You’re probably thinking, “what’s so great about a trip to Northern Ireland?” Well, extremely short and very cheap flights from Manchester aside, the city itself is rich in art, culture, great bars, lovely people and oh, the Titanic was built there.
So, you can re-create all the “Jack, I’m flying” or “I’m the King of the world” moments you like as you walk the slipway that held Titanic as it was built over the River Lagan.
Although still not an enormous far cry away from the turmoil of The Troubles, which you will learn if you take a famous Black Cab Tour (more on that later), the city itself is vibrant and welcoming to all. Maybe because they missed out on tourism for 30 years, but that’s beside the point.
The city itself has so much beauty that you could think you’re in Rome or Prague when outside City Hall, but also isn’t without its rougher edges – something I love more than anything on a city break.
Beautiful murals on the walls of some excellent bars in the Cathedral Quarter telling the story of the struggles this great city saw, but walk along the River Lagan and up to the Titanic Quarter, you could be half the world away still.
Along that particular walk (and also strewn throughout the city) are some Game of Thrones art installations – huge stain glass windows that depict certain episodes, and they are gorgeous to behold.
Inside the glorious City Hall, you can learn all about the history of Northern Ireland, from the endearing accent to some of the grottier times in its history. Time for a pint, of course, and nowhere is quite like the very famous Crown Liquor Saloon, a real treat for the eyes with its stained glass windows, elaborate tiling and booths that you can close the door behind you to enjoy a nice cold glass of Belfast Pale Ale.
Opposite sits the Europa Hotel, the most bombed hotel in the world, which you learn more about in a Black Cab Tour. I urge anyone that visits Belfast to take a Black Cab Tour of the political history during The Troubles.
Such a complicated story that at times it can be difficult to keep up and it really shows that we don’t know enough about such an important historical event. We’re not taught about it in school, yet I can tell you what Hitler had for tea on 9th August 1942. Sad, really.
On the tour, you are driven around both the Protestant and Catholic communities by an unbiased tour guide. You’re shown the Peace Wall, several important and humbling historical points that at times, I found it hard not to cry, and also along the wall and gates that separate the two sides – the wall is bigger than the Berlin Wall ever stood, because when it was first built, it was still easy enough to throw bombs over.
It’s maybe a little bit shocking to see that, without fail, the gates are locked at night to divide two communities lest any trouble start again, although we did happen to visit when the Protestant community were practising for their annual Battle of the Boyne celebrations. Not that there was any trouble, quite the opposite, but a sight to see if you’re a visitor.
Back in the city centre, the Cathedral Quarter is a must. What was once quiet, cobbled streets are now home to some of the best bars I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking in / outside of.
Duke of York looks like a quaint little pub, but had punters piling out onto the streets to listen to a busker and we made friends with every single person we spoke to, everyone is just that friendly.
Another, Dirty Onion, again looks traditional, but has a modern twist inside and a huge beer garden with bands and DJ’s on throughout the night.
We started our second day with breakfast at St. George’s Market, which boasts some of the best Irish soda bread breakfast sandwiches, great local coffee and yet another gorgeous Victorian setting.
Take a short walk up to Albert Memorial Clock, which is in some ways Belfast’s answer to the leaning tower of Pisa – the clock leans to one side, as it stands on a now dried up riverbed.
We visited the infamous Crumlin Road Gaol (prison), which did nothing at all for my nervous disposition, as you were taken down to the tunnels where prisoners would walk underneath the road from the now dilapidated Courthouse.
The tour is fantastic around the old prison, where you can get a feel for what life was like when it was seriously overcrowded by political prisoners throughout the 80’s and 90’s. There’s so much more to it, but it’s best kept as a surprise so you can jump out of your skin like I did.
All in all, Belfast is a brilliant city to visit. From Manchester, you are quite literally in the air for 20 minutes and I promise you’ll have a cracker of a time so you will.
Flights to Belfast from Manchester Airport start from as little as £15 per person one way with Ryanair