Updated: May 1
My friend and I spent 4 days and 3 nights exploring a little of what Northern Ireland has to offer. We flew into Belfast City Airport, about a 5-minute drive into the city center, with a rail line and express buses also available. There is another airport to the west of Belfast that is about a 30-minute drive to downtown which is the Belfast International Airport.
Day One - A short walk to explore
After settling into our hotel we took a walk through the city over to the Ulster Museum. On our way, we stopped to look at Queens University Belfast which has a stately main building that we walked through, and the small but in-bloom Botanical Gardens. The walk itself is about 30-40minutes. I like to start out walking in a city to get my bearings and a feel for a new place.
Photo credit - Cee Cee
The Ulster Museum
The Ulster Museum was a great starting point to understand the history of Northern Ireland from the modern past through 'The Troubles' and current times. We spent over two hours just soaking in the history of Northern Ireland completely missing the exhibits filled with mummies, insects, and other curiosities in the remainder of the museum. The exhibitions we focused on were Modern History and The Troubles and Beyond.
The Crown Liquor Saloon
On the return walk, we stopped in The Crown Liquor Saloon not to be missed even for just a look inside. Dating back to 1826 it still boasts a gorgeous interior that matches its exterior. If you can snag one of the 10 snugs for a private tipple. This is truly worthy of the name Gin Palace - a lavish pub selling gin.
Peeking out from our cozy snug we spotted both locals and tourists enjoying
beer, wine, and of course a few G&T's.
Black Cab Tour
The following morning of day two, we booked a private Black Cab Tour. This is an absolute must-do, make sure you listen and take notes there is so much that is covered in only 2 1/2 hours. The private tour took us across both sides of the conflict - on one side the Catholic community - referred to as Nationalists and Republicans based on their political outlook and the desire for Northern Ireland to be united with the Republic of Ireland. And on the other side was the Protestant community, Loyalists and Unionists, who wanted Northern Ireland to remain under British rule.
Walls & fences. Photo credit- Cee Cee
Our guide explained the history of Northern Ireland and the 'The Troubles' as well as a plethora of murals that depicted events as each side experienced them. Although 'The Troubles' are in the past the 25-foot wall that divides the Catholic and Protestant communities still stands and as recent as 2020 the doors in these walls (see photos above) were closed in some parts for a short while.
Murals - Photo credit Cee Cee
Day Two - The Coastal Route
1-City airport; 2-Gobbins; 3-Further Space pods Glenarm Castle; 4-Giant's Causeway;
5-Dunluce Castle, Busmills, Portrush, Carrick-A Rede; 6-The Dark Hedges; 7-Belfast International Airport
After a morning of challenging our brains with the Black Cab Tour, it was time to head out to the coast road and challenge our senses.
Before we went to the City Airport to pick up our rental car we made a dash to M&S to pick up our picnic supplies for the next few days. Since we were hungry when we went grocery shopping we ended up with quite a few meals. They saw us through the next two days for coastal picnics, in our pods, and in our hotel rooms - this shop even provided dinner for the plane ride home.
Top Tip - In hindsight, a more environmentally friendly way, would have been to bring our own picnic plates and cutlery - we did manage to pick up wooden items that we reused. You can buy travel cutlery that you always keep in your bag or luggage. Etsy has many choices or just take your own from home and put it in a pencil case!
Our first adventure stop was The Gobbins, approx 30 min drive from Belfast City Airport. You need to book ahead as they have limited availability and you can not access the path without a guide.
The Gobbins Cliff Path was created by an Irish railway engineer called Berkeley Deane Wise as a tourist attraction opening in 1902. As we walked along the cliff with its bridges and narrow passageways we were surprised to learn of the history and imaged how Victorian women maneuvered around the path with their long skirts and corsets.
Photo credit- Cee Cee
We, however, were told to wear good walking shoes*, left all our belongings in a locker and were wearing mandatory hardhats for our 2.5-mile jaunt above the sea!
Top tip - Walking shoes are available to rent if you show up in ill-advised footwear.
It wasn't as strenuous as we were lead to believe but we did work up the desire for an Ice Cream from The Rinkha. The Rinkha has been around since 1921 serving its well know Ice Cream, it was also a well-known dancehall for a few decades.
Our next stop was the Further Space Pods at Glenarm Castle! These are amazing and fun, particularly as we were the only guests for our night's stay.
Further Space Pods - Photo Credit Cee Cee
After settling in we took a walk past the castle, had an Ice Cream (thanked the employee of the month, pictured below), and enjoyed the cloudless spring day. With the firewood, that was provided, we had a fire and feasted on our Marks and Spencer's goodies.
Photo credit - Cee Cee
The front of the pods are all one-way glass and in the morning the sunrise gently wakes you up. It was spectacular.
Day Three - Giant's Causeway
Day three was an early rise which was perfect to head to the famous Giant's Causeway. The rock formations are truly a sight to see. The structures look as if they have been hewed by a human hand. We spent about 3 hours scrambling on the rocks, marveling at nature, and wondering about the legend. After spending time here I think I can imagine those giants and their fight. It is a magical, mystical place.
Giant's Causeway - Photo credit- Cee Cee
After our time on the Giant's Causeway, we made our way further along the coast. We had planned to hit the Bushmills Distillery for a tour however it was still closed due to Covid. There is next time to make that tasting stop! What we found instead was Dunluce Castle where we spent an interesting hour looking around and learning more about the history of this area.
We meandered along the coastal route for the short drive (approx 25 min) around to Portrush and our last night. The amazing sunset after the fabulous sunrise earlier in the day was a great topping and tailing our day.
Photo credit- Cee Cee
After a long walk on the beach, and watching the sunset we opted to stay in and nibble on our Mark & Spencer shop once again. We watched Netflix films about Northern Ireland and marveled at our three days of adventure.
Day Four - Carrick-A-Rede
Our last day proved to be as glorious as the previous days on the weather front so we took ourselves to the Carrick-A-Rede Bridge and a walk around the coast. The walk along the coast to the bridge is gorgeous unfortunately the bridge was also closed due to Covid however the 1 1/2 hours was worth it whether or not you cross the bridge.
Carrick-A-Rede. Photo credit- Cee Cee
The last stop before our flight back to London. The Dark Hedges was a little surprising. Not as big, not as isolated as I had expected. Having been made famous by the Game of Thrones we weren't sure what to expect however since it was on the way back we gave it a go. It is very touristy. Very mysterious looking and packed with people. There is even a Dark Hedges Hotel but not sure it is worth an overnight stay as you can walk the hedges in 15min and drive them in a couple. They were originally planted as a grand entrance to a manor in about 1775. Of the 150 or so beech trees about 90 remain in this rather imposing wood.
If you are a fan of Game of Thrones there is a tour that will take you to many film locations- maybe next time. If you have the time and are heading back to Belfast International Airport make a stop. We ended up with loads of pictures as it trends to draw you in.
The Belfast International Airport was a mad house. More bars, and pubs than food places, and every other person seemed to be going somewhere for a hens or stags weekend - we left on a Friday night. Our flight left on time and we arrived on time so really can't complain.
Northern Ireland has been on my list of places to go for many years and I am glad I finally made it. Everyone we meet was friendly, welcoming, and ready to have a long yarn about any topic. We both agree that this is a place to return having only 4 days we still have much more to see both in Belfast and along the coast.
Thanks for joining me on our journey! And don't forget if you want to record and capture your journey...