Ruff Guide to… Belfast

Belfast, the buzzing capital of Northern Ireland, is a great place to visit with your four-legged friend. The city – famed for being the birthplace of the Titanic – is emerging from years of political unease to take its place on the world stage. And with welcoming locals, great pubs and centuries of history to discover, the one thing you’ll never be in Belfast is bored. The city is also the gateway to rural Northern Ireland and the Giant’s Causeway, so what are you waiting for? Read on to find out where to visit with your dog

Titanic Belfast building
Titanic Belfast is a real city landmark

Dog-friendly Belfast: the must-sees

Don’t miss the Maritime Mile, which is home to attractions such as the iconic Titanic Belfast and the SS Nomadic. While dogs are not allowed inside the main sights, there is still plenty to see and do and the local landmarks make for great photo opportunities. The Great Light, for example, is one of the largest optics ever built and it’s really special to visit the Titanic Walkway and see it at night, when it’s lit up. And the Big Fish on Donegall Quay, is made up of ceramic tiles depicting Belfast’s history. The sculpture – also known as The Salmon of Knowledge – was commissioned in 1999 to celebrate the regeneration of the River Lagan and the fact salmon had returned to its waters.

To learn more about Belfast’s chequered past and see the city’s famous Catholic and Protestant murals, book in for a Black Taxi Tour. These eye-opening tours are led by locals who will show you around their city, explain more about the past political and religious tensions and tell you what it was like growing up in the Troubles. The personalised tours allow visitors to see the real Belfast – and give them the chance to sign the city’s peace wall, which has been in place for more than 45 years now. Well-behaved dogs are welcome to join the tours, but this must be agreed in advance. A two-hour tour for two people costs £55.

Mural of Bobby Sands MP in Belfast
You’ll see this mural of Bobby Sands MP – and many more – on a Black Taxi Tour

Dogs are also welcome to explore Belfast’s beautiful Botanic Gardens, near Queen’s University. This 28-acre public park was established in 1828 and is filled with exotic trees and tropical plants. It is also home to a stunning Victorian glasshouse and tropical ravine, as well as a rose garden and alpine garden. The park is popular with both locals and tourists and hosts regular events and festivals throughout the year. Visiting dogs must be kept on lead.

And bookworms will enjoy making a pilgrimage to C.S. Lewis Square, which pays tribute to the Belfast-born author. The square, off Newtownards Road, brings the Chronicles of Narnia to life with bronze sculptures of Lewis’s most famous characters, such as Mr Tumnus, Aslan and The White Witch. It is also close to the Ballymacarrett Walkway, which forms part of the Comber Greenway. This seven-mile traffic-free footpath follows the route of the former Belfast and County Down Railway to Comber and makes for a lovely walk. You’ll get fine views of the iconic yellow Harland & Wolff cranes along the way.

Sammy the Seal sculpture at Donegall Quay, Belfast
One of the Sammy the Seal sculptures at Donegall Quay

Dog-friendly Belfast: the best walks

The Maritime Mile, as previously mentioned, is a real must-see and it’s best explored on foot. You’ll find pieces of art dotted along the route – such as the Sammy the Seal sculptures at Donegall Quay. These were created to honour a real-life seal who entertained the city folk for many years and would often join swimmers in Belfast Lough. Tick off the sculptures of Sammy by following the Public Art Trail, set up by the Maritime Belfast Trust. Game of Thrones fans will also enjoy the charity’s Glass of Thrones Trail. This showcases six giant stained-glass windows depicting scenes from the famous TV show, which was filmed at the nearby Titanic Studios.

For a bit of off-lead action, head to St Thomas and Lady Dixon Park, which spans more than 125 acres and is a lovely mix of woodland, meadows and formal gardens. A 1.1-mile circular garden trail takes in the City of Belfast International Rose Garden, which is located in the park. The Lagan Valley Regional Park is also close by. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a great place to walk with your dog as you can enjoy tranquil, traffic-free strolls along the canal towpath.

Cave Hill Country Park, Belfast
Cave Hill Country Park towers over Belfast

Rugged Cave Hill Country Park is well worth visiting too for the views over Belfast alone. There are several walking trails to follow, ranging from one to five miles, and many of them take in the manicured gardens of Belfast Castle. The classic 4.5-mile Cave Hill Loop is pretty challenging though and involves hiking over some rough terrain. The walk, which passes through moorland, heath and meadows, is well signposted and takes around two hours to complete.

Adventurous dog owners will also enjoy walking the Divis Summit Trail. This three-mile circular route on Divis Mountain will take you to the highest point in the Belfast Hills. At the summit, you will not only be able to enjoy amazing views of the city but you’ll be able to see every county in Ulster – weather depending! Both Divis and the Black Mountain are maintained by the National Trust but at the time of writing, it was free to both visit and park. For more great walk suggestions, click here.

Common Market, Belfast
Inside the Common Market

Dog-friendly Belfast: the best pubs and cafes

The vibrant Cathedral Quarter is known as the beating heart of Belfast but sadly, some of the city’s most iconic pubs – such as The Crown and The Duke of York – are not dog-friendly. There are still plenty of places to eat and drink with your dog though, so here’s our pick of the best.

If street food’s your thing, head for the trendy Common Market, on Dunbar Street. This is packed full of independent vendors selling everything from fried chicken to tacos. Dogs are also allowed inside historic St George’s Market, by the River Lagan, which is a great place to bag a foodie bargain or pick up a unique souvenir.

