Vibrant & Varied Nightlife
Belfast has a vibrant and varied nightlife which is improving year on year. The most popular areas tend to be the Cathedral Quarter and around the Dublin Road area. Closing times and last orders are generally a source of confusion even to many locals - but as a rule of thumb nights out in Belfast begin early and end earlier than in many similar European cities.
As of December 2015, pubs around the city centre are generally open until 1am on weekends, bars 2am and a handful of clubs stay open until 3am. Clubs rarely let people in after 1.30am. Occasionally there are BYOB pop-up parties in the city centre, which can last most of the night.
Be aware that getting a Taxi home on a Friday or Saturday night can be very difficult, as demand hugely outstrips supply around the peak hours of midnight-3am. There are a limited number of black taxis that can be hailed on the street; the rest are private hire which must be booked by phone. While increasing public pressure will hopefully help resolve the problem, the best current advice for late-night tourists is to try and stay in accommodation within easy walking distance of the city centre. Some hotels / hostels may be able to obtain priority bookings.
Image: Drinking in Belfast
Drink & Dance
The Northern Whig, 2-10 Bridge St. The Northern Whig is Belfast's most unique bar oozing sultry European style! What is most striking about The Northern Whig is the set of huge granite statues depicting Communist workers, which were acquired by the owners after the fall of Communism in Prague. Whether its brunch, lunch dinner or simply drinks The Northern Whig has it all. At night this smart & cosmopolitan venue comes to life with a varied mix of people & live music by some of Belfast's finest Dj's. The Northern Whig has an extensive choice of original & house cocktails which are a must to try!!
Night club bars
The Botanic Inn, 23-27 Malone Rd. Affectionately known as 'The Bot', this bar is very popular, especially with students during the university term. It has a reputation for great atmosphere and craic, though can get very crowded at weekends. Downstairs is a large, attractive bar that regularly shows live sport, while upstairs has a highly regarded club. Good food is offered and drinks are reasonably priced.
Scratch Nightclub, 5-6 Lower Cresent. Centrally located just off Botanic Avenue, Scratch has been recently refurbished and regularly hosts popular club nights. The bar/club stretches over three floors and has a great reputation as the place to dance the night away! Open six nights a week, Scratch caters for all tastes. Friday and Saturday nights are the most popular; with famous local DJ Paul Kennedy spinning dance classics every Saturday.
The Globe, 36 University Rd. Another popular university area bar, the Globe is open 7 days a week, serving fantastic food at a reasonable price. Like most of the university area bars, The Globe hosts regular club nights, but is also popular for big screen sports.
Brickies Bar (aka The Speakeasy). Brickies is in Queen's University Student Union and is usually a good starting point for a night out. Don't hesitate to ask the students about the best place to go on any particular night!
Thompsons, seems to be the place to be. This club plays music too loud and too late, with good DJs and a foggy somewhat underground atmosphere. Next to the City Hall, look for the narrow entry across the street from the Belfast Eye.
The Kitchen Bar, 36-40 Victoria Sq. One of the most historic bars in Belfast, the original Kitchen Bar dates back to 1859 and was one of the favourite watering holes of the star performers of Belfast's famous Empire Music Hall. Relocated just round the corner from its original site to an old converted warehouse, it retains all the charm and charisma that visitors experienced at the original venue. Real Ale...Real Food...Real Craic...is the keywords for The Kitchen Bar and it certainly delivers on all three points, a must for any visitor to Belfast. Traditional fresh food is served daily including the renowned soda bread based 'Paddy Pizza'!
McHugh's Bar & Restaurant, 29-31 Queens Sq. Situated in Belfast's oldest building, dating back to 1711. McHugh's has a 100 seater restaurant, a basement bar offering live entertainment and the main gallery, providing enough space and atmosphere for a great night out. The Basement & main bar hosts live traditional music sessions at various times of the week and weekend so make sure you go along and catch one of these free sessions! The restaurant provides impeccable service and great food with sacrificing value. With entertainment, art & culture, McHugh's is a traditional bar with a difference.
Madison's Hotel, 59-63 Botanic Ave. Set amidst the bustling Botanic Avenue this rather sexy boutique hotel is just a stones throw away from Belfast City Centre, Queens University & Botanic Gardens. The hotel has an excellent restaurant serving early morning breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. The main bar in Madison's is popular with locals & tourists alike with live music being played in the bar most nights. Offering all modern features a guest expects today, Madison's has an established reputation for great food, fine wines, amazing cocktails and fabulous entertainment all under the one roof.
