill
Set in north Belfast, Cave Hill Country Park is a public park that offers locals and tourists an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. The green space boasts manicured gardens, walking trails, and a number of stunning landmarks such as the 19th century Belfast Castle (pro tip: entrance to the exhibits in the Belfast Castle estate is free during the spring and summer seasons).
The park’s main draw, however, is Cave Hill itself, a 1207-foot tall hill that offers what is arguably the best vantage point of Belfast and the surrounding River Lagan. The hill can easily be accessed via a beginner-friendly trail that spans 4.5 miles long. It is one of the best walks you can take around the city and among the top free things to do in Belfast.
Visit the Ulster Museum and the Botanic Gardens
Found within the beautiful Belfast Botanic Gardens, the Ulster Museum is a free-to-enter museum that is home to an incredible art, history, and science collection. Located at the main entrance of the Palm House Conservatory, the museum has a wide range of displays and artifacts divided among each field. The art section of the Ulster Museum places an emphasis on painting, metalwork, sculptures, contemporary art, and textiles while the history section features documents, photographs, and excavations that trace the trajectory of Northern Ireland from the Paleolithic area up until the 20th century.
There is also the natural history gallery, which showcases fossils, archaeological finds, and taxidermy mounts that trace plant and animal life over the years. The crowning jewel of the museum, however, is Takabuti – a famous mummified corpse of a woman from Egypt’s Nubian dynasty. After your time in the museum, you can explore the rest of the Botanic Gardens to admire the incredible collection of plants in the facility.
Discover the historic murals found all over Belfast
If you’re looking to appreciate art when you visit Belfast but are on a budget, you don’t have to pay to enter art galleries and museums. Instead, you can just walk around the Belfast city center and take in the city’s historic murals. Every year, the capital draws hundreds of local and international artists who leave their work as a contribution to Belfast’s growing street art collection.
The most eye-catching and popular murals can be found in the Cathedral Quarter, which is regarded as the cultural and entertainment hub in the Belfast city center. There are over 2000 murals spread across the city, each of which depict the different aspects, scenes and stories from Belfast’s history – from the Troubles era to the pro-union Orange Order and more.
One of the most popular street art spots in Belfast is the Peace Walls, which divides Protestant and Catholic communities in the city. Here, you can find the largest collection of political murals and artworks, all of which are free to view.
Find out about Belfast’s rich history at the Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum
If you are interested to learn about the role of Northern Ireland during World War II, the best place to visit is the Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum. Found in the heart of the lively Cathedral Quarter, it is one of the most popular Belfast museums and tells the story of some of the most memorable events in Belfast during the Second World War.
At the Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum, you get an in-depth understanding of various key events, including the historic 1941 Luftwaffe bombing raids known as the Belfast Blitz, the presence of US Forces, the role of the women in war, and the Ulster Home Guard. Additionally, the museum has a memorial screen that displays the names of the more than 1000 individuals who were killed during the Belfast Blitz.
Check out the Linen Hall Library
One of the best free things to do in Belfast is to visit and explore the fantastic collection at the Linen Hall Library. Established in 1788, it is the oldest library in Belfast and Ireland’s last subscribing library. Apart from being a historic landmark, the library is also renowned for its comprehensive collection of works, including Early Belfast and Ulster books, an impressive collection of Irish and Local Studies, an archive of the Troubles era and a 250,000-item Northern Ireland Political Collection. Whether you’re a bookworm or not, you should take advantage of the free access to the Linen Hall Library when in Belfast.
Explore the famous Titanic Quarter
Located just a short distance from the city center, the Titanic Quarter is a coastal area named after the famous ship that sank in 1912. It is one of the biggest urban waterfront projects in the world and has become a must-see when visiting Belfast. The district is home to numerous points of interest such as the Titanic Museum, the stunning Titanic Belfast building, a range of public art sculptures, shops and so much more.
It is also completely free to stroll along the Maritime Mile, which attracts an average of 3 million tourists every year. Here, you can enjoy a leisurely walk while admiring a beautiful view of the Belfast Lough and coming across historical implements and stunning artworks. If you can, visit the Maritime Mile in the early morning to witness the most beautiful sunrise that the city has to offer.
Learn the history of Westeros at the Glass of Thrones trail
Northern Ireland has a huge connection to the hit show Game of Thrones as the country is home to some of the locations and manmade sets where some scenes from the series were filmed. For GOT fans and geeks that want to get a glimpse of Westeros, there are plenty of companies offering a guided walking tour of the Glass of Thrones trail. However, if you are on a strict budget, you can simply follow the trail on your own without having to spend a single dime.
