Last we left off I was leaving London UK for Belfast, Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. They consider themselves Ireland, really just UK on paper etc. The currency is still the Pound. Funny, You can use British pounds in Northern Ireland, but you can’t use Irish pounds outside of Northern Ireland. 🤷♀️
I’m once again jumping on my go-to tour company Intrepid Travel to guide me around this lovely country. The tour is called Northern and Southern Ireland. It’s seven days, starting in Belfast and ending in Dublin. I’m tacking on extra days in both cities as usually you don’t have much time in them on the tour. So keep that in mind if you are booking a tour, always look at the itinerary and trip notes. Now you’re thinking, no shit, seems obvious, but many people don’t, then are upset or surprised by the itinerary. So don’t be that type of traveller. Anyway, let’s look at the map below. I did 3.5 days in Belfast in my own, before starting the tour.
This blog will cover Belfast to the Giant’s Causeway.
Belfast! Known for the Titanic, shipbuilding and linen production. Marvellous little city! There’s this hardy, spirited energy about it. Population of about 340,000, definitely has had its share of trauma and turmoil. But happy to see it’s on the mend as per the locals.
Easy to get around. You can walk, and of course they have a city bus system. I do sometimes utilize the hop on/hop off buses. Good way to see a city and the main stops. Theres usually really good commentary too. There’s designated stops, so get off, explore that area/ attraction, then get back on. That simple. The only thing I would say about the Belfast one is the hours were quite short compared to other cities I’ve done them on. So watch out for that to see if it’s worth it.
The City is divided into multiple quarters. Such as the Cathedral Quarter, the Titanic Quarter etc. Mainly just cultural divisions. All have something unique and interesting.
I highly recommend taking a Black Taxi Tour. It was approx 1.5 hrs. This was mainly a political tour to show the history between the Protestants (the English) and the Catholics (the Irish). Lots of sad and awful history of oppression, abuse and violence. I won’t go into great detail because I’ll be here forever. But you can look up “the troubles” and “Bloody Sunday” the “1981 Irish Hunger Strike”.
There’s many murals around. This is an important one as this marks the rioting and civil rights protests to end discrimination against the Irish Catholics. The Catholics were being treated so cruelly and unfairly by the Protestants. For example, you could be walking down the street, get arrested for no reason and jailed for years. All police and courts were Protestant. This became the start of the IRA, Irish Republican Army. They were around in the 1920’s, but really took hold in 1969.
Protestant area. You can tell by all the flags everywhere.
You’ll see these types of memorials around. Very sad and tragic reads. This one was on the Protestant side. So these people were murdered by the IRA. shootings and bombings. And this isn’t that long ago, ended in 1998.
The Peace wall that divides the Protestant and Catholic sides. There’s still gates that open at 0600 and close at 1800. Even though you’ll hear most people talk about there being peace now, they say they’re still building the trust. That maybe one day they’ll never have to lock the gates again.
The Catholic memorial side on the back of the Peace wall. These people were murdered by the Protestants.
Falls Road. This is on the Catholic side. These are political murals, still being maintained today. Some are about local people in history and some are about world issues today.
Some of the Irish Catholics who were imprisoned for no reason went on hunger strikes. Here’s a link to a very powerful movie about with Michael Fassbender as one of the leaders Bobby Sands. He’s very much revered as a hero.
Ah the Titanic museum. Now we’re down in the Titanic quarter! If you are into ship building and the Titanic, well then this museum is a must. Very impressive, high tech and interesting. Belfast was one of the leaders in the world for ship building. As the locals say about the Titanic, “It was fine when it left”.
You can walk around this area, see the ship yards, and close by is the studio where they filmed Game of Thrones. I’m one of the only people on this planet who didn’t watch it, but they filmed in Northern Ireland in a few locations. I’ll reference GOT a few times in this blog, it came up a lot on my travels as they filmed a lot in Northern Ireland, Iceland too. Really gave their economy a much needed boost. So the locals are happy about the show being shot around there, but also all the tourism it’s bringing now.
City Hall. You can get free guided tours of the building. I didn’t have enough time, but if that interests you, I hear it’s very beautiful inside.
Titanic memorial at City Hall. You’ll see different Titanic memorials around the city.
Pride was on during my time here, so I went to the city centre to support and celebrate. The first Pride was in 1991, they said only about 100 people were there. Last year it was about 55,000 people.
Many locals were saying how great it was that so many people could be celebrating in the city centre. 20-30 years ago, no one would be hanging out in the city centre due to violence, bombings etc. How times are changing. There’s just an exciting energy of optimism that many locals I chat with seem to have.
