Weekend Wanderings: Belfast, Northern Ireland

I’ve been doing a lot of UK-local travel lately (and by a lot I mean two places but let’s exaggerate for a good story) because I had to renew my passport and thought it would take forever but actually only took a week! Anyways, I really wanted to go to Belfast because of the Titanic museum and the Giant’s Causeway but that was all I knew to see in Belfast.

I was pleasantly surprised though, you can easily fill a weekend there! I found more to do there than in Dublin and the food was amazing! Granted, we did a day tour out to Giant’s Causeway and along the coast for some Game of Thrones themed visits but even if you aren’t a GoT fan, the tour company runs basically the same tour and sites without the overlay of filming fun facts.

Here are some cool things we learned and tasty things we ate while in Northern Ireland:

1. Dark Hedges – Based on the number of people crowded on this road, people know this is a go-to place. The hedges themselves are not actually hedges, they are trees. But once upon a time, they were hedges meant to be a garden spectacle leading up to a modest house. I thought it was kind of sad though, lots of people have carved their names into the trees and I thought maybe it was from yester-year when that was a thing but there were even some carvings from 2018-2019! Guys, that kills the trees. Also ruins the natural beauty, I don’t care about your anniversary or that you were there. But since the trees are dying, go there soon.

They have taken the trees that have died already and turned them into another heritage item, commemorating the Game of Thrones filming. It might sound cheesy, but the filming brought a lot of money to the country and continues to bring tourists to a country that within this lifetime was an unsafe destination. So power to the Starks! There are 8 doors spread throughout the country. If you’re at the Dark Hedges, then pop over to the hotel and you’ll find the Stark door ironically in the ‘Lannister Lounge’ of the hotel. The lounge also has an iron throne if you want a nice photo op.

2. Crumlin Road Gaol – That would be pronounced ‘jail’. This prison dates back to the 1800’s but was actually operational until the 90’s. For this reason, political prisoners were housed here during The Troubles. I’m not well-versed on this part of Irish history but the tour guide said to be respectful of the fact that people in recent times were imprisoned there, they have made the jail look like it did in Victorian times. I found they gloss over some of the sordid details of the past a bit in Belfast, whether to move on from it or just keep the peace, I’m not sure but I do want a solid history lesson on The Troubles. You also save about £3 if you book online a day in advance.

3. Giant’s Causeway – I was a bit worried that given the overcast weather, we wouldn’t be able to see the Causeway. But unlike the Cliffs of Moher, you can see the Causeway just fine in cloudy weather! You just can’t see Scotland across the way. The legend goes that there was once a land bridge (causeway) between Northern Ireland and Scotland where two clans of giants each lived. They challenged each other to a fight but the Irish giant tricked the Scottish giant into thinking he was reeeally giant and the Scottish one fled across the causeway. Then the Irish one stomped and destroyed the bridge so he couldn’t come back and find out he was tricked. And thus the island was formed. In reality, it’s a really fun rock formation to (carefully) climb over and you feel like you’re on the edge of the Earth. There are also moderate and difficult walking trails along the cliffs if you’d like to do more of a physical challenge. You need a ticket to get into the visitor’s center but not the actual causeway/cliffs.

4. Ginger’s Bistro– So apparently Belfast has been named a top foodie destination and it is well earned! That being said, make reservations. It was HARD to find a place both Saturday and Sunday (lots of places close on Sunday) but Ginger’s was very accommodating and let us hang around giving people stares as they sat with their empty drink glasses for half an hour and not ordering food. Jokes, jokes. Sort of. But the staff was very friendly and cheerful even under the stress of large parties and loads of walk-ins. Also they had a wine on the menu that was described as ‘a hug in a glass’ which is much more appealing to me than ‘notes of cherry and oak’. Hugs please!!

5. Harlem– Another great food place, we went here for lunch. It’s one of those places crammed full of fun pictures and items so you don’t have to make eye contact with your dining companions ever. It’s like if someone said ‘I want a jazz club to be Midsummer Night’s Dream themed’. And it delivers. Their food was also stellar and their cakes were gigantic. Would highly recommend although they do close the kitchen between lunch and dinner (so you can only have wine in the afternoon, oh darn).

There are of course also classic pubs such as The Crown Liquor Saloon which our tour guide told us was a bit of a snub towards the English as there is a mosaic crown at the front door which you have to walk on in order to enter, thus, walking on the Crown.

What I found the most captivating about Belfast was understanding its industrial history and seeing how it is adapting from the era of shipbuilding. To an extent, it seems to be a bit of luck to have such a popular program filmed there but also a bit of ingenuity as there are film studios located in the old warehouses along the waterfront. I think the most disappointing part of the trip was I forgot my rainbow-shamrock socks at home, missing a great opportunity to show off my Irish-enthusiasm.

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