Spending a weekend in Belfast was something my friend (J) suggested during one of those days at work. I was studying for an exam which took over a large chunk of the start of my year, so a girls weekend in N. Ireland for the month after that sounded like a cracking idea. We booked it during a lunch hour, with some cheap Ryanair flights and two nights at the Maldron Hotel.
It was always going to be a whistle stop tour, with approximately 48 hours in total in the city however that only got tighter when the flight was delayed at both Stansted and Belfast. We hadn’t noticed in advance that there were issues at Stansted, so we happily boarded the flight to find out after waiting on the tarmac for a while that due to ground staff strikes, the luggage from the previous flight still hadn’t been removed let alone the suitcases for the passengers on our flight being loaded up! After over two hours sat on the plane, we finally were able to take off and were able to relax for the majority of the journey, until we started hitting some turbulence due to a storm over Belfast. It turns out the lady sat next to me was not a happy flier and, despite not being a fan of turbulence myself, I found myself chatting to this lady to distract her from how badly we were being flung around. Her panic hit peak when the captain announced that we had enough fuel to circle of 5 more minutes before we would have to divert to Dublin. Excellent. Thankfully, he did manage to land the plan – though if my new pal was to be believed it was more miracle than skill. It didn’t end there, the air crew weren’t allowed to let us off of the plane even after we’d landed, due to the weather being so terrible – and to be fair to them, I’ve lived in England my entire life and have rarely seen rain quite like it. When we were finally told to hold on tight to the stairs and make a run for it into the terminal, I realised just how bad it was as we had to dash through ankle deep water all the way in. So not the best flight I’ve ever had, particularly given we’d scrimped on paying for seats together as it was only a 50 minute flight, which ended up being nearer 4 hours all-in.
J was the organiser of the trip, and had done some research in advance – largely getting tips from friends on which drinking establishments to try out. Once we’d checked in and dried out a little at the hotel, we went to the first of these which as a traditional pub just down a side street in the centre called Kelly’s Cellars. It was heaving, probably partially due to the weather, but we were quick to be served and found ourselves a place to perch. Our favourite thing in this pub was the live music, that made an old pub something quite fun and lively! From what I’ve read since, they have Irish musicians playing regularly so I’d advise checking it out.
We could only stay there for a couple of drinks as we had pre-booked a Titanic-themed escape room just around the corner at Timescape. I wouldn’t typically do an escape game on a holiday/weekend getaway, but me and J have done a few together at home before so decided this would be fun – and we were right! Despite it only being the 2 of us, and needing a few hints along the way, we managed to crack the codes and get our life jackets on with a couple of minutes to spare. The photo of us in our old-school life jackets is one of the least flattering we’ve managed together so far.
My last top tip for a Saturday night in Belfast, book a table for dinner in advance – it turns out the whole town is out on a weekend. We traipsed around at least 4 different restaurants in town before we found one that had a space an hour and a half later.
With only 24 hours really left to see the city, we tried to pack a lot into our Sunday. First stop of the morning was St George’s Market for breakfast and a nose around the stalls. I love going to markets and this one didn’t disappoint. There was so many choices for food but we settled on a barbecue rib sandwich (I wish I remembered the name of the stall) that, alongside a cup of tea, was everything we needed to get going for the day. We ate these in the middle of the market where there was a small seating area and folk band playing. The market is a combination of food stalls, gifts and crafts, and antiques. We spent a good couple of hours roaming around the aisles and settled on each buying some knitted socks and a pair of Celtic symbol earrings.
Next up, we had walk along the river up to see the Titanic museum. On the approach was the SS Nomadic, the sister ship to the Titanic and the last remaining White Star Lane ship. Naturally, we were curious, and so we decided to go and have a poke around. The ship is full of information relating to the Titanic, stories of the passengers, a wardrobe of the kind of clothes they would’ve worn. We spent about half an hour wandering around playing the interactive quizzes and reading the facts when J came hurrying over to tell me there was a queue of people having their tickets checked as they came onto the ship. This was weird, we’d walked straight on.. Turns out, we’d walked straight on the first set of doors and had a nice time looking around the ship without ever realising we’d entered through the exit!! The man guarding the exit was so enthusiastic about telling visitors information on the boat he hadn’t noticed us come in and we hadn’t even realised this. We quickly disembarked and walked up to the main museum to actually buy our tickets.
Lesson two of booking in advance – don’t go to main attractions without pre-arranging tickets! The next slot was 3 hours later and we weren’t able to sweet talk the ticket office man into making any exceptions to this. We decided we’d already seen the Nomadic and learnt some of the Titanic stories onboard there, so we would give up on the museum and spent the time seeing some other sights and more importantly get ourselves a drink.
We headed towards the Dirty Onion bar which J had been recommended, walking back along the river and crossing over by a big sculpture of a fish. If you’re into street art, the walk up to the Dirty Onion, through the Cathedral Quarter is full of large colourful murals. The bar is in an old building at the back of it’s beer garden, it was dimly lit but with a fire going to keep it warm, and in the corner was what appeared to be a group of local musicians playing traditional Irish music together which provided light entertainment. We only stopped for a quick couple of drinks to plan our next move, which became a walk up to the botanical gardens – one of my favourite things to do in places I visit!
The walk up across to the parks was a fairly long one but it was well worth it. J and myself have both recently bought our own flats and have found ourselves getting into our plants so we enjoyed nosing around the buildings having a look through the different plants. We then found the rose garden and probably spent at least an hour walking through the rows of roses, looking at all the different types and colours and planning how we’d make our own gardens look the same (unfortunately I can’t see my garden being as gorgeous as this was any time soon).
It had been a long day so we started meandering back through the parks and towards the city to find somewhere for dinner. Having once again not booked a table, we headed to a Pizza Express we had passed on the way (cultural) and used J’s TasteCard for a 2-for-1 pig out. J checked back over the bars she’d been recommended and worked out there were two right by our hotel where we could unwind over a few cocktails. The first was Rita’s, which is another dimly lit bar filled with plush pink and red seats, with a great range of cocktails – I had a Mai Tai and a Rising Sun Sling, of which both were delicious. The bar wasn’t busy, though it was a Sunday evening, so we got served quickly and could sit back and relax for the while we were there. We followed on from these by popping into Perch Rooftop Bar which was just next door and not at all obvious. This was probably both of our favourite bars that we went to (the only thing missing from here that all the pubs seemed to have was some live music). I’d suggest the bar isn’t so much rooftop as a sort-of attic, but with a roof over only half of it with the rest more open top – which does make it a little chilly but there are blankets dotted around to wrap yourself up in. It’s laid out a bit like a garden, filled with plants with a fake grass flooring and with wooden beams and exposed brick walls, with fairy lights and lanterns coming on after dark. We stayed here for another few drinks, enjoying the bartenders taste in music (a little bit of Take That always goes down well) and the cosy feel.
Unfortunately that was largely the end of our trip, we stopped to listen to a last set of Irish folk music at the pub opposite the hotel (Fibber Magee) before heading back into the hotel for the night. Our flight the next morning was much less dramatic than the one out to Belfast and we got back with enough time for me to unpack and nap before my evening boxing class.