Welcome to the riveting terrains of Ireland and Northern Ireland, home to two city titans in a league of their own – Dublin and Belfast. Each with a story as old as time, these urban powerhouses call out to explorers around the globe. Dublin, Ireland’s buzzing capital, is a melting pot of time-honored traditions and contemporary flair that somehow always feels like a homecoming. And then there’s Belfast, the resilient heart of Northern Ireland, whose chequered past and varied heritage have fuelled the creative fires of artists and storytellers for ages. That’s why picking between Dublin vs. Belfast is challenging.
Choosing between Dublin and Belfast? Well, it’s a bit like picking your favorite ice cream flavor – each is deliciously unique in its own way. Before you juggle your options and sketch out your itinerary, let’s uncover the true essence of these two urban beauties and let your wanderlust guide your steps.
In this article, we’re not merely skimming the surface; we’re diving headfirst into what makes each city a treasure trove of experiences. We’re unweaving the multifaceted fabric of their illustrious histories, lively cultures, breathtaking landscapes, and tantalizing cuisines. By shining a light on the highs and lows of each city from the viewpoints of a diverse mix of travelers—family vacationers, lone wolves, history geeks, and foodie fanatics – we’re gearing up to give you the most balanced bird’s-eye view possible.
Whether you dream of a whirlwind weekend getaway or a leisurely long haul, finding a city that resonates with your travel vibe is key. So, our deep dive into Dublin and Belfast promises to be nothing short of comprehensive and illuminating, offering you a sneak peek into each city’s delights. No matter which city you fall for, we’re here to make the journey to your decision as exciting as the destination.
Dublin and Belfast: An Overview
Dublin is the capital and largest city in Ireland. Here, you’ll find the beautiful River Liffey and the stunning surrounding countryside that looks like something straight out of your favorite rom-com. While it might be a big city, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming through its hearty pub scene and the sociable locals.
Belfast is situated in Northern Ireland and is the country’s capital. This city exudes a sense of lived history with its surrounding medieval and castle-like structures. Belfast is a wonderful place to stay, as you’ll be able to be near a wide variety of attractions in Ireland, such as the Giant’s Causeway.
From dreamy B&B stays in Dublin to understated cottage rentals in Belfast, it may be difficult to decide between two unique spaces. Both have an abundance of lush fields all around them and a compelling sense of Irish authenticity.
By stacking the good and the bad against one another, you’ll find it easier to determine which city in Ireland is the place for you. While Ireland in its entirety has gorgeous fields of green and a friendly atmosphere, each city has a specific set of characteristics that set it apart from the rest.
If you’re wondering about transportation, Belfast and Dublin have a variety of pros regarding getting around. As Belfast is significantly smaller, you’ll be able to walk or ride around it with little trouble. Otherwise, you can opt for metro buses or taxis.
Dublin has a more extensive range of public transportation systems to choose from when looking at Dublin or Belfast. This includes taxis, trains, trams, and buses. This will allow you to quickly pick and choose how you move around the city, which may be one consideration when looking at Dublin vs. Belfast.
Note: If you’re planning to drive in Ireland, be sure to take a glance at these Ireland driving tips in order to sail through this country’s roads like a pro.
Dublin: The Good-Time Choice
Being the birthplace of the literary phenomenon James Joyce and boasting an illustrious history of alcohol production, Dublin is coated in a hearty sense of wonder. The city is an excellent representation of the old meeting the new, with modern buildings and historical monuments situated in its interior.
When visiting Dublin, you can expect a large variety of bridges and pubs to keep you busy on your journey through the Emerald Isle’s capital city. There is a kaleidoscope of things to do in the city of Dublin, and the city’s surrounding beauty is a phenomenal backdrop to the perfect Irish vacation.
A metropolis buzzing with a sense of social activity and cultural vibrance, Dublin is the place to go if you’re seeking to experience a variety of diverse Irish experiences.
The Best Time to Visit Dublin
While both cities are treasures to frequent at any time of the year, you’ll find that some months might be more favorable in various ways. The best time to visit Dublin is in the summer (from June to September, which Ireland in August being the most popular), which provides good weather to visit outdoor attractions.
However, this means you’ll experience the sea of tourists wishing to beat the winter blues and enjoy the summer season. So, you can expect higher prices and longer lines at popular tourist attractions during this time. That said, it’s the perfect time of the year to take a break from the city and go on a hike near Dublin for a bit!
