We had an absolute fantastic time in Northern Ireland this week. So much to see and do, Northern Ireland is definitely a hidden gem of the United Kingdom. Despite it’s checkered history we felt very safe and welcome, we’re definitely keen to return soon for further exploration. Below you’ll find brief summaries around some of the activities and attractions we enjoyed the most.
Bushmills Distillery Bushmills is the oldest licensed whiskey brewer in the world. At 7.5Pounds pp this made for a great indoor activity on a rainy day. We loved being taken through the active brewing plant (which is something we didn’t see in the Guinness Storehouse or the old Jameson’s distillery), the heat, the smells the bubbles, the barrels and the bottling all added to this visit. You end the tour by being able to claim a free drink from the bar which they didn’t go cheap on, offering you a rang beverages including the 12year old single malt only available for purchase at the plant.
Dunluce Castle This would have been one EPIC castle back in its day, on its own rocky outcrop [formerly] complete with drawbridge and an underground cave boat entrance, this castle is what little boys dreams are made of. The views are stunning and the history rich and its even featured in a few movies! Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge Part of my job back home is working on a high ropes course but even I had a few goose bumps crossing this bridge. It’s about a kilometer walk each way to this bridge which provides some gorgeous views and a rare look at a local bird colony. The bride cost 5.70pound pp or free if you’re a National Trust Member (of which Jenny & I as of a few days ago are).
Giants Causeway Its such a marvelous mystery, a freak of nature, made all the better by the local’s mythical stories that surround this place, a must do for any visitor to northern Ireland. We made the most of our new National Trust memberships (forgoing the 9pounds pp – which includes parking, entry into the exhibit hall and audio guides, with our membership we also forwent paying the optional additional 2.5pounds per person for the return bus fare down to the rocks). Now tips: 1) Don’t believe the signs saying that the giant’s car park is full, forcing you to park further away, we ignored these signs and found ample parking. 2) If you wanna do it on the cheap, technically the cliffs are free to do if you don’t partake in anything on the package deal (i.e. no audio guides, parking elsewhere, not going to the exhibition centre etc), totally legit. Dark Hedges I didn’t know anything about the Dark Hedges, still don’t really, other than seeing an awesome misty photo of them on Pinterest. They are however very cool, very eiry and perfect for your next facebook background picture. They are also pretty difficult to find, so if you do end up going to carrick-a-rede bridge ask the parking guys there for directions, they had a whole pile of handy pre-printed directions which saved us heaps of time.
I was so pleasantly surprised by Belfast, it’s a lovely place. I hear they have poured a lot of money back into the city in the last few years to reattract tourism (after the troubles) and it shows! Much like Galway however, if you’re visiting on a Saturday, know that they are a Saturday sleeper-in-er town, don’t expect anything (other than St. Georges Market) to be open before 11:30am.
City Sightseeing tour vs. Black Cab
Coming to Belfast we’d heard all about their famous black taxi tours. We however found ourselves having to decide between said tours or the City Sightseeing bus tours. It was actually quite a hard decision, we ended up opting for the bus tour and we’re glad we did for the following reasons: 1) In their fame, the black cab tours have become expensive – 10pounds pp, with a minimum 30pound cost. With a 3rd person we probably would have opted for the taxis but at 21pounds for the both of us, the bus tour saved us around 18NZD. 2) the bus tour commentary was awesome, providing great humor and insight into the city. 3) the bus was hop on/hop off for 48 hours meaning we could semi use it as a bus service to get around – with the taxis, after your hour and half tour is over, that’s all you get. 4) finally the height of the bus meant that we were able to see over the police barricade and catch a glimpse of one of the infamous orange marches in procession. St. Georges Market Voted the best indoor market in the United Kingdom, St Georges Market did not disappoint! Filled with food produce, meals, candies, painters and local craft that change from week to week. They also have quality live music every opening day. So if you’re in the neighborhood Friday-Sunday, avoid FOMO and go check it out you wont regret it. Hurling Such a fascinating game! We really got into the action which highlighted a Irish heritage or warriors who showed profound skill and bravery. If you managed to find a game (which its hard to do because the GAA website is vague), its well worth it 3pound pp, money well spent. Victoria Square We don’t often promote shopping malls on here, but Victoria square caught us by surprise being all shiny and new, bubbling over with quality stores and restaurants. This place also provides a free panoramic view for visitors in their giant glass dome that towers above the centre.
The Troubles We all know the troubled history between the Republic of Ireland and that of the Unionist Northern Ireland. From an outsiders perspective it seems such a shame that one people of one land can’t get along and be united. On our journey into Northern Ireland I found myself having to check my united Ireland fantasies at the door, we was taken aback by how proud the north were about being united with Britain. These guys had more [Brittish] flags per square inch than I’ve ever seen!
Driving across the border provided no signs or checkpoints letting you know you’d arrived but many of the signs were clear as day for us; Kilometers changing into Miles, Euros at petrol station signs converting into Pounds, republican flags changing to the brittish flag and probably the most poignant to me was the town that we’d come to know as Derry from the Rep. of Irelands road signs became Londonderry (the London part had also been spray-painted over).
We’ve had the pleasure of being able to chat through some of Ireland’s history with many of the locals we met on our trip. It became obvious to us how fresh many of the wounds were on both sides. Both sides had strikingly different though no less valid views to one another. While I think all can agree that peace is now what they wish to seek I believe it will take some time for the nation to process and forgive the violence. I also think it will take some time to process how to move forward as two distinctive cultures living together side by side.