Stormont is one of those overlooked tourist gems in Belfast, seen more as a quick photo-op from the open-top hop-on/hop-off bus tours. But I would forever recommend hopping off that bus as there really is more to Stormont, and the surrounding grounds of Stormont Estate to make it well worthwhile. And the same goes for locals, as the grounds have always been thought to be a bit out-of-bounds with the political situation. But, since the politicians refused to return, they have been working hard to make Stormont Estate and Parliament Building into a tourist attraction. And there’s something for everyone, including adventure trails of Stormont Park, free daily tours of Parliament Buildings, and, the real gem, frugal fine dining at the Stormont Restaurant (Member’s Dining Room). Enough to make a day of it. Opening Times: 07:30AM – 20:00PM.
Stormont Park has always been one of the best recreational parks in Northern Ireland, but again it was overlooked by many who thought it was exclusive to those working in the buildings. So the estate has been making Stormont Park more tourist-friendly, and the Stormont Trails make a great wee addition with treasure hunts, of sorts, where you find clues through different walking trails in the woodlands of Stormont estate (in fact it’s the 1st I’ve been impressed by any tourist initiatives in Northern Ireland). There are three themes for this: History, Woodland, and Environmental trails. And free adventure guidebooks are found as well at the main entrance, (something that would probably be vandalised in any other park in Northern Ireland in minutes). Otherwise it’s just a really nice park, and there’s a free, weekly Stormont Park run to join if interested.
So the main building at Stormont is Parliament Buildings, a place I actually worked in for 4 years, mixing it with the big wigs. And I remember once speaking gibberish to Gerry Adams (the bearded bloke) in the lifts where he told me “Good Luck, Good Craic” when I got out at my floor. And to share a story from the opposite side, I once sat at Dawn Purvis’ table in the Stormont canteen when she said she was going to name me “Two Dinners” because I had 2 big plates of food on my tray. A bit like a scene from Goodfellas (in my head). But politics otherwise go on in the background, as the buildings are open to the public through the week, with free tours twice daily, and, when the Assembly do sit, you can watch from the “Public Gallery”. Don’t expect them to be exciting.
Parliament Buildings is open to the public through the weekdays/working days, with two daily tours which you can pretty much just turn up and join along. There will be security to pass on the way but it’s really quite casual otherwise. At the same time, visits are more of a niche local interest, and do not see further than the Great Hall unless on the tours which add in the two main halls (Assembly Chamber and the Senate Chamber) with lots of interesting tidbits (I won’t spoil them for you). But it is always best to double check to ensure visits are open, as there’s always a bit of unpredictability with the political situation at Stormont (up-to-date info on the Parliament Buildings Website). Opening Hours: Monday – Friday 09.00AM to 16.00PM. Tour Times: 11:00AM and 14:00PM
The Member’s Dining Room
The Stormont Restaurant (known officially as The Member’s Dining Room) is a proper hidden gem when it comes to restaurants in Northern Ireland, simply because it is subsidized by taxpayers money. Meaning, you’re pretty paying less than what the dining experience costs to begin with (£18.40 for 3 courses). And the restaurant was once exclusive to the Member’s of the Legislative Assembly (Northern Ireland’s Parliament) only now it has been opened to the public for a unique glimpse into the live’s of Northern Ireland’s politicians (they’re not that exciting). But the experience is still relatively prestigious, with fine dining service, and silver cloches, where at the same time it is casual in dress code now, and prices suit everyone. You can also check the menu beforehand on the Stormont website (here) and printouts are found in the downstairs hall during tours. Our full restaurant review here. Opening Times: Monday – Friday 12.00PM – 14:00PM or for Afternoon Tea between 14:00PM – 15:30PM. Reservations: 02890 521 041).
Stormont Estate is very much open to the public, at the same time, there is a fair bit of security around the grounds that may be intimidating to some. There are security gates at each entrance, for example, as well as further security scans and checks when entering Parliament Buildings. So you’ll have to empty your pockets and whatnot before entering the buildings. But these are little more than security checks, as the public are more than welcome on the estate, and are encouraged to do so these days. Otherwise onsite workers will be twiddling their thumbs. Anyway, there is plenty to explore on the Stormont Estate, and it’s a bit like a political theme park with all sorts of monuments and statues; including a statue of Edward Carson bowling down Prince of Wales Avenue, the Burial grounds of James Craig (1st Viscount Craigavon), Stormont Gardens, and Mo Mowlam’s Children’s Park for the kids.
There are other buildings on Stormont Estate, mostly just civil service blocks as well as Stormont Castle which sounds more exciting than it is. And while the Castle itself is impressive enough, it is very unlikely any tourist will be allowed near it, given it is the main offices of the big wigs of Northern Ireland politics (Northern Ireland Office/Secretary of State etc). And this is where the Executive will go for the more important committee meetings (e.g. the Good Friday Agreement was concluded in Stormont Castle. But I did try to take a quick look on my last visit, only to be questioned by security at the gate, and then turned back around again. However, I have been before, mostly in passing, and for drop-offs in the front car park. And really there is not much of interest anyway. It’s really just a bunch of civil service offices in a nice building.
How to Get to Stormont?
There are 3 entrances to the Stormont Estate, one at Massey Avenue, which is a handy side entrance I would use when arriving from Bangor. Then there is an entrance through the civil service buildings at Dundonald House. Otherwise the main entrance for tourists and visitors is on the Upper Newtownards Road when travelling from Belfast towards Dundonald. From here Stormont is easy to spot on the left, with a small parking area out from at the entrance gates, next to the Gatehouse, Stormont Trails, Parks and Woodlands. It is the most convenient parking area, but spaces are not always guaranteed, so the main Stormont car parks are otherwise next to the main Parliament, and directions will be given at the security gate. Stormont is also easy-ish to reach by bus (G1 on the Belfast Glider) where there’s a stop right next to the gatehouse parking. Address: Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, BT4 3XX