Our ‘Must See Belfast’ guide goes beyond the destinations you’ll find in plain sight to give a local’s guide to some essential experiences.
We asked a placement member of the ConnollyCove team, Belfast native Daire Cullen, to pass on some expert advice about Northern Ireland’s award-winning and celebrated city.
Belfast’s Hidden Gems
This guide is perfect for people who want to get the most out of their stay in Belfast and explore the city with places that are hidden away from the general public; a perfect escape from the crowds and masses in the city.
Or if you want to experience some genuinely good food, there are plenty of restaurants that are never *too* full of people.
This means you’ll find some events and gigs with bands that many other people won’t be there to experience. Or if you’re looking for some unique experiences in general, this is the perfect guide. Because we can promise you Belfast is full of them.
I won’t give the precise locations of the shops, that’s on you to find out, makes it more fun exploring. Belfast may be vast but a short Google search will give you the road to any location here in Belfast.
So, take a look at the list and see what hidden part of the city you can experience.
Chocolate Lock-Ins – Hotel Chocolat
Now the shop itself isn’t hidden, however, this activity in the shop is something not many people know about; so ask the staff to find out more. This shop is the best place to get chocolate related anything in Belfast. However, the chocolate here is of high quality so you should keep in mind it has a high price (not high enough to be considered ridiculous, mind you). But the price is worth it because their hot chocolates are delicious I can guarantee.
Cuban Sandwich Factory
The Cuban sandwich factory is truly a gem hidden in plain sight. With it being in the back of a local shop, many people may turn a blind eye to it; if you ask a local they’ll most likely say to you “what’s that?”. Well, it’s a place that makes truly delicious sandwiches one must try before they leave Belfast, you might as well go in and get one before you go somewhere so you can walk around and eat it while experiencing the other places Belfast has to offer.
This shop is a tiny place that sells mainly organic food- however, in daily hustle and bustle of Belfast’s city life, it’ll be easy to turn a blind eye to this place and walk right past it. Now, this shop is perfect for vegans and vegetarians- and even though I’m neither vegan or a vegetarian I still think this shop sells some truly tasty food and some unique stuff you won’t find anywhere else in Belfast.
Now this one should and will be easy to find as it’s near some notable shops, so keep that in mind when you go to visit it.
Now, these happen only when organised which isn’t that often- so you should visit some websites around the web like sofarsounds to see if there’s going to be any upcoming gigs in Belfast. These aren’t that often so you should be careful of when you visit Belfast so you can show up on time for one of these gigs.
You can organise your holiday to Belfast around these gigs as there is some time in between when they’re announced and when they start but it’ll involve a bit more planning and time as there’s no guarantee a gig would be announced today or tomorrow.
C.S Lewis Trail
This is something I myself only heard about recently, but this trail is a must see for those who love Narnia- or any other C.S Lewis series for that matter. This trail takes you through the life of C.S Lewis and his history from birth to death. You’ll walk around and see many sculptures based around his magical world of Narnia and the church where he was baptized. There is also a blue plaque that marks where the writer was born.
This trail is popular; however, it won’t be filled with people so you can experience it in silent solitude if that’s what you want- or you can experience it with family and friends if you have them with you.
The Sagart is a bar and kitchen with a very unique twist, it is the smallest bar in Belfast and can be located right next door to St. Mary’s Church. The bar itself has excellent cocktails and brilliant food that would interest everyone who enters. Ask the bar staff how the Sagart got its name, it’s a fascinating place.
Keats and Chapman Bookshop
Keats and Chapman is a cosy bookshop that has a wide selection of books that would interest most bookworms and all customers. It has shelves jam-packed with books and it would take hours to see the entire stock they have.
This bookshop is difficult to locate but it is near the chip shop that a Rihanna music video was shot at so you can get some food when you’re done visiting.
