Embarking on a journey to Ireland and finding yourself torn between the vibrant cities of Dublin and Belfast? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. We will share our top tips that will help you choose if you should visit Dublin or Belfast.
Knowing that both cities are brimming with rich history, culture, and unique experiences, stand as noteworthy destinations on the Emerald Isle – Belfast vs Dublin might be a matter of personal choice or an itinerary necessity, our article below will help you determine which one (or perhaps both!) align best with your travel preferences.
Buckle up as we embark on this virtual tour – the wonders of Ireland await your discovery!
Dublin or Belfast: Which Irish City to Visit? Belfast vs Dublin Travel Tips
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Whether you’re seeking the literary charm of Dublin, immortalized by writers like James Joyce and Oscar Wilde, or the resilient, industrious spirit of Belfast, portrayed through its political murals and the Titanic Museum, making a choice can be challenging.
In this blog post, we delve into the quintessence of these captivating cities, and share our recommendations and a detailed list of factors and things that you should consider prior to your trip!
Things to consider when choosing between Dublin or Belfast
When choosing between Dublin and Belfast, there are several key factors to consider. Think about visa requirements, connectivity/airfare, and your European bucket list – what would you like to check off and more?
Dublin or Belfast: Travel documents and tourist visas
When it comes to travel documents and tourist visas, Dublin and Belfast fall under two different jurisdictions. Dublin, being in the Republic of Ireland, is part of the European Union. This means that EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens can visit with just their passport or national identity card.
For non-EU citizens, a tourist visa may be required (like an Irish Short Visit C-type visa), so it’s advisable to check the specific requirements for your country. (Ireland is an EU member, but not the Schengen zone due to its pact with the UK).
Passport holders of the US and Canada can enter visa free and stay in Ireland for 90 days.
Belfast, situated in Northern Ireland, is part of the United Kingdom. EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens can enter the country visa free.
Non-EU citizens will generally need to apply for a Standard Visitor visa to visit Belfast. Canadians and US citizens can enter and stay in the UK for a period of 6 months – visa-free.
In both cases, it’s crucial to check up-to-date information from official immigration websites or consult with your local embassy before you travel. This will ensure you have the correct documents and visas for your visit, whether it’s to Dublin or Belfast.
Note: You will need a valid passport and/or travel visa to enter either country/city. Once you have entered the country, you will not pass through UK immigration control if arriving in Belfast through Dublin. There is no physical border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Dublin or Belfast: Transportation and connectivity
When flying from North America and Asia, flight frequencies and connections are better for Dublin as compared to Belfast.
A cost-effective option will be to touch down in London and then make connections to either city by domestic flights (like RyanAir) or use public transport like a ferry or train to get to Dublin or Belfast.
Dublin, Ireland’s capital, is a major air hub, boasting a large and well-connected airport. It is the only airport in the city and is a RyanAir hub. You can easily fly to other countries in Europe and beyond from the Dublin Airport.
The city also offers extensive public transportation, including buses, trams, and trains that make navigating the city and its surrounding areas a breeze.
Belfast, on the other hand, offers a smaller yet well-equipped airport for overseas passengers. There are two airports, namely – Belfast International Airport that serve both international and domestic flights.
The George Best Belfast City Airport caters to domestic flights within Ireland and the UK.
It is also served by the Port of Belfast, opening up opportunities for ferry travel. You can travel to England and Scotland from the port. Its public transportation system includes (hot pink) buses and trains, with a high frequency of services within the city.
You’ll also find that Belfast is very pedestrian and cyclist-friendly, with many dedicated paths and lanes throughout the city.
Dublin or Belfast: Accommodation
Both cities offer a mix of traditional and contemporary options, with accommodations located in the city center and in quieter, more residential areas. Regardless of your choice, it’s advisable to book well in advance, particularly during the peak tourist season.
In both Dublin and Belfast, you’re sure to find a place that fits your budget, style, and needs, making your stay in these vibrant cities comfortable and memorable.
Of course, prices can vary and it’s always a good idea to budget and plan ahead to make the most of your visit to either city. But in general, if you’re looking for a destination that’s a bit easier on the wallet, Belfast is a great choice.
Belfast vs. Dublin: Which is better for history lovers
When comparing Dublin and Belfast, the rich histories and vibrant cultures of both cities are undeniably enticing.
Dublin, the capital of Ireland, boasts of its literary heritage with prolific authors like James Joyce and Oscar Wilde calling it home. The city’s historical landmarks, such as the Dublin Castle, and cultural festivities like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, offer a glimpse into its past.
