Granted, the last few years have seen Belfast emerge from a turbulent past, and shake off its reputation as a troubled city, but for years it was off the tourist scene and I’ll be honest, because of that, I’d never considered it as a travel destination. However, as I spent over two months in Ireland while Jass was working in Dublin on a project there, we travelled to most of the bigger cities at the weekends; Galway, Cork & Kilkenny and so naturally, Belfast seemed like the next best option.
Arriving with zero expectations turned out to be the best thing as we had an incredibly eye-opening and fun weekend there and I can confirm that Belfast is a destination worthy of a mini break. With bars, museums and sights to rival many European cities, the short flight time and ease of access from all over the UK is a bonus too..
THINGS TO DO, SEE AND EXPLORE
If you only do one ‘touristy’ thing in Belfast, it should be this one! I’m not particularly into history, but this is one of the best ways to see Belfast’s famous wall art and learn about The Troubles.
Alongside an informative history lesson peppered with local tidbits, you’ll see the largest Peace Wall, plenty of murals, security gates and learn about The Troubles from someone who has lived through them. Travelling by taxi is a great way to see how segregated the city still is today.
There are plenty of companies that offer this tour, but we booked with the original one (Paddy Campbell tours) as their tripadvisor reviews were phenomenal and our guide, Ciaran, was extremely knowledgeable. The tour lasts for around 1.5 hours, costs £35 for up to 3 people and they pick you up and drop you off to a location of your choice – I couldn’t recommend this enough.
So technically, this isn’t in Belfast, but if you visit Northern Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway is one not to miss. Located along the coast in Co. Antrim, this is a beautiful natural phenomenon featuring a huge network of interlocking stone columns that were created by volcanic eruptions.. or, as legend has it – they were built by the Irish giant Finn McCool so he could cross the causeway and fight Scottish giant Benandonner.
You can decide which story you prefer, but you won’t want to miss seeing this extraordinary sight!
Top tip: Assuming you’ve hired a car (which I highly recommend doing), ignore google maps and take the Causeway Coastal route from Belfast. It may take more than twice as long to get there, but you don’t want to miss the jaw-dropping scenery along the way. Save the motorway for the journey back.
The Causeway Coastal route
This is a stretch of road that hugs the eastern coastline of Northern Ireland and it’s one of the most breathtaking drives in the world.
Whether you decide to take a trip to the Giant’s Causeway or not, I’d recommend a drive down at least some of the Causeway Coast, even if you don’t go very far. The road twists and turns past sweeping bays, through tunnels formed out of cliffs and alongside castles, harbours, pretty villages, and views that stretch for miles upon miles. There are numerous lookout points along the way to stop, it’s the ultimate road trip – with every mile that passes you feel further from the real world, and more and more as though you’ve entered the pages of a fantasy tale.
Owned by the National Trust, this Grade A listed building is Belfast’s oldest and most famous bar and well worth a visit. The Victorian decor is stunning; from the mosaic tiled crown at the entrance, high ceilings, dark hand carved columns, tiled floors and booths all lit by gas lamps.
There are ten ‘snugs’ or booths inside which seat around 10 people in a private area with doors that are kept closed and these can be reserved in advance or may be available if you chance it and arrive at the right time.
Built on the slipways where the ship itself was constructed over 100 years ago, this isn’t just a museum – it’s an experience. Sadly, we ran out of time to visit, but it’s one I definitely want to visit the next time I’m in Belfast.
C.S. Lewis Square
This is a small park with many of the main characters from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe in sculpture form. However, unless you’re a big Narnia fan, I wouldn’t make a detour to come here as it’s quite a distance away from the city centre and there isn’t all that much to see.
WHERE TO EAT
A fabulous vegetarian/vegan South-East Asian restaurant with a great atmosphere that I’ve raved about this in length, here. Prices are purse-friendly and regardless of whether you’re vegan or not, if South-East Asian food is your bag, then you need to try this! Just make sure you call ahead and book a table as they have strange opening hours and when they are open, they tend to get fully booked very quickly – I can totally see why!
Another South-East Asian restaurant I mentioned in this post. The prices aren’t budget friendly, but they aren’t extortionate either so it would be perfect for a nice meal in the evening. The atmosphere is beautiful, they offer an extensive vegan/vegetarian menu and their sushi is to die for! Again, just make sure to call and book in advance.
While the pub itself is a definitely one to visit, I wouldn’t say you need to dine here, but if you can get a booth downstairs, then I would. Sadly it was full when we visited so we had to go to the ‘dining room’ upstairs and it wasn’t anything special. The service upstairs was awful, but the menu, which I assume is the same as downstairs, isn’t badly priced and they have some great comfort food and all the pub classics with decent vegetarian options too.
WHERE TO STAY
Located on the edge of the city centre, the Holiday Inn is a great option. The rooms are pretty much what you’d expect from a basic chain hotel, but it’s worth noting that we had a room upgrade as we had some IHG rewards loyalty points.
The lighting in the room was pretty dim and combined with all the dark furniture, it just made the room feel quite dingy and not very modern. It doesn’t make for a great environment to sit and work or, nor is it easy to apply makeup, but the hotel was undergoing some renovation/building work when we stayed so hopefully that’ll change in the future.
They don’t have onsite parking, but there is a set-down area and a public car park across the road which you can get a discounted rate for. The car park is located above a shopping centre/bus station and you can cut through it to get right into the city centre.
We had dinner in the hotel when we arrived, which I wouldn’t recommend, but their breakfasts aren’t too shabby! The staff were really friendly and accommodating – they even made me a dairy-free porridge with soya milk every morning which was the nicest touch!
PIN THIS FOR LATER
After decades of political uncertainty, Belfast is firmly back on the tourist map, and I couldn’t recommend a weekend trip there enough! Check out my vlog below for a closer look at our stay and the things we got upto!