Ulster Museum - the gem of Belfast

The Ulster Museum is the foremost of Belfast museums and a pleasant surprise. Not to be confused with the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, it is located near the city centre and runs you through the history of Northern Ireland from different angles.

The Ulster Museum was closed in 2006 for three years for a £17 million refurbishment program. It was opened again on October 22, 2009, the day it celebrated 80 years of history. The museum has 10 major permanent collections and in addition periodic exhibitions on different history and art topics. We can divide the collections into four major sections.

Archaeology/History/World Cultures

Starting with the section on the archaeology and history of Northern Ireland, we were wondering what they would have on display. But we were pleasantly surprised. Ulster Museum holds numerous artifacts, models and reconstructions starting with the stone age all the way to Medieval Ireland and the Norman conquest. You will learn about pre-Celtic populations as well as the Celts who left their deep imprint in the history of the island all the way to this day. In the Early Medieval collection you can see exhibits from the era of Saint Patrick and early Celtic Christianity including the earliest piece of ecclesiastic metalwork. There is much information from the time of the Viking raids including metalwork from a church establishment in Armagh which was broken up in one of the Viking raids. Part of the Archaeology collection deals with the coming of the Normans, and the struggle between the Normans and Irish as well as the onslaught of the Black Death which decimated the island.

A totally different experience in terms of feel and information is provided by the World Cultures collections which has exhibits ranging from ancient Egypt to modern African art and covering a wide spectrum of time and geography in between. Pride of place, in our view, goes to two exhibits/collections. The first is the mummy of a lady called Takabuti from ancient Egypt, dating from about 700 BC. It was purchased in 1835 and forms possibly the best known item in the museum. The second is the Armada Collection. After its defeat in AD 1588, the remaining ships of the Spanish sailed north along the east coast of England, rounded Scotland and then sailed past the north and west side of Ireland on their way back to Spain. In the process many ships were lost due to bad weather, the most famous being the Girona which sunk on the rocky coast off Lacada Point. The artifacts on display from the Girona and other ships are both spectacular and a reminder of this sad event in Irish history. In the History Collection you will see exhibits from more recent times.


History and Archaeology aside, Ulster Museum has important collections on the geology, the plants and animals of Northern Ireland. The zoology collection alone contains over 350,000 specimens collected and recorded meticulously over the past two hundred years. In the plant section which has over 100,000 plants on display the oldest of which dates from AD 1798, you can learn about the time when the island was covered in forest and other wonderful facts and information.

The Art Collections

The Art Collections are divided into the Applied Arts, e.g. decorative art, glasswork, ceramics; and Fine Art which consists primarily of paintings from many famous painters from different parts of Europe from the 16th century onwards, and also some sculptures. There is also a well supplied Picture Library that is used by companies and individuals from around the world to obtain quality pictures for quality productions.


Finally, there is CEDaR, the Centre for Enviromental Data and Recording, who helps to collect, collate, manage and disseminate information on the biodiversity and geodiversity of Northern Ireland and its coastal waters.

Plan Your Visit Well

The Ulster Museum is in the heart of Belfast and easily accessible. Entrance is FREE. If you are a tourist on a visit, it is preferable to visit the Museum as early in your tour as possible. Why? It has such a wealth of information on the life and history of Northern Ireland that it will give a good overall framework so that when you visit places of interest of natural beauty in other places you will have points of reference to relate them. It will give you the whole picture of the puzzle, so to speak, and then you can add the individual pieces when you visit other places. Depending on your interest in history and nature you can decide how much time you want to spend. This can range from two hours to the better part of a whole day. If you are a local, you obviously have more opportunities to visit and can do so on a more leisurely pace.

Because it is situated in the heart of the city it is preferable to choose a time to visit so as not to coincide with rush hour, especially for those coming from outside Belfast. Though rush hour is not as bad as other major cities in Britain, it is still best to avoid it. Parking can be a challenge but if you are patient you should be rewarded. In every one of our visits we were able to legally park free on the roadside within five minutes walk from the museum. Once you have parked you can tour not only the museum, but also the serene and popular Botanic Gardens on the grounds of which the museum is built. Very close is also Queen's University Belfast with a nmber of buildings of historical and architectural interest.

Further Information

Above we have given some information on visiting Ulster Museum and on the permanent collections. If you want the most up to date information on opening hours and also on the temporary collection on display and the special events visit the official museum website by clicking here. Enjoy your visit!

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