On the other hand, Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, has a gritty, resilient spirit that’s evident in its history. A visit to the Titanic Museum showcases the city’s industrial heritage, while the striking murals on the Falls and Shankill roads narrate the tales of its political past.
Both cities offer unique experiences steeped in historical significance and cultural richness, making it difficult to choose between Dublin and Belfast.
Verdict: If you’re interested in ancient history and literature, Dublin, known for its rich literary heritage and historic landmarks, might be your choice. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of modern history and industrial heritage, Belfast, with its Titanic quarter and political murals, would probably appeal more to you.
Belfast vs Dublin: Which is better for foodies? Restaurants & food tours
When it comes to food, it’s hard to say which city is better. Both Dublin and Belfast offer diverse culinary experiences that reflect their respective cultures and traditions. It all comes down to your personal preferences and what kind of culinary adventure you’re looking for.
One thing is certain though, you won’t leave either city disappointed or hungry!
Dublin offers a cosmopolitan culinary scene with a wide array of international cuisines, Belfast is renowned for its traditional Irish food and fresh local produce.
In Dublin, you will find an eclectic mix of restaurants serving international cuisines alongside local Irish fare.
Here, you can find everything from high-end dining at places like Chapter One and the Michelin-starred Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, to more casual, budget-friendly options such as the cafes at Temple Bar District.
The city is home to a number of food tours that offer a taste of Dublin’s culinary heritage and contemporary food scene, a fantastic way to explore the city’s gastronomy.
Guinness brewery tours and whiskey tastings are also quite popular, giving a unique insight into some of Ireland’s iconic drinks.
Meanwhile, Belfast is famed for its traditional dishes such as Ulster fry, champ, and potato bread. Seafood lovers will be spoilt for choice with the abundance of fresh produce from the nearby coasts.
Restaurants like Deanes Meat Locker and Ox Belfast offer superb quality meals that beautifully highlight Northern Ireland’s local produce.
The St George’s Market is also a must-visit for foodies. Here, you can sample local products, from cheese to seafood, and everything in between.
Belfast also features its own food tours, like the Belfast Food Tour which takes you around the city’s top food and drink spots, helping you discover Northern Ireland’s unique and vibrant food scene.
Belfast vs Dublin: Which city is touristy, with lots of things to do
Both Belfast and Dublin are brimming with tourist attractions and activities, each offering its own unique charm.
Dublin, being the capital city of Ireland, is popularly known for its historical landmarks such as the Dublin Castle, the Ha’penny Bridge, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, as well as cool sites like the Guinness Storehouse and the Jameson Distillery.
The city also boasts several museums including the EPIC Irish Emigration Museum and Kilmainham Gaol, art galleries, and parks, catering to a wide variety of interests.
Belfast, too, is rich in history and culture. The city is home to the Titanic Belfast, a colossal museum dedicated to the city’s maritime heritage and the history of the ill-fated RMS Titanic.
Other prominent attractions include the Belfast Castle, the Ulster Museum, the Belfast Botanic Gardens, and the City Hall.
Verdict: While Dublin tends to attract more tourists due to its status as the capital, Belfast offers a less crowded experience with just as many sightseeing opportunities. Dublin is touristy and popular with travelers to Europe – people love the vibrant Temple Bar district, its nightlife, and road trips from the Irish capital city.
Dublin vs Belfast: USP for each city
When comparing Dublin and Belfast, each city boasts its own unique selling points (USPs) that make it stand out as a travel destination.
Dublin, the capital city of Ireland, is a vibrant and cosmopolitan metropolis celebrated for its rich literary history, iconic landmarks, and lively pub scene.
The city’s USPs include the historic Trinity College, home to the illustrious Book of Kells, the atmospheric Temple Bar district famed for its traditional Irish music sessions, and the Guinness Storehouse where visitors can learn about the iconic stout’s brewing process and even pour their own pint.
Dublin’s reputation as a center for literature, having produced renowned authors like James Joyce and Oscar Wilde, also makes it a must-visit for literary enthusiasts.
Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, is a city steeped in history and tradition. Its USPs lie in its unique heritage and cultural experiences, such as the Titanic Belfast, a state-of-the-art museum dedicated to the city’s shipbuilding legacy and the story of the Titanic.
The stunning Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is just a short trip away from the city.
Belfast’s food scene is another USP, with a strong emphasis on locally sourced and sustainable produce, offering visitors a true taste of Northern Ireland.
The city’s vibrant murals, which tell stories of its complex history, also provide a unique and immersive experience for visitors.
