I really enjoyed my first trip to Northern Ireland. I was with my teenage daughter, who’d just come home from a post-exam Inter-Railing trip. Her brother was away on school camp, and so the two of us decided to head to Belfast. We flew there from London Gatwick with Easyjet, hired a car from the airport, and stayed at a couple of marvellous hotels, which I’ve reviewed separately – first the Culloden, Belfast and then the Slieve Donard Resort & Spa in the Mourne Mountains.
Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland, and sits between the Irish Sea and the surrounding hills. It’s a vibrant, friendly city, and a great place for a short break, despite its troubled past. Here are just some of the great things to see and do there.
Sightseeing bus tour
As this was our first time in Belfast, we took a City Sightseeing Bus tour of the city in order to get our bearings. The tour took an hour and a half, and I found it extremely interesting. There was a local guide on board, and she gave us an overview of the city and its history as we toured the main sites. We stopped along the way at various points to take photos. If you wanted to spend time at any of the places where the bus stopped, you could get off and then catch a later bus. We’d planned to do that, because we wanted to take a few photos, but we didn’t actually need to leave the bus to do that. Highlights were Stormont (the seat of government in Northern Ireland), the political murals along the Falls Road and Shanklin Road, and the Peace Wall. I hadn’t realised that there are still high walls dividing Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods in the city, and I felt quite shocked to see them. They seem harsh, brutal and ugly, despite the street art which they display. The walls stand as a stark reminder of the violence and divisiveness of the Troubles.
After the bus tour we went in search of lunch. We ended up at a place called Deli Lites – we had roasted veg on flat bread, and it was very tasty. We then walked around the Cathedral Quarter taking photos of the quirky street art. Our favourite area was around the Duke of York pub, where there’s a courtyard filled with colourful murals reflecting Northern Ireland’s culture and traditions.
We both loved our visit to the Titanic Experience – my daughter says that it was her highlight of the trip. The famous passenger ship was built in Belfast, and the permanent exhibition here was created for the centenary of its 1912 disastrous maiden voyage, which ended with the loss of more than 1500 lives. The exhibition is interactive, poignant and immersive and I’d definitely recommend it. My daughter says: ‘It was really interesting. The best bit was where you could see the inside of the cabins.’
Outside the museum, just across the road, sits the SS Nomadic, the tender which ferried passengers to the Titanic in Cherbourg. You can go on board the boat and see what it would have been like at that time. We spent around three and a half hours at the Titanic site, including lunch at the cafe (very good vegetable soup).
Ulster Folk & Transport Museum
The fascinating Ulster Folk & Transport Museum is next to the grounds of the Culloden Hotel (where we stayed). We went to the Folk Museum part, but didn’t have time to see the Transport Museum. It’s an astonishing place, and consists of a collection of buildings which have been rescued from across Ulster and recreated at the museum. The buildings are furnished to show how life was here in the 1900s, and you can go inside them and look around. There are homes, shops, a coal yard, a rectory, a school house, a photographer’s studio, a post office, a sweet shop and more.
The staff at the museum are dressed in authentic period costume and are very knowledgable about the history of the buildings. I loved exploring the museum site and could have spent all day there. My daughter said that she enjoyed it too, even though she hadn’t expected to. She says: ‘It was good. It was nice just being able to walk around and see stuff rather than reading things. All of the workers were really nice.’
Crumlin Road Gaol
This one’s is possibly not appropriate for younger children – I’ll leave that for you to decide. Crumlin Road Gaol dates back to 1845 and closed its doors as a working prison in 1996. I was very sad to learn that, in its early years, children were imprisoned here along with adults. The Victorian gaol re-opened as a visitor attraction in 2012, and today you can take a guided tour and hear about its history. During the tour you’ll see the underground tunnel which connected the gaol to the Crumlin Road Courthouse, as well as visiting the condemned man’s cell and the execution cell.
W5 is an award-winning interactive science and discovery centre. With more than 250 interactive exhibits in four exhibition areas, W5 is great for all ages. In addition to its permanent exhibits, W5 also has a programme of temporary exhibitions and events, as well as live science demonstrations and shows every day.
Over to you
Have you been to Belfast, or would you like to go? Do you have any recommendations to share?
More on Northern Ireland
You can read more about our trip in my other posts
Disclosure: We received tickets for Titanic Experience and Ulster Folk and Transport Museum for the purposes of this review.