Gay Belfast Guide: The Essential Guide To Gay Travel In Belfast Northern Ireland 2019
A city transformed, Belfast has gone from being a city plagued by Troubles and sectarian violence that was absolutely avoided to travelers to a cosmopolitan metropolis slowly tempting tourism back as word gets out about its funky hotels, hedonist nightlife, and modern architecture
It’s just a disgrace however that in Gay Belfast, the LGBT community are still marginalized…
Yes, in a country where politics and religion are still deeply intertwined, it should come as no surprise that homophobic and transphobic attitudes are amongst the worst in Western Europe – certainly worst than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Today even Northern Irelands southern neighbor, the Republic of Ireland has leap-frogged it push for LGBT equality.
LGBT inclusivity in the workplace or universities is lower, same-sex marriage is still not legal (despite being legal in the rest of the UK), homophobic attacks are frequent and there is a (largely ignored) mental health crisis amongst the LGBT community.
Without a doubt, Northern Island is stuck in the past, constrained by its complicated politics and history.
Despite this, or perhaps as a result of it, Belfast, actually has a thriving LGBT+ community and a defined gay quarter where its queer community can come together, support each other and party the night away in peace. The city of Belfast, however, is working hard to promote itself as an LGBT destination and for the majority of queer tourists, your sexual orientation or identification will cause you absolutely no issue during your visit.
Just be aware, things are different in Belfast than in rural areas where the characteristic picture of Ireland as an overtly religious and conservative country might not be too far from the truth. And your experiences as a fleeting visitor are likely to be drastically different than those who must live here every day.
However, with a wonderful Pride attended by over 50,000 people annually, a growing range of LGBT support services, forward-looking citizens and dedicated LGBT activities things here are slowly improving and we can only hope in the future Gay Belfast and Northern Island grows to embraces and accepts all of its citizens, LGBT or otherwise.
Gay Belfast Guide: The Essential Guide To Gay Travel In Belfast Northern Ireland 2019
Obviously being gay does not define which attraction most of us will want to see in each city and most queer travelers will simply want to check out the top things to see in Belfast during the day!
Belfast is a very safe city but we still would advise gay travelers in Belfast take extra precautions in terms of public displays of affection. For the most part, we found people in Belfast friendly, tolerant and progressive but sadly there are still people here spewing hate and gay-bashing is not unheard of.
There is a lot to love here in the birthplace of CS Lewis, George Bes, and Titanic, however, so don’t let a few idiots stop you getting out and exploring this buzzing and diverse city.
Top Highlights Of Belfast
St George’s Market – The last surviving Victorian covered market in Belfast, if you are in town Friday to Sunday you simply can’t miss exploring this colorful market with everything from fish to fashion, candy to crafts.
The Titanic Experience – Delve into the fascinating history of the Titanic at Titanic Belfast, the world’s largest Titanic exhibition, on a self-guided tour of the magnificent museum. Explore the institution at your own pace in order to discover insightful exhibits detailing the construction, voyage, and legacy of the infamous ship. Enjoy interactive displays; watch audiovisual presentations; and feel your adrenaline levels surge during an exhilarating Shipyard Ride. You will even receive complimentary entry to the on-site Ocean Exploration Center as well as SS Nomadic with your Titanic Belfast ticket.
Belfast Botanical Gardens – A wonderful and extensive public garden founded back in 1828, filled with beautiful tropical species & an elegant domed conservatory. Perfect for a peaceful wander and relaxed day of sightseeing.
Giant’s Causeway – Leave Belfast for a full-day of exploring Northern Ireland’s spectacular Antrim Coast and the Giant’s Causeway. Begin your journey with an inland drive, avoiding the tourist crowds and beelining directly for the Causeway Coast. Stop at the cliff-top ruins of Dunluce Castle and learn the history of this former medieval stronghold. Take in the breathtaking views from the famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and explore Bushmills Whiskey Distillery and enjoy a sampling, then visit the distinct geologic formations that form the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO-listed site.