Just some signs I liked.
(£80 = $130 Canadian)
The botanical gardens in the Queens Quarter is worth checking out. It’s free, and it’s a beautiful little spot. Established in 1828 due to the public’s interest in botany and horticulture. I noticed a lot of info about ferns, they were wild about ferns back in that time. So if you are into botany, it’ll really be worth your time.
There was some interesting art installation pieces around the park to do with plastics, rubber and our need to over consume them.
Make time for the Ulster Museum. It’s also free, just be kind and leave a donation. This museum has everything related to Ireland. Very well done, multiple topics, worth checking out. It’s quite large, so you could be there for hours if you wanted.
Game of Thrones throne, for you fans.
Ahhh…now let’s switch gears a talk food! The Irish know how to make hearty, delicious food that sticks to your ribs. Very meat, potato and bread based, really test that plumbing.
This is an Irish Fry or Irish breakfast. This one had a fried egg, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, hash brown, potato bread and soda bread. You can also get it with baked beans, white pudding or black pudding. And if they ask you if you want any red sauce or brown sauce, they’re referring to ketchup or HP sauce. And no, I didn’t eat all that.
Beef Boxty. It’s a traditional Irish pancake (boxty) with like a beef stew in it. Really good! You can get different fillings such as seafood, chicken or vegetarian options.
Seafood chowder. Because Ireland is one big Island, tons of fresh seafood, everywhere all the time. Often served with wheaten bread, it’s a brown soda bread.
Sticky toffee pudding.
Irish coffee made with Bushmills whiskey.
I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I do love a good cider. Both England and Ireland have tons of different ciders, but you’ll also find them on tap as well which is nice. Canada needs to up its cider game!
Some stops along the northern coast on our day trip to see the Giants Causeway. This is an easy day tour out of Belfast. On a clear day you can see Scotland.
Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, used by salmon fisherman dating back to 1755. But buy your tickets online early. You get a 2 hour window to hike over to it and cross it. Due to high tourism in the area, they’re trying to keep some control over the madness. Really pretty views. If you don’t want to cross the bridge, then it’s free and you can go anytime.
This was a really cute and delicious cafe to have lunch in. This area they filmed a lot of Game of Thrones. Cast and crew would come here to eat often, but they’d be wearing their costumes and make up. I guess it would really throw tourists off to walk in and see everyone dressed up like that. They have pictures inside with cast members with the staff etc. No clue who most of the people were, so I can’t give any names. Guess you’ll just have to go visit now.
Beautiful scenery. They shot some scenes here. Maybe you’ll recognize it if you watched it. There are Games of Thrones tours you can do. Even if you didn’t watch it, I think it’s still worth it to get out and see beautiful areas. I did this in New Zealand with Lord if the Rings and the Hobbit. As well Salzburg Austria with The Sound of Music. You see some spectacular views. But it was crazy congested with tourists. I can’t believe I got pics without people in it.
The Giant’s Causeway. This is a MUST if you are in Northern Ireland. So there’s two explanations on how this beautiful phenomenon was created. It’s quite extraordinary.
1. A volcanic eruption 50-60 million years ago. As the lava cooled, contraction occurred. This created about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. (For my geology peeps, I hope I got that right).
2. (my favourite explanation and the most plausible), Two giants got into a fight, one from Ireland named Finn McCool and the other from Scotland named Benandonner. Benandonner challenged Finn McCool to a fight. Finn creates the causeway for the two giants to meet as they are separated by water. Benandonner is terrifyingly massive. Finn realizes this and quickly retreats back home, but Benandonner follows. Finn’s wife quickly wraps Finn up like a baby in a blanket and is rocking him. Benandonner sees the “baby” and decided if the baby is that big, he didn’t want to know what the father looked like. He quickly retreated back to Scotland destroying the causeway on his way home.
I don’t think there was enough of us tourists there…
They call this rock the Giants boot 🥾
Last stop before we head back to Belfast. The Bushmills Whiskey Distillery. The Irish know their whiskey! Established in 1608.
I like this chandelier. It’s full whiskey bottles. Originally they filled empty bottles with water, but it didn’t look right and would get cloudy etc. So they ended up using their whiskey and problem solved.
Not a big whiskey drinker, but I just had to sample! It was nice, and you can buy Bushmills in Canada! Nice and warm in my tummy for the ride home.
Well that’s a piece of Northern Ireland in a nutshell. An absolute gem. I really did love it. Next I head to Galway and work my way down the west coast! Until next time!