Majestic forests that look like they’ve been plucked right out of a fairytale, rolling green hills, and medieval castles…Ireland certainly lives up to its nickname as the ‘Emerald Isle’!
Two cities spring to mind when thinking of visiting Ireland: Dublin and Belfast. As awesome as they both are, they each have their own charm and character. For starters, Belfast officially belongs to the UK while Dublin is part of the Republic of Ireland- so it’s important to ensure that your visas and travel documents are in order if visiting both places.
The third-most beautiful city in the UK, Belfast is known for its historical castles, soothing waterfront spots, and for being the departure site of the Titanic. Originally founded as a Viking settlement, Dublin perfectly embodies Irish culture, with plenty of craic (that’s Irish for fun!), whiskey, and Guinness galore!
While it’s tempting to explore both cities, travelers usually need to pick just one in the interest of saving time and money. So, what will it be? Dublin or Belfast?
Let’s find out, shall we?
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Dublin vs. Belfast
Dublin and Belfast can be similar in some ways, but they’re both unique cities in their own right. Comparing them can be somewhat of a challenge, but that doesn’t mean we won’t try!
- Dublin covers a surface area of 45.5 square miles. It’s also the most populous city in the country, with over around 1.9 million residents.
- The UNESCO City of Literature, Dublin is known for its pub culture, Georgian architecture, and friendly locals.
- Dublin Airport is served by several major airlines, with direct flights from several U.S. airports. It can also be accessed via ferry or train from various European locations.
- Walking and cycling are the easiest ways of getting around Dublin. Buses, rideshares, electric trains, and a light rail system are also available.
- From luxury hotels to quaint B&Bs or even hostels and self-catering Airbnbs, Dublin features multiple accommodation options for various budgets.
- At 42.31 square miles, Belfast is smaller than Dublin. It’s less populous with around 600,000 inhabitants.
- Belfast is famous for being the birthplace of the Titanic. It’s also known for its Game of Thrones filming locations, historic murals, excellent music scene, and Queen’s University.
- Belfast International Airport is served by both international and domestic flights while Belfast City Airport mostly handles intra-UK flights. Unlike Dublin, are no direct flights from the U.S.
- Like Dublin, Belfast is very walkable. The city’s Translink network includes Glider and Metro services. Bike rentals, taxis, and rideshares are also available.
- B&Bs are popular in Belfast. You’ll also find hotels, Airbnbs, and hostels with both dorms and private rooms.
Is Dublin or Belfast Better?
Contemplating Dublin and Belfast can be somewhat tricky since they both offer a diverse range of experiences and attractions. So, let’s check out how they stand up against each other when it comes to the main travel factors.
For Things to Do
As two cities built on history, heritage, and a hefty dose of culture, there’s no denying that Dublin and Belfast are each special in their own right!
Both Dublin and Belfast have great nightlife, with classic Irish pubs speckled across the cities. Belfast is smaller than Dublin, so you can very easily take in the best sights in a day. While Dublin has a more cosmopolitan feel, Belfast is more traditional, especially when it comes to the local cuisine. On the other hand, foodies will have a blast exploring Dublin’s more diverse culinary scene which features dishes from all around the world.
There’s no denying that Belfast is the better fit for travelers who enjoy a small-town vibe with lush parks, medieval architecture, and maritime history. With venues like the Titanic Museum, Belfast is also fringed by hiking trails. It’s less touristy than Dublin- perfect for those who would like to avoid the crowd!
Be sure to check out the Belfast Peace Wall, a historical site adorned with graffiti and murals.
On the flip side, Dublin will no doubt appeal to travelers who enjoy exploring sprawling metropolises with an eclectic assortment of attractions. Just remember that this city draws a far bigger crowd than Belfast, so it’s a good idea to book your accommodation and activities in advance.
With Georgian architecture and green spaces beckoning on just about every corner, locals will tell you that you just can’t leave the city without a quintessential tour of the Guinness Storehouse. One of the most popular attractions in Ireland, the seven-floor brewery boasts a high-rise bar with 360 views of the city skyline.
