We were torn between a visit to Manchester and a trip to Belfast, but with it costing less for flights, transfers and a hotel for 2 nights than a return ticket to Manchester, you can see why we chose to do Belfast on a Budget.
OK, so here’s the thing. We travel light. And by light I mean new standards of Ryanair restriction luggage only light. This meant that when the Ryanair sale hit and we found return flights for £22 each, we weren’t hit with any extra taxes or fees. It’s a simple flight, and something that makes us question why you wouldn’t fly budget if the flight is less than 2 hours really! Budget Belfast here we go!
We know now that most of our short city breaks means one thing…that we are not going to use a hotel for more than a shower and to sleep, and very little of the latter. This trip was no different, and so although we explored Airbnb as an option, when we found the IBIS budget hotel for less than £80 for the 2 nights, we knew we couldn’t do any wrong, with its central location and simplicity.
Transport from the airport to the town centre is really easy. £11 for a return ticket, and a 40 minute bus ride that goes from the airport straight to the bus depot in the centre of town, and you can even buy your tickets on the mlink app before you land! How easy can you get. Obviously you can get cabs and things, but this is much cheaper and takes no longer so it’s a no brainer really. And yes, Uber does work over there.
As we had only traveled with Ryanair and cabin bags (yes, we managed to do it well), it meant we could head straight to our first stop, something that had been recommended to us to get a good overview of the city – an open top bus tour. Not our normal style, but as we found out this trip, we aren’t averse to it, and in fact it was a really great way to learn about the city, the history, the troubles and see lots of the sites too. The tour lasted about an hour and 40 minutes and was expertly guided by the hilarious and knowledgeable Ronan! We took the City Sightseeing tour, as they did a special deal for the hop-on hop-off bus tour, and the tour we were to take the next day. So, as always, do your research, it was far more worthwhile us doing both together. Although the ticket was for hop-on, hop-off, the final tour is at 3pm in the winter, and we didn’t have a chance to do the hopping off to hop back on again option, so we sat on the bus for the whole tour, which was just as great.
The tour itself was fabulous, it took us around most of Belfast, from dormont Stormont, to East Belfast, and all the murals in between. We saw historic sights and the peace wall, and all came away feeling very shocked at almost how small Belfast was, and therefore what that meant in terms of the Troubles. It was well worth the time and the money though, especially if you aren’t there for long.
Next we were told that we couldn’t miss the Titanic Museum, which is fine, but we’re both such skeptics when it comes to things that have been hyped up that we weren’t sure, especially as it was so expensive for tickets, as you can’t opt out of it including a visit to something else on the same land. However, what we then realised was that there is an option for a late saver ticket, which is £10 and grants you access solely to the Titantic Museum. This is your best bet, as it gets you 2 hours in the museum, and that’s plenty to be able to explore everything, and obviously is then loads cheaper for your wallet! The Museum itself covers the overview of the building of, the sailing of and the sinking of the Titanic. As the Belfastians say, “she was alright when she left here”. It’s such a great museum, from the shape of the outside, the curation and guidance on the inside and the sheer volume of interactive things you can do! The highlight has to be the glass floor that you can stand on and watch the wreckage and hear the diving team’s commentary on. I guess, one saying we heard a lot over the weekend was about the Titanic, and you can see the historical accuracy of it in this museum “We handed our ship over to an English captain, a Scottish navigator and a Canadian iceberg. The Irish will take the blame for nothing!”.
From the Titanic Museum we checked in to our hotel, and headed straight out!
We had been told that we had to head to a bar called the Garrick for a Northern Ireland beer treat, and so we did. It was exactly what you’d expect a pub in Belfast to be like, friendly, but full of locals, lots of different beers and whiskys on tap and they do a good pint of Guinness. They also show the football! It’s been there since 1870, and no one really knows what it was named after, so that’s a tale in itself. It’s so close to everything else that it’s easy to walk to and we went en route to what turned out to be quite an accidentally budget posh dinner!
By complete accident we had an absolutely stunning dinner, from a set menu at Bert’s Jazz Bar at the Merchant Hotel. It was excellent value for money and reasonably priced, and they didn’t kick us out for wearing jeans and trainers so don’t be put off. All through January they had a deal on, and they said that there are deals throughout the year, so keep your eyes open if you want fresh, locally sourced ingredients (we had the salmon, it was delicious), and the dessert was as impressive. The live jazz was a brilliant bonus, and the most special part for us was the deco setting. Oak pannelling, gold fixtures, impressive toilets, you name it it was deco as hell and brilliant. We would 100% go back there!