January, in turn, is the ultimate time to visit Dublin if you’re looking for fewer crowds, as the least amount of people visits during winter in Dublin. However, you’ll experience the cold weather of Ireland in full force.
Top Attractions and Sights
Whether you’re looking for an alcoholic adventure or to catch a glimpse into the colorful past of this country, you’ll have a blast exploring Dublin’s nooks and crannies. While I recommend at least 7 days in Ireland in total, you’ll still enjoy this city even if you only have one day in Dublin.
If you want to taste Dublin’s essence in all its glory, a trip to the Guinness Storeroom will surely quench your thirst. From an exclusive connoisseur experience to a wholesome meal at the designated restaurant, you’ll be able to immerse yourself in the Guinness way in style.
While you’ll be able to experience the intricate tales of this brewed beauty’s history and making, there are various activities to help you appreciate this foamy drink in a unique way.
Tip: If you’re looking to soak up the excess alcohol in your system, be sure to book a guided Irish food trail to keep the party going.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
You won’t regret visiting this holy haven, which is the designated National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland. With technicolor-stained windows and exciting workshops to attend (such as a medieval workshop), this place of worship will surely entertain every type of visitor.
As this cathedral houses the oldest school in Ireland, focusing on choir participation, be sure to peruse the event calendar to hear the harmonies of this city’s main religion.
With stunning 18th-century architecture and a rich, Viking-infused background, a trip to Dublin Castle will surely make any history buff swoon. From the stoic grandeur of the Medieval Tower to the delightful display of artwork in the State Apartments Galleries, you’ll feel like ancient royalty traveling through these corridors.
Popular Neighborhoods in Dublin
Flung into the belly of Dublin, it can take effort to navigate where to stay in Dublin to enjoy the best the city offers in close proximity. Take a look at these choices below to get an idea of what you’re looking for.
Portobello – The Picturesque Pick
With fires cracking in fireplaces in local pubs and a stunning canal illuminated by city lights, Portobello is the perfect place for people looking for a cozy home after traveling.
If you’re looking for the convenience of a short distance between your residence and popular attractions, this quaint area might not be the best pick for you. Portobello offers a hidden haven from the busy streets of Dublin to ensure you find rest after a day filled with excitement.
Temple Bar – The Arty Pick
Known as the “Culture Quarter of Dublin,” you’ll be able to enjoy the art of visual expression through the streets of this neighborhood. From riverside views to a pumping nightlife scene, you’ll have plenty to do in this sublime space during the day (and night).
If you’re looking to experience the typical visit to the Jameson Distillery, Temple Bar is a mere 5-minute drive or 15-minute walk from its location (perfect if you’ve done a tasting or two).
You may find some stunning Dublin hotels with balconies in the area that will give you a view.
Pros and Cons of Visiting Dublin
As Dublin is the largest city in Ireland, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to plan a day excursion filled with attractions and activities to see and do. Take a look at the pros and cons that this city holds:
An extensive array of these Dublin attractions are situated in the city center, which means you’ll have the chance to walk from place to place with general ease, which is one huge advantage of Dublin vs. Belfast.
Beyond the city center, you will find a variety of areas to explore due to this city’s magnitude. From the Killiney Hill nature trail in the south to the Howth Castle Garden on the North Dublin Coast, you’ll find a seemingly unending supply of adventures in Dublin.
As Dublin and Belfast are both marvels to visit and explore, the determined ‘cons’ are based on factors that might not appeal to specific types of travelers. Dublin is a prominent place to explore, with various districts and harbor areas to take into consideration.
This capital is a wonderful pick if you have an extended time to visit, but it could be overwhelming if you’re looking to explore a city intimately. This is where the smaller scale of Belfast is perfect, offering a more digestible space to soak up the atmosphere and local quirks.
Belfast – The Charming Choice
A Northern Ireland gem, Belfast is a storybook setting mixed with castle-like structures and more modernized buildings in the city. If you’re a film and series fanatic, you’ll be able to spot several locations featured in various cinematic pieces, such as The Northman.
The exciting part of Belfast lies in the city’s hidden treasures, which you can only find in a smaller city. Whether it’s a local dive or a quaint boutique tucked away, you’ll soon feel like a Northern Ireland resident on your short trip to Belfast. It’s also the ideal base for a road trip around Northern Ireland, which is always scenic.
