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Belfast is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland. It is situated at the opening of the River Lagan that is surrounded by low ridges and a regular spot for the shipping trade, an industry that made Belfast famous.
The name “Belfast” is derived from the Irish phrase Beal Feirste or “mouth of the Farset,” which is the river wherein the city started. Over time, the River Lagan is considered as the more important river than the River Farset, particularly since Farset now passes under High Street in virtual obscurity.
Belfast rocketed its fame as a business and industrial hub during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Behind it are various industries like linen, tobacco, rope-making, and ship construction. Thus, Belfast is Ireland’s most industrialized city during its peak.
When it comes to tourism, Belfast is distinct from any other places that Ireland or the United Kingdom has to offer.
Belfast is a city that overflows with activity and radiates an air of guarded enthusiasm. That’s because new hotels, shops, bars, clubs, and restaurants appear one after the other. There is also an intense insight into history in the city, particularly at the historic buildings that recall the city’s grand Victorian and Edwardian heritage.
As opposed to Dublin, Belfast is widely considered a significantly cheaper and more fulfilling tourist destination. Belfast is also a great place to explore, despite its largely criticized urban preparation and long history of armed struggle. Ironically, this history of conflict furnishes an ever-present air of uncertainty and drama to the city.
The locals love to say their city is the best example of how ethnic disputes should be managed. In this way, Belfast is a city like no other and always has something to offer.
Based on the latest United Nations International Crime Victimization Study, Belfast is not a threatening city. The research shows that Northern Ireland is placed next to Japan when it comes to the lowest crime rates in an industrialized and developed society. Apparently, most occurrences only involve the locals fighting against one another, while tourists are left out of any incidents.
Of course, you still have to be careful wherever you are and you should always be aware of your surroundings.
The citizens of Belfast are enthusiastic restaurant-going people, perhaps seeking to make up for a lost time after many years when they would not even attempt to go out of their own districts.
One of the city’s most famous venues is the expanse between City Hall and Queen’s University. That’s because the main university of Belfast is packed with numerous major bars and clubs. It is commonly safe, except on Friday and Saturday nights when young revelers meet there after closing time for a fight and create minor scuffles.
For weekend trips here, make sure that you prepare your own transport as taxis are very hard to find. That’s also the reason there are lots of car rental companies that can be found in Belfast.
And as a part of the general rule in this city, tourists should avoid stating any overtly political remarks. Wearing certain sporting shirts, particularly those of the Rangers or Celtic teams in the Scottish football league, should also be shunned. The same rules apply when it comes to rugby shirts.
If you seem lost and still trying to figure out where to go, we would strongly advise you to ask for directions rather than wander. The people of Belfast are very hospitable and accommodating.
Visitors can tour Belfast any time of year, but possibly the best time to hit the city is during April to June or in September when the weather is at its best. The crowds are also lighter than usual while the main attractions are still open to the public. The average temperature lingers at a relatively moderate 10C (50F) all year round.
Top Road Trip Destinations from Belfast
Over the years, Belfast has molded itself from a torn city with a wounded past to a bustling metropolis stuffed with museums, restaurants, and the famous Titanic Quarter.
Despite its numerous attractions, sometimes it’s still nice to drive out for a day trip from Belfast. Within a quick drive, visitors can take in an abundance of natural beauty and participate in other fun activities, all settled within a short drive.
Rent a car so you’d be able to explore the Northern Irish lands independently. You can also take advantage of the several tours leaving from the city to carry you deeper into the countryside. Road trips along the Great Atlantic Way are just one of the popular destinations while the climactic cliffs, medieval castles, mountains, and sought-after movie sets are all just a quick drive away.
The Giants Causeway
For almost an hour’s drive from Belfast, you can get to one of the Emerald Isle’s most famous attractions: the Giants Causeway. Its incomparable beauty and proximity make this an excellent day trip from Belfast.
A mysterious area, Giant’s Causeway shelters over 40,000 basalt columns that furnish one of the most stunning coastlines in Ireland. Local myth has it that the columns are what survives from a road created by enemy Goliaths. But in reality, they are the traces of a volcanic explosion from millions of years ago.
Visitors can step along the path and make their way down to the ocean until the rocks eventually fade into the sea. With a bit of creative thought, tourists can easily picture the mystery behind this UNESCO World Heritage-listed site.
