I have been easily caught on this trip: when Lacey mentioned the Giant’s Causeway as the highlight of a stay in Belfast, I couldn’t say no.
The Giant’s Causeway is one of these places I read about a long time ago in my science magazines for kids, and I dreamed to actually be there. So Belfast it would be !
First day: I left for 3 days, with Lacey and Claire, two girls from my block (Canadian and French). We took the train to Manchester in the afternoon, then a plane directly to Belfast. We left York and a cold weather for Belfast and a wet weather.
Arriving there I had no idea where to go, or what could we do in Belfast. The only informations I gathered were from r/Belfast, which means:
- we should try potato bread, soda bread and Tayto crisps
- and an aerial view of Belfast that pleased me for one fact: Belfast has a river (and I love rivers)
Hopefully Lacey knew precisely where the hostel we would stay in was, and there were a very good information center less than 10m after we got into the airport. So we took 1 or 2 leaflets, a very good “What’s on Belfast “guide, with everything happening while we were here, and a huge A3 map of the city. I spent the whole way aiport – city centre (40mn) reading the guide, and trying to find the attractions on the map: apart from the Causeway, we saw a lot of ads for the Titanic museum, and we heard about the City Hall as something to see.
We arrived in the city at the Great Victoria street bus station, and made our way to the hostel, 30mn from it. In the drizzle. Very pleased to reach the hostel we got our key and set in our nice 4-beds bedroom, and started to think about what to do. As we were tired and hungry, the choice was quickly made: we would find a nice and if possible Irish pub to get something to eat, then straight to bed. Indeed, we had to wake up around 8 the day after, to book and go to the Causeway tour. The receptionist nicely recommended us a place where we get nice food and we tried our first wheaten bread (an NI speciality).
Once we were done, the girls decided to go back to the hostel while I took a walk around town: it was 11pm, but the end of a concert in the Waterfront (which is the round building slightly above the center of the aerial view) made the streets busy, as well as people going to clubs. The walk I took led me from the Waterfront to the hostel, along the river Lagan. Even if at the beginning the streets were full of party-goers, especially frozen teenagers struggling with their high heels, as soon as I passed Albert Bridge (close from the yellow houses) I was completely alone. I walked on the bank without seeing a soul. For 45mn I was on this path with nothing but an information sign every 300m. Very relaxing and a surprising contrast: the west bank doesn’t seem to be a leisure place, but the walk on daylight must be really nice.
When I reached what was, according to my estimations, the street leading to the hostel, I went west until I reached it. On my way I could have a quick look on Queen’s University, which seemed to be a place to visit the next days.
Second day: Woke up at 8AM so, we successfully booked our Giant’s Causeway Trip, and had to pack quickly for the day as the tour left at 9AM. The meeting place was close to the hostel, and quickly we were off for a whole day tour.
We made a first quick break by the sea after two hours of driving (update: identified by /u/CologneTrooper as Carrickfergus Castle). The driver made interesting comments during the ride, even if I slept for a good part of it and he has a strong accent: we learned that a part of Games of Thrones was filmed here, and we had an explanation about those weird caves in the cliff.
The next stop was Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, that stands over 23m-deep and 20m wide chasm. As you can see it was pretty windy, so we were not allowed to go on the bridge, but the walk was nice !
The last stop before the Causeway was the Old Bushmills Distillery, the first place in the world having a license to distil whisky. I’m not really into whisky but I just found the place really cool to be drawn on the Irish notes !
Finally around 3pm, we arrived at the Causeway. The brand new “Giant’s Causeway Visitor Experience” was a huge building we had to go through to reach the path. We started by going down a road, and we were getting more and more excited having a look from afar.
And then we were there. And I can tell you: this place is fabulous. The Causeway seems completely supernatural: the first 15mn were just a fight against my brain to convince it that it wasn’t man-made.
This place simply shouldn’t exist: long story quick, 60 millions years ago, lava got here and, cooling rapidly, fractured in this very distinctive pattern.
We stayed almost one hour, amazed, taking weird and funny pictures (the jumping pictures are a brainwave).
You can also have a look at the Organ, a group of 10 meters high columns embed in the hill.
We were about to leave when we had our last surprise: Lacey discovered, while hugging another column, that lots of the slits close from the path had coins in them ! All in poor condition, and some literally melted.
And off we were: 3h and we were back in Belfast. A shower, a soup with more wholemeal bread in a nice restaurant, and bed.
Third day: Last day would be busy, because we had Belfast to visit and to be at the train station before 4.30 pm to get a bus to the airport.
We started by Queen’s University: 10min from our hostel, a whole University in the style of Heslington Hall (Uni of York’s listed building).
Next stop was the city Hall, and the Titanic Memorial.
I didn’t know before going to Belfast, but the Titanic has been built here: as a lot of workers were involved in the construction, and some of them died during the shipwreck, the city is strongly linked to the ship and the tragedy.
We’ve also been to Linenhall Library which beats every library I have been to in terms of class: look at this wooden stairs !
Initially we went there for an exhibition about the history of Belfast, but it was more a presentation with posters. Nevertheless I discover that some famous people are born here, e.g. John Boyd Dunlop, who invented the tyre, and better, C. S. Lewis, who wrote the very good series of books “The Chronicles of Narnia'”, later adapted for film. And ensued 10mn when I looked at the map to try and find the place where his statue is, without success.
We then headed to the Titanic Belfast, a 4-floor museum as well dedicate to the design and construction of the ship as to the wreck.
Unlike the museum, the surroundings are not a very nice place: to come here we walked 30mn between the river and the road, and had to cross a half-dead
shopping entertainment center (cf. the end), the Odyssey complex. We went through it looking for the Hard Rock Cafe, but the confused look of a cleaner and a quick look on Internet revealed us that it was actually closed since 2004. But on our way to the museum, we noticed a nice café, and what a genius insight to get into The DOCK !
A quiet, cosy café with really good food and tea, and all this based on a “honesty box” system: you take what you want for free, then pay what you want. And that’s just the start: they also have a fish-tank, local artists exhibitions, limited edition “Titanic Guitars” free for a strum, they lend noise-canceling headphones for free… This is a place to go if you are in Belfast.
Our last stop was the Andy Warhol exhibition at The MAC, a kind of museum of modern arts.
After 20mn to walk back to train station, we prepared to leave Northern Ireland. We quickly went to the Crown Liquor Saloon, a traditional pub, a last souvenir of Belfast !
PPS: I had some remarks about the Odyssey being more an entertainment centre then dedicate to shopping; I’ve been a bit to quick on that. I still have been surprise by the emptiness of the place, and lot of bars/restaurants looked abandoned. I’m glad to learn (via reddit) that it gets busy at night and specially for hockey games. And I also forgot to say that the Canadian bar has been “Canadian” approved by Lacey ! Otherwise, come and see this awesome comment of a redditor who gives some interesting details on Belfast.