The Best Time to Visit Belfast
If you want to make the most of your trip in the shoulder season, Belfast is a wonderful pick to explore when the flock of tourists tends to dwindle. In late spring, from mid-April to May, you’ll experience warmer weather and a range of festivals to enjoy in these months.
It’s important to note that there is always a chance of rainfall during your trip at any time of the year. This is why a well-stocked Ireland packing list is essential to ensuring a comfortable journey.
The first week of May brings the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival to Belfast, which is accompanied by a large variety of cultural activities and events in the city. Whether you’re looking to attend musical performances or comedy routines, this event has it all.
Top Attractions and Sights
While you might think beautiful Belfast is a sleepy hollow, you’ll soon learn there are various exciting activities in store if you look in the right places. From fascinating museums to famous film locations, Belfast is your oyster.
Titanic Belfast Museum
A symbol of luxury and innovation transformed into tragedy, Titanic Belfast is a beautiful installation for visitors to gaze into the making of this historical event. As the construction of this iconic ship took place in Belfast, you’ll be able to experience an insider’s guide into its making process.
The museum has five stories to explore, so plan carefully which displays you’ll like to see on your visit to ensure you have enough time for your itinerary. From recovered artifacts to a cozy restaurant to enjoy a meal, this excursion is one you won’t want to miss.
C.S. Lewis Square
If you’re looking to slow down and enjoy your surroundings simply yet stimulatingly, CS Lewis Square will surely be a winner for the perfect Sunday stroll. This public space pays homage to the writer C.S. Lewis, who famously wrote The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.
Here, you’ll find a whimsical space filled with intricate bronze sculptures and local street art that feels like you’ve stepped into a fantasy land. As this territory is illuminated and open 24 hours a day, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy this spot at all times.
An art gallery in Belfast’s botanical gardens, the Ulster Museum will have its visitors entranced by a visual adventure in its interior and surroundings. Whether you’re looking to pursue Irish art or prefer learning about the history of Ireland’s saints and scholars, this learning space has something for everyone. It’s also a great thing to do with kids in Belfast if you’re traveling with your family.
Popular Neighborhoods in Belfast
Belfast is known for providing a steady supply of peaceful plains and coastal scenery in its nearby surroundings. You’ll find plenty of designated spaces to paint the town red and a cozy burrow to curl up in after the festivities when looking at Belfast or Dublin.
Cathedral Quarter – The Drinking Den Pick
Whether you’re looking for clubbing spots or simply having drinks with friends at a local pub, Cathedral Quarter is the place to enjoy Ireland’s alcoholic splendors to the fullest.
Beyond the delicious drinking locations, you’ll be able to explore a wide variety of art galleries and cafes in the area that will cure any hangover. In its vicinity, the Metropolitan Arts Centre is a wonderful place to explore some of the most stunning exhibitions in Belfast.
Queen’s Quarter – The Student Culture Pick
With its location close to Queen’s University Belfast, this youth-centered space is perfect for young travelers looking to mix with a similar crowd. Within the bounds of this location, you’ll be able to be close to various Belfast attractions, cheaper restaurants, and accommodation prices, which is an advantage of Belfast vs. Dublin.
Pros and Cons of Visiting Belfast
While Belfast is significantly smaller, this captivating city provides an almost “small town” feel to its charming surroundings, which is a factor many people love when considering Dublin vs. Belfast. There are a number of pros and cons to consider when making your final choice.
Suppose you want to immerse yourself in the proud Irish spirit without the hubbub of tourist season. In that case, Belfast provides a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of its big-city counterpart.
Regarding budget constraints on your trip, you’ll likely get more bang for your buck in Belfast regarding accommodation and restaurant prices. Here, you’ll also find yourself centralized in order to take a Belfast day trip to the wonderful Game of Thrones filming sights in the nearby vicinity.
If you’re looking to fly directly into a city and start your adventure from there, Dublin is sure to be your top pick. While flying directly to Belfast is not impossible, it can be a potentially more expensive challenge.
Regarding tourist attractions, Dublin has an extensive repertoire of activities and sights to see, while Belfast has a moderate supply of things to do in the area. The gems of Belfast live beyond its borders, which makes taking a day trip from Belfast a fantastic way to explore stunning natural scenery. While it’s tricky to pick between Dublin vs. Belfast, you’ll love whichever one you end up at.