Tayto Park – Visit this legendary theme park for the day to chase thrills with rides on rollercoasters such as the Cu Chulainn Coaster, one of Europe’s largest wooden coasters, or see buffalo, meerkats, and tigers at the zoo. Yes, it is a bit of a hike into the Republic of Ireland but -really, how many parks themed after the Irish crisp brand Tayto are you going to visit otherwise…
Misstique Belfast – A small independent adults store right in the heart of Belfast City established in 1993, and continuing to welcome all gays, guys and a few girls as well. With helpful service and groundbreaking design that defines what everything about what it means to look and feel of retail adult stores, they have even recently been named one of the best independent stores in the country! Misstique stocks all the top name brands such as Lovehoney, MisterB, Screaming O, Motley Crue, Pipedream, Doc Johnston, ID Lube to name but a few.
The Northern Whig – A LGBT popular eatery and supporter of the annual Belfast Pride, why not stop in for a menu of cosmopolitan cuisine sourcing only the best possible local ingredients. The interior is truly stunning and was recently crowned the best pub in Northern Ireland. Stop by and you will quickly see why.
Fresh Garbage – Since 1969 this alternative fashion shop has been a Mecca for youth culture renowned for being at the cutting edge of alternative fashion and street fashion. This distinctive shop merits mention not only as a support of the local LGBT community but because of its elective product range that really does have something for everybody and the heady mix of incense and music make any visit an experience.
Troubles Walking Tour – Since the official end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Belfast has flourished, though the impact of the 30-year conflict is still keenly felt by those who live there. On this walking tour, you’ll visit locations where key events took place and get an insider perspective on the conflict, its lingering effects, and Northern Ireland’s path to peace.
Belfast Murals – Discover the poignant and politically charged artworks that adorn Belfast’s streets as you earn about the city’s compelling street art and how its striking murals marked the conflicts and protests of The Troubles of Northern Ireland. Seek out the colorful murals created by both the Nationalist and Loyalist communities, including the notorious Peace Wall, featuring the signatures of the Dalai Lama and President Clinton.
Ulster Museum – A fascinating museum exploring 9,000 years of Irish history with collections to span all corners of the globe. Boasting over 8,000 square meters of public display space, see everything from fine art to archaeology, ethnography to treasures from the Spanish Armada, local history, industrial archaeology geology – It’s all here!
Crumlin Gaol – Explore the Crumlin Road Gaol and gain insight into Belfast’s criminal as you learn of the many unsavory characters once held here. Visit the reception buildings — where new arrivals were processed — and follow the prisoners’ footsteps from the courthouse to the jail. See the various different wings from a high vantage point, experience life locked inside one of the cells and see where prisoners spent their final days before hanging for their crimes.
Game of Thrones Filming Locations Tour – Embark on an epic journey through the Seven Kingdoms on this full-day tour of Northern Ireland’s Game of Thrones filming locations from Belfast. Immerse yourself in the real-life locations seen on-screen in the hit series and follow in the footsteps of characters like Arya Stark, Sansa Stark, and Jon Snow. Along the way, marvel at natural wonders like the UNESCO-listed Giant’s Causeway and walk the notorious Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Not to be missed for any super-fans of the TV, although the locations are pretty incredible even if you have never seen an episode.
Gay Events in Belfast
Belfast Pride Festival – An LGBT+ Pride parade has been held in Belfast each year in July since the early 1990s. A burst of rainbow colors and for a long time one of the few genuinely cross-community events in Northern Island. While these days things are a lot better for the local LGBT community, Northern Ireland still has high levels of fundamentalist Christians and so the parade is often not without controversy. Remember Northern Ireland is, sadly, still likely the most homophobic and transphobic country in Western Europe. Not that you would know it at this fabulous celebration of queer culture, self-identity and all things gay where the entire city seems to come together with over 100 events taking place in the run-up to Pride Day, including music gigs, international drag queens, exhibitions, talks, workshops, arts, club parties and more including a fun Pride Village. Over 50,000 people attend every year, a huge turn out for any Pride Parade and we honestly couldn’t recommend Belfast Pride higher. In a country that desperately needs it, this festival sends the message to the entire country: you are welcome, you are unique, you are LOVED!