Trying to look for a heart-pumping experience during your next day trip from Belfast? Hit the Carrick-A-Rede Bridge.
It is a tense, centuries-old suspension bridge found a 14-minute drive west of Giant’s Causeway. While not for the faint of heart, the dense rope crossing, overlaid with strategically installed wooden planks, has connected the mainland to the small island of Carrick-a-Rede for ages.
Originally constructed in 1755 by a salmon fisherman, this attraction has drawn millions of visitors over the years. You can walk on it (if you dare) for a charge when the weather agrees. Panoramic views will be your prize, and dolphins can frequently be seen in the distant waters.
Royal Portrush Golf Club
Royal Portrush Golf Club flaunts one of the toughest golf courses in the world, which makes it the ideal spot to hit the links.
Founded in 1888, it is the single club to host The Open Championship in Ireland. It is open year-round and surely well worth the 96-kilometer drive from Belfast to carry your game to the next level.
Bragging rights will enable you to say you played a round of golf where kings and other aristocrats have teed off for over a century. Several holes face the ocean, and the often-viewed display of horses and their riders galloping along the beach is exceptional.
The Gobbins Cliff Path
Who wouldn’t want to saunter along a path named Gobbins Cliff Path? It surely sounds interesting! For less than a half-hour drive from Belfast, this unprecedented, at times the rocky path is a striking site to stop, stretch your legs, and appreciate the breathtaking view along the Causeway Coastal Route.
You can take the guided tour across dramatic suspension bridges, past caves, and through tunnels. With magnificent coastal vistas of this wonderful, rugged landscape, you’ll discover yourself resting precariously on a narrow path. It’s clear to see why this picturesque hike is nicknamed the most dramatic stride in Europe.
Because of its fame, you will want to contemplate setting an arrangement in advance. Keep in mind that this attraction is only open to the public from mid-February to the start of November, and it’s only best visited on a dry (and hopefully sunny) day.
Another must-see spot when experiencing a day trip from Belfast is Dunluce Castle in County Antrim. The historic castle has an intriguing and occasionally sordid history recording back to the early 1500s.
It is set atop a rocky cliff backed by vibrant azure waves. It is a genuine marvel to view, and you can easily reach it in a little over an hour from Belfast.
Even though it’s in a state of ruin, the medieval castle and abandoned town are still well worth the trip. The towering remains clearly show the visual influence the setting contributed to the reigning clan, and the view is so magical you won’t want to rush back out.
Visitors can enter the castle by a bridge from the mainland. Guided tours and an on-site café are also available so you can grab a snack while you traverse the grounds.
Derry (a.k.a. Londonderry) Area
Your day trip from Belfast isn’t complete without a pause in Derry (a.k.a. Londonderry). This pulsing city is the fourth largest in Ireland and possesses a small-town vibe despite its size while bursting with culture and charm.
Found about 112 kilometers from Northern Ireland’s capital, this border city is an excellent spot to go to experience some traditional Irish fare. Tourists can also enjoy a stroll through the centuries-old streets, loaded with rich architecture. Keep your eyes open for several colorful and moving murals found throughout.
While you are here, make sure to stroll or ride a bike across the Peace Bridge. This unique piece of architecture is an engineering wonder that unites Ebrington Square to the city center, contributing a magnificent bird’s-eye view of Derry.
After crossing the bridge, don’t forget to hit the Derry Craft Village in the heart of the city. It’s stuffed with a mix of craft shops, restaurants, homes, and coffee shops on a model of an 18th-century street.
The Sperrins mountain range completes one of the highest upland areas in Ireland. Reachable for about an hour and a half drive northwest of Belfast, this is the perfect site to visit if you adore both nature and hiking.
The stunning vistas and rough landscape overlooking impressive green fields and rolling hills were formed by glaciers millions of years ago during the Ice Age. But don’t forget to wear good shoes, layers (including a raincoat), and pack some snacks and water because you’ll surely wander in this area for hours.
The drive to and through The Sperrins is another feature of the site, adding to the beauty of this exciting day trip from Belfast. The view is so marvelous that this has been dubbed as one of the top scenic drives in the world.
Game of Thrones fans will surely agree: No trip to Belfast is considered complete without visiting Dark Hedges, one of the famous spots used on the popular TV series. This empyreal place is a dark street filled with beech trees that create a strange tunnel along Bregagh Road, this empyreal place is a must-see even if you haven’t seen the show.
