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The Outsider’s guide to… Belfast

Featured image by Ash Kapoor

Famous for its history and culture, the city of Belfast welcomes tourists from around the world to experience some of that famous Irish charm.

Northern Ireland’s largest city is bursting at the seams with things to see and do – museums, attractions, shopping centres and cultural events are always on offer. Elsewhere, the stunning countryside along the coast is just waiting to be discovered.

There’s so much to explore, and the best way to do it is to pick up a hire car to discover this delightful city and beyond with our outsider’s guide to Belfast.

Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

Take a twenty-minute drive up the coast and step back in time to see what life was like for the locals more than 100 years ago at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. Set in more than 170 acres of rolling countryside, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum brings the past to life – literally. The experience is split into two distinct parts; first, the outdoor folk museum, and second, the indoor transport museum. Both attractions work together to paint a picture of life in Northern Ireland at a time when profound change came to the area, thanks to advances in technology and the huge shifts associated with the industrial revolution.

Image by Theyoungones1994

Image by Theyoungones1994

Outside in the open air museum, you can wander at your own pace, meet costumed locals who are on hand to demonstrate local crafts and other aspects of daily life, and explore inside cottages, farmhouses schools and shops. Move inside and you’ll be able to hop on and off locomotive trains, jump on a tram and explore everything from fire engines to vintage cars and horse drawn carriages. Expertly put together, this is one the whole family can enjoy.

Titanic Belfast

The story of the ill-fated maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic has captured the imagination of people from around the world, but what many don’t realise is it was built in the heart of Belfast on the harbour. At that time, the city was famed for its shipbuilding, and it was a huge feat of engineering to build a ship so large.

Image by Titanic Belfast

Image by Titanic Belfast

Today, to mark and honour the people who built the Titanic and who died when the ship sank off the coast of Newfoundland, the ship’s original birthplace has been transformed into a stunning new attraction called Titanic Belfast. Visitors can take discovery tours, explore the shipways and learn more about what Belfast was like during the time the Titanic was built. Housed inside the iconic six-floor building, this state of the art visitor’s attraction brings the story to life and sheds light on the real stories behind James Cameron’s award-winning film.

Stormont Parliament Buildings

Just a short drive outside the city centre of Belfast you can find the home of the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly, the legislative powers for Northern Ireland. It’s worth dropping by for a look; built in 1921, this building cost £1.7 million to construct – a huge pricetag at that time.

Image by Amanda Slater

Image by Amanda Slater

As you make your way down the long drive at Stormont, up ahead you’ll catch your first glimpse of the stunning white building. Stormont is open to the public, and when the Assembly is in session visitors are welcome to explore inside the building on special guided tours twice daily on weekdays. The interiors of the building are as impressive as its exteriors, and on a nice day you’re welcome to explore the grounds and take in the beautiful surrounding countryside Ireland is so famous for.

Antrim Castle Gardens

A half hour drive outside of the city takes you to one of the most stunning landscapes in all of Ireland. Pull up to Antrim Castle Gardens and you’ll stumble into a 400 year-old playground. Named one of the most historically intact gardens in the UK, you can see four centuries of culture side by side in areas like the Large Parterre, Her Ladyship’s Pleasure Garden and Yew Tree Pond.

Image by Amanda Slater

Image by Amanda Slater

At the heart of the gardens, Clotworthy House tells the story of its founding patrons, the Massereene family and their influence on Antrim, along with the garden’s unique history. An exciting schedule of walks, talks, workshops, performances and exhibitions mean no matter what time of year you stop by there’s always something to explore.

Carrickfergus Castle

No visit to a UK city would be complete without a visit to a nearby castle, and Belfast is no exception. Built by the Normans in the early 12th century, what was once one of the most important military strongholds in the area today doubles as a stunning example of medieval architecture.

Image by Donna

Image by Donna

Despite being surrounded on three sides by water, over the course of its nearly 900-year history, Carrickfergus has been besieged in turn by the Scots, English, French and Irish. The fighting has long since stopped though, and today this iconic landmark is home to historical displays, cannons and other military regalia from the 17th to 19th centuries. While you’re there, explore the visitors centre, take a guided tour to learn more of the history, or sit back and relax in the audio-visual theatre and watch the history come to life right before your eyes.

Ready to hit the road? Check out these posts for more inspiration:

The Outsider’s Guide to Ireland

The Family Camping Guide

Why You Should Spend Summer in Scotland




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