Let me just preface this by saying Ireland has truly stolen my heart and is probably one of my favourite countries to visit to date. The people, the culture, the history, the nature – I can’t fault anything about it. My boyfriend had mentioned a few times that he’d like to visit Belfast, and after having a great time in Dublin last year I thought returning to Ireland couldn’t be a bad thing and I booked us a little trip away for May Day bank holiday weekend.
Of all the city breaks I’ve taken in the past, Belfast has beat them all hands down for it’s inclusion of the vegetarian and vegan diet. I was spoilt for choice and sad that I couldn’t try everywhere I’d found, but of the ones I did they lived up to expectation and I left the country with a very full belly (it’s not like I want a bikini body anyway!).
Kitch Restaurant – The restaurant I was so excited to try as it had it’s own SEPARATE veggie menu, not just a little section of the menu for vegetarians, a whole god damn separate entity. This is something that is few and far between and I got extremely giddy when I saw it. I honestly struggled to pick what I wanted as they had so many amazing options which were outside your typical “beans or mushrooms” veggie offerings. In the end I settled for the Salt & Chilli Tofu to start and a set of three different sliders as my main. Everything was beautiful albeit the tofu a little bit salty for even the salt queen that is me, however just request it be light on the salt and it’s perfect. I was gutted that we’d planned to go out afterwards as I couldn’t fully appreciate all the food (tight outfit + burgers = no) but I’d go back in a heartbeat to eat it all up properly! Meat eaters are still well catered for and my boyfriend loved his meal too.
Harlem – I wad adamant that I’d get an Ulster fry being in Northern Ireland. It’s essentially a full English but with soda bread, a potato cake and a sometimes a controversial pancake (think of how hash browns in a full English can cause riots). We were actually on our way to Maggie Mays but saw Harlem on the way and decided to have our breakfast here instead and it didn’t dissapoint! The decor is odd, and towards the back it’s a very dark place but it’s also very kitsch and cosy so it’s entirely subjective as to what you think of it. The food is great and this is something that should be agreed upon by all, my veggie fry was amazing, you have to try this breakfast wherever you dine in Belfast, I’m dreaming about that soda bread and pancake (take note that the pancake is savoury not sweet).
The Cloth Ear – Again another restaurant with a completely separate menu, this time vegan (there is a vegetarian section on the main menu), I see a pattern forming here! Despite not being vegan when the waitress took our order I went straight for the Sea Veg & Chips. I LOVE fish and chips but alas since becoming a vegetarian I can’t have that true greasy British goodness anymore so when I come across an alternative to it on the menu I’m all over it. This was tempura sea kelp and courgette, crushed garden peas, tartare and hand cut chips and with it being my first meal of the day I was too excited to try it. This wasn’t the best faux fish and chips I’ve tasted, it relied heavily on the accompaniments and a lot of vinegar to give it a good flavour so there definitely needs to be some playing around in the kitchen as this can be an incredible dish once it’s given a little seasoning! I’d still return to The Cloth Ear because of their inclusion of us veggies and vegans, I’d try the hanging kebab next which my boyfriend got (his being the steak version) which he thoroughly enjoyed.
Thankfully Belfast city is only small so walking around is your main mode of transport which is perfect for seeing everything the city has to offer. With perfect weather, just taking a nice little stroll can bring you to great parts of the city, my favourites were a lovely sunny walk around Belfast Port and the Titanic Quarter. We actually intended on going into the Titanic Museum but entry was around £20 per person and unlike the Guinness Museum in Dublin which had a similar entry cost, we weren’t as bothered about it so just took a photo by the large ‘TITANIC’ sign and walked away from the expensive attraction… I’m glad we ventured over as it really was a nice view around the port and of the River Lagan. Just over the new bridge crossing the River Lagan is the Big Fish, a mosaic sculpture of well, a big fish! The mosaic tiles are decorated with texts and images of the history of Belfast and the fish itself actually contains a time capsule, its a weird but nice little novelty to see.
