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The basics
THE UK: Destination Guides

The ultimate student guide to Belfast

Belfast builds on hundreds of years of history, fusing it with creative energy and a nightlife scene that rivals Dublin’s – but with fewer crowds and a lower cost.

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Belfast is Northern Ireland’s capital city, with a population of over 600,000. Though it has always been a prominent hub for industry and trade in the past, today the city has transformed into one of the UK’s leading student cities known for its buzzing nightlife, great universities, and low cost of living.


Known as the city where the Titanic was built, Belfast has a long history of ups and downs over the years which visitors can explore through the city’s many excellent museums and galleries. The city’s position at the meeting point of British and Irish culture results in a creative, energetic community spirit. This is reflected across many parts of the city. Street art, theatres, community events, and live music are found all year round across Belfast. 


Surrounded by rich farmland and even richer oceans, Belfast is great for those who love food. It’s a centre for traditional Irish food and innovative cooking, bringing together the best of the old and new in exciting ways.


From castles and coastlines used in famous TV shows like Game of Thrones, to hidden valleys and picturesque rural villages, Belfast is surrounded by some of the island’s most breath-taking landscapes.


Belfast has a reputation across the UK as a first-rate student city. Several internationally ranked universities allow you to get a life-changing qualification, while the surrounding city serves up an endless array of bars, pubs, and clubs to enjoy during your time off.


What is Belfast like?


Location and demographics

Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland and is located on the northeast coast of the Irish landmass. It’s found where the River Lagan meets the sea, in a natural inlet called the Belfast Lough that has allowed it to thrive as a harbour city.


Belfast is a cosmopolitan city that has long been home to a diverse range of ethnic groups. There are significant communities of Irish Travellers, as well as Chinese and Eastern European communities. It attracts thousands of international students and new overseas residents each year.


Find out how you can apply to study in the UK


Culture and history 

The area in which Belfast now stands has been inhabited since the Stone Age, and you can today find remains of Iron Age settlements near the centre of the city. It was a holding of the English for much of the medieval age and expanded massively in the 17th century as a centre for linen production and international trade. 


In the 20th century, as the British Empire ended, Northern Ireland became a nation within the United Kingdom. Despite significant unrest and military involvement by the British in the latter 20th century, today Belfast is a very safe, cosmopolitan, and welcoming city. 


Explore the differences between university culture in the USA and the UK


What universities are in Belfast?


A variety of international universities based in Belfast. Several of these institutions place in the top one per cent worldwide, offering students an excellent choice of institutions to select in Northern Ireland. 


Queen’s University Belfast is a Russell Group member, a prestigious group of the top universities in the UK. It was ranked 233rd worldwide according to QS World University Rankings 2023 and builds on over 175 years of educational tradition. It’s the 9th oldest university in the UK and has one of its biggest campuses, equipped with modern facilities and delivering world-class research.


Ulster University is the other major university in the city. It places in the top 700 universities globally according to QS 2023. You’ll be able to choose from over 400 courses across both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. With a student population of over 25,000 and a strong investment in its Belfast City campus, Ulster continues to hold its place as one of the best choices for students in Northern Ireland. 


You’ll also find St. Mary’s University College Belfast here, a catholic higher education college that offers excellent professionalvocational and university pathway courses in partnership with Queen’s University.


Discover more universities in the UK.


What does Belfast offer students?


What transport is there? 

Belfast is an elegant, compact city that is a pleasure to travel around. Many of the city’s main attractions and university campuses are within easy walking or cycling distance, so you can get straight into city life after class. A modern, efficient bus network operates around the city, and trains that connect you with the rest of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.


What does the UK offer international students?


What about entertainment and food?

As a student in Belfast, you’ll benefit from being at the heart of a fast-moving food scene that shows no sign of slowing down. Cultures and cuisines from all over the world meet here, along with traditional and hearty Northern Irish fare like soda bread, Irish stew, potato cakes and more.


Belfast is also a really fun city to live in, packed with edgy bars serving craft ales and cocktails, cosy pubs offering classic Irish stouts and whiskeys, and a buzzing art scene that thrives at the midpoint of British and Irish culture.


Read more about the five things you must try in the UK


Is there accommodation?

Belfast is the second-largest city on the island of Ireland and an increasingly popular student destination. As a result, it provides international visitors with a great choice of accommodation types to suit their budget and lifestyle. You can select from university halls, which are on or close to campus, as well as a range of rented properties spread across the city’s atmospheric neighbourhoods and bustling city centre.


What about public services for students?

You’ll be able to access a range of support services through your university during your studies. These institutions are supported by the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), which advises and represents your rights and interests as an international learner.


Review some of the scholarships that can help your UK study journey. 


How much does it cost to live in Belfast?


The general cost of the city

Belfast is known across the UK as one of its most affordable cities. You’ll be able to get far more for your money in Belfast than in other cities like Manchester or London, and it’s also much cheaper than Dublin to the south. It’s no surprise why students love living in Belfast!


Discover how much it costs to live and study in the UK.


Student budget

As a single international student living in Belfast, you might expect to budget somewhere between GBP 100 and GBP 250 per week. This includes rent, utilities, food, transportation, and other living costs. Your budget will vary depending on your living arrangements, lifestyle, activities, and where in Belfast you decide to live.


Find out more about the cost of tuition fees in the UK


Financial requirements

The British government asks that international students demonstrate that they provide evidence of access to at least GBP 1,023 per calendar month during their studies. That’s GBP 9,207 per academic year (nine months). If you’ve already been in the UK for 12 months with a valid visa when you apply, you won’t need to do this.


Compare and contrast universities in the UK using the Complete University Guide League Tables 2023.


What are the main attractions in Belfast?


There are tons of great things to see and do during your downtime in Belfast, as this previously industrial town has transformed into a vibrant, cosmopolitan playground.


The most popular attraction in the city is, of course, the Titanic Belfast, an impressive museum of the world-famous ship housed in a modern architectural shell on the spot where it was built. This immersive historical experience allows you to explore the shipyard where the Titanic was created and meet its unfortunate passengers.


The rest of the city is stuffed with history and heritage, ranging from the early 20th-century city hall to the Crown Liquor Saloon – an authentic Victorian bar run by the National Trust and offers a window back in time for locals and visitors alike.


Belfast is known for its excellent nightlife, and you’ll find plenty of it in areas like the Cathedral Quarter. Live music spills out onto the street, where you’re just as likely to hear traditional Irish folk as jazz jams or rock bands.


Out of the city, the whole of Northern Ireland and beyond is yours to explore. On a break from your studies, you could find yourself in the Glens of Antrim with valleys and woodlands straight from a fairy tale. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, Giant’s Causeway, is also nearby and offers insights into Ireland’s geological history and most famous legends.


Belfast is a city known for its friendliness and strength, having overcome many difficulties in its past to become an incredibly safe, fun city that’s home to several prestigious universities. With a low cost of living, it’s clear why students from around the world choose Belfast. Remember to investigate how to apply for a student visa in the UK and use our course matcher to find your perfect study path. 

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