So, I had a sudden urge to update this outdated travel blog again and where better to start than Belfast, an up-and-coming, bustling city with a fascinating history.
I can’t quite put my finger on it but there’s something about the city of Belfast that I’ve got a weak spot for. Maybe it’s the buzzing atmosphere as you roam through the streets. Maybe it’s the immense sense of deep-rooted history you feel as you stroll through some of the city’s well-known areas of former turmoil. Or maybe it’s the warm and welcoming people that greet you in shops and cafés. Whatever it is, Belfast has something. Something worth blogging about…
No trip to Belfast would be complete without stopping at the iconic Titanic Museum, aka Titanic Belfast. Built on the docklands of Harland and Wolff, this amazing tourist attraction really is a treat for the eyes and ears. For a very reasonable entry fee of £18, you can spend the day roaming around the many floors taking in an array of incredible artefacts from the shipwreck itself, read facts about how the ship was built and even more, take part in a virtual reality experience of what it was like to work on the infamous Titanic, below deck. At times, you can get boggled with the amount of information presented on the walls and all around the museum in general, but personally, as a child who was fascinated with all things Titanic, it’s well worth it! As cliché as it may sound, you genuinely got a feeling of what it was like being on the ship, from a variety of different perspectives. Yes, we have all visualised this thanks to James Cameron’s Hollywood production of Titanic also, putting ourselves in Rose and Jack’s shoes, but it does not compare to actually being on the same site where the ship itself was built. There’s something really magical about that and if nothing else, you can take some great selfies!
It goes without saying that Belfast has had its fair share of turbulence in the past, so going in with an open mind and taking a black cab tour around the city is another great way to spend a day. You can pre book a cab to come to your hotel and pick you up, as an added bonus, before they whisk you around the city on a whirlwind tour of the areas we have all heard about in our history books. For me, as someone who studied history for the L.C. and thought I knew the basics, to hear the perspective of someone from the city speak so openly and frankly about the troubles was both informative and thought-provoking. The cab tour started off in the Protestant neighbourhood of Shankhill Road and took us through the streets and housing estates, showing us murals, plaques and many more note-worthy sights, as our guide explained the significance of each of these places and depictions. Next, we drove through the barriers which separate both the Catholic and Protestant areas and which are still in use today, to enter the Catholic area of Falls Road. The differences between two sides of one area are obviously vast and steeped in religious beliefs, evident through the flags and road signs to say the least. Once again, we visited some remarkable areas and respectfully listened as our guide explained to us the poignancy of some of the places we were visiting. To round off our visit, we were taken to the Peace Walls which are a visible reminder of the struggles between both sects of Christianity and are covered with touching tributes to those who have lost their lives or merely fellow tourists, writing messages of hopes and inspiration for the future. What could I write that would make any difference to anyone? Still, for the day that was in it, I thought it would be best to write a line or two on the wall to share my hopes and dreams. I can’t recommend this enough, even if it was hard to understand the strong Belfast accent of the local cab driver at times. It might not feel right taking pictures of some of the murals and homes you spot as you drive around and it might feel strange visiting places which were once areas of hostility and now tourist hotspots, but you get a clearer understanding of the cities former days. Be bold and stroll around these areas without a black cab tour guide, if you want to spare yourself around £30 for an hour and a half guided tour. I’d recommend doing both if you have time!
Step away from Belfast city centre, rent a car for the day and spend it driving along the stunning coastal route towards the Giants Causeway. So I won’t lie, the actual getting a car was a bit awkward as we had to get a taxi to the office where they kept the cars and return it to another drop off site, which turned out to be the airport, later incurring several fees for various added extras we were unaware of. Aside from that backache, once you’re on the road the views are stunning and they are well worth a cheeky stop or two for a quick panorama shot. The visitors centre itself for the Giants Causeway is just about an hour away from the city centre and signage was easy to follow in order to get there. Parking does set you back a steep £9 with no other alternative, unless you park in the nearby town of Bushmills (yep, the whiskey!) and take a bus, which doesn’t seem worth the hassle! Entry to the designated National Trust and UNESCO World Heritage site costs £10.50, which includes an audio guide and access to the information centre before you step outside and splendour in the Atlantic Ocean and the amazing rock formations below. There are an abundance of paths and trails you can follow around the rocks, but if you haven’t brought your walking boots, than there is the simple tourist route down to the rocks, where you can sit within touching distance of the baltic waters. I can honestly say, I wasn’t disappointed with the views and it exceeded my expectations. It did help that there were…for want of a better word…careless tourists standing right by the edge of the water watching the waves violently crash in and out, before being almost drowned and pulled into the ocean and emerging somehow in one piece with sopping wet clothes. (Happened far too many times to get old!) You will feel like you have stepped out of an Irish legend, which is where people say the Giants Causeway gets its name! It’s no wonder Game of Thrones have chosen these parts to film!
There are so many more things to see and do in Belfast including the Bushmills Distillery, which you will drive past en route to the Giants Causeway, Filthy McNasty’s for some well-deserved cocktails and decent live music after a hard day pounding the streets, and the gorgeous architecture such as Queens University and Stormont Buildings. Belfast is very accessible by car, Aircoach, which takes only an hour and a half from Dublin, and air. If you’re coming from further afield and fancy an alternative way of travelling there, you can grab the Stenaline ferry which takes you from the Scottish port of Cairnryan to Belfast in under 3 hours for a good price.
Don’t let rumours of tensions and stories in the history books turn you off. Belfast is truly wonderful in so many ways. I know I’ll be going back…even if it is to laugh at some moronic tourists slipping at the Giants causeway!