The last city in my trek around Ireland was Belfast which is actually up in Northern Ireland. When I initially started exploring my options for places to visit in Europe I was a bit clueless about the history of Northern Ireland. In fact, I didn’t even realize that it is actually a different country from Ireland. Clueless me. When it eventually came time to make firms plans and actually book my flights I decided to include two days in Northern Ireland. I almost scratched the whole idea after talking to a co-worker from Galway who warned me that going to Belfast in July might be a bad idea because of political issues that were going to be happening around that time. As the trip approached I was prepared to cancel my flight from Belfast to Edinburgh and just fly out of Dublin if need be. But in the end I got a green light from my co-worker and Belfast stayed on my list of destinations.
Needless to say, I was a tiny bit apprehensive when I headed to Belfast but in the end I’m really glad that it was a stop during my trip.
Train & Hostel
My cheapest option for getting to Belfast from Dublin ended up being a train and since trains aren’t a common thing in my everyday life I was all over that. This train was the kind where you have a seat assignment and there’s a little card with your name on it above your seat. I’d never experienced having the reservation card above the seat before so I thought it was pretty cool.
Queen’s University and Botanic Gardens
One of the cool things about this hostel was the fact that you could see Queen’s University across the street. The first thing I did was wonder around the campus a bit and then took a nice long walk with my iPod through the bordering Belfast Botanic Gardens, which was absolutely stunning. I was not in a picture taking mood that day so I’m afraid I don’t have any good pictures that show the true beauty of the place.
Ulster Museum & Northern Ireland history
My original plan had been to go to the Titanic Museum since I’d heard such good things about it but due to the distance from my hostel and the closing time of the museum the manager of the hostel recommended skipping it in order to fit in some other things instead. I’m glad that I took the time to leisurely enjoy the garden because I ended up loving it. On the edge of the Botanic Gardens is the Ulster Museum which is an awesome museum with a ton of different exhibits and displays. Like most UK museums it was free and the layout was pretty cool. The entire museum was designed to be taken in from top to bottom and you rotated around and down in a circular route. Despite not being a museum person I spent quite a bit of time wondering around in this one.
By far the coolest thing about the Ulster Museum was the fact that I learned about the history of Ireland and the history of Northern Ireland. More importantly, I understood the history of the conflict between the two. One of the exhibits, The Troubles, was specifically about that and had an almost eerie feel to it. It gave me a similar feeling to the one I had during the last part of my time at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.
What hit me more than anything else was that so many of the dates on the displays were during my lifetime. These events were recent history… and that caught me off guard for some reason.
I also wondered around in downtown Belfast and explored the shopping. For some reason I found it highly amusing that they had a Pound World. In our terms that would be Everything $1.5!
After dinner I asked the manager at my hostel for recommendations for a pub with real Irish music. I went to a place called Fibber Maggees and while it was authentically Irish, the live music just didn’t compare to the band I’d gotten to listen to in Galway. I guess now I’m picky about my Irish music.
The second day of my stay in Belfast consisted of me taking a bus tour in order to get to see some of the countryside. Sadly this bus tour was a lot more packed than the two I did in Galway and half of the bus seemed to be a group traveling together who didn’t seem to want to talk to anyone outside of their group. Boo.
But nonetheless, I took the opportunity to soak up the beautiful Irish countryside since I knew this was my last day in the country.
One of our stops was the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which I enjoyed quite a bit and I only found tiny bit unnerving. The steps you take to get down to the rope bridge scared me more than the bridge itself.
See those little people out there in the distance? That’s where you end up once you go across the rope bridge. It was quite a hike from the parking area.
I was out on the little “island” enjoying looking around and taking pictures for about three minutes before it started to pour. Irish weather at it’s finest. This was the day that I found out that my new jacket was water resistant, not waterPROOF. Yes, there’s a huge difference. As I was making the trek back to the gift shop and parking area I could feel the water soaking through my shirt and pretty soon I was soaked through.
When we stopped for lunch I ended up eating with a few tourists from my bus who were studying in Dublin. They were all from the US doing a study abroad program for a year and while they were there they wanted to see more of Ireland so they’d decided to spend the weekend in Belfast. We all commiserated over our wet jeans and lack of a change of clothes while they told me about the program they were doing. It’s those kinds of interactions that make me love traveling as much as I do.
The main stop of the tour was the Giant’s Causeway. There’s an Irish story about a giant that gave the place the name it has now but basically it’s a bunch of basalt columns that are a result of volcanic activity. Before going I didn’t understand why it was such a noted place to go but after visiting it made sense. It’s definitely unique and I can’t think of another place quite like it.
And the best way to dry out soaking wet jeans? High speed wind! It was crazy windy while we were at the causeway and by the time I ended up going inside the tourist center at the end my jeans had dried out from the wind. It was quite a hike in order to see everything so I spent plenty of time in the wind.
I ended my last day in Ireland by picking up a pizza on my way back to the hostel and enjoyed hanging out with some people in the dining room and then with some of the girls up in our room later that night. I had pizza in each of the countries I visited on this trip and the pepperoni always tasted different. In England it tasted like ham, in Scotland it tasted like a mix of spices, and in Ireland it just tasted sweet. Now it’s my goal to try pepperoni pizza in more European countries just to see what it tastes like!
If you’re headed to Ireland anytime soon and have time to squeeze in Northern Ireland I’d recommend if. Someday when I make it back I’d like to go to the Titanic Museum and take one of the famous Black Cab Tours. I certainly don’t mind having excuses for why I need to make it back to Ireland!