My family (14 and 16 year old teens and 22 year old daughter) recently took a Belfast city break. In fact, our Belfast city break was part of a larger 10 day trip in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Although we had some very memorable adventures everywhere we went, Belfast ended up being one of my favourites. I loved how Belfast had a vibrant city centre but was small enough to walk almost everywhere. We had delicious food and fantastic beer and cocktails. Surprisingly, the shopping was pretty good. Best of all, there were many fun, interesting and breathtaking attractions and things to do. All in all, I loved our 2 day Belfast itinerary. Here is where we ate and stayed, and best of all, what we did.
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Day One Of Our Belfast Itinerary
After spending a couple of days in Dublin, we rented a car and drove from Dublin to Belfast. I had read troubling stories on TripAdvisor about renting a car from Dublin airport. My research also indicated that it was more expensive to rent from Dublin airport than elsewhere. Accordingly, we opted to rent our car from Enterprise at North Dublin City Centre and we were thrilled with the cost and the service.
The drive was 166 km. We left late afternoon and it took us one hour and 45 minutes on the highway. It was direct and uneventful.
Important tip for renting a car for Belfast city break
If you plan to rent a car in Ireland and would like to rely on your credit card for some or all of your insurance, I would recommend that you bring a letter from your credit card company. It should set out what kind of insurance your credit card covers when you rent a car in Ireland or Northern Ireland. Some of the troubling issues related to renting a car that I had read about prior to arriving in Ireland was that car agencies would not always accept a verbal guarantee by the client that their credit card provided adequate insurance. Accordingly, providing a letter from your credit card company should be sufficient (although certainly not a guarantee) and you should be able to rely on your credit card for whatever car insurance it might automatically provide.
Every credit card offers different kinds of insurance and some may not provide any at all. Accordingly, please read the terms of your credit card or contact your credit card company to be fully informed about what your credit card offers, how you access that insurance, and what you may need to purchase at the time of rental.
Accommodation For Belfast City Break
We stayed two nights at Tara Lodge, a reasonably priced and pleasant hotel in the student district. We were seconds from countless restaurants and easy walking distance to downtown Belfast. Breakfast was included and it was delicious.
For accommodation at Tara Lodge or elsewhere in Belfast, I would recommend booking through booking.com using the amazing interactive map below to find well priced hotels in amazing locations.
Dinner at Scalini restaurant on day one of our Belfast Itinerary
After checkin, we walked a couple minutes from Tara Lodge and ate Italian food at Scalini Restaurant. The servings were large (perfect for hungry teens!) and the food was quite tasty.
Day Two Of Our Belfast Itinerary
Things to do in Belfast
Today, we experienced several Belfast attractions, all of which were truly superb. In the morning, we took a private cab tour and were immersed in the horrors of the “Troubles”. Then, in the afternoon, we went to the awe-inspiring interactive Titanic Museum. Both of these experiences were exceptional and should be included on any visit to Ireland or Northern Ireland. In addition, at the end of the day, we walked through downtown Belfast back to our hotel, admired historic buildings and did some serious shopping. It was pretty much the perfect day!
Morning of Belfast Itinerary – Cab tour of the “Troubles”
Things to do in Belfast
In order to understand why a cab tour of the “Troubles” was such an amazing thing to do while in Belfast, it is important to appreciate a little bit of history.
a) Geography of Ireland
As you are likely aware, Ireland is an island. However, what you might not know is that it contains two countries. The first is the independent country of Ireland, sometimes referred to as the Republic of Ireland. In terms of land mass, it takes up almost 80% of the island. The second country on the island of Ireland is the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is a sovereign country that is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As you may know, England, Scotland and Wales are found on an island next to Ireland. Northern Ireland is found at the northern tip of Ireland.
b) Independence of Ireland
Prior to 1921, all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. However, after years of uprisings, the Republic of Ireland broke away from the United Kingdom in 1921 and became its own country, keeping its strong Catholic traditions. Northern Ireland, with its large Protestant population and unique historical ties to the United Kingdom, decided to stay in the United Kingdom. Accordingly, after 1921, the Catholics in Northern Ireland became a minority and faced a lot of economic discrimination.
c) The “Troubles”
Angered and frustrated by their treatment, the Catholics in Northern Ireland protested in 1968. Thereafter, and for three decades, violent civil unrest between the Catholic minorities and the Protestants plagued mostly Belfast, but also elsewhere in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and even the United Kingdom. This time became known as the “Troubles”.
Over 3600 people died during the “Troubles”. In Belfast, there were roadblocks, bomb blasts, sniper fire and the suspension of civil rights. At one point, even the British army was deployed against its own citizens and dozens were killed.
In 1998, the Good Friday Agreement was signed, giving more powers of independence to Northern Ireland without actual independence from the United Kingdom. For the most part, violence subsided. However, tension still exists even to this day between those Protestants who identify with and wish to remain in the United Kingdom and the Catholics who still want independence and become apart of the Republic of Ireland.
Belfast Black Taxi Cab Tour on Belfast city break
The Belfast Black Taxi Cab tour takes you directly into the most contentious areas in Belfast where some of the worst conflicts between the Protestants and Catholics occurred during the “Troubles”. Currently, there is still barbed wire, fencing and gates that separate Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods. However, amongst this terrible history and continued signs of division, are amazing pieces of street art, almost everywhere you go. Tours are offered in black cabs because during the “Troubles”, arms and militia were often secretly transported using these cabs.
