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Belfast, Northern Ireland
I first fell in love with Belfast in 2005, when I moved there sight unseen. That, however, is a longer story. This story is why you should fall in love with it, too.
Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland, which is a small country on the northeastern tip of Ireland. Since 1921, it’s been a separate legal country from the Ireland you are probably familiar with - Dublin, Galway, Cork. It’s part of the United Kingdom, so travel wise, you’ll need the GBP. You may have heard there was violence in Northern Ireland and there was. For many, many years and the scars that causes are real. Unless you take a tour specifically about The Troubles - as the conflict is known colloquially - you’ll probably never see those.
What you will see is a tourism dream. The city is walkable and easy to navigate, with incredible food on every street and pubs steeped in history down alleyways you’ll be unable to stop exploring. The people are warm and friendly, and quick to help. You can either keep to yourself or make fast friends of locals who will be only delighted to point you to their favorite haunts.
For the record, my favorite eats are The Barking Dog, Ox, Tedfords, and Mourne Seafood Bar. If you’re looking for great cocktails, you’ll need to head to Muriel’s. For a wide whiskey selection, you can’t go wrong with Bittles, and for beer, hit up BrewBot. For a warm and wonderful Irish pub experience, The Errigle, The Harp, The Duke of York, and The John Hewitt were on my regular rotation. Oh! And the Dirty Onion! And the National! And we haven’t even covered cheap and cheerful eats, or great coffee places, or or or…
The Titanic Museum is a required experience, even for those who hate museums. Do you like Game of Thrones? There are a whole heap of tours you can take to the shooting locations. Big fan of sports? There’s frequently someone playing - be it ice hockey, rugby, football, or a gaelic sport. If you really love being active, there’s bouldering and abseiling and hiking galore. Also, rumor has it that golf is a big deal on the island, and some of the best courses are in Northern Ireland. Also, if you’re about Belfast on a weekend, you must stop into St George’s Market for local food and crafts.
If you can spare more than a day in that part of the island, please head up the Antrim Coast. Not only is the drive beautiful, but you need to see Carrick-a-Reade Rope Bridge and the Giant’s Causeway. Hitting up the historic town of Derry/Londonderry is also fab and anyone who is interested in immigration patterns and how the Irish diaspora moved throughout the world should make sure to go to the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh. Also, if you are a fan of CS Lewis and his Narnia, know that Mr. Lewis fashioned the mythical realm after County Down in Northern Ireland. Driving around the Mourne Mountains positively makes Narnia come alive.
All in all, I cannot implore you strongly enough to make visiting this wee place a priority. Here are my top travel tips:
Most of all, enjoy yourself. Time is an elastic concept on the island, so give into the pace and be present. You won’t regret it.
-By Kristen Nielsen DonnellyPaperFinch Travel TIP: Planning your escape to Ireland? Start by planning your home away from home here.