Saunders 1865 | Moving to Belfast

Moving to Belfast

Are you moving to Belfast? Belfast is a bustling, vibrant city that has risen above its former troubles to become a friendly and safe place to live in Northern Ireland.  It is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland and is the UK’s fastest growing economy.  Located in a valley surrounded by picturesque hills, it has a festive city centre, with the quieter areas on the outskirts and in the suburbs, offering a more peaceful, family-oriented way of life.

Our free, in-depth Moving to Belfast report includes info on:

• The best areas to live
• The good schools
• The average monthly rental prices
• The excellent public transport system in the city

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Putting Belfast on the Map

Belfast is situated in the counties of Antrim and Down, in the province of Antrim, Northern Island.  It was established as a city in 1888, and as the capital in 1921, when Northern Ireland was divided from the country of Ireland.  During the troubles from 1971 – 1991 the city lost around one-third of its population.  The ferry port has a number of routes to Douglas, Liverpool and Cairn Ryan, and connects the country with the Isle of Man, England and Scotland.  Famous residents include the footballer, George Best, who the regional airport was named after.  Transport links are good, as would be expected.

  • Strangely, the pink-hued bus service is called the Metro, which starts in the city centre and covers 12 high-frequency corridors. Ulsterbus operates outside of Belfast.
  • Belfast International Airport is 17 miles north of the city centre, which takes around 30 minutes by car on the M2. There is also a regular airport express service run by Ulsterbus, which also takes half an hour.
  • George Best Belfast City Airport is a single-runway regional airport, located just 3 miles from the city.
  • Car hire is available at the airports and is the recommended form of transport for those wishing to travel within the city. The desks are open for all inbound flights.
  • The ferry service runs to Dublin, England, the Isle of Man and Scotland.
  • Roads are congested during rush hours, but the process of upgrading the public transport system is ongoing.
The Areas

Belfast is the cheapest UK city in which to live and work and was voted the Happiest Place to Live in 2015.  Whether you stay in the city centre or the suburbs, in a 2-bedroomed apartment or terrace house, it boils down to whether you want peace and quiet, or busy and vibey.

Belfast’s commercial core is Bedford Street, and Dublin Road is lined with takeaways and lively pubs.  Botanic Avenue is quieter, but with its fair share of cafes, restaurants and smaller shops.  “Belfast’s Bond Street,” or Lisburn Road combines trendy bars and restaurants with eclectic boutiques.  This is the more affluent area, usually called BT9, which is its postal code.  The city is making an effort to restore the Victorian and Edwardian buildings that give the city its character.

The smallest house in Belfast, measuring ten feet across, is on Great Victoria Street.  It once housed the sexton of the Baptist Church.  It is no long occupied.


Holywood pronounced Hollywood, with its fantastic array of eateries and cafés, enjoys a family-centred village culture. Located 5 miles from the city centre, traffic can be hectic but public transport should be quicker.  There is a direct train to Botanic Station, close to Queens.  It is also a business centre, concentrating on communication companies, advertising agencies and the creative arts.  Smaller independent boutiques abound, and the residents tend to shop locally, supporting small-town businesses.

Cultra, which means behind the beach, has one of the most beautiful coastal paths in Ireland.  Stretching from Belfast to Bangor, walkers, runners and cyclists take advantage of it to the fullest, without having to cross the main road, as they pass huge mansions.  Cultra has been voted 14th in the most perfect places to live in the UK, with Rory McIlroy’s home golf club nearby and the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club just on the coast.  And it’s all reflected in the property prices, appealing to young and old lovers of the outdoors, with a bit of money to boot.  Cultra is a bit further out from the city than Holywood, around 7 miles.  There is also a direct train from here to Botanic Station.


10 miles from the city and 20 minutes by car outside of rush hour on the M1, the city of Lisburn also has a direct train from Lisburn Station to Botanic Station, and the express trains take 10 – 15 minutes to reach the Great Victoria Street Station in Belfast.  This district is one of main shopping areas in Northern Ireland.  The Bow Street Mall, a pedestrian area, houses in excess of 70 stores, along with a food court and other restaurants and high street shops.  Sprucefield Shopping Centre and Retail Park are 2 minutes from the town centre is popular as far afield as Dublin, due to its location on the Belfast-Dublin corridor.  More affordable than Cultra, most of Lisburn is in the same price league as Belfast and Holywood.  The most affluent areas are between Belsize Road and Moss Road.


Named as one of the best places to live in the UK with great schools and the best of city life, Cavehill, to the north of the city, has a unique geographical feature called Napoleon’s Nose, which inspired the writing of Gulliver’s Travels.  The town has Cave Hill on one side and views over Belfast Lough on the other.  Proximity to Belfast Castle and the park, the caves, the eco trails, playgrounds, wildlife, archaeological sites, and Belfast Zoo ensure that families always have plenty to do.  There are not too many city addresses that have a mountain at the end of the street.  Cavehill has a great community feel with friendly shop-owners who actually know their customers by name.