This previously little-known place has now gained a cult tourist following for those who can’t get enough of the medieval fantasy epic. If you go here when the fog is thick, it has a heavenly look that presents itself perfectly to the lore and myths of Ireland, as well as the HBO hit.
To escape it all, drive straight to the Lough Erne lake region.
Situated in the northwestern part of Ireland, just over two hours west of Belfast, this resort area is your gateway to the town of Enniskillen. It’s a tremendous 40 miles long and consists of two lakes (Upper Lough Erne and Lower Lough Erne) that are united by a 10-mile strait.
This large lake grants visitors an unwinding, comfortable spot to while away a day cherishing the area’s scenic views. When you already had enough water-based fun, there’s an award-winning golf course that can be found nearby. It’s easy to notice why the world’s most intelligent travelers flock here year-round.
The lovely town of Carrickfergus rests just 30 minutes north of Belfast by car, along the rough Irish coast.
This County Antrim village is home to one of the best castles located near Belfast, Carrickfergus Castle. It is a well-known Norman stronghold, this antiquated wonder has endured multiple attacks over its 800 years.
The city itself dates back to medieval times, its graceful stone walls adding to the sentimental allure. No wonder the popular Irish Ballad, “Carrickfergus” was composed about this pretty spot. Carrickfergus Museum & Civic Center is an art lover’s haven packed with local works and historic treasures.
Just outside town, you’ll discover the Knockagh Monument, a tall column built to honor those who fought and died in the World Wars. It extends extraordinary views of the sprawling countryside.
The famous county of Donegal is immense and loaded with some of the most stunning scenery in Ireland. The steady winds can instantly bring in extreme weather, so make sure you have the proper gear.
A picture postcard setting offers some remarkable beaches, like Culdaff Beach. Climactic cliffs and rolling hills seem to remain forever in the distance. Take a drive from Belfast for about two hours to completely relish its glory and experience an exciting portion of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Small towns dot the route to Donegal and create good stopping spots, where you can enjoy the views. Other points of interest incorporate Glenveagh National Park and the castle, and Malin Head, the Northernmost part of Ireland. Finally, save room in your bag for a bit of tweed from Magee, forming their craft since 1866.
Inspired by the legendary Temple of Vesta in Italy, the Mussenden Temple was constructed as a summer library on Downhill Demesne, a spectacular property by the sea. This circular building lies on top of the cliffs and is one of the most photographed edifices in Ireland.
Despite the concern of it falling off the edge, this structure has faced the severe weather of coastal Ireland since 1785. A secret chamber was also formed into the underground where Catholic priests were said to hold mass.
On a clear day, visitors can view for miles along the coastline, and it presents a picturesque spot for a picnic.
Winterfell Castle Ward
Winterfell Castle Ward is a historic farmyard situated in Northern Ireland, about 48 kilometers from Belfast. This area operates as one of the main spots highlighted in Game of Thrones.
Ward castle, the grounds, and several of the nearby areas have become popular tourist destinations due to the show’s global audience. Props, costumes, and other memorabilia from the recent tv show will be placed on exhibit in this “new” historic spot in County Down.
Driving in Belfast
Once you start driving in Belfast, you’ll quickly notice that the driving is much simpler than in Dublin. That’s because the roads are smaller, less crowded, and not so inclined to absurd one-way systems.
Ten Square is just right behind city hall and about as central as you could be. No on-site parking can be seen but several multi-story car parks can be found nearby and on-street options are also available if you are arriving at night.
Road Rules in Belfast
Driving in Northern Ireland (NI) is administered by rules established and written in the Highway Code and you may find it beneficial to refer to the Code for a better understanding of how driving here may deviate from your own country.
Below are some of the distinctions that you may meet along the way as you drive in Belfast or anywhere within Northern Ireland. Knowing these rules could help you drive safely during your stay in Belfast.
- All vehicles in Northern Ireland are equipped with the driver seat on the right-hand side and are driven on the left-hand side of the road.
- You should also remember to keep left every time you drive in Belfast, each time you pass an intersection, and each time you stop onto a road.
- You must switch on your car’s headlights between sunset and sunrise.
- You must switch your headlights on at night (half an hour before sunset and half an hour after sunrise).
- You should turn the front and rear fog lights on when visibility is low but must switch them off when visibility enhances.
- Speed limits in Northern Ireland are displayed in miles per hour (mph) while the speed limits in the Republic of Ireland are displayed in kilometers per hour (km/h).
