Heritage Trails in Belfast
From literary greats to a wealth of maritime heritage, Belfast has a vibrant and varied history, just waiting to be explored. Today, Belfast is alive with an array of attractions, events and things to do, but the great atmosphere of the city is a credit to our heritage. Take a step back in time with a tour, walking trail or traditional music session to discover the many pieces of our city's rich tapestry.
Belfast has inspired a range of notable literary greats, including Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, and CS Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia. Begin your exploration of our local literary heritage at Linen Hall Library, the oldest library in Belfast and home to numerous unique and historic collections. Inside the library, you will find the world's most comprehensive collection of Belfast printed books, a first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses and even the first printing of the American Declaration of Independence outside of America.
After perusing the library's CS Lewis anthology, continue your journey to CS Lewis Square in east Belfast, a public space commemorating the Belfast-born author with a collection of public art sculptures dedicated to the Chronicles of Narnia; or discover the inspiration behind Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels with a guided walking tour of Belfast's Cave Hill, led by Away A Wee Walk.
Celebrate the words of Seamus Heaney in his hometown of Bellaghy, County Londonderry at the Seamus Heaney Homeplace. The centre is dedicated to the life and work of the poet, where you can explore his roots and discover never-before-seen artefacts.
Titanic and Maritime Heritage
Belfast has a wealth of maritime heritage, with its shipbuilding boom dating back to the 19th century, when Harland and Wolff was at the forefront of a thriving shipbuilding industry. Not only can you trace the Titanic story to its source at the Titanic Belfast Visitor Attraction, you can also delve into our maritime history, including a self-guided Titanic Trail, a visit to the Titanic Memorial Garden at Belfast City Hall and a look inside SS Nomadic, the last remaining White Star Line vessel.
Just as literature is one of Belfast’s greatest exports, so too is its musical heritage, with bands and musicians such as Snow Patrol, Them, The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers and Gary Moore.
Take a musical trip down memory lane and visit The Ulster Hall, where Led Zeppelin took to the stage with Stairway to Heaven for the very first time; visit EastSide Visitor Centre, just a short distance from the home of Van Morrison, and find information about his life and links to the city; or discover Belfast’s vibrant pub culture and take in some traditional music in pubs including The Dirty Onion, The Garrick and Kelly’s Cellars.
For a true taste of Belfast's musical heritage, book a spot on the Belfast Traditional Music Trail, where you will be led through cobbled streets by professional musicians, experiencing traditional music in a unique way; or learn traditional Irish dance accompanied by live musicians with Céilí Belfast.
Northern Ireland’s Christian heritage can be traced back as far as the 5th century. A visit to the stunning Belfast Cathedral, where you can take a self-guided audio tour, is a great starting point to your explorations. Then follow the Christian Heritage Trail around the city, which includes 36 key sites such as St Peter’s Cathedral (1866), First Presbyterian Church (1783), the Quaker Meeting House (1895) and St Malachy's Church (1840).
Of course, one of the most significant aspects of Northern Ireland's Christian heritage is that of Saint Patrick. County Armagh is a major destination on the St Patrick's Trail, and is home to two St Patrick's Cathedrals; whilst Downpatrick, County Down, is home to St Patrick's gravestone.
Just beyond Belfast, the Ards and North Down Christian Heritage Trail features a number of key sites that played an important role in the spread of Christianity, not only locally and in Ireland but throughout Europe too. Sites include Bangor Abbey (founded in 558), First Bangor Presbyterian Church (1831), Grey Abbey (1193), North Down Museum and Nendrum - Northern Ireland's finest surviving example of an early Christian monastery (founded in 5th century).
Belfast’s Irish heritage can be enjoyed through a range of events and activities, with a number of organisations dedicated to preserving Irish traditions including the Irish language, Irish music and the culture surrounding it. Enjoy live Irish music sessions, bodhran lessons and a weekly traditional music trail at An Droichead, or discover Irish arts and culture at Cultúrlann, with theatre, music, visual arts, poetry and workshops. During August, head to Ireland's largest community festival, August Féile which celebrates the best of local Irish culture with concerts, carnivals, shows and exhibitions.
In every city, public art creates a tapestry of its vibrant history and culture, and Belfast is no exception. Each piece of the city’s public art tells a story of significant moments that have shaped Belfast’s rich past, from the Beacon of Hope, a symbol of the transformation of the city, to The Masts on Donegall Place which are a gentle nod to Belfast’s maritime heritage. A rise in street art has emerged across the city, painting a more modern picture of life in Belfast. Seedhead Arts offers weekly guided walking tours of our local street art in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter, from the most significant artworks to more obscure hidden gems. Find out more about Belfast's public art >>
Ulster Scots Heritage
Ulster and Scotland are just 13 miles apart and share a long history. Uncover Ulster Scots heritage at the Discover Ulster Scots Centre, located in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter. The centre is packed with stories, from the arrival of Edward Bruce (younger brother of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland) in 1315 and the beginning of Ireland and Scotland's shared history; to Ulster Scots' links with the rest of the world, including the 250,000 Ulster Scots who left Ulster in the 18th century in search of a better life in the New World. You can even discover more about your own Ulster-Scots roots with a free genealogy research point.
A city’s heritage begins with its people, so what better way to discover a city than to trace it back to the individuals who contributed to the history of Belfast? Looking around the city, you'll spot numerous blue plaques which have been erected by the Ulster History Circle to celebrate notable individuals. These include Lord Kelvin, the physicist famous for devising the 'Kelvin Scale' for temperature; Sir Charles Lanyon, the architect behind some of Belfast's most famous buildings; and authors Louis MacNeice and CS Lewis, to name but a few.
The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) is a great place to discover your own connections to local history by browsing the records of historical, social and cultural importance.