Northern Ireland is great for solo female travellers!

After a summer trip to this ever-green country, I realised why Northern Ireland is great for solo female travellers!

Northern Ireland is one of the most desired countries to visit on the old continent. Despite its controversial past, nowadays, Northern Ireland is perfectly safe for solo female travellers. The country has adapted to the ever-growing number of tourists and provides plenty of choices, including free city tours, day trips outside Belfast, 5-star hotels, and also offers options for low and mid-budget travellers.

A summary of Northern Ireland’s tumultuous past

For many years Northern Ireland has been avoided by travellers. In the 60s and the 90s, the country experienced several riots caused by 2 rival groups: the Protestants and the Catholics. The conflict is old and started at the beginning of the XX century when Ireland was divided into 2 countries: The Republic of Ireland (an independent country) and Northern Ireland, a country that would become part of the UK.

While the Protestants supported the idea that Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK, the Catholics were more nationalist and wanted the country to keep the Irish identity and rejoin the Republic of Ireland.

Something our Belfast tour guide told us was that whenever Northern Ireland was not fighting against the English, they were fighting among themselves. I liked this saying because it summarises so well the tumultuous past of this small country. 

In recent times though, Northern Ireland has become increasingly popular among travellers, including solo female travellers. The country benefited from positive publicity thanks to important American film productions being filmed on the island (like Game of Thrones). Northern Ireland also experienced a period of great stability since the Good Friday Agreement was signed back in 1998. All these made Northern Ireland an appealing destination for tourists.

Is Belfast safe for solo female travellers?

I travelled to Northern Ireland in June 2021 as a solo female traveller, and this was my experience in Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital. 

Belfast is Northern Ireland’s capital and the biggest city in the country. Although Belfast is relatively small and has a population of over 300,000 inhabitants, it provides plenty of entertainment options for its visitors and long-term residents. 

It is true that Belfast has more of a town vibe mainly due to its size, yet I would say this works in its favour.

Belfast is very much a walkable city, which makes it a perfect destination for low-budget travellers. It has quite a few interesting areas you might want to look into, some of which I have summarised below:

  • Start in the city centre which gathers both the old, historical buildings in Belfast and the shopping area which is more modern (glass buildings, modern designs, the big brands everyone knows etc.)

  • Make sure you check out The Titanic Quarter
  • The University area has a good vibe
  • The Belfast Castle takes you out of the touristy Belfast, but it is worth it
  • The Mural art located on the west side of the city which is one of the main tourist attractions in Belfast

Belfast is an excellent destination for solo travellers. The city is perfectly safe to visit as a solo female traveller too. In summer, the city is vibrant, with many tourists visiting the country. And there is lots of activities available to join (walking tours, day trips from Belfast etc.).

First impressions of Belfast

As I said previously, Belfast has the advantage of being a relatively small city, meaning that if you like walking, you can walk pretty much anywhere. 

Walking can definitely help bring down your budget because something that I noticed is that Belfast can be quite pricey in terms of accommodation costs.

Also, be aware that hotels/hostels/Airbnb tend to be booked up quite quickly, more so in summer, so make sure you book your accommodation well in advance. 

Use both & Airbnb to book your accommodation in Belfast. I stayed in an Airbnb because the hotels & hostels available in June were way out of my budget.

Salmon of Knowledge

Staying in Belfast can be expensive, yet flying to Belfast (from Europe/UK) is cheap.

There are frequent flights from Stanstead Airport (UK), one of the best affordable airports (in my opinion) for flying anywhere in Europe and the UK.

Also, Belfast is not far from Dublin (2h30) by train, so many international visitors I met were flying to Ireland first and then travelling to Belfast. Dublin has a bigger airport that operates many more international flights than Belfast Airport.

Flying in & out of Belfast

Belfast is served by 2 airports: Belfast International Airport & Belfast City Airport. Although I flew from the UK, I landed at Belfast International Airport. Therefore, I suspect Belfast City Airport operates mainly domestic flights within Northern Ireland. 