Ryan's Bar & Restaurant, 116-118 Lisburn Rd. The emphasis in Ryan's is on providing good food, good value and great service. The ground floor provides an informal & comfortable venue for craic & conversation where you can partake of great all day bar food. One thing you have to be sure to try are Ryan's World Famous Chicken Wings - the recipe is a secret but it's no secret just how good they are! Best washed down with a pint of the black stuff. Ryan's 75 seater restaurant offers a comfortable setting to enjoy traditional meals cooked to perfection. A rather intriguing & tasty choice are the 'Boxty' selections - a kind of Irish potato pancake!
The Parador, 116-118 Ormeau Rd. The Ormeau Road's Parador Hotel has been given a new lease of life with a complete facelift and a packed schedule of nightly entertainment. There is a mix of live traditional music on a Tuesday, Pub Quiz on a Wednesday and live Jazz every Thursday. The Jazz Session has been described as one of the best in the city which draws jazz lovers from far and wide. The Parador Hotel offers the best budget accommodation in the city starting at only £25 per night for a single room and £38 for a twin or double. There's no need to venture out looking for somewhere to eat either as the hotel provides a great selection of homemade food.
Alternative and Indie bars
Limelight / Katy Dalys / Spring and Airbrake, 17 Ormeau Ave. A great trio of adjacent venues that open up into each other for live music and alternative club nights. Tuesday nights are the most popular and can be very crowded; be sure to come before 10PM to make sure you get in. Famous bands can regularly be found gigging here, and there are always a at least a couple of live gigs a week.
The Rotterdam Bar, 52-54 Pilot St. One of Belfast's oldest bars, with great personality and character. Features music every night.
Pats Bar, 19-22 Princes Dock St. Right next door to the Rotterdam, this bar has also great character. What a lot of people do is go between the two pubs.
The Menagerie Bar, 130 University St. This hidden away place near the Holiday Inn Express is a fun, atmospheric place. Dilapidated, but nice. Note: its popularity has declined a lot recently, not as funky as it used to be.
The following bars are beside each other in the Cathedral quarter. These all get a friendly alternative crowd:
The Spaniard, 3 Skipper Street. A fantastic small friendly bar.
Duke of York, 7-11 Commercial Ct. A very popular bar, check it out on Thursday where they have traditional music.
Whites Tavern, 2-4 Wincellar Entry. Founded in 1630, one of the many bars to claim to be Belfasts oldest. Cosy downstairs bar with live music on Friday nights, upstairs has a jumping alternative disco on Friday and Saturday nights that is usually crammed to the roof.
Cafe Vaudeville, 25-39 Arthur St. A huge over-the-top, 1920's Paris themed restaurant and bar. The upstairs section features Northern Ireland's first "Bollinger bar".
Europa Piano Bar, Europa Hotel, Great Victoria St. For the more mature drinker, this place is relaxed and offers great views of the Golden Mile below.
Empire Bar, 40 Botanic Ave. This place, a former church, is a cosy bar downstairs, featuring traditional Irish music some nights. The upstairs section features live music and comedy.
The Pavilion, 296 Ormeau Road. A three-level atmospheric pub with live music, pool and cheap live open mic comedy every monday.
Errigle Inn, 320 Ormeau Rd. Unchanged since the 1930's, this bar is a popular authentic Belfast boozer. A great local bar, but a bit out of the way if you are only in Belfast for a short space of time.
Odyssey Complex, depending on your point of view its either a souless hole of a place populated with underage kiddies, or Belfast's entertainment mecca. It features about 3 bars, 6 restaurants, cinema, IMAX and a bowling alley. At weekends it gets a boozy slightly rough 'beautiful people' crowd. The best place to go to if you want girls in short skirts and guys who look like they're auditioning for a boy band.
The Cloth Ear and The Bar, 35-39 Waring St. The Cloth Ear is The Merchant Hotel’s comfortable public bar. The warm and welcoming interior provides the ideal environment to relax and enjoy oneself in style. Combining both modern and traditional elements with a healthy dose of the eccentric. For example, the many unique items of vintage and antique clothing, the wooden moose and deer heads and the classic 1930’s – 1950’s sheet music that adorn the walls. Alternatively, go next door to the Merchant Hotel's own classic cocktail bar, simply named “The Bar”. The Victorian Grandeur of the building is abundantly evident, with its ornate ceilings, silk damask walls, antique Baccarat chandeliers and a cocktail list to which all the superlatives apply. Also home to possibly the world's most expensive cocktail at £750 a go!