Dublin vs Belfast: Best for nightlife
Each city offers a distinct nightlife experience reflective of their unique cultural identities – Dublin is renowned for its buzzing pub culture with Temple Bar being the hotspot for tourists seeking a taste of Ireland’s renowned pub culture.
Live music, ranging from traditional Irish folk to contemporary pop, fills the air in many pubs, creating an atmosphere that’s both vibrant and inviting.
On the other hand, Belfast’s nightlife is a mix of modern clubs, traditional Irish pubs, and innovative cocktail bars.
The Cathedral Quarter, with its cobbled streets and historic buildings, is the heart of Belfast’s nightlife, hosting a plethora of venues offering live music events, from rock gigs to jazz performances.
Dublin vs Belfast: Best for Christmas and Winter trips
Both are lovely in the winter, but you won’t find the traditional Christmas (German style) markets in either. But here is what you can do instead,
In Dublin, the city centre becomes a festive hub, with Christmas lights illuminating the streets, outdoor ice-skating rinks popping up, and Christmas markets offering an array of crafts and food. You can also join the Christmas carol singing at St Patrick’s Cathedral for a truly magical experience.
Belfast, on the other hand, hosts the Belfast Christmas Market, which is considered one of the best in the UK. The market, set against the backdrop of the Belfast City Hall, offers a wide range of artisan food and drinks, handcrafted goods, and even a Santa’s Grotto.
Verdict: If a traditional Christmas market and winter wonderland appeal to you more, then Belfast is a great choice. And if you love the buzz of a city centre filled with holiday cheer, Dublin is the place to be.
Dublin also tends to be warmer than Belfast – so this is another thing to consider for a longer winter trip.
Dublin vs Belfast: Which is better for couples
There are a lot of cool things to do in Dublin and Belfast for couples. Dublin’s cobbled streets, atmospheric pubs, and beautiful parks create a romantic backdrop perfect for couples.
You can enjoy a leisurely stroll through Phoenix Park, share a pint of Guinness in a cozy pub, or take a romantic walk along the river Liffey. Catch a show at the Abbey Theatre for a cultured evening out, or enjoy the city’s vibrant nightlife scene.
I personally liked Dublin for its vibrancy and cool pubs!
Belfast, on the other hand, offers a more laid-back and intimate atmosphere. A walk in the Botanic Gardens or a drive through the scenic Antrim Coast can make for a perfect romantic day.
You can also enjoy a candlelit dinner at one of the city’s fine-dining restaurants. My husband loved Belfast and its clean lanes and gorgeous buildings.
Verdict: Dublin might be your pick if you’re looking for a vibrant city experience filled with culture and nightlife, while Belfast could be the perfect choice if you prefer a more relaxed environment with stunning natural beauty.
Dublin vs Belfast: Which is better for families
Both cities have lots to offer to families. Dublin brims with family friendly attractions, including the Dublin Zoo, one of the most popular attractions for families, located in beautiful Phoenix Park.
The National Aquatic Centre, which features an array of water adventures, is another top spot for children.
Additionally, the city’s interactive museums such as the Imaginosity, and Dublin Children’s Museum, provide educational and fun-filled experiences for kids of all ages.
On the other hand, Belfast is not short of family-friendly attractions either. The W5 Interactive Discovery Centre is a hit among kids and young adults, offering more than 250 interactive exhibits.
Belfast Zoo, which is home to more than 110 different species of animals, is a must-visit for families. The city also boasts beautiful outdoor spaces like the Belfast Botanic Gardens, where families can enjoy a leisurely day outdoors.
Verdict: Both Dublin and Belfast provide a plethora of family-friendly activities and attractions. Your choice boils down to personal preference and the specific interests of your family members.
Dublin vs Belfast: Which is affordable to visit
When it comes to affordability, both Dublin and Belfast offer a varied range of options to suit different budgets, however, the cost of living and tourism in Belfast is cheaper than Dublin.
In Dublin, while you find accommodation, food, and certain attractions can be on the higher side, it’s important to note that there are still plenty of budget-friendly options available.
The city offers several free attractions, such as the National Museum of Ireland and St Stephen’s Green, a beautiful public park in the heart of the city. Plus, there are always good deals to be found on food and drink if you know where to look.
On the other hand, Belfast, while not exactly a budget destination, is generally less expensive than Dublin. Accommodation ranges from luxury hotels to more affordable guesthouses and hostels.
Dining out can be cheaper in Belfast, especially if you opt for one of the city’s many pubs or casual dining restaurants. Additionally, attractions such as the Belfast Castle grounds and the Ulster Museum are free to visit.
Verdict: Dublin is generally more expensive than Belfast, both in terms of accommodation and dining. Therefore, if budget is a concern, Belfast might be a more economical choice.