Belfast International Airport is quite small. It operates flights to the UK and some destinations in Europe. It is handy because it is only 30 minutes away from Belfast city centre by bus. The city has a dedicated bus that goes to the airport. In high season, they supplement it and add more buses. More information on airport shuttle buses is available here.

I used the bus and was perfectly safe. The bus is used by locals too. 

The pub street (perfect for a drink while in Belfast)

Something worth mentioning is that the bus driver did not accept card payments as they do in England. They would send you to either purchase the ticket inside the airport or from a ticket machine (usually, there is a ticket machine at the bus station).

Regarding taxi companies, Uber was much more expensive, and Bolt is not available in Belfast. So the cheapest and safest way is to book through a local taxi company. I used one company called Fona Cab. After booking it, I realised they are quite popular because I kept seeing their cars everywhere.

The taxi company was very professional, and the driver was so chatty, even if it was 3 AM. They have an app I used to pay for the journey, which made everything so simple. Based on my experience with them, I recommend Fona Cab as a reliable and safe taxi company for solo female travellers visiting Belfast.

Something I noticed is that in Northern Ireland is better to have some cash on you. England is almost cashless as it is the rest of the UK, but I took buses in Northern Ireland that would still not operate card payments. Northern Ireland and Scotland are the only countries in the UK where the banknotes are different to the rest of the country.

The oldest building in Belfast (we visited this place with the free walking tour)

Safe activities for solo female travellers in Belfast

One of the best ways to get to know Belfast is by joining a free walking tour. Belfast has quite a few free walking tours. I booked this one. It took around 2h and was the perfect introduction to Northern Ireland and some of the most emblematic places in Belfast.

Free walking tours

Free walking tours are safe options for solo female travellers. They are also good ways to meet new people and hang out with them while in Belfast. Although they are called free walking tours, you usually tip the tour guide at the end. 

However, you can walk away without tipping your tour guide if you travel on a tight budget.

Some of the places we visited during the walking tour were:

The tour starts at Belfast City Hall. However, we did not visit it inside. I did this on my own. The tour guide will take you around and introduce you to the most emblematic places in Belfast like Europa Hotel (the most bombed place in Belfast, The Crown Bar (the oldest bar in Belfast) etc.

The tour also includes a riverside walk, a quick visit to the Cathedral quarter and much more. You won’t go inside the cathedral. If you want to visit the Belfast Cathedral, you must know that the entrance is not free.

Emblematic spots such as the Albert Clock and the Salmon of Knowledge (aka the Big Fish statue) are included in the tour. 

As you can expect, the tour will give you tips on the most interesting places to go out. I really enjoyed all the inside stories the tour guide knew about different places in Belfast. 

On top of this, some more free & safe places you can visit are:

Belfast City Hall

As I mentioned above, the walking tour I booked started at Belfast City Hall, but you don’t get to visit it inside during the tour. So I decided to visit the city hall on my own. It is a beautiful building located in the heart of the city. Visiting the city hall inside is a must. The set-up reminded me of a museum. A plus is that it is free to visit. I recommend visiting Belfast City Hall if you have an interest in Northern Ireland’s history.

The Mural Art

Another spot I recommend visiting in Belfast is mural art. Some people book dedicated tours. However, during the free walking tour, the tour guide told us quite a lot about it. So I did not feel I should book another tour. 

I would advise you to visit the walls during the day. We were told it is better to avoid it at night. The walls are on the outskirts of Belfast and are not that safe in the evening. 

The Titanic Quarter

The Titanic quarter is perhaps the most popular neighbourhood in Belfast.

 It was interesting to learn that when the tragedy happened, the Northern Irish people felt awful about it. For many years, the people of Northern Ireland considered the sinking of the Titanic the most shameful experience they’ve had to go through.

If you are a Titanic fan, then you must visit the Titanic Museum where you will learn everything about the famous ship. The ticket includes visiting the boat that’s outside the museum too.

I am not a big fan of museums, but I had to visit this one. I enjoyed that it is quite interactive. For example, you get to experience the working conditions of those who built the Titanic. Or visit the different rooms travellers stayed in (1st class, 2nd class etc). 

