Belfast, Northern Ireland – Home to the Chronicles of Narnia (if anyone is a fan). Home to George Best, the legendary Manchester United football striker. Home to Game of Thrones. Home of the construction of the Titanic, which sunk on its maiden voyage in 1912.
My first impressions of the city were that it was a slightly miniature version of Dublin, and there are a lot of similarities the two cities share; compact, more casual, relaxed vibes from people, troubled past, love for alcohol, nice subtle blend of old and modern arcitecture in the heart of their cities. Belfast also has a lot of significance when it comes to pop culture and paying homage to certain historical events.
I made my way there with Ryanair once again – but for once they didn’t disappoint. In fact I had even landed at Belfast earlier than expected. It’s something that’s overdue from them but at the same time they’ve got me to my destination safely and quickly so credit where it’s due and for exceeding expectations.
After getting a bus shuttle to inner Belfast, arriving at my hostel and dropping my luggage off it was time to see what Belfast had to offer
So as per the norm we’re going to be breaking down and reviewing my choice of accommodation, the transport system, the food the city has on offer and the people of Belfast themselves! Away we go:
In charge of giving me a bed to stay in and making me feel at home for one night was Vagabonds Belfast hostel. The last time I had spent a night was my trip to Amsterdam 18 months ago but since it was ages Vagabonds felt like it was the 1st time in a hostel so I was exciting, especially knowing that I could meet new people.
On the ground floor there’s the kitchen, the reception, which is an extended common room with sofas and computers that are free to use and a chill-out room that’s the main lounge area with a TV and PlayStation 3 plugged into it. Both rooms are very well-decorated and took me by surprise by how colourful they were. The wall art and their their attention to detail with it was lovely to look at and very striking and was just as impressive as the images show. There’s literally no corner of the hostel where you won’t find any wall art on display. You have paintings, posters, plaques, graffiti all different kinds.
The majority of the dorms and the shared bathrooms and toilets are on the first and second floor.
The staff did a professional job on all fronts, whether that be with hospitality, facilities or customer service. They’re available 24/7, even when I locked myself out of my dorm they were there for me in my moment of stupidity (Damn you Johnny!)
It was all for just £18. This was my 2nd time staying in a hostel and all in all my time at Vagabonds was a pleasant experience. I’ve effectively stolen a very decent living down to the perks of booking two months in advance. You need to put down a deposit for your room keys in case you lose them but they were flexible with what that deposit could be just as long as you exchanged something of value.
The entirety of my Belfast transport experience was on the Glider and Translink buses. Riding the local transport in Belfast was a comforting pleasure and again similar to the transport experience in Dublin. By that I mean there were always seats available to sit on, helped by the fact that Belfast is a city with considerably fewer people compared to London, they were well-conditioned and on some buses like the Glider there was even WiFi and USB ports I could use to charge my phone so being the millenial who is constantly glued onto their smartphone I milked the two privileges. The buses always turned up on time which was another plus and something that can be a bit of an issue or cause for apprehension when you’re visiting a foreign city for the first time.
There’s a bus shuttle you’ve got to catch to get to the main part of the city from the airport known as the Ulsterbus shuttle. it was £11 return from the airport to the city (and back) anytime during the month. If it was a a day return it would be overboard but it being valid for an entire works out well cost-wise. Once again there were leather seats and WiFi so you know – living
Overall the chill I had on the buses had me thinking that the buses were more like those RVs you see in the US than actual modes of transport themselves. Just needed nice, long bunk beds with duvets and I could find myself living in Belfast buses soon (I’ll even pay a bit for rent if needed :p)
Beyond buses there is a bike hire service simply called Belfast Bikes for those who are into cycling and want to be putting their feet to the pedal
Rating out of 10: 9/10
I managed to find a Belfast Free Walking tour which was of course free of charge so got round to seeing a lot of the places that epitomise Belfast and Irish history as a whole. Most if not all of the attractions I talk about below were a part of the tour.
Next to Queens University is a place close to Irish royalty in the form of Botanic Gardens. Now a public park, it preserves much of the heritage that’s dear to the city during the Victorian era, particularly on the recreational and conservational side of things. There are two key locations that are a must-visit if you end up in Botanic Gardens:
Palm House, where you can see different indoor plants that grow in different colours, sizes and shapes and with different smells and scents. Some even grow on walls from branches planted there. All of the wildlife there is breathtaking to look at can tell how well-nurtured they are!
Then there’s the Tropical Ravine, which is a 2-3 minute walk from the Palm House and is home to many more plant and tree collections in replicated tropical weather conditions and is benefitting from a £4m reinnovation that happened this year. This modernised but also preserved the design of the bulding that was originally designed back in 1887. Try not to wear a jacket whilst in there though as you’re going to be baking in the heat!
All public and recreational locations within Botanic Gardens are free to visit.
