With Bangor granted city status in 2022 as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, there are now a total of six cities in Northern Ireland. Here’s everything you need to know.

As part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations back in 2022, the UK government announced that the Northern Irish town of Bangor – a seaside town on the southern coast of Belfast Lough in County Down – would be granted city status. It was part of a wider celebration of the reign of Britain’s then-Queen, which saw eight towns across the United Kingdom become cities.

Bangor’s elevation from town to city brought the total number of cities in Northern Ireland to six. That number includes Belfast, Londonderry (or Derry), Lisburn, Newry, Armagh and now Bangor. Of the four countries in the UK, Northern Ireland has the least number of cities, with Wales having seven, Scotland eight and England a whopping 55.

In this article, I’ve decided to explain what makes a city and how towns can gain the status for themselves, as I answer the question, ‘How many cities are in Northern Ireland?’.

How many cities are in Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland may have the smallest number of cities of any of the UK’s four constituent nations, but this doesn’t mean those cities aren’t packed with history and heritage. From the capital, Belfast, to Bangor, which was only proclaimed a city in 2022 as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, there are a total of six cities in Northern Ireland.

The six cities in Northern Ireland are as follows:

  1. Belfast
  2. Londonderry (also known as Derry)
  3. Lisburn
  4. Newry
  5. Armagh
  6. Bangor

Here’s a map detailing the locations of Northern Ireland’s six cities:

Read more: How Many Counties in Northern Ireland? Everything You Need to Know.

What is a ‘city’ in Northern Ireland?

In the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, the status of a city is not determined by specific criteria such as population size, economic status or even historical significance, as is common in many other countries. Instead, city status is a symbolic honour granted by the monarch through a charter. This process is known as ‘city status conferment’, and it results in a diverse range of ‘cities’ that vary in geographical size and population.

The path for a town to become a city in Northern Ireland is similar to that in the rest of the UK. It typically involves a competition or a special occasion. For instance, city status might be conferred as part of significant national or royal celebrations. The most recent example of this was the city status granted to several towns across the UK in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022.

Towns applying for city status must submit a bid highlighting their notable attributes, historical significance, community spirit, and other factors that could make them worthy of the title. These bids are then reviewed, and the decision to grant city status is made at the discretion of the monarch, on the advice of government ministers.

This process emphasises the ceremonial and prestigious nature of city status in the UK, rather than basing it on quantifiable metrics. As such, becoming a city in Northern Ireland is a mark of distinction that recognises the unique character and contributions of a town.

Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash.

Read more: How Many Counties in the UK (United Kingdom)?

A quick guide to Northern Ireland’s six cities

From Belfast to Bangor, here’s a quick guide to each of the cities in Northern Ireland:

1. Belfast

Belfast is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland, boasting a dynamic history that’s deeply intertwined with the industrial revolution and the political complexities of Ireland. Originating from a small 17th-century settlement around a ford on the River Lagan, it rapidly expanded in the 19th century, becoming a major port and industrial hub. Renowned for its shipbuilding industry, the city was the birthplace of the RMS Titanic, which you can learn more about at the Titanic Belfast exhibition.

Belfast gained city status in 1888, reflecting its booming linen, tobacco and shipbuilding industries, and resulting in the construction of grand Victorian buildings like the City Hall. The 20th century, however, brought challenges. The city became a focal point during the Northern Ireland conflict, known as ‘The Troubles,’ which significantly impacted its social and economic fabric.

Despite these adversities, Belfast has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years. It has emerged as a vibrant centre of arts, higher education, business and law while maintaining a rich cultural heritage. The city’s resilience and regeneration, blending historical legacy with contemporary innovation, mark it as a significant urban centre in the UK and Ireland.

City Hall in Belfast. Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash.

Read more: How Many Cities in England? Everything You Need to Know.

2. Londonderry (Derry)

Sat on the banks of the River Foyle, Derry is officially known as Londonderry and it’s a city of profound historical and cultural significance, right on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Founded in the 6th century, its rich history is palpable in its well-preserved 17th-century Derry Walls, which are among the finest in Europe. The city was granted its first charter by King James I in 1613, marking the beginning of a complex and often turbulent history.

Throughout the centuries, Derry has been a focal point of several key historical events, most notably the Siege of Derry in 1689, a landmark moment in Irish history. In the 20th century, Derry became a flashpoint for the Northern Ireland conflict, particularly in the events of Bloody Sunday in 1972, which deeply impacted the socio-political landscape across the UK and Ireland.

Despite its challenging past, Derry has evolved since The Troubles ended with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. It was the inaugural UK City of Culture in 2013, and of course, it’s now been made world famous by the hit TV show Derry Girls!

Londonderry/Derry. Photo by Adam Montgomery on Unsplash.

Read more: How Many Cities in Scotland? Everything You Need to Know.

3. Lisburn

Lisburn, located southwest of Belfast in County Antrim, is a city with a history that’s intertwined with the development of the linen industry, marking it as a significant centre for this trade in Northern Ireland. Originally a small village known as Lisnagarvey, the city’s roots can be traced back to the 17th century. Its development was drastically altered by the Irish Rebellion of 1641, which led to the village’s destruction and subsequent rebuilding.