If you’re into quirky structures, you can head over to the historical Ha’penny Bridge, a 19th cast-iron bridge that connects both banks of the River Liffey. Nature enthusiasts will no doubt enjoy the Great South Walk, a coastal hike that lies just 2km from the city center.
For Budget Travelers
The first thing to know when comparing the cost of living in Dublin and Belfast is that Belfast uses sterling while Dublin uses euros.
If you’re traveling on a budget, Belfast may be the better choice for you. Home to the popular Queen’s university, the city has a large student population and as such, prices are significantly less expensive. Accommodation, transportation, eating out, and of course, the iconic Irish Guinness all tend to be a bit more affordable in Belfast.
Accommodation in both cities is mostly urban, with most B&Bs, hostels, and hotels located close to the center. Belfast’s Queen University also offers summer accommodation in the student village. A mid-range hotel should set you back around $120 per night in Dublin and $90 in Belfast.
Both cities have extensive public transport networks with taxis, buses, and trains. Dublin is also served by a tramway system. A daily Translink pass in Belfast costs $4.35 while a Leap card in Dublin is priced at $10.80 per day.
I would recommend that you set aside $38 for a meal in a mid-range Dublin restaurant compared to $28.50 in Belfast.
On average, a pint of domestic beer is priced at $5.65 in Dublin and nearly $6 in Belfast.
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Where to Stay in Belfast: Botanical Backpackers
The Botanical Backpackers is an 18-bed hostel located in Belfast’s beautiful Queen’s Quarter. This property boasts a tour desk, laundry facilities, and self-catering facilities for when you don’t want to eat out.
Dublin and Belfast are both gorgeous European cities with romantic hotels, castles, amazing eats, and heaps of things to do as a couple.
As the larger city, Dublin certainly has a lot more on offer than Belfast. The city lends itself well to romantic outdoor pursuits like a sunset cliff walks in Howth. You can always end your day with dinner at the legendary Temple Bar Pub, known for its great selection of drinks and live Irish music.
Another excellent date activity in Dublin is to meander down Love Lane, an open-air gallery with great photo opportunities. Couples looking for a pampering experience will be glad to hear that the city has plenty of luxury hotels with spas.
Visiting Belfast may appear to pale in comparison if pitting Dublin vs. Belfast for couples, but there are plenty of hidden gems speckled throughout the city: head to Victoria Square’s Dome in the afternoon to watch the sunset over Belfast or dance the night away at the trendy Cathedral Quarter.
One of the best things about Belfast is that it offers easy access to iconic spots like the Giant’s Causeway. Couples who are into Games of Thrones can always book a tour of the filming locations. Several GOT tours include a stop by the Giant’s Causeway, perfect for killing two birds with one stone!
Where to Stay in Dublin: Castle Hotel
Sophisticated Georgian accents, marble fireplaces, vaulted ceilings, and crystal chandeliers beckon in this classy hotel located at the heart of the city. With elegant guest rooms, The Castle Hotel offers two on-site restaurants and a refined bar.
For Getting Around
Here’s the thing about smaller cities like Belfast: getting around is an absolute breeze since you can easily walk or cycle your way just about everywhere!
Since most points of interest are close to the center, you’ll certainly be able to get around without a car. In fact, you can easily stroll from one side of Belfast to the other in under an hour while soaking up all the best sights. When you get tired of walking, you can always take advantage of the city’s Translink transport provider which includes Glider buses and trains.
Belfast is also served by Goldline and Ulsterbus services that connect the city to other parts of Northern Ireland.
Dublin is a whole other story though: while the city center is definitely walkable, you’ll definitely need some kind of transportation to visit the suburbs and outskirts. The city is served by an efficient network of trains, buses, and trams that connect Dublin’s center to its suburbs. Public bike-sharing programs are also available.
