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Belfast

Europe > United Kingdom > Belfast

See: Why rent a car in Belfast ? | Why not? | Ratings | Summary | Comments

(All of these pages will look a lot nicer when they are tidied up later in the spring)

Your key questions for any destination:

Do I need a car in Belfast?

Strictly speaking, there are very few travel destinations anywhere in the world where it's absolutely essential to rent a car in order to see the main points of interest.

That's why we give you loads of ratings scales from 1 to 10, rather than just yes or no answers!

  • The need question is generally answered by looking at public transport (transit) options. Is it good enough for visitors who are happy to consider using it?
  • How many public transport routes are there, and are they mainly rail or road (bus) based?
  • Is public transport fast, frequent, safe, reliable and cheap?
  • Does public transport actually take you to the places you'll probably want to see?

Is it worth hiring a car in Belfast?

This question is usually more about value for money. For this, we look at Belfast car hire options, and consider how rental costs compare with using transit.

How far are you likely to drive anyway, and how much might you expect to spend on fuel, road tolls, parking and any other charges. We compare Belfast with other destinations locally and around the world.

This is obviously much more of an issue if you are planning a longer road trip than it is on a small island.

Should I rent a car in Belfast? 

This is basically a merging of the two questions. Everything else might be about giving certain facts about the costs of car rental or using public transport in Belfast, but answering this question is very much a matter of opinion.

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?

Please note that Carornocar.com is currently being revised and updated in preparation for the Summer 2022 (northern hemisphere) tourist season. 

We do not intent to include detailed covid information, nor do we intend to suggest hiring a car, just because public transport might still have a mask requirement. Our advice will be based on the same criteria we've always used, ie whether or not you can get a better travel experience, or at least a better value one, by choosing not to hire a car.

Quick Ratings

Price band

Belfast is in car rental price band: 2/10 (1 = cheapest car rental location)

General comment - based on price alone, is it worth renting a car in Belfast? 

Yes. Very cheap car rental by global standards.

Volatility:

Can you expect big swings in car rental prices in Belfast between the peak and the off peak season?

5/10 (0 = stable prices)

Driving score: 5/10

Non car score:2/10

Balance: 8

(0 = car hire not advised / 10 = rental car essential)

General comment -

 

Why? Visiting Belfast using a hire car

Why do you need 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

Why don't you need a car in Belfast ?


  • 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.

Ratings: How does Belfast compare?

Is it worth hiring a car in Belfast? TBC

This is based on a rough consideration of the costs of renting a car in Belfast, and how this compares with the costs of using public transport. The answer to this varies hugely from one destination to the next, based on a wide range of factors. It's based on renting a car at the airport (TBC), and driving for an average of 2-3 hours on open roads on most days.

How does this compare if:

You are travelling:

Solo / As couple / small family / larger family / senior couple etc

Does car rental make sense on different budgets?

 

 

Do you need to hire a car in Belfast? TBC

This is based strictly on whether or no we think it's possible to visit Belfast (and the surrounding area) without using a car. Of the three key questions, this one is the most likely to be a "no".

Should you rent a car in Belfast? TBC

This is a balance of all factors. Remember this is an answer to the question for people who are already asking it. That's why the answer might still be a "yes", even when public transport is good. 

See global comparisons

Hiring | Driving | Parking

Trains | Buses | Local travel

 

Car hire basics:

 

Public transportation basics:

 

Regular bus services: YES

Coach (inter-city): YES

Tram: NO

Metro: NO

Commuter Rail:

High Speed Rail:

Rail type (end stub / through / junction / hub):

 

As you start ....

Does Belfast airport have a direct rail link?

(Yes - within terminal / adjacent / short walk) (Yes - bus transfer / other) No

 

 

 

 


Changelog

Has our advice for Belfast car rental changed over time, or has it been pretty constant?

2017 - 6

2019 - 7

2021 - 8

Average score - 7

Notes:

 

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.

Summary

Do you or don't you need a car in Belfast ?

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