Friday, 10 April 2015

Dublin Sightseeing Series: Well, Belfast and Surrounding Areas to be exact

We felt like a bit of a road trip over Easter and decided to go check out Belfast and revisit the Giant's Causeway.

Dublin - Belfast is about 165km's, and just under two hours by car. It's an easy drive, and there's lots to see along the way, regardless of which route you choose.

We opted for the more scenic route of the Mourne Coast, as opposed to driving up the middle of the country, as we'd done that the last time we were here, and have pretty much done the vast majority of touristy stuff. We looked froward to stopping along the way to explore a few ruins, castles, coastal villages.  Sadly, the weather was grey and the photos didn't work, so you'll just have to trust the scenery is beautiful!

As you can see from the picture below, the coast road literally follows the coast.

The coast road literally follows the coast!

We stopped for lunch at Bucks Head - absolutely recommend it! Funky decor, lovely service, and delicious food.

Bucks Head, Dundrum

We left Dublin at 10am and even with all our stops, got to the hotel in Belfast around 3.30pm.

We stayed at the Wellington Hotel opposite the stunning Queens University. The hotel was OK, nothing fancy, above average breakfast, good size rooms.

Queens University, Belfast.

Everyone will tell you to book a two hour guided tour with a Black Cab .... there are several companies, and we chose Paddy Campbells' Black Cab Tour company to explore and learn about Greater Belfast's history. Our guide was lovely! He explained he was 5 years old when the Troubles started and still lives in the same area. He's raised his family here, and knows the area very well.

To say it's an emotional, chilling, hopeful experience doesn't begin to give it the credit it deserves. Check out their trip advisor page or Facebook page and read the reviews for yourself.

The murals are a constant reminder, as is the Peaceline (built to keep Nationalists and Loyalists apart),and there are still some gates to suburban streets that are locked at night. The memorial gardens in amongst the shops and suburban areas make one shudder - so many young lives lost, some in very violent ways.

Just one of the many murals.

Remember. Respect. Resolution. 

No matter where you stood, the gun followed you. 

A small section of the Peaceline.

Small memorial garden in one of the suburbs.

Clonard Martyrs Memorial Garden. 

The cages over the backyards were slightly uncomfortable to see. 

Murals with messages.

The other 'must-experience' place in Belfast is the Titanic Museum As it was Easter long weekend, we but our tickets online so we didn't have to wait in lines. The place was busy, but not overly so. We bought the audio guide with our tickets, and the kids pack - have to say, you don't need either. The self guided tour is very detailed, and the audio doesn't add anything to what you can read/see independently.

The building is very impressive on the outside; there's a great gift shop which is reasonably priced with a combination of Belfast, UK and Titanic items. We had a pleasant lunch at the cafe, which was also well priced (not tourist attraction prices).

Titanic Museum, Belfast.

The Europa Hotel was another 'must see' stops while in the city centre. It's claim to fame, aside from playing host to world leaders is it's the most bombed hotel in Belfast during the Troubles.  World leaders, peace makers and journalists used the hotel as their base and were often targets.

Europa Hotel, Belfast
Dinner was at Deans at Queen.  Lovely setting. Great bar. Pleasant service. Enjoyable meal.

Our other dinner was at Barking Dog. We ate our meal twice - one round of tapas wasn't quite enough to fill our tummy's, and it was all delicious.

Both restaurants have kids menus, but as both are very 'bar' oriented, depending on the age of your kids, eat early, and make a reservation as both are very popular.

Carrickfergus Castle was a fun few hours. It's a great example of a Keep. The kids questionnaire is fun to complete as it encourages you to follow the route thru the complex. Great way to keep the kids engaged.

Keep, Crrickfergus Castle

The Giant's Causeway is a highlight of any visit to Northern Ireland. It's Mother Nature at her finest. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being part of National Trust UK, it's free for members, and not that expensive if you are not. Again, because it was Easter, we pre-booked our timed tickets (which we didn't need to do as it wasn't that busy).

We were here several years ago, and the new information centre is a fantastic addition. The building has been designed with the landscape of the surrounding area in mind, and inside there is a wealth of information about the areas geography, flora and fauna, history and legend. The gift shop has high quality, well priced items (we bought an Irish sheep - with black face, and postcards to send to Sydney)

After watching a few videos about the area, we collected our audio guides (one for adults and one for kids) and started the 20 minute walk to the Giant's Causeway, listening to the audio guides as we strolled.

Bay of Cows

Can you make out the Camel near the shoreline?
There's a great story to how it got there ......

The Giant's Causeway .... it's incredible to walk on something so old,
but as conservationists believe, maybe we shouldn't. 

This structure is known as the Giant's Organ.

The columns of rock tell geologists so much about the area
over millions of years.

Stepping stones all the way to Scotlan

You'll probably need to allow 2-3 hours at the Giant's Causeway, depending on the weather, and how far you choose to walk. Best to take a bottle of water to drink and light snacks, as there's no shops on the Causeway (thank goodness! Imagine how horrid that would be!)

It was lovely seeing people of all ages walking the Causeway, but it's no place for strollers/prams/buggies etc, and sadly I wouldn't say it's wheelchair friendly - tho there is a bus service from the Information Centre to the Causeway so it might be do-able. Probably best to make enquiries via the website.

You do need to be sure-footed, or have someone with you to help.

As the weather can change quickly, dress appropriately too.

A quick drive to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge for another unique adventure. Our second attempt to walk the bridge doomed due to an incredible thick fog. Many others were walking it, but we decided not to as you couldn't see much past your nose, so the views would have been missed.

The weather cleared and we drove thru the prettiest countryside dotted with ewes and their lambs - so many twin lambs!

The Dark Hedges has been popping up on my FB feed for a while as a tourist destination, and while we are the few who are not fans of Game of Thrones, we still went for a look.

The avenue is stunning, there's no doubt about it. The trees are magnificent! Shame about all the cars parked on the verge, creating traffic issues, and the hordes of pedestrians. All the tourist photos must have been taken at a time when the general public are banned from going.

We didn't park the car, but drove up and down a few times taking photos, dodging humans, and then editing the pics when we got home.

You've not done a road trip in Ireland or Northern Ireland, or England for that matter until you are stuck behind a tractor ........

One of several tractors we got stuck behind.
The farmers always wave you on when the road is clear.

There's so much more to explore in Northern Ireland, and while we've done other places in previous trips, and there's still more to do, these few days were very enjoyable.

Hope you enjoy your time in Belfast and surrounding areas,

With friendship

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