By | 16th January 2018

Do you need a car in Belfast?

Do you need a car in Belfast > Should you rent a car in Belfast UK > Belfast ( BFS ) Do you need a car in Belfast? Is it worth hiring a car in Belfast? Should you rent a car in Belfast?

Belfast Car hire summary

Overall drive rating

Based on a weighted score across all cost and quality factors. [Full notes - drive rating]


  • Price alone isn't the only factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Belfast but clearly it's an important one. See our "why" section for more figures.
  • Cost factors include - price of car hire (peak and off peak season), car hire extras, fuel, tolls and parking costs.
  • Quality factors include - scenic drives, road quality and upkeep, general safety and congestion levels.
  • A complete index of all 10 factors will be uploaded shortly.

Cheapest rate for one week

Based on cheapest economy car hire deal with no added extras. [full notes - basic costs]



  • This is the very lowest price we could find for a one week car rental period in Belfast during the quiet season.
  • You will almost always end up paying more than this figure, but any extra costs or supplementary charges are usually determined by the renter, so we cannot easily compare like with like.
  • In many cases, rental companies will offer a cheap rental and then expect you to take out expensive insurance waivers. There are always ways to avoid this!

How much should I expect to pay in the peak season?

Based on cheapest deal during the summer holiday season. (Unless otherwise noted) [full notes - seasonal variations]



  • During the peak holiday season, public transport is often better value, as many train and bus fares are fixed throughout the year. See our "why not" section for more suggestions.
  • For most featured destinations, the peak season will be during the summer, typically July and August for northern hemisphere destinations. However, peak demand might occur at different times, for example in some ski resorts or winter sun destinations etc.

Free parking score

Based on the number of hotels which offer free parking. Total 114 - of which 50 have free parking. [full notes - parking]



  • Free hotel parking is very useful to have when you are hiring a car, and it's always worth checking ahead beforehand.
  • If free hotel parking is not available, you might want to consider renting a car for a single day, rather than for your whole trip.
  • The availability (or lack of) free hotel parking can be a really important factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Belfast, as it can be a significant extra daily cost which you won't usually be paying at home!
  • Parking costs play a very major part in our consideration of whether or not it's worth hiring a car in each destination.
  • By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.

Belfast public transport quick facts

Train score

Higher scores go to the systems which don't just take you to the most amazing places, but also to the ones which are easy to use, fast, reliable and frequent. A good train system on its own is usually enough to determine that you don't need to hire a car in many destinations.


  • [full notes trains]
  • Trains include all kinds of urban rail system from trams up to metro and suburban networks.
  • Trains also include mountain railways and cable cars.
  • Generally, places with a good rail network will automatically mean that you don't "need" to hire a car, but you can still might find that on balance you are better off by having one.

Water travel score

This is a general rating for all types of water travel, including scheduled ferries, sea / rivers cruises and excursions in Belfast


  • [full notes - water score]
  • The water score looks at means of transport on water - it does not consider water based activities like surfing or kayaking.

Overall public transport score

This is a more practical rating based on bus and rail travel, and also including ferries and other boat services, where they are part of the public transport network.


  • [full notes - overall transit] buses | trams | metro | local & regional rail | national rail
  • Is public transport in Belfast good value, or is it worth hiring a car just because it is cheaper overall?
  • Even if public transport is cheap and reliable, you might still feel that you should hire a car in Belfast because it will still give you more flexibility to reach out-of-the-way places, especially in rural areas.

Walking and Cycling Overview

Active travel score

This overall rating considers walking and cycling in and around Belfast. It includes factors such as the quality of the street environment, and whether you are likely to feel safe walking or cycling, together with the availability of bicycle hire and the ease of linking walking or cycling routes with public transport.


  • [full notes - active score] walking (city) | hiking | cycling (city /  country).
  • A high active travel score means that you might not need a car in Belfast, because you can see everything you need to see using a combination of your own two feet and the public transport system.

Car rental in - Belfast Need v worth & should!

Whether you have come here asking "do I need a car in Belfast", "is it worth hiring a car in Belfast", or whether or not you "should" hire a car here, these are all slight variations on a similar theme. Here we break each one down according to the criteria we use for each question. This is a weighted score based on the values above. These are explained further in the text which follows - [#why] [#whynot]. Do you need a car in Belfast?

Do you need a car in Belfast?

This is essentially based on whether or not public transport and other "non car" options are good enough to get around and beyond the city. For the lowest "need" score, the destination should have a combination of excellent all-round public transport, great opportunities for walking and cycling, together with poor value car hire or generally poor quality roads. 
  • In destinations where both public transport and car hire options are excellent, the verdict for "do I need a car in  Belfast " will swing towards a strong no, because you can do absolutely fine without one).
Is it worth hiring a car in Belfast?

Is it worth hiring a car in Belfast?

Is car hire good value, especially during the peak season? How does this compare with transit fares? This question mainly looks at issues of cost and practicality.
  • In destinations where both public transport and car hire options are excellent, the verdict for "is it worth hiring a car in  Belfast" will swing towards whichever option offers the lowest overall cost for a group of 2-4 people travelling together.
Should you rent a car in Belfast?

