What are the best venues for live folk music in Belfast?

When you step foot into the vibrant city of Belfast, your senses are immediately awakened by the inviting rhythm of life that pulses through its streets. The city, one of Ireland’s gems, is renowned for its rich cultural heritage, particularly its intimate connection with music. If you're looking to immerse yourselves in the local way of life, there’s no better way than to find your way to some of the city’s best live music venues. In this article, we have carefully curated a guide to the finest spots in Belfast where the warm, soulful strains of traditional Irish music fill the air.

The Sunflower Public House

First up on the list is the renowned Sunflower Public House, a place that effortlessly encapsulates the spirit of Belfast. Located in the city centre, just a short distance from the Great Victoria Street station, it's easy to find with the postcode BT13 2JF. This is more than just a pub, it's a cultural hub where you can experience the heart and soul of traditional Irish music.

The venue is famous for its live music sessions, particularly the traditional Irish sessions that take place every Tuesday evening. With a history that dates back to 1890, you are certain to witness a slice of Belfast’s vibrant music heritage each time you step inside.

The Dirty Onion

The Dirty Onion is another prime venue showcasing the best of Belfast's live traditional music. Tucked away in the city's oldest building in the historic Cathedral Quarter, this bar is easy to find with the postcode BT1 2LA. The venue boasts an expansive outdoor area and a warm, rustic interior that provides the perfect backdrop for a night of captivating Irish tunes.

Here, you can catch live music seven nights a week, ranging from bluegrass to acoustic sessions. But if it's traditional Irish music you're after, make sure you head down on a Monday night when the bar hosts its well-loved traditional Irish music sessions.

McHugh's Bar

Nestled in the heart of the city at Queen's Square with the postcode BT1 3FG lies McHugh's Bar, another must-visit destination for fans of live traditional music. Established in 1711, McHugh's offers visitors a chance to step back in time and experience the authentic flavour of old Belfast.

The bar's Basement venue is where the magic happens. Here, every Saturday and Sunday, local musicians gather to play traditional Irish music, filling the bar with irresistible, toe-tapping melodies that leave visitors yearning for more.

Maddens Bar

If you're searching for an authentic, off-the-beaten-path experience, then Maddens Bar is the place for you. This traditional music bar, hidden away in the side streets of the city centre, might be harder to find, but it's well worth the effort. You'll want to use your phone or GPS to help, put in the postcode BT12 5JJ.

Known for its intimate atmosphere, Maddens is a favourite among locals. Authentic Irish music sessions are held in the back room, offering a cozy and immersive experience. Not only can you enjoy great tunes, but you can also participate; Maddens fosters a welcoming space for musicians of all levels.

The John Hewitt

Last but certainly not least is The John Hewitt. Located in the bustling Donegall Street area of the city centre, you can locate it easily with the postcode BT1 2FJ. The pub is named after the renowned poet and socialist John Hewitt, indicating its firm roots in Belfast's cultural and intellectual life.

Live music is a staple at The John Hewitt, with sessions scheduled six days a week. The lunchtime traditional sessions on Fridays and Saturdays are particularly popular, featuring a rotating lineup of local and touring musicians. This, coupled with a welcoming ambience, makes this pub a favourite haunt for music lovers.

These venues, each unique in their own ways, offer a glimpse into Belfast’s thriving music scene. They are the places where the city's heartbeat is most palpable, resounding through the lively rhythms of traditional Irish music. So next time you are planning to travel to Belfast, or if you already find yourself in this great city, turn off your phone, step into one of these bars, and let the music guide your Irish experience.

Duke of York

Another venue that deserves a place in your itinerary is the Duke of York. Nestled in the historic Cathedral Quarter, a stone's throw away from the city centre, it can be located with the postcode BT1 5AA. This popular watering hole is a treasure trove of a bygone era, its walls adorned with antiques and memorabilia that echo Belfast’s colourful past.

The Duke of York offers a vibrant mix of live music, attracting audiences from far and wide. On Thursday evenings, the venue hosts traditional Irish music sessions that are a real crowd-pleaser. The lively atmosphere, coupled with the establishment's historic charm and a wide selection of Irish whiskeys, make it an ideal spot for a night out in Belfast.

Notably, the Duke of York is also known for fostering local talent. The venue has been instrumental in the growth of Belfast's live music scene, providing a platform for local musicians to showcase their talent and share their passion for traditional Irish music. So, whether you're in it for the music, the history, or the sheer joy of experiencing Irish hospitality at its finest, the Duke of York ticks all the boxes.

Deer's Head

The Deer's Head holds the distinction of being Belfast's oldest pub, established in 1715. Situated in the heart of the city in Lower Garfield Street, you can easily find it with the phone address BT1 1FP. This historic pub offers an authentic taste of Northern Ireland's music heritage.

Friday and Saturday nights at the Deer's Head pulsate with the beats of live traditional music, making it the perfect spot to wind down your week. The venue also hosts an open mic night every Thursday, providing a platform for upcoming artists to perform in front of a welcoming crowd.

The Deer's Head is not only a music venue but also a gathering place for the locals. With its traditional décor, friendly staff and enticing menu of local dishes and beverages, it's easy to feel at home in this iconic pub. The Deer's Head is more than just a music venue; it's a symbol of Belfast's strong tradition of music and community spirit.


The live traditional music scene in Belfast is rich and diverse, offering a myriad of experiences for the discerning music lover. From the historic charm of McHugh's Bar and the Deer's Head to the bustling rhythms of the Duke of York and the Dirty Onion, these venues encapsulate the city's love affair with music.

These venues embody the heart of Belfast city, creating spaces where stories are shared, friendships are formed, and music is celebrated. The lively tunes of Irish music, the warm locals, and the inviting atmosphere of these venues make each visit a memorable experience.

Whether you're a local or a tourist looking to immerse yourself in the city's vibrant music scene, there's no shortage of venues to choose from. So the next time you're planning a trip to Northern Ireland, or are simply looking for a night out in town, remember these names: Sunflower Public House, the Dirty Onion, McHugh's Bar, Maddens Bar, the John Hewitt, the Duke of York, and the Deer's Head. Let these be your guides to the enchanting world of live music in Belfast.

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