BELFAST, N. IRELAND
Contrasts and historical day trips.
Belfast, a city once divided is thriving on tourism through its fascinating past. A city of under half a million people with a history of unrest, may not seem like the first place on your list of places to visit. You would be wrong. Next time you’re craving something new and exciting, book a trip to Belfast, located in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom. On my recent trip to Ireland and London, I was able to visit Belfast for a few days and experienced a truly diverse travel experience.
Belfast is the capital and largest city in Northern Ireland. Driving to Belfast is a must. As you leave the bustling city of Dublin you embark on a beautiful ride through authentic Irish countryside.
After a two-hour drive (longer if you make the many scenic stops along the way) you arrive in a city that is on a smaller scale in comparison to Dublin, but don’t discount its size. Belfast is a fascinating and historic place with a big personality and welcoming to travelers.
I was lucky to have stayed in a quaint little house in central Belfast with friends; however, there are lots of different hotels available to tourists. The famous Europa Hotel is a four-star hotel in Great Victoria Street, Belfast that has hosted numerous Presidents, Prime Ministers and celebrities. Its historic significance is what makes the hotel known across the world as the most bombed hotel in Europe after suffering thirty-six bomb attacks during the Troubles. It has since been renovated and is a wonderful and notable hotel to stay when visiting the city of Belfast.
Our first day in Belfast was a truly eye opening experience. I never quite fully grasped the history between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. After taking a Black Cab Tour, I began to understand it a little more. The tour, which lasts roughly an hour and a half, is an escorted tour of Greater Belfast’s historical sites. An experienced driver takes you on a journey back in time to explore many places of interest. Our driver brought us on a ‘Political Murals and The Peace Line’ tour, where we learned about
the political murals that tell their own graphic story of what has been called “The Troubles” in Ireland’s recent history. We were taken to see the peace wall that was built to keep Republicans and Loyalists apart and to this day still divides the two communities, the Republicans and the Loyalists. It was hard for me to quite grasp the idea that these two communities were still divided, especially staying in the city center where there were no peace walls. However, when I asked our driver, he said there is still conflict happening today. Although locals will always remember The Troubles, having affected their families, some residents would say the division is not felt anymore. This Black Cab Tour is a must for anyone visiting the city.
Our second day, we left the city to visit the famous Giant’s Causeway. We all hopped into our friend’s minivan after stopping at a local coffee shop, The Thinking Cup for a quick coffee and pastry to go.
The drive was a spectacular, coastal drive that took about an hour and a half from Belfast. The Giant’s Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking hexagonal basalt columns, which were the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. It is located in County Antrim on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, just outside of the town of Bushmills. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff base and disappear under the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal in shape. While we were walking along the causeway, one of our friends told me the legend of how it was created. According to the legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by an Irish giant. A Scottish giant named Benandonner challenged an Irish giant named Fionn mac Cumhaill to a fight. Fionn accepted the challenge and builds the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. Once Fionn realizes how much bigger Benandonner is, he decides to hide from him. So Fionn’s wife disguises Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle and once Benandonner sees the size of this ‘baby’ he decides that his father, Finn must be a giant among giants. Benandonner flees back to Scotland and destroys the causeway so that Finn could not follow. Across the sea there are identical basalt columns at Fingal’s cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa, and perhaps is how the legend was born. On our drive back to Belfast, we had to make a mandatory stop at Ramore in Port Rush, which is famous for their desserts. We got four desserts to share and I was delighted by how delicious they were. A definite stop when you’re visiting the Giant’s Causeway.
Belfast is a great place to visit for a short trip, but I felt like there was a lot more I could have explored if I had more time. It is a city with history, beautiful architecture and a difficult past. The city suffered greatly during the Troubles, but has since undergone considerable expansion and continues to grow as a major city in Western Europe.