Should you rent a car in Belfast?

Weighing up the above questions, if you are here for the first time AND asking about hiring a car, is it a good idea?
  • The final "carometer" swing is much more opinion based, and it takes into account which options will give you the truly best travel experience (n our humble opinion of course). Where a destination offers an excellent score with or without a car, the swing will go towards whichever option we feel gives the most truly unforgettable experience.
  • Ultimately, it's your choice whether or not you rent a car here. We're trying to give you something that's sufficiently far enough away from a "maybe" to help you make that choice. Ultimately, people only come to us because they are uncertain, but we don't really know what each person's preferences are. Whether we say you should or you shouldn't rent a car in  Belfast, you might also want to look up some of our other cities to see how  Belfast compares with other destinations in  UK or  Europe.
  • By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.

What does everyone else do?

Do most people hire a car in Belfast?

This is based on our observations of (a) car rental facilities and (b) what we think most people will do here. It's not an exact figure, just an estimate of how likely people are to get hold of a rental car here.
  • his is based on the percentage of people "in the market" who we think are likely to hire a car. This includes anyone arriving on holiday here who would usually hire a car on their travels, so it doesn't include people who don't usually drive (or don't drive), people staying with friends etc.


Visitors per year (million)

  • Cities with more visitors are more likely to have more complex airport car rental arrangements, and generally they will also have better public transport, but this is not always the case, especially in North America.


  • [full notes - do as everyone else does?]
  • You may wish to go with the flow, or you might prefer to avoid doing the most popular or obvious option. This will vary according to the range of choice available. This tends to be much higher in destinations which are closer to the middle of the car or no car scale.

Who is travelling?

Your group size and travel budget has a major impact on whether or not getting a rental car is good value compared to using public transport as your main means of getting around. Ultimately, these are all "worth" questions:

Is it worth renting a car in Belfast if I am a solo / budget traveller?

Generally, hiring a car is not good value for solo travellers for multiple reasons, especially as most of the costs of renting apply to the car, not the occupants. With public transport, the reverse is usually true! However, there are always some places where you will need a car, simply because they are almost impossible to reach using public transport.

Is it worth renting a car in Belfast for 2 people travelling together?

A rental car can be good value for couples or for friends travelling together, but since most cars come with at least four seats, it's often still better value to use public transport. However, if you prefer to keep yourselves to yourselves, then you might still want to rent.

Is it worth renting a car in Belfast for families?

Families of groups of 3-4 people travelling together will always get the best value from a rental car. However, you may also be burdened with extra costs for car seat hire, and you well also prefer to use local trains and buses, if they are quicker than getting stuck in heavy traffic.

Where are you staying?

The place you are staying, together with the sort of places you want to see, will have a large impact on whether or not you "need" to rent a car:

Do you need a car in Belfast if we are staying in the city centre / main resort area?

Most large towns or purpose built holiday resorts will have some kind of public transport, whereas parking provision will vary greatly from one place to the next. 

Do you need a car in Belfast if we are staying on the edge of the urban area?

Typically you may be staying in an apartment or hmall house on the edge of a resort or urban area. These places usually have some level of public transport, but not as much as city / resort centres.

Do you need a car in Belfast if we are staying in a rural area?

Rural proprties might include larger villas or apartments, but they can still be within a short walk of a bus stop or local railway station, and the opportunities for hiking and cycling might also be substantial, depending on the destination.

What is your attitude towards driving?

We can give you suggestions based on whatever we consider to be a "typical" visitor to Belfast, but ultimately your decision is also going to be influenced by whether or not you ususally prefer to hire a car in the first place.

Should I hire a car in Belfast if I prefer not to drive?

This is especially the case when there is only one main driver in the group, and it's based on the attitude of the driver rather than their passengers! The main driver may also simply prefer to use public transport, or they may prefer to take scenic train journeys where available.

Should we rent a car in Belfast if we are easy either way?

This is more aimed at the typical visitor who isn't that bothered about how they get around, as long as it is the most convenient / best value option.

Should I rent a car in Belfast if I prefer to drive?

For people who usually prefer the freedom and flexibility of having a hire car. Is it still best to rent a car in Belfast, or are there good reasons not to?

The Northern Ireland peace process has brought about a significant rise in the number of tourists visiting Belfast. As with most European cities, the main attractions in Belfast itself are easy to walk to, so what about places to visit beyond the city?

Do you need a car in Belfast? Introduction

When someone asks "Do you need a car in Belfast?", this often breaks down to two key questions:
  1. Can you actually get around using public transport, or is a car all but essential?
  2. Is it worth hiring a car in Belfast? Is it good value for money, compared with non-car options?
Over the next few sections, we wil look at the pros and cons of driving in Belfast as a tourist, and ultimately weigh these up, so we can answer the key question of Should you rent a car in Belfast?
Why? Why not? Ratings Comments

Why should you rent a car in Belfast?

