When God created Ireland, so the story goes, he turned to his host of angels and told them his plans. How he intended to created an Emerald Isle, the jewel of the sea, a land flooded with natural beauty, a merry population, and the greatest beers on earth.
But the angels protested, declaring it unfair that one country should have bestowed upon it so much perfection. “Ah yes,” said God, “but wait until you see the history they have ahead of them.”
We’ve experienced the natural beauty, and on St Patrick’s Day the merriest of people and outpouring of Guinness. Today we head north, crossing the border into Northern Ireland where the beauty remains, but the troubles are closer at hand.
We meet Carol, a Belfast local who intends to show us the old and the new, the good and the great, of the city she calls home.
Our first destination is also one of Belfast newest attractions, the Titanic Exhibit which opened to much fanfare in 2012 – the hundredth anniversary of that fateful ship’s maiden voyage.
We had no idea the Titanic was actually built here in Belfast! And the city have spared no expense in creating this experience – this is no museum of artifacts, this is a multi-storey interactive exhibit that walks us through the journey from turn-of-the-century Belfast to the fateful night of April 15, 1912.
I have to admit – when Carol said we were headed here, I was expecting to spend 90 minutes in a museum (and much of that grabbing a coffee or flicking through the gift shop). Three hours later! we find ourselves debating whether to stay longer in the theatre at the end of the experience, which is showing footage from the discovery of the wreck 1,250 miles (2,000 kms) from its destination New York.
In between, we’ve seen how Belfast’s shipbuilding industry developed, how the luxury liners of the Titanic and Britannic were created as floating five-star hotels, and even been hoisted onto a ‘theme park’ style ride through the construction process!
If you make it to the UK, a trip to Belfast is worth it just for the Titanic.
Boojum is the most popular mexican joint in the city. It reminds us of Chipotle in the USA, only the food here is another level of quality above and the friendly staff and five quid burritos make it worth waiting in a queue that stretches out the door.
Australian readers will be impressed to know that they even serve Bundaberg Ginger Beer! We haven’t seen that since we flew out of Sydney after New Year’s – and trust me when I say I’ve missed it.
Having learned that we were shopping in Paris this time last week, Carol has decided to skip over Victoria Square and instead help us walk off a fantastic lunch with some of Belfast’s best historic sights.
We walk past St Anne’s Cathedral and Prince Albert’s Clock, poking our way through alley ways.
In the mid-afternoon, we take the 1 hour free tour inside Belfast City Hall, to learn a little more about the history and admire the interior architecture from this grand erection.
There’s also time to walk past and admire some of the buildings that date even earlier, from when industrial wealth was first injected into this city. The Grand Opera House (at the start of Great Victoria Street) and the Crown Liquor Saloon (further along) are two perfect examples.
It’s an afternoon of walking where we can’t help but notice that there’s a bar or great restaurant on almost every corner. Belfast may have grown thanks to industry, but it’s not “an industrial city” any more.
For dinner, Carol has another fine suggestion – Mourne Seafood. Now, not everyone likes seafood, and even though they have other options Carol didn’t want to make a booking. Alas, when we arrive tonight is fully booked! But not to worry – a local’s secret is that upstairs is the Oyster Bar, which serves exactly the same fresh local seafood (and is actually even a little bit cheaper)!
We end the evening as every Irish evening ought to end, by heading to the pub. Carol has brought us to The Garrick – figuring we might be sick of Guinness (never!) or pining for a bottle of our beer back home. And it doesn’t seem to matter where ‘back home’ is for you – this pub has six chalk boards packed with their beer list.
Oh, we’re going to be here for a little while. And best of all – Boojum is right next door for a feed on the walk back to the hotel!
Want to go? Need to know!
- Spending a week driving around Ireland and Northern Ireland is one of the greatest holidays Europe can offer. Just check that your car rental allows you to cross the border – there’s usually an extra fee to do so, and one alternative is to do what we did: hire 1 car in Dublin, another in Belfast tomorrow, and use the train to travel from Dublin to Belfast.
- Titanic tickets are timed, so it’s best to buy them in advance. Entry is £15 – and you save another 10% if you buy online.
- Belfast City Hall Tours run at 11am, 2pm and 3pm each day for 1 hour. The Hall itself is open 8.30am-4.30pm, and you are able to poke your head into the grand foyer and look up into the dome.
Have you driven been to Belfast? Is there better grub than Boojum or a nicer pub than the Garrick? Share your experience and top tips in the comments below, and be sure to like our Facebook page.