Perhaps the most emotional part was reading the survivors’ testimonials. The museum even used the voices of some of the survivors to record their experiences.

The museum looked quite busy, and I assume it gets even busier in the high season. However, I did not have any issues booking my ticket on the day. In fact, I booked it a few minutes before because I decided quite last minute that I wanted to visit the museum that day.

All in all, I definitely enjoyed the titanic quarter, which should not be missed by anyone when in Belfast.

Ulster Museum & The Botanic Garden

Both Ulster Museum & The Botanic Garden are lovely places to visit in Belfast. When visiting the Botanic Garden, do make sure you visit their Tropical garden too!

Ulster Museum is inside the botanic garden, and it is a typical museum. It covers different historical times as well as different civilizations. Both attractions are free to visit. This is typical in the UK, where most museums are free to visit.

Perhaps, you will notice that the area has quite a high concentration of students. That’s because there is a university nearby. Also, if you decide to stay around for a while, you will notice an awful lot of places for eating out. 

Thanks to being a students’ area, everything is also more budget-friendly. There is also quite a wide diversity of foods. This is something I found interesting about Belfast. That it is quite international and you can find cuisines from all over the world.

The Belfast Castle & Cave Hill Country Park

Like almost every other city in Europe, Belfast has a castle. In fact, there are several castles you can visit around Belfast. Yet, Belfast Castle should definitely be a priority.

Note that both the castle and the park are uphill. Belfast Castle is relatively small and quick to visit. But it is worth including it in your itinerary. The castle is free to visit, and it is gorgeous. If you are looking for panoramic views over Belfast, you must visit Belfast Castle and Cave Hill Park.

The park reminded me very much of Arthur’s Seat (Edinburgh). You have different routes you can walk, and you can even end up at the Belfast Zoo. On a fine day, you get to enjoy the views like the ones below:

The local food market (St. George’s Market)

The local food market is conveniently located close to the city centre. It is mostly open during the weekend when locals come to sell local food and other international dishes as well. When I went, I was surprised to see Mexican, Italian and many other international food stalls. They even organised a cute singing show on the day. I am not sure if that runs every weekend though. Anyhow, don’t forget to grab something while there. Everything I tried was delicious and made by locals.

Safe activities for solo female travellers outside Belfast

As you’ve read already, Belfast can keep anyone entertained for quite a while. However, most people, including myself, visit Northern Ireland for its nature. 

The views are similar to Ireland, and it makes sense because after all both countries are located on the same island. However, Northern Ireland has some really cool places worth visiting.

The Northern Irish coast is stunning, and many visitors choose to explore the country further after spending some days in Belfast. 

In terms of transportation, you can choose between a private care hire, public transport and booked tours. All these options are perfectly safe for female solo travellers.

This time around, I chose to book a tour which was great. The booked tour was only £25 at the time and included everything. 

The tour started around 8 am in the morning, and we returned in the afternoon at around 6 pm.

Patrick, our driver/tour guide, was extremely knowledgeable about the Game of Thrones series and local Northern Irish history. 

I booked the tour on Viator Vektor, where you have plenty of options to choose from.

Some of the tours are heavily centred on the Game of Thrones series. If you are a fan of the series, you are lucky. Northern Ireland does an excellent job of promoting the filming locations. 

There is plenty of Game of Thrones thematic trips you can choose from.

My aim was to visit the Giant’s Causeway, so I chose a booked trip where I would spend more time at the Giant’s Causeway.

Except for the Giant’s Causeway, the tour I booked included several other places we visited along the Northern Irish coast.

These are some of the most important places we visited on the day:

The Giant’s Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway is the most famous place people visit in Northern Ireland (probably better known than Belfast). This is a UNESCO site and it is million years old.

There is a famous legend our tour guide told us about this place. 

Legend says an Irish giant built a road so he could reach Scotland. Little did he know that another giant lived in Scotland. After some adventures and encounters between the 2 giants, in the end, the road gets destroyed by the Scottish giant on his way back home because we wanted to prevent the Irish giant from reaching Scotland again. 

The Giant’s Causeway is what has been left after the road was destroyed by the Scottish giant.