The city experienced a significant transformation during the 18th and 19th centuries, flourishing due to its thriving linen industry. This period saw Lisburn evolve from a small rural settlement into an important industrial town. The legacy of the linen industry is still evident in the city’s architecture and cultural heritage.

Lisburn was granted city status in 2002 as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. This recognition reflected its growth and development over the centuries.

Visit the Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum to learn more about the city. Photo by Peter Clarke.

4. Newry

Newry is strategically positioned between Belfast and Dublin, and consequently, has a storied history dating back to its founding in 1144. Its origins lie in the establishment of a Cistercian abbey, which played a central role in the town’s early development. The town’s location on the River Clanrye, near the border of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, has been pivotal in its growth as a commercial and trading hub.

Throughout its history, Newry has been witness to various significant events, including conflicts and trade developments. In the 18th century, it was one of the most important ports in Ireland, and the Newry Canal, opened in 1742, is regarded as one of the first summit-level canals in the British Isles. Newry was granted city status in 2002, alongside Lisburn, as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Newry Town Hall. Photo by Stefan Schäfer, Lich.

5. Armagh

Armagh is renowned for its ecclesiastical heritage and is often considered the spiritual capital of Ireland. Its history stretches back to ancient times, with its foundation traditionally attributed to Saint Patrick in the 5th century. Saint Patrick established one of his primary churches here, making it a pivotal centre of Christian faith and learning for centuries.

The city’s religious significance is underscored by its two cathedrals, both dedicated to Saint Patrick, one belonging to the Church of Ireland and the other to the Roman Catholic Church. This unique feature underscores Armagh’s historical role as a central point in Irish Christianity.

Armagh’s status as a city was officially recognised in 1994, though its heritage is much, much older, rooted in its religious institutions and historical importance. Today, Armagh is home to a variety of cultural institutions, including the Armagh Observatory & Planetarium.

St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh. Photo by Flying jacket.

Read more: How Many Cities in Wales? Everything You Need to Know.

6. Bangor

Bangor is situated on the coast of Belfast Lough, and its origins date back to the early 6th century with the establishment of Bangor Abbey by Saint Comgall. This abbey became one of the most influential monastic sites in Ireland, known for its scholarship and extensive scriptorium.

Over the centuries, Bangor faced various challenges, including Viking raids. Despite these adversities, it maintained its role as a significant religious site. The town grew steadily, benefiting from its picturesque coastal location and proximity to Belfast. In the modern era, Bangor evolved into a popular seaside resort, especially during the Victorian era, and later, as a residential and commuting town for Belfast.

Bangor was awarded city status in 2022 as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, becoming one of the UK’s newest cities.

Bangor. Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash.

How many cities are there in the United Kingdom?

The United Kingdom comprises England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in total, there are 76 cities distributed across these four constituent countries. Here’s the breakdown:

  • England: Boasts the largest number of cities, with 55. This reflects England’s larger population and more extensive urban development compared to the other countries in the UK.
  • Scotland: Is home to 8 cities. These cities, including Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen, are known for their rich history and cultural contributions to Scottish history.
  • Wales: Has 7 cities. While fewer in number, Welsh cities like Cardiff and Swansea play a crucial role in the cultural and economic landscape of Wales.
  • Northern Ireland: Contains 6 cities, including Belfast and Londonderry (Derry). Each city in Northern Ireland has a unique historical and cultural significance within the Irish context.

This distribution of cities across the UK reflects the diverse geographical, historical, and cultural landscapes of its constituent countries. Each city, regardless of its size, contributes to the rich history of the UK’s urban landscape.

Read more: What is the United Kingdom? Everything You Need to Know.

FAQ: How many cities in Northern Ireland?

Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘How many cities are there in Northern Ireland?’:

Q1. How many cities are there in Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland has six cities in total.

Q2. What are the names of these cities?

The cities in Northern Ireland are Belfast, Londonderry (also known as Derry), Lisburn, Newry, Armagh, and Bangor.

Q3. When did the most recent town in Northern Ireland gain city status?

Bangor was the most recent town in Northern Ireland to be granted city status, which occurred in 2022 as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

Q4. On what basis are cities designated in Northern Ireland?

In Northern Ireland, city status is conferred by the monarch, typically during significant national events or through a competitive process. It is a ceremonial designation rather than based on specific criteria such as population size.

Q5. Which is the capital city of Northern Ireland?

Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland. It is also the largest city in terms of population and economic activity.

Q6. Does Northern Ireland have more towns or cities?

Northern Ireland has a larger number of towns compared to its six cities. Towns and cities differ mainly in status and historical significance rather than size or population.

Q7. Can towns in Northern Ireland become cities?

Yes, towns in Northern Ireland can become cities if they are granted city status by the monarch, usually following a special application and review process.

Q8. Are there plans to grant city status to more towns in Northern Ireland?

Plans to grant city status to additional towns in Northern Ireland would typically be announced by the UK government or the monarchy.