Ultimate Guide to Belfast, Northern, Ireland
Belfast, the vibrant capital of Northern Ireland, is relatively new to the international tourism scene. Once wracked by trouble and violence, the city has risen up to be a prime destination in Europe. It has a unique character that just begs to be explored.
There are three ways to get to this city. First is by plane — Belfast has two airports, one of which I wasn’t aware of when I arrived. It turns out that the international one where I landed was the further of the two. To get to the city from there, you would take the Bus 300 Express which will set you back 7.50 EUR (10.50, if it is a round trip).
Second option is to take a ferry from Glasgow, or even from cities of neighboring countries such as Scotland’s Stranraer and Cairnryan or England’s Liverpool. There is also a bus from Dublin, as well as the trusty railway system.
Exploring Belfast on foot is quite easy. In fact, this is the way we did it. You might be forced to take a ride, however, if you plan to visit each and every site. For example, Titanic and Crumlin Gaol, they are on opposite ends of the city. You may then purchase a bus day pass, which is 3.70 EUR. A single ride costs 1.35 EUR, so a bus pass becomes the more practical choice if you will be spending a few days.
If you have only a day in the city, it might be best to do the sightseeing tour to make the most of your time. But if you have several days like we did, you can do it on your own.
11AM. We spent the first part of the first day by joining the free walking tour outside the City Hall. The tour took us around most of the sites, though there was a lot left to explore for later.
2PM. We ate in Harlem, in one of those really cute cafés! We just happened to stumble upon this establishment, but it was worth it. They are open from 8AM to 5PM.
3PM. We visited the Crumlin Road Gaol. The tours are 45 minutes long, and the last entry is at 4:30PM. It’s 9 Pounds for adults and 8 for students, but it was a good experience. The prison is the only remaining Victorian-era prison in the country. We learned about the jail situation during the time of the country’s troubles. It’s strange to think that it once used to house the most heinous criminals of all time, and you can still see where they executed people. Kinda creepy, but interesting nonetheless. For those who are interested in ghost tours, inquire, they have them too.
5PM. Titanic Quarters houses the shipyard where the Titanic was built! The last entry is at 5:15PM, so we were just in time. Entrance for the Titanic Experience is at 18 Pounds for adults, but there is a premium White Star Pass for 30 Pounds. Walking tours are just at 8.50 Pounds. The prices are a bit steep, so I had hesitations in going. But I found the museum really well-done, explaining everything from the shipwrights to how they worked and lived, along with how the ship was launched up to the point the debris were being recovered after the sinking. There’s also an option to wander around the Titanic Quarters! There was even a segment wherein you take a ride as they explain things. There could be a queue though so check it out.
7:30PM. We had dinner at Made in Belfast, which was an even cuter shop than Harlem! The Choco Lava Cake was plain magnificent!
After this, we took time to walk around the Cathedral Quarters, an up-and-coming region of the city. There were cool pubs and street art! Among the pubs we visited was the Duke of York Pub, not far from Muriel’s Cafe — where bras hang from the ceiling! As for food, Pablo’s next door is better for its burgers, fries, and wings.
We spent the second day doing a Game of Thrones-inspired tour courtesy of Brit Movie Tours North. You can read more about it in this post! By the evening, we grabbed drinks at the Crown Saloon, the oldest pub in the area. It is a Victorian gin palace, with stained glass on the windows and amazing tiles on the floor. Woodwork was exquisitely crafted, too, giving it the reputation of being among the finest in its time.
Our last day was more relaxed, with a stroll around botanical gardens and a trip to the Ulster Museum. There, we read about the troubles of Ireland. Entrance is technically free, though there is a “suggested donation” of 5 Pounds. A five-minute walk away is Queen’s University, which is also a good spot.
We also toured the Peace Wall, joining the Paddy Black Cab tours. I was thinking of just walking to it, but the black cab tours were highly recommended! True enough, the tour became more meaningful with a passionate explanation of the troubles and their history. This is a must-do in Belfast! The cab costs 30 Pounds, so it might be worth it to ask friends or other tourists if they want to join you.
Finally, we circled back to the City Hall where there are free tours that can take you to restricted areas. Unguided tourists can still enter the ground floor and free exhibits, but to see the top floors and changers you need to join the tours which take place daily. Make sure to check here for the times. A cool part of the tour is that you get to wear a council robe and pretend to be a councilman!
Dinner was at Tree House, another must-try place. It looks like a fairy tale! We also went on a mini-pub crawl, starting from The Harp, then moving onto Empire and Five Points.
This was the day we headed back to the airport, but there was still much to see. We weren’t able to make it to Belfast Castle and hike Cavehill, but maybe that will come in the future. After all, Belfast is a city with lots of nooks and crannies that need to be explored!