We’re coming back to Belfast, and we couldn’t be happier. It’s not just that it’s a great city with loads of stuff to see and do – because it is – but it also makes an excellent base from which to explore the rest of Northern Ireland.
If you ask us, the ultimate trip to Belfast and Northern Ireland includes a couple of days exploring the city’s excellent cultural attractions (and its legendary nightlife), and a couple of days in a rented car, visiting some of Northern Ireland’s most breathtaking sights.
If you’re wondering what those sights and attractions are, keep reading. Nine of the best are listed below!
Titanic Belfast opened in 2012 in the city’s ‘Titanic Quarter’, marking a century since the ship’s maiden voyage, and tragic sinking. The museum and building is a fantastic monument to the Titanic and its passengers, as well as to Belfast’s rich maritime heritage.
Located on the old Harland & Wolff shipyard where the RMS Titanic was built, it tells the story of the Titanic from its construction, right through to the sinking of the ship after it hit an iceberg and sank in the famous 1912 disaster.
It’s huge, interactive, and incredibly informative, and should be high up on your list of things to do here.
An hour from the city is one of Northern Island’s coolest, spookiest, most beautiful attractions. So good they made it onto Game of Thrones (Season 2, the part where Arya escapes King’s Landing after her father is killed), we’re talking about the beautiful ‘Dark Hedges’.
These beautiful old Beech trees were planted by the Stuart family in the eighteenth century as a way to impress people visiting their huge mansion, and… well… it worked. Consider us thoroughly impressed.
They create a gorgeous canopy over the road, a natural tunnel that’s great to drive down and even better to photograph.
Remember when we said the Dark Hedges are one of Northern Ireland’s coolest, spookiest and most beautiful attractions? Well the Giant’s Causeway is one of the other ones. Maybe the very best one.
Legend has it that Finn MacCool, an Irish giant, built the causeway between Northern Ireland and Scotland so that he could use it to cross the sea and batter some Scottish giant.
Science has it slightly differently. Something about volcanoes and basalt and cooling molten rock.
We like the scrapping giant story better, but the great thing about the Causeway is that there’s a visitor centre there where you can learn about both stories. Don’t go to Northern Ireland without seeing the Causeway.
Take your own breath away and give yourself a wee heart attack with a visit to the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede.
First built over 350 years ago, the rope bridge is suspended almost 100 foot (30 metres) above the thrashing sea, between the mainland and ‘Rocky Island’.
Today, if you’re brave enough, you can cross it. Don’t worry, it’s not the exact same bridge as the one the salmon fishermen built in 1755, but it’s still a fairly adrenaline-pumping little trip!
Close to the Causeway and Bushmills, the bridge is about an hour from the airport and definitely one to cross off your bucket list.
An hour’s drive north from Belfast Airport will bring you to a little village called Bushmills, the home of Ireland’s oldest whiskey.
If you’re a fan of whiskey you’ll be in your element here (they even welcome you on the tour with a nice hot toddy!), but you don’t even have to love the drink to appreciate the history and evolution of the distillery over the years.
It’s a working distillery, so if you visit during the week you’ll get to see the whole place in action – and at the end of the 45 minute tour, you get yet another little sample of whiskey.
Admission is £7.50 for adults, but with those free samples it pays for itself!
Crumlin Road Gaol first opened (well, closed) its gates to prisoners back in 1845 and was a working prison for the next 150 years until it finally ceased its operation in 1996.
Today you can tour the building, learning about the history of the place and some of the 25,000 people who have been imprisoned there.
It’s a fascinating place with plenty of stories (and a fair few secrets too), and you’ll get to hear plenty of them; executions and internment, births, deaths and marriages, and plenty more in between.
It’s completely absorbing, the guides are fantastic, and at only £8.50 for adults it’s well worth the money.
Famous as a tourist attraction and architectural gem as well as a bar, the Crown Liquor Saloon is an old Victorian Gin Palace that has been beautifully preserved and is a bona fide Belfast institution.
Everywhere you look in the place you’re met with stained glass, elaborate woodwork and mosaic tiling, and there are ten snugs in the place that still have original gun metal plates (used for striking patches) and an old bell system for getting the attention of the staff.
There aren’t too many places like this left, so make sure you get to this one when you’re in the city.
If you like to eat well, and you’re in Belfast, eat at the Ginger Bistro. It’s one of Belfast’s best known and loved restaurants, and with good reason.
It serves simple but very well-cooked dishes using lots of beautiful, fresh Irish ingredients – there’s an Asian influence in there too, but generally you’re getting hearty, tasty Irish classics with a modern twist.
The steak is incredible, and the fondant-style chocolate dessert is just… well look at that picture (above). Be safe and book a table to avoid disappointment.
Well this museum is located in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens, so that’s the first thing it has going for it.
The museum was closed and totally renovated between 2006 and 2009, and opened again on its 80th anniversary, fully made over and packed with a very cool collection of artefacts, art and all things anthropological.
You’ll get a comprehensive insight into the story of Northern Ireland and its people, from prehistoric times to the present day. It’s totally free to visit, and a genuinely interesting way to spend a few hours for kids and grown-ups.
Flights to Belfast
- Dee Murray