Outburst Queer Arts Festival – Brought to life in 2006 by a group of LGBTQI+ community activists, artists and writers Outburst has grown into one of the leading festivals in Belfast for cutting edge writing, performance, and art. An award-winning collection of work by local queer arts is showcased alongside the best in new queer arts from around the world. Outburst is a greenhouse for artists to take creative risks and for events that challenge assumptions and ideas around sexuality, gender and related human rights and justice issues. It’s a queer arts and ideas playground, taking place every November, and is packed with theatre, film, music, visual art and discussions which explore LGBT stories and experiences.
Gay-friendly Hotels in Belfast Northern Ireland
Even while Northern Ireland might be less gay-friendly than the rest of the United Kingdon, you can absolutely still expect not to have any issues as an LGBT traveler checking in to (basically) every hotel in Belfast.
After all being gay-friendly it not all about upscale luxury, but about providing friendly, open service and welcoming everyone with open arms! Having said that, everyone likes to be surrounded by people with common interests, and as such there a few well-known hotels in Belfast that have become hot spots for gay travelers to stay!
The best locations for gay travelers are close to the Gay Quater of Belfast but considered how small Belfast is – no centrally located hotel is ever that far away from the action – by day or by night. Sadly, however, there are no exclusively gay hotels in Belfast.
The following gay-friendly hotels in Belfast are only the most popular with gay travelers but there are hundreds of other hotels in Belfast if you don’t find quite what you are looking for. Whether you want a social hostel, a cheap place to crash after a night of partying or a chic designer option to sip cocktails and surround yourself with fabulous people – Gay Belfast has it all!
The Merchant Hotel ☆☆☆☆☆ – Situated in the heart of Belfast city centre’s historic Cathedral Quarter, this grand hotel housed in an original Grade A listed building boasts elegant Art Deco-inspired design with a multitude of exciting amenities. There is a stunning luxury spa, a rooftop gymnasium with panoramic city views, a dedicated meeting and events suite and a tremendous jazz bar. This is without even stepping foot in the extraordinary guest rooms and suites – all of which feature bespoke furnishings and impeccable detailing’s. At only a 7 minute walk to the local gay scene of Belfast, this is our favorite place to stay in Gay Belfast for a bit of class and cherished memories.
The Fitzwilliam Hotel ☆☆☆☆☆ – Five-star fabulousness in the very heart of Belfast city, the Fitzwilliam Hotel is a super-elegant masterpiece with marvelous guestrooms, incredible food, a much-loved bar and some of the best service we have ever experienced! With plus, chic rooms (there is nothing ‘standard’ about them), an upscale lounge, wonderful views and a hip cocktail bar this hotel is setting a new definition for boutique and is Belfast’s five-star superstar.
Titanic Hotel Belfast ☆☆☆☆ – While this modern hotel is located away from the gay scene in Belfast it deserves a mention as it has been named Hotel of The Year and is situated in the heart of the Titanic Quarter, making it the world’s most authentic Titanic hotel (if that is what you are in town for). Perceptive guests will appreciate their exquisitely designed and furnished rooms with a nautical personality with streamlined Art Deco furniture, reflecting the legacy of Harland & Wolff’s innovative design and craftsmanship, many with views over Titanic Quarter. Another highlight is also the magnificent dual Drawing Offices, with a three-story high barrel-vaulted ceiling, one of the only surviving example of this type of shipyard architecture in the world. There is also a fabulous cocktail bar and stately restaurant if you just want to enjoy your hotel at night without going too far.
Hilton Belfast ☆☆☆☆ – This international hotel chain is a well-known supporter of the LGBT community and is a great option for those who value high-quality and don’t want any surprises. All guest rooms have a view of the River Lagan or Belfast City Center, LED TVs and WiFi but you might be tempted to upgrade to a room on their executive floor to gain access to the Executive Lounge featuring complimentary breakfast, beverages, and snacks along with a spectacular Belfast city view. There is also an on-site modern restaurant and 24/7 gym.