A highlight on our Belfast Itinerary
We loved our Black Taxi cab tour with Cab Tours Belfast. My teens were completely mesmerized by the history and the current signs of continued conflict.
Cab Tours Belfast is owned jointly by both a Protestant and a Catholic. It employs both Catholic and Protestant drivers, thus providing the best opportunity for a fair and unbiased tour.
Our driver/tour guide collected us from our hotel and immediately began telling us the history of the Troubles. He was in his late 50s and it quickly became apparent that he was very much an actual participant in the conflict. He told us about many of his friends and family that either died or were injured in the conflicts. It was clear that this history was still painful for him. We did not know whether he was a Catholic or a Protestant until the very end. It was absolutely fascinating experience for all of us.
The tour was private, 90 minutes long, and only cost $50 USD for all five of us.
Afternoon – Titanic Museum On Our Belfast Itinerary
Things to do in Belfast
After our Black Taxi cab tour, our guide dropped us off at the Titanic Museum. Before we entered, we walked over to the outdoor mall across the water and ate lunch at Rain Check, a small bistro specializing in hot and cold sandwiches, salads, soups and other pub type dishes. Food was good, service was quick and it was well priced.
The Titanic was a luxury steamship that was built in Belfast between 1909 – 1911. It sank on April 15, 1912, four days into its maiden voyage, after striking an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland. More than 1,500 passengers and crew died because the Titanic only carried lifeboats for 1178 passengers. There was well over 3000 passengers and crew on board.
Titanic Museum on our Belfast city break.
The Titanic Museum was simply extraordinary and something that should be on your Belfast itinerary.
The Titanic Museum is an enormous multi level interactive museum that simply put, brings not only the Titanic back to life, but also highlights what it was like to work and live in Belfast back in the early 20th Century. The museum includes nine interactive galleries, including an incredible ride deep into the middle of the construction of the Titanic. You see full-scale reconstructions of many facets of the Titanic, including the different cruise ship cabins offered to various classes of people. You can explore the huge shipyard where the actual Titanic was built or travel to the depths of the ocean where even today, the Titanic rests.
Our experience at and recommendations for the Titanic Museum
We spent three hours walking, exploring, and interacting with the exhibits in the Titanic Museum. We saw and did everything that we wanted. However, if you are interested in learning more about modern day efforts to reach the Titanic at the bottom of the sea, you may wish to allot more than 3 hours. We passed through these exhibits but did not linger. Accordingly, when organizing your Belfast itinerary, make sure you give yourself a minimum of 3-4 hours to comfortably explore the Titanic Museum.
The Titanic Museum cost $25 USD for adults, $11 USD for children between 5-16 years old, or $60 USD for a family of 4. Tickets are date and time stamped for entry so confirm your Belfast itinerary before purchasing. We opted to rent audio guides for the extra audio and sensory effects that they offered. I was pleased that we did so and enjoyed the extras they provided. They each cost $5 USD. However, there is absolutely no need to rent these to fully enjoy your time at the Titanic Museum.
Shopping On Our Belfast Itinerary
Things To Do in Belfast
We walked back from the Titanic Museum to the Tara Lodge through downtown Belfast and the shopping district. From start to finish, it was only a 50 minute walk. However, we took our time and spent the next couple of hours walking, looking at historic sites and shopping. It was pretty flat and the streets were easy to navigate.
On our walk, we stumbled upon our first Dunnes Store. Dunnes is an Irish retail store that offers comparable items (men’s, women’s and children clothing, small household items, and groceries) to a small North American department store like Target or Marks And Spencers in the United Kingdom.
We found some pretty cool things in there and could not believe how good the quality was or how inexpensive they were. If you can, I would recommend allotting some time in a Dunnes during your Belfast itinerary.
The Dunnes in downtown Belfast was also just steps away from a pedestrian walking zone and more shopping. We had lots of fun in this area.
Cocktails and Dinner on our Belfast Itinerary
Cocktails at Molly’s Yard
We began our evening at Molly’s Yard, a short walk from our hotel where we tried delicious beers on tap and a number of very yummy cocktails. The place was large, with lots of places to sit inside and out, with a funky feel. Prices were good.
After we headed to 3 Levels, which offered a variety of Asian cuisine from Japanese Teppanyaki to Chinese food. It was delicious and we had a wonderful time.
We thoroughly enjoyed our Belfast itinerary on our Belfast city break. Although we only had two nights in Belfast itself, I felt that we had enough time to explore the downtown core, experience some great restaurants and see some beautiful historic sites. We loved the Black Taxi cab tour of the “Troubles” and visiting the Titanic Museum, two Belfast attractions that I think are two of the best things to do in all of Ireland and Northern Ireland. My family, adults and teenagers alike, were totally engaged and entertained by both of them. Finally, we had a great time shopping, something that we had not planned on doing. All in all, we loved our time in Belfast.
For more information and articles about our 10 day trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland, please see below.
- The Real Reason Why You Should Visit Dublin
- The Essential Guide To The Startling Beauty of Slieve League in Ireland
- Aran Islands and The Cliffs of Moher: How To Easily Explore Them In One Day
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