Since moving to the Emerald Isle, naturally my interest in Irish history has sky-rocketed. It prompts me to see all that I can when the weather is decent and on those dreary days I love curling up with a good documentary as I listen to the sound of the rain dancing outside.
Irish history is both rich, complex and quite heart breaking. All these factors make me respect both this beautiful land and its people even more so for their resilience and positivity. Admittedly, I have never had an interest in Belfast. Having grown up as a child of the 90’s, news regarding The Troubles was global so I was somewhat hesitant to visit a city where I have been told countless times the tensions remain high. However, not wanting to waste a long weekend I booked my bus ticket and headed north into British territory.
The journey is relatively quick by coach, 2.5 hours is enough time to watch a few episodes of The Office and have a quick power nap for those early risers. You can just as easily take the train from Dublin to Belfast, but for me I gravitate towards coaches as I feel more secure. I hear your question- no you do not need your passport, there are no check points and the only indication that you have entered the United Kingdom is the distinct change in flags from the Tricolours to the Union Jack.
Belfast is a fantastic base for those who wish to see Giants Causeway which quite frankly is a must if you are visiting this part of the world. Many tour companies operate from Dublin but you will typically be looking at a 6.30am start and a late return to the Republic. This is an option for those staying in the heart of Dublin who are happy to brave the morning winter chill (which is all year round). Most importantly if you are staying at a hostel or hotel in Dublin city you will be able to reach pick up points quite easily by foot. Unfortunately, I reside in the suburbs. As such, 6.30am starts are impossible as the LUAS doesn’t operate until after 7am.
For those captivated by the tragedy of the Titanic I highly recommend visiting the museum built in her honour. It is an interactive and enlightening experience that would undoubtedly suit all age groups. Personally, my visit was quite a full circle moment. I have been gripped by the story of the doomed ship since James Cameron’s blockbuster hit the screens when I was 12. I have read countless books and watched several documentaries and seeing where she was built and understand first hand the blood, sweat and tears that went into her construction was by far my favourite memory of Belfast.
Overall Northern Ireland, was a truly humbling experience. There’s a resilience to the city that unexpectedly overwhelmed and humbled me. I recommend everyone to visit simply for the fact that you will walk away with a new perspective. As an Australian, it certainly made me thankful that I have never had to experience political instability to that extent and it made me angry that we complain so much when we really have so little to complain about.
The Quick 5
Where did you stay?
Global Village Hostel, a quaint little hostel which undoubtedly lives up to is 93% rating on hostelworld. Incredibly clean and well designed, you will feel right at home in this 19th century conversion. From where the coaches arrive in the city centre, it is about a 10 – 15 minute walk and there are plenty of amenities, shops and cafes along the way. For those looking for something a bit more up market, the Europa Hotel is not only literally around the corner from the bus depot but many tours operators use the hotel as a pick up point. During ‘The Troubles,’ the hotel became Europe’s most bombed hotel but if it is good enough for the President of the United States and his entourage, than it’s good enough for me.
What’s the story with the power adapters?
Power adaptors are the same as they are in the UK and the Republic so if you are including these areas as you venture through Europe, you will need two separate adapters (one for the continent and the other for the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland)… and don’t forget the change in currency.
Did you feel safe?
Yes, however exercise caution around Belfast City Hall during the evenings and at night.
Best months to visit Northern Ireland?
If you intend to visit Giants Causeway, lucking out with weather is a gamble in this part of the world. In order to give yourself the best chance possible try to time your visit with the warmer seasons. However, it is essential that you keep in mind that tensions are still high in Northern Ireland and typically come to a head during the Orange Walks. This is a series of parades held throughout the summer months which culminate in an annual celebration on July 12 to mark the defeat of Catholic King James II by Protestant Prince William of Orange. Given the denominational, sectarian and cultural tension that has defined the region, understandably I’m sure you can appreciate why the parades aren’t well received by the Catholic community. I don’t wish to cause any offence by writing this, I’m not an historian and I can only relay my understanding as a foreigner through my own research.
Day trips tips and tricks?
Since arriving in Ireland I have conducted the majority of my day trips through Paddywagon Tours. They are a brand which I know and trust, so was happy to find out that they also operate tours from Belfast to Giants Causeway. Like Paddywagon, many tours will typically include a visit to Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge as they venture North. The natural beauty on this green island is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, the Causeway and Carrick-a-rede only fuel my beliefs. However, give yourself plenty of time at Carrick-a-rede to get back to your coach. Walking to the bridge is incredibly scenic but don’t stop to take photos until you venture back. Instead, head straight to the rope bridge because there’s typically a long line to get across to tiny Carrickarede island AND to get back. I had to hustle so fast to return to my to my coach in time and I’m just not cut out for that kind of stress.