- In built-up areas, the speed limit is up to 30 mph unless shown differently.
- Outside the built-up areas, the speed limit is 60 mph.
- In motorways and dual-carriageways, the speed limit is up to 70 mph
Seat belts and children in cars
Seat belts must be worn in the front and rear of vehicles by all occupants at all times.
Children under 3 years old:
- must use a suitable child restraint fitted for their age/weight in all vehicles, including vans and other goods vehicles.
- must be seated facing forward and protected by a frontal air-bag except when the air-bag has been deactivated
Children within 3 to 11 years and under 135cm in height:
- must wear a proper child restraint at all times when seated in the front seat of a car.
- must also use the proper child restraint even if seated in the rear of a car
Drinking and driving
- The maximum level of alcohol permitted in the blood is 0.08 percent.
- It is illegal to use a handheld mobile phone while driving in Northern Ireland. Your mobile phone must be turned off or put on silent until you can stop the car somewhere safe or until you reach your destination.
Documents Needed While Driving in Belfast
You should always bring a valid driver’s license and proof of vehicle insurance with you as you drive in Belfast. It is deemed to be a criminal offense to withhold or give false details when required to do so.
You can utilize your national driving license but must have attained the minimum driving age in Northern Ireland. You must be:
- 17 years old or over to ride a motorcycle with a cylinder range not surpassing 125cc, or power not surpassing 11kW
- 19 years old or over to ride a motorcycle not surpassing 35kW
- 21 years old or older to ride a motorcycle with unlimited size or power
- 17 years old or more to be able to drive a car
A provisional or learner’s driving license issued abroad is not considered valid for use in Northern Ireland.
Hiring a Car in Belfast
Northern Ireland’s capital city hums with historic, cultural, and foodie places. You can hire a car from George Best Belfast City Airport (BHD) or Belfast International Airport (BFS) and see it all for yourself.
Hiring a car in Belfast city centre
Belfast isn’t as huge as Dublin, so you might find it easier to skip airport car hire. Instead, you can pick your vehicle in town after a few days before heading out to the Causeway Coast.
Various well-known brands and local companies are allowing cheap car rental deals in Belfast city center. A few have facilities within a short walk from Great Victoria Street station, and others can be seen along Boucher Street just south of the city center.
If you’ve been driving around the UK already, you’re in luck. There’s no difference between driving in Belfast from any other UK country. It’s a small and compact city, and easy to travel by car thanks to its well-signposted roads. There are also rare absurd one-way systems.
To steer away from traffic jams in Belfast, drive outside of commuter hours in the early morning and late afternoon. To avoid the busiest roads like Lisburn Road and the Westlink, it would be a good idea to plan your route or utilize an up-to-date sat-nav when touring around the city center.
Belfast has adequate on-street parking areas as well as a range of extensive car parks to choose from. You might also find that your accommodation will have free parking, but several hotels don’t, so it is worth researching the nearest car park beforehand.
Car Rental Companies in Belfast
You’ll find several major rental car companies at Belfast’s airports. George Best Belfast City Airport (BHD) is just 15 minutes away from the city and Belfast International Airport (BFS) is just around 30 minutes outside it.
Both airports have rental desks in their arrival halls, and car pickup points located nearby.
Car hire companies at Belfast International Airport are:
- Avis (Tel: 028 9445 2642)
- Budget (Tel: 020 9442 3332)
- Enterprise (Tel: 020 9445 1940)
- Hertz (Tel: 028 9442 2533)
Rental companies at George Best Belfast City Airport are:
- Budget (Tel: +44 (0)28 9045 1111)
- Enterprise (Tel: 028 9046 3850)
- Avis (Tel: +44 (0)844 5446 028)
- Alamo (Tel: 028 9445 1940)
- Europcar (Tel: +44 (0)37 1384 1007)
- Sixt (Tel: 0330 002 2666)
Documents Needed When Hiring a Car in Belfast
When you hire from the rental companies mentioned above, the documentation needed will differ slightly depending on the area. We’ve listed all the possible documents you may need, but some won’t be required for some situations.
- Full Driving Licence. The most vital document that you can present is your driving license. This must be provided to show the rental company that you are eligible to drive a vehicle that you plan to hire.
- Passport. Your passport may be needed by some suppliers but some don’t. This serves as your photo ID and must suit the name and details found on your driving license.
