Belfast, Northern Ireland

My most recent journey brought me to Belfast, Northern Ireland. I’d been wanting to go there for some time to see the Giant’s Causeway. A lot of people told me that it wasn’t the most interesting area of Ireland, so when I planned an initial trip a few years ago, the group I went with decided to skip the area. I can now confirm that the best way to see the Belfast area of the country is for a weekend.

This was the first long trip I’d ever taken with my dad as well. He flew over to England to help me move into school and we decided we’d take a trip over the weekend while he was here since he’d never been anywhere in Europe.

In an interesting turn of events, we decided to save some cash and stay at a hostel. My dad had never been to a hostel before and I was interested to see how he would acclimate to it. We lucked out with our hostel. In some it’s extremely infrequent to see anyone over the age of thirty, but at ours there was a good mix of ages, and although I could tell he felt a little awkward when we first checked into our 12 bunk mixed sex dorm room that had four giggling late teenage girls, he loosened up when some guys and a gentleman only a few years younger than him turned up over the course of the night as well.

We stayed in Paddy’s Palace for about $12.00 a night each. It was in a very convenient location, near Queen’s University and the Botanical Gardens. Another perk to this hostel is that most days they offer a free tour to the Giant’s Causeway through Paddywagon Tours, if you stay in the hostel for more than one night. However, my dad and I actually chose to go with McComb’s Executive Tours to see the Bushmill’s Distillery as well.

Paddy’s Palace is moderately clean. My dad commented on the dust everywhere and the bed didn’t seem very clean to me, but it also wasn’t so gross that I had trouble sleeping. I usually go into hostel experiences pretending I’m sort of camping indoors, which I find helps my attitude towards things a lot. The bathrooms on every floor include a toilet in it’s own private compartment and two showers that share a compartment, each with glass doors, which could make for privacy issues for some. The staff were varying amounts of knowledgable. Two of them really seemed to know what was going on and could easily provide us with suggestions and directions. I can’t say the same for the rest…

We were lucky to get pretty decent priced fairs through Flybe out of Manchester and into Belfast City Airport. And I’ve got give Manchester some credit, we arrived to fly out the same day as the bomb scare and we hadn’t budgeted much spare time into our travel plans. We still made the flight easily. Belfast City Airport is mere minutes outside of the city center, much nicer than the further away Belfast International Airport. An Airport Express bus takes you right into the city with a one way ticket costing £2.00 or a return ticket costing £3.00.

Our first evening we mostly wandered around the city until 7:30 pm, when we went on the Belfast Ghost Walk. If Ghost Tours are your thing, don’t miss this one. While it’s not nearly as frightening as many, the tour guide Richard is an engaging story teller and the tales are entertaining. My dad who is completely not into Ghost Tours got a kick out of it. I really enjoy Ghost Tours and also found it to be a good time. It’s not a bad deal for £7.o0 for adults.

Giant's Causeway

The next day we went on McComb’s Tour to the Giant’s Causeway. First stop was at the Carrickfergus Castle, right outside of Belfast. The castle wasn’t open, so we could really only walk around the perimeter and take pictures. It was actually kind of disappointing. We went on the weekend though, so it might be open to visitors when the tour goes through on weekdays. From there we were on to the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, which was the highlight of the tour for me. You have to pay an extra £4.00 to cross the bridge, but if you’re not scared of heights, it’s worth it. Walking across freaked me out a bit and I really enjoyed watching the people who freaked out so much they couldn’t make it across and had to back off of it. You cross the bridge over to a little island where you can look out at the sea, but just a caution, there are no real guard rails once you’re over the bridge and an extremely steep drop off into the water from all sides of the island. We then stopped at a little pub for lunch, which was entirely unremarkable. After that we went to the Bushmill’s Distillery, but you don’t get to go on the tour. You get dropped off for about 15-20 minutes to browse the gift shop or buy a sample of their whiskey – a bit disappointing. After all that, you finally make it to the Giant’s Causeway, which really is quite amazing. There’s a fifteen minute walk from the drop off point, but if you have trouble walking there’s a bus you can pay £1.00 to ride down to the rocks. The area is lovely and there’s a good half an hour to forty five minutes hike you can take through the area to see a rock shaped like a boot, a pipe organ and an amphitheater. After the Giant’s Causeway, we had a brief photo stop at the ruins of Dunluce Castle, which really were very picturesque, on our way back to Belfast. If you do intend to book this tour, book it online and save £5.00; however, if you are going to stay at Paddy’s Palace, I think it’s probably a better idea to try to go on the free tour. You really wouldn’t miss anything other than the Distillery, and that’s not even a full tour as it is.

Titanic Dry Dock

Our last morning there, we took the Titanic Walking Tour for £12.00. We were amused to see our Ghost Walk tour guide again and impressed that he was equally engaging when discussing the designing and construction of the Titanic. The city of Belfast has large plans for the area where the Titanic was built that are supposed to be carried out over the next two years. I suspect it will be an even better site once they are complete. The current Titanic Walking Tour lasts about two and a half hours and you see where the Titanic was designed, the ship yard, the docks, the dry dock and the pump house. It concludes with a brief documentary while you’re in the pump house.

A few helpful hints:

  • If, like my dad, you’ve got your heart set on eating lamb stew, you’re better off visiting in the last fall or winter. We were repeatedly told it’s only really featured in the area once the weather cools down.
  • Pack a decent pair of shoes. I stupidly tried to break in a new pair there… suffice to say it’ll be a good week before I can wear my shoes again without wanting to cry because of the pain.
  • If, like me, you forget to pack a spare battery for your camera, there’s a store called Jessops that sells camera necessities right around the corner from the Belfast Welcome Center.

Useful links:

Belfast Ghost Walk – http://www.ghostwalkbelfast.com/

McComb’s Tours – http://www.minicoachni.co.uk/index.cfm

Titanic Walking Tours – http://www.titanicwalk.com/

Paddy’s Palace Belfast – http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Paddy-s-Palace-Belfast/Belfast/6908

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