Grand Opera House
Known to be Belfast’s most famous theatre, the Grand Opera House is the crowned home to class performances from performers ranging from the music, drama and performing arts genres, blessing its audiences with both talented Irish and foreign entertainers for over 120 years . It’s interior and exterior architecture is beautifully eye-catching – that’s because it was developed by an English architect that was responsible for much of the West End theatre architecture.
The Ulster hall was opened in 1862. Entertaining Belfast and its locals for over 150 years! It’s a place well-known for playing host to live music in the city and was used as a US outpost during WWII, again another important Irish-American tie
Fun fact: The famous English band Led Zeppelin had their first ever music performance at the hall
Belfast City Hall, where I begun my walking tour, is an iconic city landmark and shouldn’t be missed given especially its mighty physical presence and how conveniently close it is to the city centre. It’s a great place to chill and have a picnic on a warm summer’s day.
Opening in 1906 the architecture shares resemblances to architecture of many city halls in western countries, namely the big globe at thr peak of the building.
The City Hall also shares strong connections with Titanic: its interior design is similar to the ones you’d find in the Titanic lounge areas, not to mention on the left hand side of the courtyard is the Titanic Memorial garden built in 2012 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the Titanic sinking and the lives lost.
The Streets With All the Names
A.k.a Commercial Court. Situated near the Cathedral quarter. This area attracted individuals from different backgrounds and cultures and brought them together to socialise and have good fun. They say the street names were taken off the streets of Western Belfast and hidden in a secret location. This is the secret location!
Albert Memorial Clock
Constructed in 1869 the Albert Memorial Clock can be seen as somewhat a weird monument to visit. Due to its heavy weight and the land its built on has a river flowing underneath, the clock leans forward and points towards the right (or left depending on where you’re looking from. I never really noticed it myself till the tour guide mentioned it For that reason it’s been christened as Belfast’s own version of the famous Pisa Leaning tower in Rome.
I’d recommend also visiting the attraction at night when the clock lights up, it’s arguably as picturesque as Big Ben in London.
The Big Fish
My last stop on my tour saw me head to the Cathedral Quarter and play a visit to The Big Fish, also referred to as the Salmon Of Knowledge, and it a symbol of the rejuvenation of the city’s River Lagan. f you look closely at the fish rather than getting a selfie beside it for Instagram like I and others were guility of, it’s decorated with blue tiles and writing that details significant events in the city’s history.
This was the attraction that I wanted to see the most because of how renowned it is. It is said to be a fish of luck. They also say if you kiss the fish you’ll have all knowledge passed on to you about the questions you want answered.
P.S. I didn’t lock lips with the fish
At the time of visiting I was strongly on a meat-free diet (not necessarily vegan-based diet), trying to stay as I’m trying to cut down on my calorie intake and better my health in general.
I bought and packed a few snacks and sandwiches to carry me through my first day in the city prior to the trip itself so I only actually visited one food joint, which was Pablos to have my dinner. Pablos were great customer-service wise. They were instantly welcoming and There’s a bar/pub next door that works in conjunction with Pablos so you can order your food at Pablos then wait in the bar for the staff to come and bring your food over, maybe have a drink or two whilst you’re waiting.
My meal was a veggie burger with some fries on the side. I was so surprised by the large portions of fries in the box but I’m not complaining at this point – the more the merrier. The smell of them were so strong and alluring. All of the aforementioned couldn’t be said for the veggie burger though. It was horribly spicy which gave the burger an off-taste for some reason. Then again I’m not complaining much either. In life you’ve got to own your choices through thick and thin.
More restaurants and bars to review on Day 2 so we aren’t done with food just yet!
The Northern Irish are as Irish as you can get: outgoing, approchable, unique sense of humour, most of the things said left unfiltered (take that anyway you like) and they love love LOVE their alcohol, particularly whiskey. You stare at them they smile at you and don’t think it’s World War II.
Their high-pitched accents is something me as someone from London and down in southern UK has you feeling like you’re in another world but it was something I had to get used to.
Choosing to stay at a hostel enriched the people experience more. After I had finished sightseeing for the day I went back to my hostel and chilled in the chill-out room (as you do!) with everyone else who were there. One thing I love about hostels are that you meet people from all over the planet: There were guys and girls from Australia, Algeria, Belgium, Italy and the US of ****** A. I had such a great time having casual drinks with Netflix binged in the background, getting to know each other and making new hostel friends! (Yesss – and I’ve finally got proof of it too!) Just how I like my travels. Shoutout to Amy, Conor, James and Mica (I probably pronounced her name wrong again as I’m typing and speaking it)
Rating out of 10: 9.5/10
That’s all from me for Day 1. Day 2 will be dropping soon. It feels good to be back writing and sharing with you all again on a [hopefully] rejuvenated blog that gives me greater control over things.
Have you been to Belfast before? If so, what would you do in the city in 24 hours? If, not are you interested in visiting the city? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments box below.
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Johnny | Johnny’s Traventures