A Guide to Visiting The Iconic Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Hall
Photo left: Rob44. Photo right: Stephen Barnes (Shutterstock)

As one of Northern Ireland’s most iconic buildings, a visit to Belfast City Hall is a must when exploring the city.

The civic building of Belfast City Council was constructed in 1906 and still dominates the city’s skyline to this day,

With incredible history to uncover and beautiful architecture to admire, it’s for good reason that a visit here is one of the most popular things to do in Belfast.

Below, you’ll find info on everything from the Belfast City Hall tour and how much it costs to what to visit nearby.

Some quick need-to-knows before you visit Belfast City Hall

visiting city hall in belfast
Photo by Alexey Fedorenko (Shutterstock)

Although a visit to Belfast City Hall is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

Belfast City Hall is located right in the heart of the city in Donegall Square. It’s a 5-minute walk from St George’s Market and a 25-minute walk from both Crumlin Road Gaol and the Botanic Gardens.

2. Opening hours and admission

City Hall is open daily from 7am to 7pm during the winter months and from 7am to 9pm in the summer months. It’s completely free to enter the City Hall and there are even free public tours available as well.

3. The tour

The Belfast City Hall tours take about an hour and are led by an experienced guide who explains the interesting history of the building and grounds. There is also an audio guide that you can use for the visitor exhibition. Tours are free but donations are welcome.

4. The Bobbin Coffee Shop

Located inside Belfast City Hall, this café provides training and work experience for people with a learning disability or autism and all profits go to NOW Group, a social enterprise supporting employment for disabled people. The café has some great food on the menu with breakfast and lunch options ranging from sweet to savoury.

History of Belfast City Hall

 

Belfast City Hall was commissioned to celebrate Belfast’s status as a city granted by Queen Victoria in 1888. It was designed by Alfred Brumwell Thomas in the Baroque Revival style and built out of Portland stone.

To match the city’s new status, it cost an extraordinary £369,000 which is the equivalent to around £128 million today. The magnificent building finally opened its doors in August 1906. 

Interior of the hall

The building includes some stunning features including the Grand Staircase, Banquet Hall and Reception Room. Although much remains from the original foundations, the Banquet Hall was partially destroyed during the Belfast blitz in May 1941 and had to be rebuilt.

Public memorials in the grounds

The grounds of the City Hall have been used to commemorate important people and events throughout the history since it was open. The first statues were unveiled in 1903, including the memorial to Sir Edward Harland, the former Lord Mayor of Belfast and the statue of Queen Victoria, both of which were sculpted by Sir Thomas Brock.

Belfast Coat of Arms

The City Hall bears the Belfast Coat of Arms which dates back to 30 June 1890 when the Ulster King of Arms made a Grant of Arms to the city. Surprisingly, the exact meaning of the symbols remain unknown, although many of the images were used in the 17th century by merchants in the port city.

Things to do at Belfast City Hall

There’s plenty to do here, from the popular Belfast City Hall tours (not running in 2021) to the memorials and statues dotted around the building.

There’s also several yearly events that take place here, like the very popular Belfast Christmas Markets and the Lightening event.

1. Take a guided tour (not running in 2021)

 

The official Belfast City Hall tours are the best way to uncover the history of the city’s iconic building. The free tours are led by expert guides who take you through the main parts of the grounds to give you a complete look into the history and features of the building.

The best part is that you gain access to some of the areas not accessible to the general public. You can admire the Council Chamber and various historic portraits hanging on the walls. The almost hour-long tour also includes a look outside at the memorials and gardens.

Tours are run on a first-in, best dressed basis, so you must arrive around 15 minutes early to register your spot at the visitor exhibition. There are three tours per day throughout the year, with additional times available in summer.

2. See the Memorials and statues

belfast city hall tours
Photo left: Kevin George. Photo right: Stephen Barnes (Shutterstock)

On the beautiful lawns surrounding the City Hall, you can spot plenty of memorials and statues dedicated to the people associated with Belfast’s history.

You can wander through the gardens to admire them, with notable ones including the cenotaph built to remember those who died in WWI and the Titanic Memorial Gardens which lists all victims of the maritime disaster.

There are also various statues around the lawn including of Queen Victoria, R.J McMordie and Lord Differin.

3. Admire the stained glass windows

the stained glass
Photo by Alexey Fedorenko (Shutterstock)

One of the most memorable features of the City Hall are the stained glass windows around the building. Many of them are original from 1906, while others have been added to mark historic events.

Some of the oldest windows can be found in the Grand Staircase, East Staircase, Principal Rooms and Chamber, while the newer ones can be found along the north west and north east corridors from reception.

They all depict particular events and important people, showing the long history of Belfast. 

4. Plan your visit around the lighting

the Christmas market at city hall
Photo by Rob44 (Shutterstock)

You can see the City Hall in lights at different times of the year. The building is illuminated in white most of the time, but for special occasions the colours can be changed.

There’s a full list of the lighting schedule on their website but you can catch it in rainbow colours for Belfast Pride in August, green for World Environment Day in June, Red for May Day and green for St Patricks Day, among many others.

Things to do near Belfast City Hall

One of the beauties of Belfast City Hall is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Belfast.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from City Hall (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. The Grand Opera House (5-minute walk)

Grand Opera House Belfast
Photos via Grand Opera House Belfast

If you’d like to continue admiring Belfast’s impressive buildings, your next stop should be the Grand Opera House. Since opening in December 1895, it has been the premier theatre for all performances from comedy to opera and musicals. You can jump on a theatre tour to learn more about the history or just attend one of the many events held here.

2. St George’s Market (25-minute walk)

st george's market
Photos via St George’s Market Belfast on Facebook

As the last surviving Victorian covered market in Belfast, St George’s Market is a must visit. Located in May Street, it was built over phases from 1890 until 1896. It’s one of the oldest attractions in the city and often considered one of the best markets in Ireland. It’s bustling from Friday until Sunday with fresh produce and artisan products for sale to locals and visitors alike.

3. Food and drink

where to eat nearby
Photo left via Curated Kitchen & Coffee. Photo right via Coppi Restaurant

If you hop into our Belfast restaurants guide, you’ll discover endless places to eat. From bottomless brunch and tasty breakfasts to vegan food and more, there’s loads of top spots for a bite. There’s also some great pubs in Belfast (and cocktail bars!).

4. Explore the city’s top attractions

botanic gardens belfast
Photo by Henryk Sadura (via Shutterstock)

You can easily spend days in Belfast ticking off one attraction after the other. The city is full of exciting and interesting things to see and do, from museums to historical buildings. Here are our favourites:

FAQs about the Belfast City Hall tours

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from how much the Belfast City Hall tours cost to what hotels are near Belfast City Hall.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

How long did it take to build Belfast City Hall?

It took 8 years to construct the building and the project was led by an architect by the name of Sir Alfred Brumwell Thomas.

Why was the City Hall in Belfast built?

The building was commissioned to celebrate Belfast achieving ‘city status’ way back in 1906.

How much is the tour of Belfast City Hall?

The tour is free, but note that it isn’t running (at the time of typing) in 2021.

Elisha is a freelance writer, content creator and blogger and her work can be read in Lonely Planet, Remote Lands and Matador Network. You’ll usually find her travelling in offbeat places or hiking wherever there are mountains; always with a camera in hand.

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