The Emerald Isle, Ireland, is divided in two. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland is an independent EU member state. The currency in Northern Ireland is Pound Sterling, whilst the Republic adopted the Euro in 2002. Each of these regions has its own capital city. Dublin is the capital of the Republic, and Belfast is Northern Ireland’s capital. Our Ireland tours visit both, with all tours starting and ending in one of the cities. And they both make excellent city break destinations, especially if you’re visiting for a long weekend from Europe. But if you only have the time and budget to visit one, which should you pick? In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of visiting Dublin Vs Belfast, to help you decide which of the two cities in Ireland to explore.
Dublin Vs Belfast: Sightseeing
Both Irish capitals have a rich and storied history, with numerous attractions for visitors to enjoy. In Belfast, the Titanic Quarter is a must visit. The ill-fated vessel was built in the city and the Titanic Museum (designed to look like the ship), tells the story in fascinating detail. You can’t visit Northern Ireland without learning about the Troubles that lasted from 1968 to 1998 between Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists. There are numerous historic museums to visit. Outside of Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway must be on your list, it’s the most famous natural wonder on the entire island of Ireland. And Game of Thrones fans can have a field day visiting numerous filming locations used in the HBO series, from the Dark Hedges to Castle Ward.
Dublin has been declared a UNESCO City of Literature and bookworms and historians alike will be interested in a visit to Trinity College. An excursion to the eerie Kilmainham Gaol is disturbing but fascinating, as you discover how imprisoned Irish republicans lived (and died) in this infamous prison. For a more light-hearted day out, a visit to the Guinness Storehouse is a must. The famous black stout originated in the city in 1759 and is still brewed on the same site today. Finish your tour of the brewery with a pint from the seventh-floor bar, offering sweeping city views.
In both cities, you will find no shortage of shopping and dining opportunities, green spaces and fabulous cultural attractions including theatres and museums.
We recommend: It’s a tie!
Dublin Vs Belfast: Cost
If you’re a budget-conscious traveller trying to choose between the two Irish capitals, then there is an overwhelming favourite when comparing the cost of exploring. Dublin is significantly more expensive than Belfast. These higher prices are reflected in everything from food and accommodation to a refreshing pint of Guinness. So, if you’re looking for an Irish city break but don’t want to break the bank, Belfast is the destination we recommend for you.
We recommend: Belfast
Dublin Vs Belfast: Food & drink
When you think of Irish food, it’s hearty dishes served in cosy pubs that spring to mind. Shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, or a hearty stew perhaps. Not to mention an Ulster fry, the Irish twist on a traditional English cooked breakfast. There are plenty of opportunities for trying the local cuisine in both Dublin and Belfast. As a bigger city, Dublin offers far more choice and a larger range of international cuisine, independent restaurants, and established chains. For foodie travellers looking to experience authentic Irish cuisine, Belfast is probably slightly more traditional, but you won’t be short of dining options in either city. St George’s Market is a great place to visit if you would like to sample an array of fresh, locally produced dishes. Housed in a Victorian building, it’s a great place to spend a couple of hours at lunchtime!
We recommend: Belfast
Dublin Vs Belfast: Transport connections
Both Dublin and Belfast have an international airport. However, the airport in Belfast is much smaller – serving around 6 million passengers per year, compared to 32 million for Dublin. If you’re travelling from elsewhere in the United Kingdom or from European destinations such as Spain, Netherlands, Greece or Poland then you are easily able to catch flights to and from Belfast. However, there is very little in terms of long-haul options to or from Belfast.
If you are travelling from further afield, such as from the USA or Australia you are best to book flights to Dublin. There are direct flights to and from 22 American cities, as well as routes connecting Dublin with Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and other popular stopovers that help to make the city accessible to Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
It’s important to note that high-speed trains run regularly between the two cities, with a journey time of just over 2 hours. So just because it’s easier to fly into Dublin, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a Belfast city break!
We recommend: Dublin
Dublin Vs Belfast: Getting around
Public transport is readily available and efficient in both cities, but it is important to note that Belfast is a lot smaller than Dublin. It’s actually possible to walk from one side of the city centre to the other in around half an hour. Dublin is much larger but still walkable if you’re full of energy! Alternatively, cycling is a great option for exploring, with rental bikes easy to acquire.
We recommend: Belfast
Dublin and Belfast are both great city break destinations, with plenty of attractions and good food and accommodation options. Dublin is more of an international city, with better transport connections and more diversity. But Belfast is cheaper, more navigable and traditional, with a rich and storied history to discover. We offer a selection of Ireland group tours, with trips starting in both Dublin and Belfast. Although we don’t include sightseeing in the cities, we strongly recommend booking a couple of days extra accommodation. Then you can explore the capital of your choice before joining our tours and going on to uncover even more of the Emerald Isle. From the Giant’s Causeway to the Cliffs of Moher, Derry to Galway and Blarney Castle to Derrynane House!