I leave England in a few weeks, after four incredible years. However despite living in the northwest all this time, I had never made it to Northern Ireland, so Qas and I made a short last minute trip over to Belfast and the coastline as a break from the stress of grad school. We were only there for two days (two nights and an early morning flight) and while we could have filled another day we managed to fit everything in just fine.
On the first day (having landed at Belfast International at 7am on about an hour of sleep) we did a day trip up the Antrim Coastline, and were blessed with wonderful weather. While I’m too motion sick to tell you how beautiful the drive was (it seemed lovely), every stop was breathtaking. Sadly last year the Irish countryside wasn’t as green as you’d imagine when people say ‘the Emerald Isle’ thanks to a killer heatwave, but this year the hills and cliff sides lived up to their name. Our tour stopped by Carrickfergus Castle, the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge (which we did not walk across, and were happy to have saved the £10 – it’s pretty but not actually all that long and the coastline is pretty enough to enjoy without it), the Giant’s Causeway (which we did a wonderful walking tour of), and the Dark Hedges.
The second day we used one of the hop-on-hop-off bus tours, only getting mildly damp as the irish weather caught up to us. While they are pretty touristy, these busses are also a great value for money when it comes to getting around a city that is too spread out to be easily walkable. One of the main places we wanted to go was the Parliamentary Building, Stormont (hello yes we are both politics nerds) which is pretty far to the East, and this bus tour made it an easy trip.
Sadly due to the pouring down rain we didn’t get to stop and really walk the Peace Wall and look at murals, but did get to drive along it. Our tour did go through the neighbourhoods on either side of the wall, where peace gates still close from 7pm-7am, where you can see lots of murals ranging from peace monuments, memorials to those who died, to plenty of paramilitary murals. We then did the tour at Crumlin Road Gaol, a famous prison that closed in 1996. It was a great tour, very serious without getting into the politics of the conflict but acknowledging the suffering that took place within the prison walls. Also, the bus tour gets you £2 off your ticket which combines with a student discount, which was really nice.
We went to see St. Anne’s the (Protestant) cathedral in the city center, and timed it right to attend the evening prayer service. During the day you do have to pay to tour the cathedral, but if you attend a service you obviously get to see the church as well.
We had two great dinners in Belfast, at The Bootlegger and Fish City. We spent a few hours on our last night in The Duke of York (which has a giant whiskey selection neither of us could tell you about). Our AirBnB was great, about a half hour walk from the city center or a quick £6 uber ride, super clean and an great deal.
Transport to and from the airport is incredibly easy, a 30-45 minute bus ride you can pick up in the city center and just outside the airport for £12 both ways.
There’s a million other wonderful things to do in Belfast, from museums to the Black Cab tours that delve into the politics of the city, that we would have loved to do, but for a short trip and terrible weather we saw enough to make it a really wonderful trip.