Dublin or Belfast: Which is best for visiting other European countries
Dublin and Belfast both make a great base for exploring other European countries, thanks to their well-connected airports and proximity to the UK and continental Europe.
Dublin, with its larger airport and status as a major European hub, boasts more frequent and direct flights to a wider range of European destinations. This includes popular cities such as London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Rome, among others.
Additionally, if you require a tourist visa (Schengen visa) to visit Ireland then you can use the same visa to enter other EU nations and those that are part of the Schengen zone.
Belfast, while smaller, is also well-connected, with regular flights to top European destinations and the UK. The city’s proximity to Scotland and England also makes it easy for visitors to hop on a short flight or a ferry to explore more of the UK.
Verdict: If you’re planning to visit multiple European countries, Dublin might offer more direct connections and greater flexibility. However, Belfast represents a solid choice for those interested in exploring the UK and some key European destinations. To choose between the two, consider your specific travel plans, and the destinations on your Europe itinerary.
Belfast vs Dublin: Choose Belfast or Dublin based on your travel style and interests
Now that we covered all of the factors and USPs for each of the cities, we will summarize additional nuances that will help you choose between Dublin and Belfast based on your personal tastes and travel style.
Choose Dublin > If your interests lean more towards literature, vibrant nightlife, and historical landmarks, then Dublin may be the city for you.
It’s a city that’s full of energy and color, where you can walk the same streets as famous writers, enjoy a pint in a bustling pub, and explore architectural gems like Dublin Castle and St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Dublin is perfect for social butterflies, literature lovers, and history enthusiasts.
Choose Belfast > If you have a keen interest in history, particularly maritime history, and love exploring food scenes and art, then Belfast could be your ideal destination.
From the Titanic Museum to the Giant’s Causeway and the food markets, Belfast has a distinct culture and history that’s waiting to be explored.
Belfast is a paradise for history buffs, foodies, and art appreciators.
Both cities, however, promise an unforgettable Irish experience full of warmth, stories, and charm.
Things To Do In Dublin Republic of Ireland
Dublin, the vibrant capital of Ireland, is a city that blends rich history with a pulsating nightlife scene and an array of cultural delights. With its striking architecture, exquisite cuisine, and spirited pubs, it boasts an experience that’s quintessentially Irish.
Here is a list of some must-visit attractions and experiences that make Dublin an irresistible travel destination:
- Trinity College Dublin: Home to the Book of Kells, an intricate medieval manuscript, Trinity College is a historical jewel amid the city’s urban life.
- Dublin Castle: Explore Ireland’s history through the grandeur of this 13th-century castle, which now serves as a government complex.
- Guinness Storehouse: Dive into the story behind Ireland’s most famous brew, complete with a tasting session atop the Gravity Bar with panoramic city views.
- Temple Bar: Experience Dublin’s legendary nightlife with live music, energetic crowds, and a pint at this iconic cobblestone-paved neighborhood.
- St. Stephen’s Green: Unwind in this verdant, Victorian-era park in the city’s heart, lush with flora and adorned with statues and monuments commemorating Irish history.
- Kilmainham Gaol: Take a guided tour of this former prison and key historical site, offering insights into the Irish struggle for independence.
- Grafton Street: Shop to your heart’s content or enjoy street performances on this bustling pedestrian thoroughfare filled with high-end stores and charming boutiques.
- Phoenix Park: Visit one of the largest urban parks in Europe, home to Dublin Zoo, the Irish President’s residence, and numerous deer.
Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a literature lover, or just someone looking to soak up the Irish culture and charm, Dublin’s attractions ensure an engaging and immersive experience.
You can also keep Dublin as a base and embark on day trips to explore more of the Emerald Isle.
Where to Stay in Dublin
Dublin offers a range of options, from high-end luxury hotels, and boutique accommodations in Georgian townhouses, to budget-friendly hostels and guesthouses.
Things To Do In Belfast Northern Ireland UK
Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, is a city steeped in rich history and brimming with vibrant culture and arts. Known for its stunning architecture, thriving food scene, and intrinsic connection to the ill-fated Titanic, Belfast offers an eclectic mix of experiences for every traveler.
Here are some must-visit attractions and experiences that define the essence of Belfast:
- Titanic Belfast: Explore the city’s maritime heritage at this stunning museum, located on the site where the iconic RMS Titanic was built.
- Belfast City Hall: Step into the heart of Belfast and marvel at the city’s monumental centerpiece, known for its architectural grandeur.
- St. George’s Market: Experience this bustling market, offering the finest local produce, antiques, and live music – a perfect place to mingle with locals.
