This week we’ve been to Belfast, Northern Ireland for a short break. It was our first family trip on a plane.
Last year whilst searching for flights to Spain I saw an advert for cheap flights to Belfast. I was pleased to get five return tickets for less than £100 (Easyjet) with daytime flights in the Easter Holidays.
On Tuesday morning we took the bus and metro to the airport.
Arriving in Belfast (International Airport) we were met with bright sunshine. We took the Airport Express bus to the city centre (approx 35 minutes. We then had a two mile walk to our house in East Belfast (booked via Bookings.com, approx £60 per night). It was nice to stretch our legs after the travel.
First thoughts on arrival were the city was much bigger than I expected. There were lots of political posters advertising different parties, and art on the sides of buildings.
Our house was close to Connswater shopping centre/retail outlet, and less than 5 minutes to a big Lidl, so handy for provisions.
This evening we chose to eat at The Hoose Bistro. The food was delicious, and Dad was impressed with the steak on the kids menu.
Our first stop of the day was Crumlin Road Gaol for a tour (£36 for five). It was fascinating, and quite beautiful inside (for a gaol – lots of light and decorative railings). We got to experience what life was like for the prisoners and guards, and walk in the tunnel between the gaol and the courthouse across the road, as well as hear about the political unrest and troubles. At one point the jail was holding three times the capacity it was designed for. 54 prisoners managed to escape, and 53 of them were re-captured. I like how the jail are creative in attracting business by offering weddings, music nights such as jailhouse rock, and overnight stays in the cells for groups.
We then walked to Belfast Castle at Cave Hill Country Park, where we had lunch. The castle itself is largely a tea room, restaurant, and function room venue, but it was lovely to sit in the sunshine overlooking the sea. Our main reason for visiting was that Dad had spotted an adventure play park for children nearby (£2.50 each for children). The boys enjoyed playing there and found new friends who shared their crisps and ham sandwich!
After a long walk home, we got some tea at Lidl, and watched a family film “Hop” on Netflix (included at our accommodation). Later, a Travelzoo offer came through on my phone for City Tours Belfast which I purchased for Thursday. We got a two day bus pass (£22 for a family ticket four four, under fives free) which enabled us to visit 30 stops.
We very much enjoyed our City Tour where we learned all this and lots more;
– Belfast is the only city in the world to have six quarters e.g. it’s officially a city and a half
– about the Good Friday Agreement (from 10 April 1998); a peace agreement between the British (John Holmes, Private Secretary to Tony Blair) and Irish governments (Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein), and most of the political parties in Northern Ireland, on how Northern Ireland should be governed.
– The Europa Hotel in Belfast is the most bombed hotel with 36 bombings.
– it’s free to enter the Stormont Parliament Buildings, and our Royal Family stay at the castle next door on Royal Visits. Security enter and check each tour bus prior to being let on site.
– Belfast has Peace Walls/Peace Lines which are a series of barriers that separate predominantly Republican and Nationalist Catholic neighbourhoods from predominantly Loyalist and Unionist Protestant neighbourhoods. There is a commitment by Stormont that these all be removed by mutual consent by 2023. Dalai Lama and Bill Clinton have both signed the walls, along with thousands of others.
– Some famous people from Northern Ireland/Belfast include Van Morrison (Brown Eyed Girl), Gary Moor (Thin Lizzy), George Best (Footballer), CS Lewis (Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe), Snow Patrol (three band members), Alex Higgins (Snooker), Ruby Murray (singer who made history in March 1955 by having five singles in the top 20 in a single week – a record that was only matched by Madonna four decades later. She sang “you are my sunshine, my only sunshine”), Sting was married to a catholic wife from Queens quarter and recorded Hope through War about the troubles in Belfast, Barry McGuigan (Boxer).
– The Albert Memorial Clock is Belfast’s equivalent of the leaning tower of Piza – it’s top is 4ft off the perpendicular due to being built on marshland.
– St Anne’s Cathedral has the largest Celtic Cross in Ireland.
– The Beacon of Hope is a metal sculpture in Thanksgiving Square, and is often fondly referred to by locals as the belle on the ball, the thing with the ring, and Nuala with the hoola.
– The saying in Belfast about the Titanic is that it was ok when it left Belfast.
– The only difference between an Irish wake and and Irish wedding is that there is one less person drinking.
The humor was great, and I enjoyed the Irish songs and singalongs on route. This tour was my favourite part of our trip.
In the afternoon we visited Belfast’s no. 1 tourist attraction – The Titanic Experience. Last year, the boys became interested in boats, and we watched Titanic, and the two Poseidon films. On learning the Titanic was built in Belfast, we were looking forward to this. It cost £46.50 for a family of four (under fives free). We all enjoyed it. Part of the experience was a ride showing what it was like to build the ship, and another was a 3D experience of the inside. There was a viewing gallery where the Titanic launched from, and testimonials from survivors. There was also a cinema showing cameras viewing the Titanic under the sea, and a section dedicated to careers you can get into if you’re interested in deep sea exploration. I would like to have seen more links to the film, and think good value would have been £30 (worth keeping an eye out for offers). Included in the price were certificates for the boys for finding characters on route, and entrance to the three story SS Nomadic ship close by.
After packing up and heading to the city centre, we had time for a short visit to St George’s market (open Friday – Sunday) with a variety of stalls and live music. This had been recommended on the tour. It was then time for our airport transfer, and travel back home. At the airport, we’d not realised Boy 3 had half a bottle of water in his backpack. Because of this, he was patted down by airport security staff, and his whole bag was tested for explosives. On return to Newcastle, there were two police with guns walking about. The boys asked why and were told as Newcastle is an International Airport it’s standard protocol. Nothing like a Gregg’s advert to remind you you’re home sweet home 🙂
If we’d had more time/next time:
– Giants causeway hiking trails – The Giant’s Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption.
– Gobbins cliff path – the most dramatic cliff walk in Europe?
– Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon park – home to the City of Belfast International Rose Garden
– spent more time exploring Cave Hill Country park
– Stormont parliament buildings – free entry to the public between 9am and 4pm, Monday to Friday
– Northern Ireland is home to the majority of filming locations for Game of Thrones. We’ve tried the first couple of series in the past, but our trip has inspired us to start again (here’s info about how to watch – the final series eight with six episodes commences on Sky Atlantic and Now TV in the UK on 15th April).
Tips if you’re visiting Belfast:
– Check flights into George Best Belfast City Airport as this was closer to the city and right next to a railway (so perhaps cheaper/quicker transfers)
– We’d stay more central next time
– I’d like have stayed 5-6 days as two days were largely spent getting there and back
Have you been to Belfast? What are your favourite things to do there?
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