When one thinks of Ireland, images of rolling green hills, leprechauns, pints of Guinness and jovial jigs come to mind. And most travelers head to the Emerald Isle to experience this rainbow of beauty and culture. But just north you'll find another pot o' gold. Belfast may not be on your travel radar, but it should be. Kissing the Blarney Stone and driving the Ring of Kerry is all well and good, but, this Belfast is a gem of a city for the tourist who's got a "been there, done that" attitude.
Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland and the second largest city in all of Ireland. Dublin has a direct rail line to Belfast with eight trains daily. Belfast Central Station is a short 10-minute walk to city center, or with your train ticket – take the bus for free. All of Ireland is best seen using the Ireland Rail ‘n Drive Pass, and Belfast is no exception. While driving on the "wrong" side of the road may seem daunting, don't let it deter you. You'll see quaint towns and authentic Irish countryside that may not have a rail station nearby.
Belfast has a bounty of attractions. Choose from The Titanic's Dock and Pumphouse, Belfast Castle, St. Anne's Cathedral, City Hall and more. The city itself is small and compact, which makes for easy walking as you enjoy the Edwardian, Victorian and Georgian architecture. Sample local cuisine and seasonal food at a variety of places ranging from Michelin rated restaurants to small cafes.
Irish hospitality abounds in Belfast. Sit down in a pub for a pint and you'll make fast friends with everyone around you. This is not an exaggeration! The locals love to talk about their rich history, their land and their whiskey. This history includes, what locals refer to as "The Troubles."
Set aside a few hours for a personalized "Black Cab Tour" of Belfast. No visit to this city is complete without learning about "The Troubles" from an expert local who provides in depth political and historical views from both the Catholic and Protestant sides (now often termed "republican" and "loyalist"). See the famous Peace Wall and Wall Murals and be moved by how deep the conflict affected, and still does, the people of Ireland.
Beyond Belfast, visit Giant's Causeway, the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland. There are many fantastical legends about the creation of this natural wonder, but we'll stick with the most likely fact that about 50 million years ago volcanic activity and rapidly cooling lava shaped these network of columns that jut out of the earth and sea. While exploring the country, don't miss Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, the Glens of Antrim, and the Sperrin Mountains.
It's not Ireland – it's Northern Ireland – where locals have a deep commitment to their culture and country. Come for a pint where history is still being made.
Contributed by: Amy, National Accounts Manager. While Amy has visited 120 cities in 17 countries, her heart will always be in Ireland.