- Crumlin Road Gaol: Take a tour through this 19th-century prison and learn about Belfast’s darker history.
- Belfast Castle: Discover the city from new heights at this magnificent 19th-century castle, nestled on the slopes of Cave Hill Country Park.
- Ulster Museum: Dive into Northern Ireland’s rich history, art, and culture with a visit to this comprehensive and impressive museum.
- Cathedral Quarter: Immerse yourself in Belfast’s vibrant arts and entertainment district, known for its street art, eclectic nightlife, and annual festivals.
- Botanic Gardens: Unwind amid the beautiful flora and fauna in this Victorian-era haven, which houses the Palm House and the Tropical Ravine.
- Black Cab tour: Join a Black Cab Tour to learn about the Troubles of Belfast
From delving into the city’s fascinating historical past to enjoying its contemporary culture and arts, Belfast is a city that promises a unique and memorable travel experience.
Where to Stay in Belfast
Belfast also provides a diverse selection of accommodations to suit all budgets and tastes.
How to add Belfast and Dublin to your Ireland Itinerary
So, if you’re stuck deciding between Dublin and Belfast, why not visit both? With a short distance between them, you can explore two of Ireland’s most historically significant cities in an unforgettable getaway!
Here is a quick 4 day itinerary for Dublin and Belfast
Day 1: Start with Dublin
Start your journey in Dublin city centre, the vibrant capital of Ireland. Begin with a visit to the historic Dublin Castle, a symbol of Irish governance and power.
Afterward, head to the Temple Bar district to soak in the city’s lively atmosphere and perhaps enjoy a traditional Irish brunch.
In the afternoon, explore Trinity College and marvel at the ancient Book of Kells. Wrap up your day with a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, where you can learn about the history of Ireland’s famous stout and enjoy a pint with a panoramic view of the city.
Day 2: Exploring Dublin
On your second day, visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral, one of Dublin’s most iconic landmarks.
Then, head to the Dublin Zoo, situated in the heart of Phoenix Park, for some family-friendly fun. Later, feed your curiosity at the EPIC Emigration Museum.
If you do not wish to visit the zoo you can spend time at the National Museum of Ireland or Kilmainham Gaol Museum. End your day with a stroll along the River Liffey and enjoy the city’s beautiful night scene.
Day 3: Journey to Belfast
On the third day, embark on a journey to Belfast. Dublin to Belfast will take 2 hours by car, or 2 hours and 40 minutes by train.
Once you are in Belfast, start your sightseeing with a visit to the Titanic Museum, where you can learn about the city’s industrial heritage. Ensure you book your tickets prior to your visit.
After lunch, walk through the Belfast Botanic Gardens and enjoy the serenity of this beautiful green space. Later, head to the Ulster Museum to explore Northern Ireland’s rich history and culture.
In the evening, take a stroll around the Cathedral Quarter, known for its vibrant nightlife.
Day 4: Exploring Belfast
On your final day, explore the W5 Interactive Discovery Centre, a major hit among kids and adults alike. Then, visit the Belfast Castle, a beautiful historic monument with stunning vistas of the city.
In the afternoon, immerse yourself in the political history of Belfast with a tour of the murals on the Falls and Shankill roads. Or you can hop on a Black Taxi Tour and learn about the troubled history of Belfast.
End your day with a trip to St. George’s Market, where you can sample local delicacies and pick up souvenirs of your memorable trip.
Note: It is also possible to visit Belfast on a day trip from Dublin. And there are tons of day tours that offer this service.
How far apart are Belfast and Dublin?
Traveling between Dublin and Belfast is easy with numerous bus, train, and ferry connections available. The road distance is 165 km (102.5 miles), and it will take about 2 hours to arrive. Trains typically take 2.50 to 3 hours, one way.
Dublin vs Belfast: The Verdict
So, should you visit Dublin or Belfast? Ultimately, your choice hinges largely on what you’re seeking from your trip.
If it’s literary heritage and vibrant street life you’re after, Dublin’s bustling lanes, neighborhoods, and literary landmarks could be just the ticket.
If you’re intrigued by industrial heritage and wish to dive deep into the political history of a city, Belfast’s gritty spirit, and captivating murals might draw you in.
Whether you decide to walk in the footsteps of Dublin’s literary giants or immerse yourself in Belfast’s poignant history, rest assured that both cities stand ready to offer a warm welcome and a wealth of experiences.
Yet, why limit yourself to one? With a short journey between them, you could even consider visiting both cities to fully experience the diverse cultural mosaic that Ireland offers.