What are the main reasons for hiring a car here? Do you just want to drive locally? Do you want to go further afield, or should you even look at taking a road trip? In terms of factors like the cost of the hire itself, fuel costs, road tolls and parking charges, is it worth hiring a car in Belfast?

Do you need a car in Belfast?

  • Giant’s Causeway — this is surely the most impressive natural feature on the Emerald Isle, and is only a short drive from Belfast.
    However, scheduled (from Belfast, Coleraine or Portrush) or guided bus trips are available, so there is no need to get a hire car just to visit Giant’s Causeway.
  • Inland — the railway routes in Northern Ireland generally stay close to the coast, so to go anywhere inland, especially to visit the various points of interest around Lough Neah, you will need a rental car, or you will have to rely on slow bus services.
  • Blue Stack mountains — head across into Co Donegal for some superb scenery on Ireland’s northwest coast.

Public transport limitations

  • Limited railway lines — look at any major city in England or central Scotland, and you will usually see a network of rail lines fanning out, including local and long-distance services. There are only four railway lines heading out of Belfast. Two of these only provide suburban connections to Larne and Bangor respectively. A regional service operates as far as Derry (Londonderry), whereas the Enterprise service continues down to Dublin Needless to say, you can head out of Belfast in any direction you want in a hire car. This network, branded as Translink, is not just short on routes, frequencies outside the Belfast area are also extremely poor. For example, trains to Derry depart roughly every two hours, considerably less often than might be expected on an equivalent inter-city service elsewhere in the UK.
  • Poor public transport — although Northern Ireland has seen a lot of investment in recent years, little of this has gone on to noticeable public transport infrastructure, although the Translink fleet itself has been upgraded. No new lines have been built, and unlike many comparable cities in central or northern England, there is no form of tram in Belfast. The city remains car dependent, and it has relatively few good routes to explore by bike.

GB Railcard note

  • No railcard discount – if you are visiting Belfast from any other part of the United Kingdom, and you already have a railcard of any kind, then this will not give you any discount on the railways in Northern Ireland, as they are a completely separate network.

Why not? Visiting Belfast without a car

What is public transport like in Belfast? What about local conditions for walking or cycling? Can you rely on public transport and maybe a few taxis for most or all of your trip? Are there some times of year when it's easier to get by without a car than others? When should you rent a car in 2?

  • Coastal trains — what Northern Ireland lacks in quantity is more than made up for in quality. The train hugs the coast in many areas, offering some excellent scenic views, especially between Coleraine and Derry, along Lough Foyle, and south of Newry most of the way to Dublin. My personal favourite is the train journey into Belfast from Larne Harbour.
  • Ramble by bus – you can take “Rambler” buses along designated scenic routes, giving you access to the Mourne Mountains to the south of Belfast, or the Sperrins to the west. A Rambler bus service also operates along the coastline near Giant’s Causeway. Other buses run directly in to scenic areas, such as the Davagh Forest country park.
  • Boat trips – from Ballycastle, you can take a boat to Rathlin Island, with its nature reserve. Further west and into the Republic of Ireland, you could take a boat from Burtonport to Arranmore Island. The outings themselves are car-free, however, although you can reach both ports by bus, it is still easier to get to these places in a hire car.

Beyond Belfast & Northern Ireland

  • Celtic cousins — instead of just visiting Northern Ireland, why not combine a trip to Belfast with a visit to Glasgow or Edinburgh? This is an easy rail trip, with plenty of flights available from throughout Europe at either end if you extend to the Scottish and Irish capitals. The train south of Ayr towards Stranraer is particularly scenic, and you also get to include a short ferry crossing on the Irish Sea. This now needs a bus link from Cairnryan harbour to Stranraer station.
  • Dublin and the Irish Republic. It’s very easy to continue into the Republic of Ireland by train or coach. If you are travelling by public transport, you can then head home from any airport without having to worry about one-way rental fees.
  • One-way car rental from the UK to Ireland is not usually possible.
[ratings2 num=”31″]

Conclusion — Do you need a car in Belfast? Despite some useful bus connections to supplement the handful of railway routes which are on offer, public transport options in and around Belfast are still relatively limited, and the best attractions in the region are landscapes rather than cities.

This makes our verdict lean heavily towards recommending getting a hire car.

Verdict — yes (strong)

Note — it is easy to pick up a hire car at either Belfast International or Belfast George Best city airport. If you don’t plan on getting a hire car, you’re better off flying into Belfast city airport, which is much closer to central Belfast. You can even take a short shuttle bus journey to nearby Sydenham station to start onward rail journeys within Northern Ireland. For getting to the city centre, it is quicker to take a taxi or shuttle bus. Belfast City airport has a wider network of domestic flights from the rest of the UK, whereas Belfast International has more flights from mainland Europe.

Belfast and Northern Ireland  Local transport links:

Would you hire a car in Belfast?

Have you driven in Belfast? Do you agree with our advice on whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Belfast}? Do you need a car in Belfast? For some or all of the time? Tell us what you think using the comments section below:

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