Guinness at The Bone Yard, Belfast
Enjoy a nice pint of Guinness at The Bone Yard

The Bone Yard, on Bedford Street, also welcomes dogs with open arms. While it is predominantly outside – and boasts Belfast’s largest outdoor bar – this cool venue has a range of pods, containers and covered seating areas. The Bone Yard, which often hosts live music and has visiting food trucks, is linked to Pug Uglys – a quirky Irish bar which is as dog-friendly as the name suggests. There’s always something going on here, from live comedy to quizzes – and the Pugs Pizzas are well worth popping in for.

The handmade wood-fired pizzas at The Sunflower, on Union Street are also hugely popular. This simple corner pub, behind Belfast Central Library, attracts a cool, young crowd and four-legged visitors will find a big jar of treats waiting for them behind the bar. Look out for the security cage on the pub’s front door – a relic from 1980s Belfast.

Exterior of The Dirty Onion, Belfast
The Dirty Onion claims to be housed in the oldest building in Belfast

For a traditional Belfast boozer, try The Jailhouse which is, as the name suggests, situated in a former jail. You’ll find the characterful pub in Joy’s Entry, which is one of several ‘entries’ in Belfast. These narrow cobbled alleyways date back to the 1600s and are where you’ll find some of the city’s oldest pubs. I was told that bars were deliberately hidden away down back streets so the locals didn’t have to encounter drunks – but I’m not sure how true that is!

Another destination pub for dog owners is The Dirty Onion, on Hill Street. It is one of several venues claiming to be housed in Belfast’s oldest building but no one really knows for sure. It definitely has one of the city’s biggest beer gardens though and it provides free entertainment seven nights a week. Dogs are welcome inside the pub, on the ground floor, but not in the Yardbird restaurant upstairs.

One of the cheese toasties from Toast Office, Belfast
One of the deliciously cheesy sandwiches from Toast Office

Be sure to check out the Hill Street Hatch too, just along the road. At the time of our visit, this pop-up space was home to Toast Office, which specialises in grilled cheese sandwiches. There are only a handful of options on its takeaway menu, but all are delicious and can be served with soup or something sweet.

The Jeggy Nettle, a two-minute walk from the Ulster Museum on Stranmillis Road is well worth checking out, too. This friendly venue is a great place to enjoy a pint of Guinness or work your way through the Irish whiskey selection. It also puts on regular ‘paw-ties’ for dogs so be sure to check out the pub’s social media pages to see what’s coming up.

One of the vegan open sandwiches at The Lamppost Cafe, Belfast
One of the vegan open sandwiches at The Lamppost Cafe

In the Titanic Quarter, The Dock Cafe, on Queens Road, is worth visiting for its amazing honesty policy alone. There is no set price for any of its food or drink – you just pay what you can afford. The owners say that “today’s dosh buys tomorrow’s nosh”, which is a great concept. It’s also one that seems to be working as the cafe is one of Belfast’s top-rated restaurants on TripAdvisor.

To evoke ‘the spirit of the shipyard’, head to 1900s-inspired Hickson’s Point, on the plaza outside Titanic Belfast. And for a vintage treat, visit The Lamppost Cafe, just outside the city centre on Upper Newtownards Road. This cosy CS Lewis-themed cafe has a roaring log fire and an excellent all-day menu with great vegan options. There’s a special doggy menu for four-legged guests too, featuring puppuccinos and sliced chicken.

Bedroom at the Bullitt Hotel, Belfast
Stay in one of the Doggy Dens at Bullitt

Dog-friendly Belfast: where to stay

You won’t find anywhere more central than the trendy Bullitt Hotel, in the heart of the city. Pet owners can check in to one of the ‘Dog Dens’, which come with a cosy bed for your four-legged friend and some treats. You can also grab a drink or dine with your dog in both the lobby or courtyard bar. You’ll even find a DJ playing at weekends.

Pets are also very welcome at the Hilton Belfast, right on the waterfront. This stylish chain hotel has some great walks on the doorstep and is around half-a-mile from the city centre. And Marriott’s AC Hotel is another great dog-friendly hotel option in Belfast. It is also situated on the banks of the River Lagan and has amazing views of the Titanic Quarter.

If you’d prefer a bit more space, consider one of the city’s pet-friendly serviced apartment blocks, like Dream or Cordia. Or for the full seafaring experience, check in to Barge at Titanic – a beautifully converted houseboat in Belfast Harbour Marina. You can stay in one of two berths – either Harland or Wolff – which both welcome pets. For more suggestions when it comes to dog-friendly accommodation, click here. Expect to pay a small additional fee for pets at all of the places mentioned above.

Neon lights in Commercial Court, Belfast
Neon lights brighten up Commercial Court, outside the Duke of York pub

How do I get to Belfast?

The Northern Irish capital is easily accessed by sea and air. You can fly direct to Belfast from more than 20 European cities – with George Best Belfast City Airport just three miles from the centre and Belfast International Airport slightly further out. But for UK travellers, the easiest option will probably be to go by boat. Stena Line sails from both Liverpool and Cairnryan and dogs are welcome onboard. If you have a car, they can be left in the vehicle for the duration of the crossing. Alternatively, you can pre-book a kennel or transport your dog in a suitable pet carrier. Crossings take approximately two hours.

Where can I find out more?

For further tourist information, check out the Visit Belfast website. The Discover Northern Ireland site also has some recommendations for dog-friendly things to see and do. And you’ll find plenty more great tips on the Dog Friendly NI Facebook page.

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