Over a dozen centrally located bridges cross the Liffey River, enabling you to easily visit the north and south areas. Covering over 100 routes, Dublin’s bright yellow double-deckers run from 6 a.m. to 23.30 p.m. on most days.
To explore the city’s seaside suburbs, you can use the local GoCar car-sharing service or the DART rail network.
For a Weekend Trip
Here’s what every traveler who’s short on time wants to know: is Dublin or Belfast better for a quick weekend break in Ireland? Well, while it ultimately depends on what you’d like to do and see, Belfast is a great place for short stays because you can take in the best attractions in less time.
Dublin is packed with activities and attractions, so while you can certainly head there for the weekend, chances are that you’ll miss out on the top things to do.
One of the best places for a city break in Ireland, Belfast is absolutely packed with history. While the Titanic Belfast is by far the most popular spot to learn about the local history, you can also check out places like the Carrickfergus Castle, Belfast Castle, SS Nomadic, and the Ulster Museum.
A popular thing to do in Belfast is to embark on a Black Taxi Tour that’ll take you across West Belfast, a formerly-troubled neighborhood known for its Peace Lines and murals.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Ireland without a pub crawl and Belfast has several Victorian pubs that still retain their original architecture. The Duke of York, the Crown Liquor Saloon, and the John Hewitt Bar & Restaurant are some of the most iconic pubs in the city.
For a Week-Long Trip
If you’re lucky enough to have an entire week to spare in Ireland, I would absolutely recommend that you drop anchor in Dublin
Belfast has a lot of great sights too but since you can explore the entire city in just a day or two, a week will probably feel too long.
Dublin is surrounded by plenty of great walks that’ll no doubt please fans of the great outdoors. The most popular by far is the moderate Ticknock Fairy Castle Loop. Punctuated by delicious vistas, this walk takes you to the summit of Two Rock Mountain.
Visiting the National Botanic Gardens is another must-do in Dublin. The 19.5 hectares gardens offer beautifully restored glasshouses as well as over 15,000 local and international plant species.
For something historic, check out Marsh’s Library which dates all the way back to the early 1700s. This venue lies behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral which offers free guided tours.
Don’t miss a visit to St. Stephen’s Green – a Victorian park that draws both locals and tourists. With a duck pond, tree-lined paths, and ornamental gazebos, this park offers the ideal setting for a picnic under the Irish sun. Be sure to check out The Little Museum of Dublin, located right next to the park.
Visiting Dublin and Belfast
Wondering whether you should visit Dublin or Belfast? Well, the good news is that less than two hours of motorway travel separates Dublin and Belfast, making it easy for you to explore both cities on the same day if you want.
You can always rent a budget car for around $14 per day in Belfast and $15 per day in Dublin. If you’re looking to get to your destination as quickly as possible, you can always drive via the A1 from Belfast or M1 from Dublin.
Travelers with some extra time to spare may wish to take the scenic Mournes coastal road instead. This route takes you past plenty of picturesque spots along the way, including the Mountains of Mourne, Stone Age graves, thick forests, and various Game of Thrones filming locations.
While there’s no actual border control on the Dublin-Belfast driving route, it’s still recommended to have your travel documents in order. Both Dublin and Belfast rental companies allow their vehicles to cross the border.
Don’t feel like driving? You can book a seat on an Enterprise train which connects Dublin to Belfast in around 2 hours 15 minutes. Multiple trains are available daily. One-way tickets usually cost around $15.20 for adults and $8.70 for children.
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FAQs About Dublin vs Belfast
If you’re still on the fence about which city to visit, just remember that both Belfast and Dublin have their fair share of attractions for various types of travelers.
The main difference between these two places lies in the overall feel of each city: those seeking a more cosmopolitan vibe with sprawling parks will feel right at home when visiting Dublin, while Belfast will appeal to travelers who wish to enjoy a quick break in a picturesque and history-laden destination.
At the end of the day, whether you choose to visit Dublin or Belfast, there’s no doubt that you’ll be in for a treat. And since they’re relatively close to each other, you may even be able to squeeze in both places on the same trip!
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