My father-in-law is initially from Belfast, and my husband used to travel to see his family over there in the 90’s, but this was during the time of the ‘Troubles’ and he never really got to see Belfast. As things have settled since the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ the city is now a buzz of redevelopment and energy as it really opens its doors to the world. We were invited to a family party in Belfast, we thought it would be an excellent opportunity to visit and explore.
I had been to Belfast before, for work a couple of times, but sadly travelling for work meant I got to see the office, the hotel and the airport!
We arrived late on Friday evening and got a taxi from George Best airport straight to our Airbnb. Due to the women’s rugby world cup that was going on in August, we struggled to get a hotel. Speaking to the guys in Belfast though, apparently, 49 are scheduled to be built in the next few years to accommodate the influx of tourism to the area (also helped by a little show called ‘Game of Thrones’ which is filmed in Northern Ireland).
We were staying down by the Botanical Gardens and Queen’s University. After a cracking breakfast at Maggie May’s (avoiding the insane pigeons!), we had a stroll through greenhouse at the Botanical Gardens and then through to Queens University. Maggie May’s was a great little find, with five of us crammed around a tiny weenie table with massive plates of breakfast. Pancakes for me, but black pudding and soda bread for the rest.
The botanical gardens have quite a large glasshouse or Palm House, and as it was absolutely freezing, we thought that we would go inside to warm up a little bit. We didn’t realise that there were two wings, walking into the hot arm first, then into the cool arm. The Palm House is home to mostly palms and succulents. Having been to Kew Gardens, the Palm house is small in comparisons, but it is actually a precursor to the Kew Palm House, being completed a few years earlier by the same Richard Turner. I thought that it looked familiar.
Queens University gives its name to one of the four ‘cultural’ districts of Belfast, Queens Quarter, and is actually one of the oldest Universities in the UK. The main Lanyon building (who designed Belfast Castle) is really stunning and reminds me more of some other leading University buildings in the UK. The main difference though is the orange brickwork, which is not typically seen in other University towns like Oxford which has a more gold/white brickwork effect.
We headed towards City Hall and visited the exhibition in there on famous Belfastonians (not sure if that is correct!). It’s a lovely building and prefers these traditional town halls compared to the modern glass builds (such as in London).
I had to buy a coat when I was in Belfast as I didn’t pack one and it was absolutely freezing! I didn’t think that in the middle of August it would be so cold. As we headed towards the Titanic Museum, the heavens opened, so we darted into a local pub for a pit stop to let the rain ease off! The Duke of York pub in the Cathedral Quarter is the epitome of a proper old British/Irish pub, covered in Guinness plaques and with a very well stocked bar.
We then walked to the Titanic Museum which is located in the Titanic Quarter towards the north of Belfast (the other quarter is Gaeltacht, which we did not get round to visiting). We crossed the over the River Lagan, passed the ‘thing with the ring’ sculpture (this was the polite version of what our taxi driver called it!) and headed towards the Titanic Museum. This £97million museum, on the docks where the Titanic was built before its final journey, is visually stunning. Sadly, the heavens opened again, and we had to run past the only White Star Liner SS Nomadic and into the main foyer of the museum. We went through the exhibition, which if I am honest I thought was quite pricey at £18 per person, but it was a good 90 minutes that we spent on the display.
Titanic Belfast also when through the history of Belfast in the early 20th century, which lead to the decision to build the Titanic on the docks of the River Lagan, with the cotton mills and rope manufacturing. I would recommend visiting this exhibition, and gave more information than just the on the ship, seeing the mock-ups of the cabins (how short were people in the early 20th century, no way I could have fitted in even the first class beds!).
Sadly we had just one full day in Belfast, I would have loved to visit the International Wall, the Crumlin Road Gaol and head up to Belfast Castle.
What an absolute gem, a diamond that is shining through a history of difficulty, but the future looks bright for Belfast. I can’t wait to go back.
Top Tip: Be prepared for all weathers, as Belfast docks are very close to the open sea, it gets quite a nippy breeze
Top Tip: Get there early to St Georges Market on the weekend for breakfast, great selection of market stalls but it gets very very busy. Recommend the potato scones!