Fringing the shores of Belfast Lough, Bangor was a popular beach resort in Victorian times.  With its marina, rocky beaches, marine gardens, and quays and wharfs, rows and rows of Victorian houses running down the hilly streets, the ancient abbey and a castle with a walled garden, this suburb is very popular with expats.  The 13 miles from Belfast takes around 30 minutes by car on the A2, the train trip to Belfast Central stops at 10 stations and takes approximately 40 minutes.  The further away from the sea the less expensive the accommodation.  There are great Protestant and Catholic schools and one integrated college.  The nearby villages of Donaghadee, Grey Abbey or Portaferry are also popular with expats and benefit from the railway station in Bangor.


Located 15 miles from Belfast, Ballyhackamore is a great village for expats.  With a vibrant nightlife, plenty of rental accommodation, from apartments to terrace houses, there are also a number of businesses and offices.  Small village shops border Marks and Spencer and Tesco’s. A variety of award-winning restaurants – from Asian and Mexican to Indian, coupled with great pubs and bars make up the nightlife.  Ballyhackamore is now the ‘happening’ place in the Belfast area.

There are three local bus services which take approximately 40 minutes to get to the city and the closest railway station is in Bangor.

Who Lives and Works in Belfast?

Belfast has an estimated population of 306,284.  The unemployment rate has decreased substantially since the end of the troubled period.  It now stands at around 6%, from a high of 17%.

Belfast’s major industry is traditionally concentrated in tourism, rope manufacturing, textiles and shipbuilding.  Between 1911 and 1912, the biggest shipyard worldwide was Harland and Wolff, when it assembled the doomed RMS Titanic.  Most heavy industry has now been replaced by services.

However, Belfast is in the top 5 of UK places with successful digital technology companies employing around 32,000 people in the area.  The Northern Ireland Science Park is a hub for IT and digital start-ups, helping establishing Belfast as a centre of excellence and making Northern Ireland a software powerhouse.

The top companies in Belfast include Tesco, ASDA, Royal Mail Group, Caterpillar Corp and J. Sainsbury, Bombardier Aerospace and Translink.

The Best Bits

This newly safe city offers very affordable living costs, good public transport, and is rated as a happy place to live.  Other highlights include:

Belfast has a great music and arts scene, including the Ulster Orchestra, Ulster Hall, the fascinating Grand Opera House, and a number of theatres.

The nightlife in the City Centre, with a host of clubs, pubs and trendy bars.

The airports are close and link to the rest of the Ireland, the UK and Europe.

The Titanic Quarter, including the Titanic Belfast.  This museum, resembling a ship’s hull, along with the Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices and the Titanic Slipways, now hosts open-air concerts.

The Botanic Gardens, south of the city, dates back to 1828, spread over 28 hectares and feature an elegant conservatory and tropical species of plants.

Cave Hill, or Cavehill, is a haven for walkers, cavers, climbers, and is ideal for a getaway from the city.  It forms part of the south-eastern border of the Antrim Plateau.

Belfast Castle, perched on a hilltop with great views, was built in 1870.  Set in a country park with an adventure playground, antique shops, visitor centre and a restaurant.

Belfast Zoo, with 150 species, most of which are endangered.  There is walk-through rainforest house and it is active in wildlife conservation and breeding in captivity.

Bringing the Kids

Belfast has a host of family-friendly suburbs, all with good schools.

  • There are seven universities, all offering tuition in English
  • The 141 state schools include primary and secondary education.
  • All children between 4 and 16 years of age are entitled to a free place in a school.
  • There are some Voluntary Maintained schools, mostly Catholic.
  • Independent or private schools are not fee-free.
  • There is one International School in the city.

Errol Flynn attended the Royal Belfast Academical Institution in 1921, and his father taught at Queen’s.

Relocating to Belfast

Although still adjusting from its past poor reputation, Belfast is a safe city, with lovely suburbs and green areas.  Renowned for its high educational standards, all the schools rate highly in comparison to other cities in the UK.  The growing economy, with strengths in IT, industrial and tourism, make Belfast a great place for expats to live and work.  There are vast choices of cities, towns and villages to live in, in Victorian terraced houses, apartments, or villas.  The cost of living is relatively low and public transport is adequate.  Moving your family to Northern Ireland may seem daunting, but the help of an experienced expert in relocation will help smooth the way when choosing areas to live in that are close to work and good schools.


Good Schools
Great Transport
Average Monthly Rent - Belfast
Apartment 1 bedroom in city centre £621
Apartment 1 bedroom outside of centre £441
Apartment 3 bedrooms in city centre £963
Apartment 3 bedrooms outside of centre £646
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