AC Hotel by Marriott Belfast ☆☆☆☆ – An urban retreat in an exceptional riverside location close to the attractions of Gay Belfast. Built from the ground up with a designers’ eye, the contemporary bedrooms have thoughtful touches of luxury with king size beds, Nespresso coffee makers, glass enclosed double showers and purposeful technology including free high-speed internet access and 49 inch TV’s. Guests also enjoy an AC Fitness Room, 24/7 room service and can opt for a delicious continental or cooked breakfast.
Malmaison Belfast ☆☆☆ – On the doorstep of the Belfast gay scene, this Belfast hotel has 62 rooms and suites that combine the city’s amazing history with the funkiest contemporary style. Inspired by the proportions of the Titanic, Belfast’s most famous ship, there are comfy beds, freestanding bathtubs, and fabulous hospitality. If you are after something a bit different, yet affordable and close to all the action then the Malmaison Belfast could be it!
Ramada Encore Belfast City Centre ☆☆☆ – Four minutes walk to all the Belfast gay bars, this budget hotel is very gay-popular thanks to its location, price and friendly service. One of the cheapest hotels we found, there are 165 ensuite bedrooms including executive, double and twin rooms – ideal for both business travelers as well as short city breaks. There is no avant-garde design or Instagrammable locations here, but it’s very clean, comfortable and great for your wallet.
Belfast International Youth Hostel ☆ – We have to be honest, all the hostels in Belfast are pretty average – and on the opposite side of the city leaving you with a 25-minute walk to the gay quarter. Don’t expect anything like the fabulous gay hostels in Amsterdam or Madrid. But if you want the cheapest possible bed for the night, this is your best bet. The other hostels in Belfast we considered were much, much worse…
Gay Nightlife in Belfast
While Belfast might be more famous for its enviable pub-to-person ratios and raucous stag-do getaways, there is also a nice selection of gay bars and club here catering to a wide range of music tastes and atmospheres.
All of the Belfast gay bars and clubs are located in the Belfast Gay Quater just north of the city center and are always a good bet for an epic night. Lesbians and gay men mix frequently in all these bars which makes for an interesting and inclusive night out no matter which venue you visit. Like many Western countries gays in Belfast are frequently choosing to mingle in non-expressly LGBT nightspots, so we have also listed our favorite wine bars, cocktail lounges, and pubs in Belfast where you will be warmly welcomed, no matter your sexuality…
Like Dublin to the south, a night out here is going to be absolutely wild and unforgettable and while the gay scene is not quite on the scale of Rome, Copenhagen, Amsterdam or Munich – we were still incredibly impressed by what we discovered here. Hopefully, you are too…
Gay Bars in Belfast
Union Street Bar – Our ‘go-to’ gay spot in Belfast, the Union Street Bar is classic, classy and camp and perfect for everything from a traditional pub meal during the day to an outrageous drag show accompanied by cosmos at night. Originally a Victorian shoe factory, much of the original wrought iron pillars are retains and fuses with modern loft styling to create something truly memorable and unique. There is also The Shoe Factory, a self-contained staged nightclub which provides the ideal setting for larger entertainment events. Renowned for its wacky entertainment seven nights a week including karaoke, cabaret and everything in between hosted by Belfast’s best drag queens, not to mention their infamous Sunday Bingo Show, we are obsessed with the Union Street Bar and think you will be too!
Maverick Bar – A radical alternative at the heart of Belfast’s Queer Quarter, the Maverick is open 7 nights a week with various, hilarious forms of entertainment. Amazing staff on the door and bar help create an energetic and friendly atmosphere that makes us love gay bars so much. Their cocktails are pretty fabulous too! Look out for the cute pink mustache, you can’t miss it, and get ready for a classic night’s craic!