Robinsons Bar, Great Victoria St, right next to the Crown Bar, and opposite the Europa Hotel. Has tradional music every day in the back bar (Fibber Magees).
The Hatfield House, 130 Ormeau Rd. About as far from a tourist trap as one could possibly get. Located on the Ormeau Road, within walking distance from Botanic Avenue. Go to the Hatfield for an undiluted local experience - this is a real Irish pub, but be forewarned, it is very likely you will be the only tourist in the place. Very popular with a young crowd on weeknights and always busy on match days when Gaelic sports are shown on the big screen. Live music most nights.
Sunflower Pub, 590 Shore Rd. Very central location, right near the Linen House backpackers and the Cathedral Quarter, recognisable from the green steel cage out front, a leftover from The Troubles. Cheap pints, friendly staff & locals, with locals playing traditional Irish music in the booths regularly.
Kellys Cellars, 30-32 Bank St, just off castle street. Has traditional music at weekends. Another place with a claim to Belfasts oldest bar title.
Maddens Bar situated beside Castlecourt Shopping Centre in the Old Smithfield Square. Has traditional music at the weekends, gets an intellectual political crowd. Don't freak if you have to press the buzzer for entry, its a leftover from the troubles days, the place is quite safe.
Note: Maddens and Kellys can be tricky to find so don't be scared to ask for directions.
Generally, all clubs listed here are open until 3am. It is best to check the website or Facebook pages of the venues for the most up to date information on individual nights.
Aux The upstairs club in Aether and Echo has rapidly gained a reputation as one of the most progressive and atmospheric clubs in Belfast. Music played tends to be funk, house and techno. Alcohol served until close.
Thompsons - Thompsons has given itself a makeover in recent years to become a very popular Belfast late night venue. Music differs depending on the night but covers all tastes.
Love & Death Inc. An intimate and fun club hidden away from the bustle of the Cathedral Quarter.
Clements Coffee, 4 Donegall Square W, Castle St, 37-39 Rosemary St, 66 Botanic Ave, 139 Stranmillis Rd, 342 Lisburn Rd. Another reason why Starbucks Coffee have yet to make much progress in Belfast, largely due to the popularity of this Belfast coffee chain, which only sells fair-trade coffee. Bagels, sandwiches, cakes, soups and snacks are all reasonably priced.
Common Grounds, 12 -24 University Ave. Fresh soups, chunky sandwiches, divine cakes and frequent live music or poetry reading events. This bright yet cosy café (underneath a church hall, but don't let that put you off) has great food, tea and coffee, and a large room to the rear for events. A portion of each month's profits go to help a community project or charity in the third world.
Javaman Coffee, Unit 5 St Georges Market, Oxford Street. Freshly roasted coffee. Can be found inside St Georges Market Friday-Sunday.
Eating in Belfast
Archana, 53 Dublin Rd (Just opposite Pizza Hut). A great Indian restaurant with better deals at lunchtime.
Boojum, Botanic Ave and Chichester St. Opened in 2008, this Mexican grill offers superb burritos, fajitas and tacos. Similar in style, and layout to the U.S. chain Chipolte. All ingredients are sourced direct from Mexico. A delicious, reasonable and very satisfying alternative.
Bright's Restaurant, 41-43 Castle St and 23-25 High St. Two locations in the city centre known for serving the best traditional breakfast in town for only £2.95 before 11AM. Large portions and good service. Can be very busy at times.
Crown Dining Rooms, 46 Great Victoria St. Above the Crown Liquor Saloon, this is a great place to eat local food in cosy surroundings. Ticks all the boxes for a warming meal on a cold day, but can be a little crowded with tourists: don't be surprised if you hear more American accents than Northern Irish.
Doorsteps Sandwiches, 455 Lisburn Rd. A good place for sandwiches, which are large enough to justify the name of the café, and which are exceptionally good value.
Grapevine, 5 Pottingers Entry. M-F 8.00-17.00, Sat 9.00-17.00, Closed Sun. Wholesome, filling, homemade comfort food available in this small cafe. A meal and a drink won't be likely to cost more than £5-6. Baked potatoes, chilli, gumbos, chowders, stews and soups with daily specials.
The John Hewitt, 51 Donegall St. Decently priced meals are available during the day and until 9PM in this popular Cathedral Quarter pub. Big plates with well sourced local ingredients and traditional meals. One of the best pubs for lunch in the city.