I mention below that you can visit the east coast where you can see UNESCO World Heritage Site Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge which are definite must sees whilst you’re in Northern Ireland. I speak more about how you can see and experience the wonderful east Irish coast as well as visiting the stunning murals on Falls Road. There is just tonnes to see in this beautiful place.
It’s known that the Irish like to drink and we found that to be very true here in Belfast, not angry drunken louts fighting each other in an old man pub, but an abundance of great bars and pubs full of really happy people. We did most of our drinking in the day (we had too many early wake up calls to be partying till 6am) and thankfully the weather was perfect enough to do that. On our last day, which was also the sunniest we stumbled upon Commerical Court where the Duke of York is nestled in and it was a cute little vibrant cobbled alley that had such a buzz around it, I’d definitely make a trip there especially as it is so close to one of our other favourite haunts, The Dirty Onion. The Dirty Onion is great for day or night but we preferred it in the day as its 75% open outdoor space, so it did get a little cold at night when all you’re wearing is a slinky bandeau top and pants. We just so happened to be in Belfast during the marathon so it was packed in the day with deserving runners however if you’ve tried to go to a beer garden anywhere in the UK when it’s sunny, more than likely the atmosphere will always be booming.
We were recommended The Spaniard by a colleague of mine and it also came up as one of Belfasts ‘best bars’ on Google so we went one afternoon. For me I unfortunately wasn’t a fan, it definitely gave off a Szimpla Kert ruin bar vibe with all the eclectic ‘junk’ so it is definitely a nice little bar with a bit of a difference however for me it just didn’t match my style. It’s very small and I can see it getting packed in the evening and the atmosphere being completely different than in the day so definitely give it a try, just for me it wasn’t my favourite.
The area right outside our hotel was great for if you wanted a dance, there was 21 Social which has a great live band playing on the Saturday which the locals REALLY liked, we got more enjoyment from people watching the dance floor. There is a proper ‘club’ upstairs which had really questionable music on the Sunday, if you’re into clubland classics then it’s the place for you. That little area around Waring Street is perfect for bars and clubs and so our stay at Belfast Premier Inn Cathedral Quarter was perfect for a short walk back to bed in the evening, I’d definitely recommend if you don’t want a long crawl home.
The main thing that I will 100% recommend you do is to get out of the city for a day. Do a tour of the east coast and fill your head with fresh sea air and as much history as you can shove in in just eight hours. We went on the Game of Thrones tour operated by Irish Tour Tickets and this was probably one of the best days of the trip. I am not a Game of Thrones fan, I don’t perk up whenever I hear the word ‘stark’, truth be told I’ve never even watched a full episode however do not let that deter you from doing this tour (and also from liking me, I’ll watch it one day I promise). This tour is half packed with Game of Thrones insider knowledge and trivia from Andrew our tour guide who has been a recurring extra on the series and it’s half packed with the culture and history of Northern Ireland, most specifically County Antrim and the east coast. Every city break I’ve been on in the past has just been that, a break in the city so going out and really seeing the Emerald Isle was a refreshing change. This country is so bloody beautiful and it’s really made me want to go back and experience even more of it’s breathtaking nature.
Another kind of tour is a Black Cab Tour – a tour in… a black cab. This tour takes you around Belfast and gives you a good insight into it’s more modern history, focusing on the likes of The Troubles as it takes you to see the Falls Road Murals and explains the history behind it. Unfortunately we couldn’t get to do that as we’d already packed a lot in our 3 day trip, for anyone going for a few more days definitely try and add this tour in too.
All in all Belfast has been one of my favourite trips so far and I’d love to go back again as well as visiting plenty of other spots around the whole of Ireland. If I hadn’t already convinced you to visit Belfast, you’d be happy to know that their currency is the British Pound, your mobile phone carrier stays the same and you don’t need an adapter for your electronics – these all really made the trip even better as you’ve not got to stress about currency, conversion rates, bringing adapters or finding WiFi all weekend. I’d definitely recommend anyone take a visit to the Emerald Isle! Have you been to Northern Ireland before?