One of the wonderful perks of living abroad, especially Europe, are the many discount, no-frills airlines. These airlines are growing very fast and are constantly opening up new destinations. Belfast was the latest destination and of course we couldn't pass up a cheap weekend away. Our roundtrip tickets cost about $35/each from Newcastle and most of that was taxes! We had a wonderful weekend and would recommend a stop in Belfast and the northern Antrim coast if you're planning a trip to Ireland.
Our knowledge of Belfast was vague at best and like most people we had only heard about the Troubles. We found beautiful architecture, lively nightlife, lots of history and a brand new Starbucks. The people were very helpful and friendly. The city itself isn't very big which makes exploring on foot easy. And since the main topic of conversation in the UK is the weather, we must tell you we had an absolutely gorgeous weekend! It was sunny and the temperature was in the 80's and unbeknownst to us our hotel had AIRCONDITIONING - what a treat!
Now a wee bit of history. Belfast was the only Irish city to benefit from the Industrial Revolution. Major industries included shipbuilding, linen, tobacco and rope making. The population of Belfast grew from approximately 20,000 in 1800 to almost 400,000 by the end of WWI. As a result of the development of industry, Belfast had closer economic ties to Britain than with Dublin. Ulster, the county that encompasses Belfast, became increasingly separated from the South of Ireland, by geography, religion as well as industrialization. England's Queen Victoria made an official visit to Belfast in 1849 and she granted city status in 1888. The official split between the north and the south of Ireland was in 1949 when The Republic of Ireland was formed.
Since we only had less than two full days to discover Belfast, we decided the first day to take a coach tour to the north coast and spend day two in the city. Belfast is very tourist friendly and of course offers the popular "Red Bus" tour. The tour was the typical "Red Bus" tour except the guide talked the ENTIRE trip. I don't know how he did it.
The coach tour was a great introduction to the north coast, but if you have more time, we would recommend hiring a car and taking your time. We followed the coast road from Belfast and it truly is a "coast road" - the road is built into the side of the hills a few feet above the sea. This road is often closed due to landslides. Our first stop was the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. Salmon fisherman originally built the bridge but is now maintained by The National Trust. It's a beautiful walk; the sea is a gorgeous blue-green color reminiscent of the Caribbean but not quite as warm! On our walk to the bridge we spotted several dolphins playing close to the shore. This site was an unexpected surprise which we enjoyed very much.
Our next stop was the famous Giant's Causeway. From a geological aspect it's quite amazing. It was much more touristy than we expected but definitely worth a stop. We only had an hour there, which in my opinion is not enough time. There are two explanations for how the Giant's Causeway came to be. I kind of like the Irish legend of Finn MacCool.
"The story goes - Finn MacCool was going about his daily duties on
the north coast when one of his
adversary, a Scottish giant, started shouting and ridiculing Finn's fighting prowess. This angered Finn who lifted a lump of earth and pelted it to Scotland
as a challenge to this giant. The Scottish giant retaliated with a rock back to Finn shouting that if he could get his hand on him, he would make sure
that Finn would never fight again but adding that unfortunately he could not swim the short distance across the Channel, so Finn would be spared that fate.
Finn got enraged by this and tore large pieces from the cliffs, he pushed them into the ocean bed and made a sturdy causeway to Scotland, when he had
finished he shouted 'Now you'll had no excuse'. Fearing to lose his own reputation and pride the Scottish giant had no alternative but come over the
causeway. Finn was tired, he had not slept for the week he worked on the causeway and did not feel ready for fighting. He thought about how he could buy
some time and recuperate to face the Scottish giants, and came up with an ingenious plan. Quickly he made a large cot disguised himself as a baby and climbed
inside...... and waited. The Scottish giant arrived at Finn's house shouting, 'Where is that coward MacCool', he noticed the crib and the baby inside it and
his eyes widened in fear, he thought to himself, my goodness if this is the size of the baby? What size is the Father? Finn climbed out of the cot and towered
above the Scottish giant, this terrified him even more and in fear of meeting the father
of this child he turned on his heels and ran like he had never ran before, back across the causeway to Scotland destroying it as he went..."
We only had time to take the bus down to the main tourist area but would've liked to hike the circular walk to see Finn MacCool's "Organ" up close as well as the North Antrim Coastline. We could've easily spent 3 hours there.
After the causeway, the bus driver stopped briefly for a quick photo of the Dunluce Castle ruin. No time for exploring because we were off to Bushmill's Distillery. Bushmill's is the oldest licensed distillery in the world. And we must admit, it was one of the best distillery/brewery tours we've ever been on. Mike was one of four people picked for a whisky tasting - it was the highlight of his day! For more info on Bushmill's click here.
The "Red Bus" tour is a terrific way to quickly see the city and then spend more on the sites that further interest you. Our route included: the Titanic Quarter, Donegal Square, Albert Memorial Clock Tower, St. Anne's Cathedral, Crumlin Road Jail, Shankill Road wall Murals, Falls Road wall murals, Queen's University, Europa Hotel, Grand Opera House and Crown Liquor Saloon. We have tons of pictures of the Murals but here is a link for more information. Shankill Road is the working-class Unionist/Protestant area and Falls Road is the working-class Republican/Catholic area. Did you know the Titanic was built in Belfast? Well, that's the Irish story anyway. The Europa hotel is worth passing by as it's been the most bombed hotel in the world - it's been bombed 40 times. We chose not to stay there! Across the street from the Europa is the Crown Liquor Saloon, a restored High Victorian pubic house now owned by The National Trust. If you're visiting Belfast, you should definitely stop in for a pint of Guinness. The stained glass and ceramic tile's are gorgeous!
Mike on the steps that lead to the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge:
Gabi & Mike in front of the spectacular northern coastline after crossing the bridge:
The view to the south:
Overlooking the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge:
Gabi & Mike at the Giant's Causeway:
The polygonal basalt formations:
Finn MacCool's Organ:
View of the chimney top's - Giant's Causeway:
Mike, our guide & the other 3 Whisky tasters:
The Europa Hotel:
Gabi in front on the Albert Memorial Clock Tower:
Mural on Shankill Rd.:
Mural on Falls Rd.:
Mike in front of White's Tavern - the oldest pub in Belfast:
Belfast City Hall:
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