In reality, the Giant’s Causeway is a geological wonder, and I would advise everyone to plan a visit to this wonderful place. 

The booked tour I used to visit the Giant’s Causeway gave us enough time to walk around, take pictures and admire this mysterious place.

Antrim Coast Road

You get to admire the Antrim Coast Road throughout the day. The tour does not stop, except for the Carnlough Harbour. 

You even get to see the Scottish shores because at some point during the trip, Scotland and Northern Ireland are so close that on a fine day you can actually see Scotland. I was lucky to see it on that day. 

The Antrim Coast Road is stunning. I guess the only inconvenience here is that you cannot actually stop as much as you would want. But the driver did slow down so that people could take pictures or for us to see the Scottish shores.

Carrickfergus Castle

I did mention before that there are quite a few castles you can visit around Belfast. Like Belfast Castle, you can reach Carrickfergus Castle by bus. Or you can visit it as part of a tour as I did. 

The only difference is that with my booked tour, an inside visit was not included. So you would need to come on your own if you want to visit the castle inside.

From Belfast, you can travel to Carrickfergus Castle by bus and/or train. You can check here which option suits you best.

The castle is linked to William of Orange (William the 3rd). You will even see his statue outside the castle. We were told the king was quite short. And the statue is an accurate reflection of that.

Carnlough Harbour

Carnlough Harbour was a pretty place we stopped to admire on our way to the Giant’s Causeway. The place is famous because a Game of Thrones scene was filmed there. So this is a bonus if you are a fan of the series.

Dunluce Castle

This is yet another castle Patrick stopped at so we could take pictures. We only spent a few minutes there as it started to rain anyway and we would not visit it inside. However, the location is stunning and people even organise wedding shooting sessions there.

The Dark Hedges

These rather peculiar trees were my 2nd preferred place we visited on the day. The location is linked to Game of Thrones too. 

Our tour guide told us that it was featured in one of the episodes for a few seconds.

The avenue is also one of the most photographed places in Northern Ireland, and one can easily see why. Some people consider it romantic. It felt mysterious and rather dark to me. 

The picture does not make justice to this place

Nevertheless, the place is so worth visiting, and it is definitely one o the most instagramable places I visited so far. 

Caves of Cushendun

The caves were interesting to visit too. We were lucky we could go inside because the water level was high on the day (you need to walk alongside a beach) to get inside the caves.

What I also liked about this booked tour is that we had a proper lunch break in the middle of the day. 

You could have ordered food with the company at a local pub or simply bring your own food and have it on the pub’s premises. 

We also had enough bathroom breaks, which is always useful when you travel.

Finally, I would like to say that some of the places I visited with the booked tour are accessible by public transport too. 

However, it might involve changing several buses on the way there. 

Another inconvenience is that you won’t have anyone to tell you the stories (I really enjoyed this part). 

The tour guide was entertaining and told us many interesting stories about every place we visited. 

Plus, the price was so low for a day packed with so many places we visited along the Northern Irish coast. I was very pleased with how everything went on the day and with this booked tour.

Consider the weather in Northern Ireland!

Be aware that the weather in Northern Ireland is even more temperamental than in the rest of the UK. 

I was lucky it did not rain that much in June, but I did experience some rainy days. The same happened on the day of the trip. We were incredibly lucky to skip the rain and visit most of the places in sunny, dry weather. 

It did rain on the way back, but it did not matter much because we had no other places to visit.

That’s why you need to come prepared. 

This is how the sky looked on most days

Consider waterproof clothes and good walking shoes. Usually, it is too windy, so carrying around an umbrella might not help much. 

It is better if you wear a waterproof & windproof jacket and trousers.

Is Northern Ireland a great destination for solo female travellers?

I wanted to travel to Northern Ireland for some time, and I am glad I finally managed to do it this summer. 

I was pleased to discover Belfast was such a lively city where people were genuinely welcoming. 

I found Northern Ireland perfectly safe for solo female travellers and would not hesitate to recommend it to other solo female travellers. So yes, Northern Ireland is a great destination for solo female travellers!

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