- Proof Of Your Home Address. If you are renting a car in a country as your home address then you will be required to present proof of your home address. A Bank Statement or utility bill recorded within the last 3 months tends to be the most asked.
- In some countries, you are required to provide proof that you plan to leave the country when returning the vehicle to the rental company. At most times, your return flight ticket does the trick.
- International Driving Permit (IDP)
Type of Insurance You Need to Purchase When Hiring a Car in Belfast
It’s crucial to be knowledgeable of Ireland’s car rental insurance before you start driving your next rental vehicle.
In Ireland, a Third Party Liability Insurance is part of the legal documents required to be covered in the prepaid charge of all car rentals. A Third-Party Liability Insurance defends you from any liability due to property damage, injury, or death that is caused to anyone or anything outside of your rental car.
In addition to Third Party Liability Insurance, Fire Insurance is also incorporated in all rental car charges which comprise any damage made to your rental car as a result of a fire.
Any supplemental car rental insurance in Ireland can be acquired at a discount if scheduled before your trip. Recommended optional coverage includes Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and theft protection (TP). While the cost of this coverage will alter depending upon the rental car supplier, the area of your rental, and the model of the car you book.
If you decide to attach this coverage at the pick-up counter, then you should expect to spend a significantly higher amount than reserving your car rental in Ireland. Note that in most situations CDW and TP insurance with a zero-deductible are cheaper than CDW and TP insurance with a deductible obtained at the rental counter at pick-up.
Top tips for car hire in Belfast
- If you intend on heading south passing through the border of the Republic of Ireland at any point in your trip, inform the car rental company in advance. They will probably set a cross-border coverage charge, and to your benefit, everything will be covered in case of an accident or breakdown.
- You have two options when it comes to metered, on-street parking: either carry coins along with you and feed the meter as and when needed or register in advance with Parkmobile and utilize your mobile phone to initiate and turn off your parking time.
- The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is an open border and you won’t notice that you’ve already crossed it. But the street signs are a great pointer of which side you are on. If it’s written in English only, then you are in Northern Ireland, but if it’s written in both English and Irish, then you are in the Republic.
Frequently Asked Questions
What age do I need to be to hire a vehicle in Belfast?
You need to be at least 21 years of age to hire a car in Belfast. Some car rental companies set a minimum age of 25, and most will implement a ‘young driver surcharge’ if you’re under 25. But whatever your age is, you’ll certainly be required to have held a full driving license for at least a year.
Do I need a car hire excess insurance in Belfast?
No, but that doesn’t suggest you shouldn’t consider it.
When you rent a car in Belfast, your contract normally comes with a massive excess if you have an accident. Purchasing a car hire that exceeds the insurance policy indicates you’re covered for that.
Search for a third-party policy to receive a good deal. If you opt for the one you’re offered at the car hire collection desk, it will normally be more pricey.
Can I rent a car with the use of my debit card in Belfast?
Plenty of car rental companies let you pay with a debit card. But some still do insist on a credit card
Is it more affordable to rent a car at the airport or off-site in Belfast?
Sometimes it’s more affordable to rent a car off-site as it’s less fitted than picking up your car straight at the airport. Look for different pickup spots to see where you can receive the best deal in Belfast.
Can you rent a car in Belfast and drop it off in another city?
Yes, car hire companies frequently let their clients drop off their rental cars in a different city. When you rent a car in Belfast, your agent may designate that the drop-off spot must be in Northern Ireland.
Can you rent a car on the same day you arrive in Belfast?
Yes, you can still book an on-the-day car rental in Belfast. Look online for a better deal even on the day – you’ll normally find car rental more affordable than by going in person.
Ireland is a country that is 85 miles long and 70 miles wide. Its size makes it possible to view much of the area in a few hours, but what’s the hustle? You will want to view the surf-washed Atlantic shores of the Causeway Coast and Glens, which is an effortless drive due to Northern Ireland’s comprehensive road system.
As you drive in Northern Ireland, you will be encompassed by the breathtaking spectacle, serene countryside, and several destinations to explore. Remember that traffic drives on the left-hand side of the road in Northern Ireland.
Hiring a car is the perfect way to avoid the hustle and bustle of the city and head into the countryside. For those taking trips out into the natural scenery why not take advantage of the GPS satellite navigation that all car rental companies offer, ensuring a tranquil journey is had by all.