If you’re planning on making Britain your next travel destination, set aside a few days to go to Northern Ireland’s capital city, Belfast. Northern Ireland shares a border with the Republic of Ireland, and is only an hour’s flight away from major cities like London, Edinburgh and Manchester. So it’s super convenient to get there, and it’s pretty cheap, too.
Did you know?
Between the 16th and 19th century, the region that became Northern Ireland was ruled by British royalty. In the latter stages of the 18th century, laws were made that led to the idea of Home Rule. This would mean Ireland would get to rule itself without interference from the Parliament in London, England. Most people in Ireland wanted this, but those in the counties that would go on to become Northern Ireland didn’t. The people who preferred to be a part of the United Kingdom were called “unionists”, while those who wanted to be independent became “nationalists”. This resulted in lots of fighting, and the violence continued until a ceasefire agreement in the 1990s. You can still see the effects of the 30-year conflict around the city today in the form of art, monuments and memorials.
What’s great about it?
There are cheap flights to Belfast if you fly from England, Wales or Scotland – they will cost between £50-£120 (about HK$500-HK$1,200).
Unlike in London, prices are very affordable. You can use the British pound in Northern Ireland, and an overnight stay in a cheap hotel or hostel (with breakfast) will cost around £20-£25 (HK$200-HK$250).
If you love food (and who doesn’t?), head to the Made In Belfast restaurants in the city for some seriously tasty Irish-European grub. If you wander around the city, you’ll find many markets and stalls selling local delicacies. A meal will set you back £10-£20 (HK$100-HK$200).
It’s not hard to get around the city, and public transport is reasonably cheap.
If you like history, Belfast is the place to be. There are beautiful memorials and stunning street art which tell the story of Northern Ireland’s past, like the Irish Civil War (1922-1923), as well as the iconic Belfast City Hall, the Ulster Museum, the Botanic Gardens.
Find out what it’s like to be a student here by checking out the university campuses – Belfast plays host to Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University.
What’s not great about it?
If you expect Northern Ireland’s capital city to have the same hustle and bustle of London, you’re going to be disappointed. Belfast is a small city, with around 270,000 people.
The architecture there isn’t unique. If you’ve seen all the fancy buildings in London, you won’t see anything new here – for instance, the City Hall looks an awful lot like the British Museum in London.
Belfast is also not as visually impressive as other cities in Britain, and doesn’t have the “wow” factor of cities like Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh.
The queues to the super-interesting Titanic Belfast Museum are huge, so you can decide whether or not it’s worth a look around a museum that tells the story of the construction of the ship everyone deemed unsinkable – and which sunk in 1912.
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Other cool things
Make Belfast your base for a few days and explore more of the country and hit up some of the “hot spots” – like Londonderry’s city walls or Kilkenny’s Wicklow Mountains – via the local Irish Rail trains.
There are plenty of castles to explore in Northern Ireland, too. Belfast Castle is famous for its architecture and stunning gardens, while Dunluce Castle in the “lost” 17th century town of Dunluce is known for its beautiful coastal views and cobbled streets. And if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, make sure you do a GOT tour. The show is partly filmed in the country, and you get to see some filming locations. Pretend you’re a Stark of Winterfell in Castle Ward, drive along Dark Hedges and imagine you’re actually on King’s Road, and find your own direwolf puppy in the Tollymore Forest Park.