Sunflower Public House – A simple corner pub, it is free of gimmicks or themes, and it is one of the few remaining. It is instantly recognizable by the security cage on its front door, a relic from 1980’s Belfast and while the cage is no longer needed for security reasons it has been kept and preserved as part of the city’s social history. Sunflower prides itself in serving great local beers alongside great music, and while they do not advertise as a gay bar, they have are friendly to everyone – including dogs! – and there are more than a few rainbow flags dotted inside. Given their location on the edge of the Belfast gay area, and welcoming to all attitude, it’s no wonder the Sunflower Public House attracts such a gay crowd. So pop in, pull up a chair at the bar and get chatting – everyone is super approachable here.
Gay Clubs in Belfast
Kremlin – Now in its sixteenth year, this infamous gay club has firmly established itself as the core of the gay scene in Northern Ireland. The club’s layout and decor reflect an image of Soviet Russia but don’t let it fool you though, as you will find a warm welcome and the hottest atmosphere inside. It’s three distinct areas; Tsar (a stylish cocktail lounge), the Long Bar (a two-level disco bar) and Red Square (the 2 level club arena) which plays host to the best resident DJs, live acts and personal appearances. The entire club is regularly transformed for epic event nights including their annual Goscars awards ceremony, Halloween and Christmas transformations and they are the go-to place when the international stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race are in town (get your merch beforehand, it’s cheaper!). Kremlin is also the first choice when the UK’s largest gay parties rock into town including Poptastic and Gaydio. With the current award-winning formula, the ongoing expansions (Kremlin is now over three times bigger than it was when it first opened), and the hottest up-for-it clubbers in the province, Kremlin continues to consolidate its reputation as the best gay venue in Ireland.
Boombox – Above Maverick Bar, and using the same entrance, with is a quaint and crowded little nightclub hosting late-night entertainment, loud pop music and a very young, diverse crowd. We recommend going for the fierce queens and dancing all night, but if you are after conversation or space this is not the place for you.
Taboo Presents – The Belfast’s best gay party nights held regularly at various locations including Mandela Hall, Elmwood Hall, The Speakeasy and The Belfast Empire. Events take place every month or so, but check their Facebook in advance as tickets frequently sell out. Club nights, drag shows, live performances, and themed parties are all common, with affordable drinks and a generally young LGBT+ crowd.
Gay-Popular Bars in Belfast
Queens Café & Bar – A cute traditional bar tucked into Northern Ireland’s premier shopping location. Equally appealing to the busy shopper, city center worker or tourists they offer a fabulous all-day menu that focusses on great local produce prepared simply and quickly. Queen’s can safely boast a unique ‘personality’ not to be found elsewhere in Belfast and was frequently recommend to us by the local LGBT community.
The Bear and The Doll – Located in the gay district of Belfast, this uber trendy lounge bar offers a great selection of drinks including divine cocktails and craft beers, accompanied by a fantastic selection of DJ’s and live music. Oozing class and metropolitan vibe, with fantastic moody lighting and arty decor, this bar has only recently opened by is quickly becoming the hottest spot for getting the night started. Welcoming to everyone – gay, straight or unicorn.
Muriel’s Cafe Bar – A quirky bar on a quiet side street with fabulous service, a delicious menu and unique cocktails. The staff goes the extra mile to make sure everyone here feels welcome, and the secret seems to be out as reservations are normally essential if you want to get a table on busier nights. We are not quite sure how to describe a décor that involves panties and bras hanging from the ceiling – but with each one of their marvelous G&T’s (crafted from any of the over 100 types of Gin in stock) we grew to love it more.
Cuckoo Belfast – What’s better than sitting down with a cold beer playing Mario Kart with your mates with banging music and friendly vibes? Head over to this new ‘Geekeasy’ for Retro video games, Pinball and of course, hipster jam-jar cocktails (how are we not all over this trend already…! Guitar Hero, Time Crisis 3, Mario Kart, Sega Rally and Terminator are just a few of the games on offer – and there is also a games room with Ping Pong & Air Hockey! Weekly events include quiz nights, open-mic, cheap drinks, and indie music club nights. Seriously, Cuckoo is an utterly unique nightlife destination in Belfast and you absolutely need to get here.
