Never been to
Find out what you have been missing, starting with the capital city Belfast
It is still astounding, the amount of Irish people who have never made the short trip up north to Belfast. With such a brilliant, vibrant and dynamic city just a two hour drive from Dublin, it really is waiting for you to explore.
Come to Belfast for its world-class tourist attractions and Michelin star food but stay for the unique Belfast banter and warm welcome. With favourable exchange rates and nightlife to rival any city in Europe, there really are no more excuses.
This compact city is split into distinct quarters like the vibrant and lively Cathedral Quarter, home to some of the best bars in the city, and the leafy and beautiful Queen's Quarter with the eponymous Queen's University Belfast and the adjoining Botanic Gardens.
Take a wee dander around the city and around every corner, expect to find something a bit different. Whether it’s great shopping you’re after or historic buildings like Crumlin Road Gaol, there’s always something new to discover in Belfast.
Many people from down south have never been across the border to Northern Ireland so Discover Northern Ireland together with Independent.ie treated one lucky couple a trip to Belfast to find out just what they have been missing.
The winners were Emer and Jonathan Russell from Gorey in Co Wexford. Primary school teacher Emer, 38, entered the competition with a poem dedicated to Belfast. Emer wanted to treat her hardworking greenskeeper husband Jonathan, aged 34, to a 5-star break away up north. Neither of them had ever been to Northern Ireland on holiday and with two young kids at home, the couple were in need of much deserved break!
Discover Northern Ireland had the trip of a lifetime laid on for Emer and Jonathan with two nights in the 5-star Fitzwilliam Hotel, visits to the Titanic Experience and Crumlin Road Gaol as well as a food tour and dinner in OX, one of Belfast’s hottest restaurants.
The couple set off on the 24th of February – the weekend of midterm for teacher Emer – for their first adventure north of the border. With First Plus train tickets on the Enterprise, the Russells left for Belfast from Dublin’s Connolly Station. All aboard, next stop Belfast!
Emer and Jonathan were treated to First Plus tickets aboard the Enterprise. Departing from Connolly Station in Dublin, the train arrives into Belfast Central in just over two hours. With two babies – or wains as they say up North – left at home in Gorey, the couple enjoyed some quality time and when the conversation lulled, there was free WiFi!
Enterprise runs eight services operating in both directions Monday to Saturday and five on Sundays. First Plus passengers have extra legroom, complimentary morning newspapers and orange juice as well as a dedicated onboard host. So why not start off your trip to Belfast in style?
The couple were collected at Central Station and whisked to the glamorous Fitzwilliam Hotel, their home for the next two nights. The Fitzwilliam Hotel sits on the corner of Great Victoria Street beside the Grand Opera House. Only minutes from City Hall, this 5-star boutique hotel couldn’t be more ideally located. All the main sights are within walking distance: the Fitzwilliam makes the ideal starting point to discover Belfast for yourself.
As if the location wasn’t enough, the hotel prides itself on its own brand of contemporary luxury. The modern rooms have everything you expect from a 5-star experience: a big comfy bed and a spacious bathroom with a generous bath, perfect for a relaxing soak after hitting the streets of Belfast.
Some of the best restaurants and bars in Belfast are only minutes away but you mightn’t be able to tear yourself away from the hotel! The stylish vibe continue in the Fitzwilliam restaurant where expert chefs cook up some of the best local produce in their very own take on seasonal fine dining – with a very reasonable price tag.
Emer and Jonathan opted to sit in the communal area for an ultra-modern shared dining experience but you can book a booth if you are after something a bit more intimate.
The couple dropped into the hotel bar for a nightcap to sample some of the Fitzwilliam's famous cocktail classics made by their expert mixologists like the exceptional strawberry daiquiri and their delicious pear drop. You can enjoy a pint at the bar or have the drinks brought to you in one of the private booths.
There is no more fitting way to start Emer and Jonathan’s maiden visit to Northern Ireland than with a visit to Titanic Belfast. Opened in 2012, during the centenary of the voyage of the Titanic, it has welcomed thousands of visitors over the years and has cemented itself as a star attraction in not only Northern Ireland but the world.
What sets Titanic Belfast apart? It has to be the attention to detail. Set on the site of the former shipyard, the imposing architecture looms on the Belfast skyline in the shadow of the distinctive yellow Harland and Wolff cranes. The building was designed to mimic the bow of the ship and reaches the same height as the ship’s hull, 126 feet high.
Stepping inside, visitors are guided chronologically through nine interactive galleries charting the narrative of the cursed ship. From recreations of the first to third class cabins to a simulation of the Harland and Wolff shipyard viewed from a cable car suspended from the roof, you can see why this attraction is counted among the world’s best.
Belfast Food Tour
Emer entered the Tourism Northern Ireland competition with her foodie husband in mind. Belfast Food Tour brings you “off the eaten track” tasting the best of Belfast by stopping off at the best foodie spots around the city. Setting off at 10am every Saturday, this food-filled tour promises that you won’t need to have breakfast or lunch. Starting at the famous St George’s Market, you are introduced to food producers and taste some local delicacies like homemade soda bread.
Over the course of four hours, the tour visits some of the best bars and food shops in the city before finishing in the upmarket Italian restaurant Coppi in the Cathedral Quarter. Emer and Jonathan are now self-proclaimed gin converts after sampling Belfast’s very own Jawbox Gin on morning of the tour – as they say it’s five o’clock somewhere!
This tour is so in demand that it is currently booked out every Saturday until the middle of June. Put your name down on the waiting list for upcoming tours or check out some of the specialist tours available like the ‘Meet the Brewer’ Brewery Tour or the Whiskey Walk. Our advice? Make sure to come hungry!
Crumlin Road Gaol
The penultimate stop on their Belfast adventure brought the couple to the historic Crumlin Road Gaol. The Gaol only closed its doors in 1996 after 150 years as a working prison. So much of Belfast’s history is tied up in this Victorian era building.
Throughout the years, the Ulster suffragettes as well as political figures like Éamon de Valera and hunger striker Bobby Sands were imprisoned for a time at Crumlin Road. Both republican and loyalist prisoners were detained at the Gaol during the Troubles including former First Minister Dr Ian Paisley and his Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness.
Guides recount the long and storied history of Crumlin Road Gaol while leading visitors round the prison from the condemned man’s cell where prisoners waited to be executed to the execution chamber where 17 men were hanged up until the last hanging in 1961. The tour includes a walk through an underground tunnel used to bring prisoners from the Gaol to the Crumlin Road Courthouse across the road.
What better way to top off the Russells' trip to Belfast than with a Michelin star dining experience! From its innocuous black fronted exterior, you could easily pass it by. But OX doesn’t need to make a statement with its décor, this 40-seater restaurant on the banks of the Lagan has already got everyone talking. Including Emer and Jonathan's Belfast taximen!
Awarded a Michelin star in 2015, it received the accolade again in 2016, one of only two in the whole of Northern Ireland. At OX, the paired back and underwhelming surrounding leaves the focus solely on the food.
Choose from the best of locally sourced meat and fish on the ever changing tasting menu coupled with a paired glass of wine or even a G&T – OX has a menu just for gin offering some of the best gin from all around Ireland.
The name comes from its location, 1 Oxford Street. Simple by name and by nature, this Belfast eatery is all about seasonally-inspired no fuss fine dining.
Want to plan your very own getaway in Northern Ireland? Whether you have never been before or you are a regular visitor, there is always something new to see up north. Why not make a weekend of it in the Walled City of Derry or book a break away in Belfast? Head for a hike in the mighty Mournes or check out the mythical marvel and not to mention, UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Giant’s Causeway.
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