WALK IN TITANIC’S WAKE
Lonely Planet named it the world’s best region to visit in 2018 and Belfast has an allure that runs deeper than its troubled past. “I can assure you that visiting the region will be one of the most memorable aspects of a trip to Ireland,” says Back-Roads Touring tour leader Breda O’Donoghue. “The soft lilt of the spoken word, the generosity, kindness and passion of a people that have endured and survived a difficult and recent period in their history, will stir you and move you immeasurably.”
Before you go to Belfast, these are her tips:
A TALE OF TWO HALVES
For most visitors, there is little knowledge this island was divided politically almost 100 years ago and that, today, we remain two different entities – the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Those who recall some of the images beamed across the world may still well ask whether or not there is still a “war” in Ireland. Thankfully, any hostilities have now been confined to the history books, allowing for the seamless, borderless and trouble-free movement of people across the divide.
“I’M FLYING, JACK”
A must-do in Belfast is a visit to the Titanic Quarter where you can explore The Titanic Experience. As it is one of the busiest tourist destinations in Ireland, I strongly recommend booking online.
Allow anything between 2.5 and four hours, and possibly longer, to dive into the history of the city that earned itself the name “Linenopolis” and to explore the journey of the infamous Titanic from its construction to its tragic end. Although there are restaurants inside, there is nothing nicer on a good day than to picnic outside on the water’s edge.
NOT JUST POTATOES
The Irish boast some of the best raw ingredients for world-class cuisine. Think farmhouse cheeses, seafood, smoked salmon, lamb, beef, soda bread, potato cakes, bacon and cabbage.
You’ll find plenty of eating houses in the Cathedral Quarter and one of my favourites has to be Graze – it’s unpretentious, modest and great value for money. They also have a cocktail bar upstairs, perfect for pre-dinner drinks. Afterwards, head to The John Hewitt – a wonderful old-world pub offering a very impressive pint of Guinness and live music most nights.
No trip to Belfast is complete without doing the eye-opening Black Taxi tour, taking you through the troubled history of Belfast.
Other fine attractions include the Crumlin Road Gaol, the Ulster Museum and Botanic Gardens, Belfast Castle, and the C.S Lewis Trail – a self-guided walking trail to places that inspired the author.
Or, head to SKYTrek – a high-ropes course and zip line park where you can enjoy stupendous views of Belfast city at the Colin Glen Forest Park.
IN THE LAND OF GIANTS
A drive along the Causeway Coast takes in dramatic coastal cliffs with unspoilt beaches, historic castles and sweet little villages.
I suggest starting at the 800-year-old Carrickfergus Castle and travel to Ireland’s first World Heritage Site, the Giant’s Causeway, passing Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world, Bushmills.
For fans of Game of Thrones, which is actually made in Belfast, there are guided tours available to key filming locations along the Causeway Coast.
WATCH YOUR WALLET
The currency used is British pounds but some banks produce banknotes specifically for Northern Ireland which can be difficult to exchange once you leave, so swap them in a shop or bank.