The Spaniard – A fun and LGBT popular Belfast pub located in the central Cathedral Quarter, a stone through from the cities gay scene. Full of character and fun décor with a glorious music selection, hilarious bartenders and affordable drinks.
Cabaret Supper Club – Each weekend from the heart of Belfast City, Cabaret Supper Club brings an explosive cocktail of burlesque, comedy, music and aerial acrobatics that needs to be seen to be believed. Let the cast indulge you in a spectacle of glitz and glamour with a chocolate box selection of the finest cabaret acts Northern Ireland has to offer. This is a night guaranteed to sparkle, shimmer and take your cares away, with breathtaking performances of fire-breathing, burlesque and stunning aerial acrobatics that needs to be seen to be believed. In addition to the wondrous tongue-in-cheek show, you can enjoy up to a three-course meal with cocktails and champagnes, all served to you by your dedicated Cabaret Bulter of the evening. Advanced bookings are required for this exceptional addition to Gay Belfast.
Love & Death – Widely regarded as Belfast’s worst kept secret, Love & Death on Ann Street in Belfast City Centre’s perfect liquor hideaway. With arguably the best cocktail staff in the city and a warm hazy atmosphere in both the bar and the club, why not give this Belfast institution a go? Our favourite cocktails hard to be Island Love (Plantation Rum, Créme De Banana, Picon, Pecan Tincture, Maple Syrup, Cachucha) which had us dreaming of Gay Hawaii, and Absinthes make the heart grow (La Fee Absinthe, Velvet Falernum, Coconut Water, Lemon, Pink Salt Solution, Sugar, Angostura), which brought back memories of a crazy night in Budapest… but we digress.
The Perch Rooftop Bar – A luxe rooftop destination with divine cocktails, posh vibes, fabulous pizza – and all in a converted Victorian warehouse. Open 7 days a week, this 5th-floor venue is eclectic, fun, intimate and just like nothing else on offer in Belfast. The cocktail menu is ever-changing but we would be remiss not to give a shout out to the Perch Superfly cocktail made with Jose Cuervo Traditional, grapefruit, lime, honey and ginger beer. Pure perfection.
Cruising and Gay Sauna in Belfast
One place where Grinder and other gay hook-up apps have really made a difference worldwide is the closing of saunas and bathhouses.
While continental Europe cities such as Prague, Vienna, and Lisbon have reversed the trend, the Belfast gay sauna scene has been particularly hard hit and currently, if you want to explore the naughtier side of Belfast there is now only one true gay sauna in Belfast to visit since the close of Pipeworks. Public cruising in Belfast may previously have been very popular but we do absolutely do not recommend it anymore, as outside of bars and sauna’s, most well-known spots have more police patrols and wide-spread CCTV surveillance.
Gay sauna or not, in any sexual encounter, please take adequate precautions. No matter what your intentions are in while traveling, you should bring your own condoms and lube to play it safe. Take home a hot guy or a hot memory, not an STD.
Besides, you never know what other fun surprises your trip might have in store for you...
Outside Sauna – Set in Belfast’s growing gay quarter, Outside Sauna offers the perfect atmosphere for gay and bisexual men to meet, relax chill out. Split into separate zones, one for play and one for unwinding, there is plenty of amenities to enjoy including a garden, Turkish bath Jacuzzi, dark room, sauna, video room, coffee bar, and lockers. There is also glory holes, sling room, and private booths, with occasionally fetish nights, and all from a discreet entrance off Donegal street. 24 hours over the weekend and surprisingly fun when we visited, but like most gay sauna around the world – cleanliness is questionable and the audience has a tendance to skew older. However, as Northern Ireland is the least gay-friendly country in the United Kingdom, you normally find a few closeted and curious young men in here later at night.
Just add an adventurous attitude and plenty of smiles - they go a long way - and that about covers it all! Now go out, find your global rainbow family and don't forget to share your best gay stories with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram...We'd love to hear from you!