We had done a lot of research on what pubs we wanted to visit in Belfast, and our first night led us, after dinner, to the fantastic Dirty Onion, a bar with a fabulous outdoor area (it was far too cold for us for that), and inside boasts to be the oldest building in Belfast. They have loads of beers on taps and some amazing looking bottles and cans (craft beer fans rejoice), and the gin selection is extraordinary. They also have amazing live music every night, and we went two nights running. One was a drum workshop (don’t worry, it was far quieter than it sounds), and the other was a traditional Irish jam session! We loved this bar, in the centre of the Cathedral Quarter (the party bit) so much we went both nights!
We knew one thing we had to do was have a proper Ulster Fry before we left, and we did a bit of research to find what was supposed to be the best place, and ended up at the beautifully millennial Harlem Cafe which was as great as the internet said it would be. We both opted for the veggie version, with three different breads, has browns, eggs, beans, veggie sausages, you name it it was exceptional. The cafe itself was great too, very reasonably priced, great service and brilliant juice, food and coffee, exactly what you’d want from a breakfast cafe. The only problem? The decor in the Harlem cafe is so brilliant and extra, that you will want that every time you ever go for a coffee again!
Our next stop was something we never normally do – we handed over the reigns to an organised tour group, and got on a bus, to do the Belfast City Sightseeing Bus tour to Giant’s Causeway and the Causeway Coastal Route. This was part of the budget deal we got, when using the hop on hop off service the day before – saving you about 20% on buying them separately (or more depending on how you look at the deal!). What a fabulous day it was. Meeting at 9am, picked up in central Belfast, we were guided for the whole day by Harry, and he took us to some magnificent places along the Causeway Coastal route. We started at Carrickfergus Castle just outside Belfast, an amazing feat of Norman control. We drove through the most beautiful countryside and were given all of the information about the country, and the local areas we passed through, and got to see some of the amazing filming locations from Game of Thrones. We drove through Cushendall, Glenariff and Cushendun, and Dunluce Castle, where we managed to take some photos, and then we got to the main attraction: Giants Causeway Site & Visitor Centre.
Oh me, oh my, what a place. If this place isn’t on your bucket list, get it on there. We’ve already written about the reasons you have to go and visit Giants Causeway here, but to add to that it was an exceptional part of our trip and we’re both really glad we did it. It was so beautiful. We had an audio guide that told fabulous stories and amazing information, there was so much to explore and see. In terms of size it was smaller than we were expecting but far more beautiful. We were met with an amazing National Trust guide who not only helped tell us about things, but then helped us spot dolphins too! In Ireland! In January! It was magnificent, and a real highlight of the visit. We can’t recommend the tour enough – and we weren’t affiliated with them in any way so we got nothing for saying that and had to pay for the trip ourselves!
From Giant’s Causeway we drove a little further to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, where, if you wanted to cross, you had to pay a fee (to the National Trust) of about £6. Both of us actually decided not to do the crossing, but we did the 2km round walk down to the bridge and back, and got to see yet more incredible beauty. The views were exceptional, and you can even see to some of the Scottish whisky isles (like Islay and Jura) on a clear day.
We were so lucky with the weather, having heard not only that it rains all the time in Ireland, but then also even if the weather is fine in Belfast it’s always rainy at the Causeway, neither held true for us, and although it was grey it was bearable and beautiful. The final stop for the day was the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery Visitor Centre. Tim’s highlight as we were there just long enough for him to get a tasting flight and wow everyone with his knowledge of Whisky. For those of us that weren’t so keen on the stuff, well I at least tried some of it!
We cheated for dinner post tour, tired after an exhilarating day exploring Northern Ireland’s beauty, and knowing we had to save energy for our evening’s activities, we actually opted for pizza and a beer in the hotel room, Tim set off to the local take away place and we tucked into a really good, greasy pizza!
Before we set off, we headed to the Dirty Onion once more, for a quick cider/Guinness (I’ll let you guess which was whose), and then prepared for the main event. Both of us are huge The 1975 fans, and we knew we would be away for their London show, so when the Ryanair deal, Ibis deal and the 1975 Belfast date coincided we knew it was fate. Walking past The Big Fish (The Salmon of Knowledge) (our favourite of the Belfast tourist destinations), we went to the SSE to see The 1975 put on one of the greatest shows in terms of production, set, setlist and all round experience, that we have ever been to, and between us, that’s one hell of a lot of competition.
We had a fantastic time in Belfast, and would highly recommend it to anyone that’s thinking of going at any point. It’s beautiful, clean, the people are friendly and they have a rich history, that is really important to learn about. If you’re going and want some help planning your itinerary, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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