Welcome to the night!

Belfast is a city that really knows how to enjoy itself. So when the population is all dressed up and daytime turns into party time, there’s a superabundance of clubs, pubs and hostelries to enjoy.


Nightlife in Belfast

The Apartment is a popular place to kick off a good night out. It has great views of the City Hall and its environs, and the crowd on the big sofas and round the bar is youngish. You can sample The Apartment’s range of cocktails – including the Croc Sling – and on Fridays from 9.30pm, there’s the well-named Funky House event, hosted by a rota of DJs.

The Northern Whig in the Cathedral Quarter has a stylish Eastern European vibe thanks to some massive, and massively impressive, Russian-style statues in the vast downstairs bar and bistro-style restaurant. A good place for a vodka, maybe. Filthy McNasty’s is one of the newer downtown bars with decor based on your auntie’s sitting room, ie mismatched sofas and armchairs, plus a few mannequins and some vinyl on the walls. It’s relaxed, the drinks are affordable, the staff friendly. Just opposite is the newest bar on the block, The Bar with No Name, formerly Auntie Annie’s but now a bright yellow location which is popular with students and tailor-made to hang out at.

Bohemians should definitely sample The Sunflower pub in Kent Street. Formerly an old style boozer (with cage), it’s now painted a cool yellow and green, provides some food at weekends and hosts great music, launches (music man Terri Hooley’s autobiography Good Vibrations launched here with a photo show) and popular drama events by groups like Shot Glass.

Clubs to see and be seen in include El Divino near Belfast Central Station, based on the fab Ibizan club of the same name. With three floors and four rooms of music to groove to, a reasonable door price, and special events like its End of Summer White Party, this club succeeds in importing the sunshine isle to our northern outpost. Thompsons, originally Thompsons Garage, has been going since the 90s and is a bit of a clubbing institution. Boasting the best DJs in town, this is a great place to go to work up a dance floor sweat.

People-watching is always part of a good night out and if you fancy some casual celeb-spotting, The Crown Bar is as good a place as any. Opposite the Europa Hotel, whose own piano bar (where they do nice prosecco) is another decent pit stop, it’s often the first watering hole for any thirsty celeb, from rockers like Shane MacGowan and Nick Lowe, to comedians such as Billy Connolly. Gillian Anderson, star of noir Belfast TV series The Fall, has been spotted in the famous snugs.

With three floors and four rooms of music to groove to, a reasonable door price, and special events like its End of Summer White Party, this club succeeds in importing the sunshine isle to our northern outpost

Nightlife in Belfast

Of course, Belfast is famous for its pub culture and the range of bars here is incredible. One pub that is always full is the Duke of York in Commercial Court. They have some live music, decent Guinness and in summer the crowd spills into the alley outside.

For somewhere a bit different, you could try tiny Bittles Bar just behind Victoria Square. Its snug, does great Irish food, and the paintings and cartoons of literary figures and politicians add interest.
In the centre of town, the historic 19th century Garrick pub has a relaxed back bar, with good wine, and its name may be linked to London’s Garrick Club. Lavery’s Bar in Bradbury Place is also a traditional pub but with a slightly louche atmosphere, popular with students and punters alike. There is music upstairs and Lavery’s back bar has a slightly edgy reputation for the more adventurous tippler.

The Ormeau Road boasts a varied range of pubs and you should find somewhere to suit you. The Pavilion, known locally as the Pav, is a punters’ bar downstairs but has three floors of bars and snooker tables. They also put on enjoyable 70s and 80s and comedy nights.

Just up the road is the venerable Errigle, one of Belfast’s favourite pubs for over 70 years. Of its five bars, the main bar caters for hipsters while the Oak Bar has an arty, older crowd. There is music upstairs at weekends, an acoustic night on Sundays in the main bar, the inevitable pub quiz on Mondays and if you want a decent Bloody Mary, you’ve come to the right place.

Belfast’s gay scene is flourishing, with a significant annual Pride parade and festival in August. In the recently-christened gay village area in the town centre, bars that encourage the pink pound include the Union Street Bar amongst others.

The bar has some live music, decent Guinness and in summer the crowd spills into the alley outside

Nightlife in Belfast

One of Belfast’s most bohemian bars, Muriel’s Cafe Bar, is a recommended stop-off point for gay and straight visitors alike. The decor is individual, and has included lingerie on a washing line, the drink and food classy – there are good cocktails – and the ambience is well, ambient. Its sister bar, the Spaniard is equally boho, permanently full with people keen on good conversation (it’s quite an arty crowd), good wine, olives and food.

If you want music with your beer, that won’t be a problem. Stiff Little Fingers used to sing “Nothin’ for us in Belfast” but that’s one outdated lyric today. You can enjoy open mic sessions in The Pavilion (Thursdays) and the John Hewitt.

The Black Box in Hill Street is a festival favourite and hosts folk and roots music. Limelight mixes old stagers like Graham Parker with up and coming bands such as Django Django.

You could also try The Waterfront if you’re interested in headline names like James Taylor and the great Tom Jones. For stadium favourites you need to go to Belfast’s biggest venue, formerly The Odyssey, now refurbished and renamed SSE. The venue came of age when it hosted the MTV awards featuring Lady Gaga a while ago, and it’s played host to Neil Diamond, the engaging Paul Simon and Sting and is a regular venue for The Who. It seats 11,000 and has nightclubs including The Box. This is, unsurprisingly, one of the largest joints in Belfast spreading joy via hip hop and garage.

At the end of the night, the best places for a nightcap or coffee are Lavery’s, the Spaniard, the Northern Whig plus Benedict’s Hotel in Bradbury Place, whose bar remains open at weekends until one pm (2.30pm for residents) or Madison’s on Botanic, open till around the same time.