We kicked started our year off with a visit to Belfast in Northern Ireland. A city and country we've never been to we thought we'd spend a few days exploring before getting back to work after the festivities. We flew with Easyjet from Edinburgh to Belfast International the flight took 30 minutes - it's mad! We got the bus into the city and quickly felt at home. We stayed in a Premier Inn and had a city break costing £150 each for flights and hotel. Well worth looking into. We visited so many tourist attractions, didn't eat a single bad meal in our 4 days and drank quite a variety of drinks in a variety of places. Here's my run down of what to visit, where to eat and drink.
Number 3 on the list of things to do on Trip Advisor, the Titanic Museum is a popular attraction for the family. Thought a little pricey at £17.50 per adult it's a fantastic attraction with over 9 galleries packed full of pictures, facts, artefacts, reconstructions, special effects, videos and even a ride. I've taught the Titanic as a topic at school but this visit taught me so much more. With details from the ship building process right through to the launch, maiden voyage and the famous catastrophe. You can even explore the shipwreck. Although there's a lot to look at and it can easily fill 2-3 hours, there's a lot to read. It became a bit difficult to read everything so there's a few bits I skimmed past, especially as my feet begun to hurt.
Like most cities Belfast has the typical hop on hop off bus tours which are great for learning about the area but everyone we spoke to recommended something a little different for Belfast. A Black Cab Tour is much more personal and better value for money. Depending on what you want to find out you can choose your tour to suit or leave it up to the driver. We booked with Paddy Campbell's and were picked up from our hotel at 10am. Our driver/tour guide was so chatty and friendly. Right from the minute we met him it felt like we'd known him years. He had so much knowledge of the area, as a born and bred local, and had a story to match everything. There was plenty of space for the 4 of us in the cab and paid £10 each for the 2 hours - outstanding value for money. We visited the Political Murals and Peaceline learning all about The Troubles of the 60s/70s. We stopped at a few places for Tom to give us more information and got out of the cab at a few points to look a bit closer. We stopped to sign the peace wall too. Like everyone I've spoken to I'd highly recommend a Black Cab tour if you're in the city.
Belfast City Hall
The City Hall is a beautiful building at the heart of the city. When we visited it was lit up with it's Christmas lights and it was truly stunning. The hall offers free public tours throughout the year and last for about an hour. The tours are informative, with friendly staff who are more than happy to answer questions. A good chance to learn a bit about the city and admire the architecture.
Number 1 of 129 things to do in Belfast, Crumlin Road Gaol is another attraction, building and tour that I would highly recommend. A chance to get inside the prison building and learn about over 100 years of history. The prison dates back to 1845 and closed it's doors in 1996. You visit everything from the Governor's Office and court connecting tunnel to Holding Cells and Hanging Cells. The tours last just over an hour and cost less than £10, making it a good value attraction. Our tour guide was very knowledgable, answered all of our questions and gave us lots of opportunity to take photos. Wrap up warm though, a Victorian prison like this is very chilly!
Belfast has such an intense political history and these symbolic murals of Northern Ireland tell quite a story. There are murals all over the city depicting different stories and sides. There are Republican, Unionist and completely unrelated works of art on buildings that really are breathtaking. You can do a variety of mural tours (and see quite a few on a Black Cab Tour) or you can see what you come across while exploring the city.
Another free attraction with lots to look at and read, the Ulster Museum is a humongous building with great exhibits to suit children and adults. A bit of a maze to get around, the 4 of us ended up splitting up and looking at everything at our own leisure. I particularly enjoyed looking at the paintings, reading about The Troubles, coming face to face with a dinosaur and stuffed bar as well as admiring some diamonds. Next to the Botanical Gardens it can make for an excellent, free day out.
Had enough culture and looking for something else to do? Victoria Square is a fantastic shopping centre with over 70 stores, a cinema, restaurants and a panoramic viewing dome. Being able to head to the top of a shopping centre and see the whole city was great - an absolute must. The selection of shops were great for both me and Mark and we didn't have to walk far out of the centre to reach more of our favourites. A must for a shopaholic.
Avoca is a beautiful little gift shop and home to Arthur Street Cafe. We visited around lunch time and couldn't believe the selection of cakes, let alone the sandwiches, quiches, cooked meals and salads. I couldn't resist trying out their Double Chocolate Cheesecake. It was delicious and filled me up all afternoon - even with 10,000 steps of shopping.
We visited Fratelli, a rustic Italian restaurant, on our first night in the city. Close to the train and bus station, and near to the theatre it's a fantastic location for some great food. The four of us all had something completely different and all of us finished the evening with empty plates. The staff were friendly, there was a good atmosphere in the restaurant, the cocktails were tasty and the food was fairly priced.
Acton and Sons
Acton and Sons was my favourite place to eat during our whole trip. We looked at so many restaurants and menus but I picked out Acton and Sons as it looked the most comfortable and inviting from the outside. I ended up having a 3 course meal and loving every mouthful. There was a lovely ambiance in the restaurant, the staff was really friendly and the service was brilliant. The chocolate fondue was delicious, so much so I devoured it without snapping a picture!
The Perch Rooftop Bar was a stunning bar with a real quirky theme. Though it's not got an amazing view like some of the other rooftop bars we've visited (namely the New York ones) it had such a nice atmosphere and beautiful decor. We sat outside, though there is some indoor seats, under a heater and enjoyed a cocktail from their chic cocktail selection. Yes, a little expensive but so worth it.
From bird themed to Olde Worlde, The Crown Liquor Saloon is an authentic, unique pub with character coming out of it's ears (or doors). It's a very distinctive building with little snugs/carriages/confessional booths to sit in and enjoy a drink. Worth a visit.
Duke of York
My favourite pub in Belfast with pub merchandise and memorabilia covering every little inch of the walls (and ceiling). There's lots of places to sit and take it all in. There was live music at night when we visited and it was just the right volume to enjoy, but continue getting the craic. The only photo I managed to get was of the stairs leading to the toilets but I feel like they show the character of the place quite well.
The Dirty Onion
If you've ever been to Three Sisters in Edinburgh that's exactly what The Dirty Onion reminded me of. Loads of seats and space outside and quite a dark long pub on the inside. With live music playing every night this was a busy pub but the speakers above each table spoilt it for me as it was just too loud.