Little Italy Pizza, 13 Amelia St. If you're out on the town, this is the perfect place for something to soak up the booze. Just around the corner from the Crown Bar, this place does the very best (and the cheapest) pizza in Belfast.
Loaf Cafe, Maureen Sheehan Centre, 106 Albert St (Just around the corner from the International mural wall on the Falls Rd and across from St. Peter's Cathedral). M-F 8:30AM-3PM. This lovely little cafe which serves a great range of breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea options. Check out their lovely lunch specials and pizza meal deal for 2 on a Wednesday! Profits from Loaf are used to support local people with learning disabilities.
Maggie Mays, 50 Botanic Ave. Anyone who has had a hangover in Belfast has had Maggie Mays' Ulster fry. Serves a hefty, but far from the best, traditional Ulster breakfast (bacon, sausage, egg, fried bread, soda bread etc). The cosy interior is decorated with paintings and street signs from around Belfast. Service can be patchy, but the main reason to come here is the food. Often difficult to get a table, but well worth it if you can! Avoid more than weekly visits, your heart will thank you.
Moghul Restaurant, 62a, Botanic Ave. This fine Indian restaurant has good value lunch deals, and is a handy starting point for a night out on the Golden Mile. Try for the special Friday lunch buffet.
Nex D'Or, 34 Castle St and 13 Rosemary St. Oh, Belfast, where did you go? Proof that some parts of this city are resisting the onslaught of urban renewal, café lattés and trendification. When you really need classless comfort food in a smokey low level diner, nowhere is better than the two branches of Nex D'Or. Don't expect the world's finest food, but do expect fond memories of what this town used to be like.
The Bridge House (J.D. Wetherspoon), 35-43 Bedford Street. Ubiquitous chain pub found in almost every UK town. Serves undeniably good value food, though quality is sometimes sacrificed for price. Many meals served with free pint.
Apartment, 2 Donegall Square W. Belfast's most stylish venue with amazing views over City Hall. Raised above Belfast's bustling streets this cosmopolitan bar & restaurant has it all to offer - whether its coffee & croissants, lunch & cocktails or wine & dinner. At night Apartment transforms from a modern eatery to a busy lounge bar with cool urban beats from some of Belfast's top DJ's. Apartment's ever evolving Cocktail List is the most extensive in Belfast with some of the city's finest & most original blends.
Lee Garden, 14-18 Botanic Ave. Popular during the day, mainly due to its £6.95 lunch specials. Evening meals are of average quality and are quite expensive.
Little Wing Pizzeria, 10 Ann Street. Belfast's trendiest pizzeria serves some fantastic quality food in comfortable surroundings. Ideally located near Victoria Square, bookings sometimes necessary at peak times.
Scalini, 85 Botanic Ave. A very good Italian restaurant located in the trendy Botanic area of the city and close to Queen's University. Food and drink is very well priced and the portions are generous. Reservations not always required apart from on peak nights
Darcy's Restaurant, 10 Bradbury Place. A lovely family-run restaurant offering traditional food made with all Irish ingredients. Eat before 7pm and pay just £7.77 for your meal
Aldens Restaurant, 229 Upper Newtownards Rd. This restaurant is further out of town but serves excellent food with great service.
Cayenne Restaurant, 7 Ascot House, Shaftsbury Sq. Famous chefs Paul & Jeanne Rankin's Cayenne is a well established place for quality and funky food. Pre-theater menus cost £12.
The King's Head, 829 Lisburn Rd. A recent, major refurbishment has seen The King's Head re-open and quickly become one of the Lisburn Road's finest venues, combining both fresh food and local character. A 120 seater restaurant, dedicated Live Lounge, Gastro Pub & beer garden allow you to have the complete entertainment experience under one roof. All the luxury touches with excellent customer service without the formality.
The Merchant Hotel. Belfast's most opulent hotel. A sumptuous, intimate and welcoming hotel in the heart of The Cathedral Quarter, in Belfast’s city centre. The Merchant Hotel offers unrivalled service in a luxurious, historically significant building.
Restaurant Michael Deane, 1F 36-40 Howard St (Brasserie on ground floor). Michelin Star restaurant, ideal for all the frills dining but despite the accolades it is not overly stuffy.
Shu. On the lower Lisburn Road, this perenially popular restaurant is a must-visit for a special occasion. You can expect not only great food and excellent service, but also great craic and a real buzz in the modern and stylish dining room.
RBG Belfast, 4 Clarence Street West, Off Bedford Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland. BT2 7GP. All day dining in a relaxing atmostphere located at the heart of the city. Live music on Friday and Saturday nights.