Those who are visiting Belfast can follow the 1.5 mile-long trail, which extends from the city center all the way to the waterfront and links Impressionist-style stained glass art related to the Game of Thrones. These works depict some of the most iconic characters and scenes from the show, such as Lady Melisandre, Drogon the fire breathing dragon owned by Daenerys, the Iron Throne, The Battle of the Bastards and the Night King.
Catch a free exhibition at the MAC
The Modern Arts Center, otherwise known as MAC, is Belfast’s main hub of creativity, culture and theater and is a key part of the city’s bustling arts scene. The MAC is best known as a performance venue; it has two auditoriums that showcase a wide range of live music events and shows that typically cost money to watch. However, there is another side of the MAC that caters to travelers on a shoestring budget – free access to the art galleries.
These galleries inside the facility feature guest permanent and guest exhibitions that feature some incredible works and riveting contemporary art by both local and international artists. One of the most popular art pieces found in the MAC is an installation by Irish sculptor Mark Garry, which is made using 400 metal wires that produce a vibrant color combination. The facility is also a stone's throw away from St. Anne's Cathedral (also known as Belfast Cathedral) if you are looking for something else to do after exploring the MAC.
Hang out at the famous CS Lewis Square
If you are a fan of the Narnia series, you should definitely make a stop at the famous C.S. Lewis Square in Belfast. Dedicated to the author, who was born and raised in the city, the square is a buzzing public space that showcases amazing sculptures based on the world-renowned fantasy novel by Lewis. If you follow the footpath, you’ll come across some familiar Narnia characters such as the White Witch and Aslan.
If you would like to stroll even further, check out the Connswater Community Greenway located within CS Lewis Square. This 5.5-mile long trail links Castlereagh Hills to the parklands of eastern Belfast. Once you’re done with your walking exercise, you can hang out and get refreshments at the artsy coffee shop known as JACK, which also sells several books on travel and history.
Get a history lesson at the Belfast City Hall
The Belfast City Hall is found in Donegall Square, right in the heart of the city, and serves as the civic building of the Belfast City Council. Established in 1906, it is Belfast’s most iconic building and has become somewhat of a tourist destination with its several points of interest. The Belfast City Hall boasts an impressive collection of stained glass windows while the grounds feature an array of landmarks, including the Titanic Memorial Garden, the Garden of Remembrance and the Cenotaph.
The best part is that you can check all these spots out for free; one of the best free things to do in the city is to join a daily walking tour offered by the Belfast City Hall during certain hours. In this free tour led by an experienced guide, you get to understand the city’s history, admire the beautiful architecture and city hall gardens and get a closer look at the memorials and monuments found on the grounds.
Check out the incredible stalls at the St. George's Market
The St. George’s Market has been operating in the city since 1604, making it one of the oldest attractions in Belfast. Considered among the best weekend markets in the entire United Kingdom, St. Georges Market on East Bridge Street is home to hundreds of vendors selling their fresh produce and other Belfast food products. Housed inside a beautiful Victorian building, the award-winning market spans over 40,000 square feet and features more than 200 stalls selling fresh fruits and vegetables, cakes, bread, buns, fish and even non-food items such as antiques, books and clothing.
While it predominantly operates as a shop, the St. George’s Market also occasionally hosts a range of events, such as food festivals, exhibitions, live music performances, weddings, art initiatives and more. While buying some of the products will obviously cost you money, you can simply stroll along the market and go “window shopping”. If you’re lucky, a lot of food vendors actually offer some free samples for you to taste!
Get panoramic views of Belfast from the Dome at Victoria Square
Victoria Square is Belfast’s premier shopping destination and a hub for activity in the city. This famous square in the Belfast center is home to a wide range of shops, restaurants and other trendy establishments. Though the area is generally expensive, it is also home to one of the best free attractions in Belfast, known simply as the Dome.
Sitting at the head of the square, the Dome is a stunning glass building and is one of the highest structures in Belfast. It is free to enter the Dome, where you can get a fantastic 360-degree view of the city and surrounding areas; from the top, you can spot some of Belfast’s most recognizable landmarks, such as Cave Hill, the Stormont Building and the Belfast City Hall.
Free Things to Do in Belfast
When it comes to tourism, Ireland knows how it's done! Whether your interest is traditional Irish music or rousing family fun, free things to do in Belfast should top the list. Take a walk through Cave Hill County Park (Belfast Zoo is here) or check out the Northern Ireland Assembly at the Stormont Parliament buildings. Splurge on a hop on hop off bus tour to get you from place to place in beautiful Belfast!