When we were traveling around Ireland, my girlfriend and I also paid a visit to Northern Ireland, the British part of the island. We took a bus from Dublin, where we spent most of our time, to Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital. Buses, by the way, are by far the best form of public transport in Ireland.
Belfast is, as you will most likely know, a city with a rather violent recent history. It is also the city . Those were the two things that I knew about the city before we went there. I think it’s vital not to have high expectations when traveling, because they can only lead to disappointment. I didn’t expect much from Belfast, but I’m not lying when I say that the city blew me away.
It became my favorite city on the entire island after Kilkenny, but that’s really just a small town.
Weekend Breaks in Belfast Northern Ireland
We spent three full days in Northern Ireland, two of them exploring Belfast and the third traveling along the absolutely marvelous Antrim Coast.
Day 1: West Belfast
One of the best ways to explore Belfast, and particularly West Belfast, is a so-called Black Taxi Tour. We decided against that, though, because it’s also fairly expensive. You can also rent a car at Belfast Airport if you feel like driving. We simply walked around.
This is not a pretty place, but that’s not what attracts visitors in the first place. It is where most of Belfast’s fights and battles took place; it was literally a war zone not too long ago. Even two decades ago it wouldn’t have been impossible to walk around the area like we did. There’s still a feeling of tension going over there nowadays, and it’s advised to stay away on ‘march days’.
The two main roads in West Belfast are Falls Road and Shankill Road, which are respectively the Catholic republican and Protestant loyalist neighborhoods. Although peace has been restored, the two neighborhoods are still separated by a wall, the Peace Wall, which has fortified gates that can be shut in case tensions flare up again.
There were meant to provoke, show political points of view, protest, and even glorify terrorist groups.
Day 2: Titanic Quarter
Belfast’s docklands were the world’s epicenter of shipbuilding in the beginning of the 20th century. Several enormous ships were fitted out there, but the most famous of them all was RMS Titanic, which was launched in 1912. At the time it was the largest ship ever built.
Nowadays, the area doesn’t look anything like what it used to a century ago, although some of the docks, including of course the Titanic’s fitting dock, can still be visited.
This is a surprisingly beautiful part of Belfast, consisting of ultramodern apartment buildings, waterfront parks and the futuristic Titanic Belfast museum.
Day 3: Antrim Coast
On the third day we went and explored the glorious Antrim Coast, which extends from Belfast all the way to the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. Again, we took a bus – this time a tour. These tours were generally fairly cheap and always convenient, but the price that that you do pay is a total lack of freedom.
Our tour led past spectacular places, such as Carrickfergus Castle, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the Bushmills Distillery, which is the oldest legal whiskey distillery in the world.
Our fun-and-history-filled weekend in Belfast, Northern Ireland ended at the fantastic Giant’s Causeway – still one of my favorite places in all of Ireland.