There are some excellent art galleries in Belfast for those of you looking to soak up a bit of culture during your visit
Northern Ireland’s capital is home to bucket-loads of culture, if you know where to look!
From heavyweights, like The Mac, to sometimes overlooked Belfast art galleries, like The John Luke Gallery, there’s something to tickle most fancies, as you’ll discover below.
Our favourite art galleries in Belfast
The first section of this guide is packed with our favourite Belfast art galleries. These are galleries that one of The Irish Road Trip Team have visited and loved!
Below, you’ll find everything from The Mac and Belfast Exposed Photography to the Golden Thread Gallery and more.
1. The MAC
The MAC is arguably the best known of the many art galleries in Belfast, and you’ll find it right in the heart of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. Yes, it has over 40 visual art exhibitions if you’re looking for a traditional art gallery, but this award-winning venue has a lot more going on, all in the name of art!
Open daily 10-4pm, it offers theatre performances, dance, family workshops and it has a great café. The drama starts in the foyer where the Permanent Present sculpture by Mark Garry is the only permanent exhibit. 400 metal wires create a spectrum of colour that sets the tone for this contemporary arts venue.
2. Golden Thread Gallery
The Golden Thread gallery is a publicly funded contemporary art gallery worth hunting down on Great Patrick Street near Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. Open Tuesday-Saturday from 11-5pm (4pm Saturdays), it’s free to visit and enjoy and there’s even a private car park.
Descriptive audio guides and guided tours off the gallery are offered free of charge but the gallery requires one week’s advance notice. They are a great way to learn more about the artists and their thought-provoking artworks.
Temporary exhibits are frequently changed and feature renowned artists as well as film and sculptural installations. This is one of the most popular Belfast art galleries for good reason.
3. Belfast Exposed Photography
Those who appreciate photography will enjoy a visit to Belfast Exposed. It’s a leading photography organisation in Northern Ireland promoting photography for everyone while telling a story and creating dialogue.
Belfast Exposed was founded by a team of local photographers in 1983 during The Troubles. It was a means of challenging media representation of Belfast and showed the city from a local working class perspective.
It now has four public galleries displaying photographic works by local and internationally renowned photographers. As well as maintaining an important archive, Belfast Exposed also has a “Futures” programme for emerging art photographers.
4. Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich
Also known as An Chultúrlann, the Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich is an Irish language cultural centre located on the Falls Road area of Belfast. It’s in the former Broadway Presbyterian Church building which has had multiple uses as a cultural centre.
Raidió Fáilte once operated from the building, it was an Irish language school for a time, home of La Nua Irish newspaper and it has a resident theatre group. Drop in and enjoy the art gallery named after local artist Gerald Dillon.
There’s also a theatre, book shop, restaurant and conference rooms. If you’re looking for cultural places to visit in Belfast when it’s raining, get yourself here!
Often missed Belfast art galleries
Now that we have our favourite Belfast art galleries out of the way, it’s time to see what else the city has to offer.
Below, you’ll find everything from The Naughton Gallery at Queen’s and Queen Street Studios to Catalyst Arts Gallery and more.
1. The Naughton Gallery at Queen’s
Part of Queens University on the first floor of the Lanyon Building, The Naughton Gallery is is an exciting visual arts space showcasing a rolling programme of contemporary exhibitions. Past artists include Adham Faramawy, Marie Jacotey, Aidan Koch and Locky Morris.
It was founded to display the University collection of artworks, sculptures, furniture and silver that were gifts, bequests and purchases.
It has since developed to display artworks on loan. With free admission, the Naughton Gallery is open 6 days a week. It also runs an extensive programme of talks, screenings and special events.
2. Queen Street Studios
Queen Street Studios, aka QSS, offers affordable studio space for emerging artists to work and display their creations. It offers in-house events including art workshops and guided tours as well as exhibitions and open days.
Located at The Arches Centre of Bloomfield Avenue, this gallery is supported by the N.I. Arts Council and has 37 studios which offer subsidized rents. The studios are open to the public Tuesday-Thursday 10am-5pm, or by appointment.
It’s a great atmosphere and offers the chance to see a diversity of artworks including some as works-in-progress.
3. Catalyst Arts Gallery
Another top artist-led gallery and project space, Catalyst Arts opened in 1993. Located at College Court, it’s open Tuesday- Saturday from 11-5pm. The arts space was the brainchild of a group of artists determined to make a mark in Northern Ireland’s arts scene, and that’s what they continue to do.
Promoting contemporary arts in many formats, it’s also the home of FIX Biennial, the longest running performing arts festival in Ireland.
Catalyst Arts manages an ever-changing programme of themes and events including the Belfast Photo Festival, drama, public art installations and video performances.
4. Gormleys Fine Art
Gormleys Fine Art has galleries in both Dublin (Frederick St) and Belfast (Lisburn Road). Founded in 1990, Gormleys specialises in international and Irish contemporary artworks so if you’re looking for a unique piece of art, this is a great place to come and browse.
The gallery also showcases works of well-known “blue chip” artists such as Banksy, Andy Warhol, Joan Miro and Damian Hirst. Gormleys also has a fine collection of sculpture including garden sculptural pieces. Best leave the plastic at home or you might be sorely tempted!
Art Museums in Belfast
So, there are some nice alternatives to the many art galleries in Belfast – museums! Now, while these are dedicated art museums, each is home to its share of artwork.
Below, you’ll discover what’s on offer at the very popular Ulster Museum and the often-overlooked Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum.
1. The Ulster Museum
Overlooking the Botanic Gardens, the Ulster Museum has a rich collection of artworks and treasures. With interactive exhibits, discovery zones and hands-on activities covering history and natural science, it’s an uplifting educational attraction for all the family.
Significant paintings include J.M.W.Turner’s Dawn of Christianity (1841), valuable artworks by Joshua Reynolds, Jack Butler Yeats and Sir John Lavery.
William Conor’s depictions of working class life in Belfast and the vibrant canvases of John Luke add to the pleasure ad there are works by contemporary artists including Rita Duffy and Willie Doherty.
2. Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum
Touch on Ireland’s world-famous Irish Linen industry at this Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum which is a 20-minute drive from the city. Located on Market Square in Lisburn, admission is free.
Housed in a 17th century Market House, this local history museum also has some interesting art exhibits. The ground floor assembly rooms once hosted social dances and John Wesley preached there. Follow the story of linen weaving and production seeing old looms and finished fashions.
The museum has regular displays and exhibitions on wider topics such as the Titanic and life in 17th century Lisburn. This is a great alternative to the Belfast art galleries above.
FAQs about the best art galleries in Belfast
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from what are the most unique art Galleries in Belfast to which are the biggest.
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.
What are the best art galleries in Belfast?
The best Belfast art galleries are, in our opinion, are The MAC and the Golden Thread Gallery.
What Belfast art galleries are the biggest?
Size wise, The Mac is one of the biggest. It has over 40 visual art exhibitions on show and there are also events and performances that take place.
Are there any art museums in Belfast?
The Ulster Museum has a rich collection of artworks and treasures that are well worth checking out.
Gillian Birch is a travel writer and published author. She has travelled the world and uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many travel experiences, particularly those that involved adventures in Ireland.