Hatch is a little cafe that serves amazing coffee and hot drinks, it also sells some truly delicious foods that many people would enjoy. It sells some brilliant vegan courses that many people would also enjoy regardless if they’re vegan or not. This is actually something I myself visit every day so I can highly recommend it with a very informed opinion.
Hatch will definitely be hard to find but I think many people will enjoy it as it has some ridiculously delicious food.
The Secret Cinema
Secret Cinema may not always be in Belfast- the locations are random every time and no one is allowed to give away the location or film the event. Now if the event doesn’t happen in Belfast it’s still something you should experience as the secret cinema organises some of the best events in the UK. However, if it does end up in Belfast then you should definitely go to it as it’ll be one of the most memorable experiences you could have here in Belfast.
The Secret Cinema will be showing Casino Royale In London by the time I’m writing this article so you never know; Belfast could be next. Watch out also for the Belfast Film Festival, the wonderful little Beanbag Cinema Venue plus the independent QFT and historic Stand Cinema too.
A lot of restaurants in Belfast have also bought into the cinema scene and plan a movie night as their place, usually included within a deal to get people to come out and enjoy a film. The Treehouse in Belfast is really great for this as they have a great selection of movies on offer, so if you’re looking for one way to spend your night this the perfect ‘night in’.
This is a pizza joint with a very unique theme. Typically pizza places are something that’ll try to be authentically Italian, this restaurant has a rock and roll groove to it and the place is always lively. The restaurant has an anarchist theme to it and the pizza is better than the ones in Venice (in my opinion anyway) and you can get whatever you want on it… even potato bread if that’s what you’re into.
Pizza Punks is suitable for vegans and vegetarians as you can get an entirely vegan pizza with vegan cheese that actually melts well. This is definitely one of Belfast’s hidden gems, whether you’re a pizza lover or not, it’s a must try.
This unique escape room travels back in time to late 1800’s so you can find the notorious Jack the Ripper, or even make a daring escape from the Titanic in its final hours. This is definitely an experience you won’t be able to find anywhere else so if you can, you should go to this. However, this place is harder to find than you might think.
This experience is worth it and doesn’t let this deter you from joining it but make sure you have your wallet or purse as you will be paying a bit.
The Story of Guitar Heroes
A show celebrating the works of Jimi Hendricks, Eric Clapton, Hank Marvin, Brian May and Slash; this show will play them all in one night. All performed by the musician Phil Walker and backed by his other band members to deliver this memorable show.
This event has to be booked before you can come so make sure you visit the website before you do otherwise you’ll be turned away at the door. If this show isn’t currently playing watch out for current events in the Grand Opera House, SSE Arena, Lyric Theatre and Waterfront Hall. These are the top places in Belfast to catch a concert, event or show for you to enjoy.
The most popular of the hidden gems, the main reason I’m including it is that many tourists visiting will miss this place guaranteed. It is also in a place that many people will miss due to the fire that happened in Primark (as of 2018, but it is being rebuilt at the moment). The Voodoo holds many gigs that everyone would love and when the peak of the show comes you’ll create some truly great memories.
You can easily find this place if you ask around however that depends on how far away from it you are.
How to Find YOUR Hidden Belfast
All of these will interest you, they’re the most unique experiences you can have in Belfast – and if you can’t manage to find one or somehow miss a gig then you can always come back to experience something else.
Belfast may look like a city where everything is laid out for the convenience of the people to find whenever wanted, however, the places that are worth visiting are the hidden ones that provide quality food or quality service.
Should you choose to find these places is up to you, I can guarantee you’ll leave feeling like you’ve seen it all if you do.
Make sure to let us know if you have already discovered some of these hidden gems found in Belfast.
Other worthy reads:
Good Vibrations in Belfast: A Guide to Belfast for Movie Fans| Famous Irish Authors Who Helped Promote Irish Tourism| Stories of Bravery on the RMS Titanic| Belfast Peace Walls: Amazing Murals and History in Belfast|