Belfast and Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland
I’ve been to Ireland many times, but this is my first time in Belfast, Northern Ireland. And it’s going to be the starting point of an adventure that’s going to take me along the coast of Northern Ireland.
PLACES AND STORIES TO LOVE
The Black Cab Tour with Billy Scott
Black cabs are to Belfast what yellow taxis are to New York City – you can’t imagine one without the other. These retro-looking cabs have been around since the 1970s. For decades they were the main form of transportation for locals, while today, they’ve become one of the best ways to see Belfast and learn more about its history. There are a number of different companies that offer these cab tours. Still, I enjoyed my experience at Touring Around Belfast with local and blue badge-certified guide Billy Scott. With classic Northern Irish humor and a passionate knowledge of his hometown, I learned all about this unique city and even visited a particularly moving landmark that may very well be gone in the next few years!
DID YOU KNOW?
The type of car Belfast’s black cabs are is called a TX4. Not only is it found in Belfast, but it can also be found on every continent (except Antarctica) in places like Sydney, Singapore, Cairo, and more!
Touring Around Belfast
9 Donegall Square North
Belfast, Antrimm BT1 5GB, UK
Daisies is the result of a decades-long journey for owner and founder Deirdre McCanny. While working in international sales and marketing, a job that took her away from Belfast and to big cities like London and New York, she began wanting a change of pace that would keep her home more. Her path became clear when she discovered Chocolat Michel Cluizel and the world of fine chocolate while in Manhattan. Shortly after, she’d open up Northern Ireland’s first high-end chocolate shop and has been sharing her love for cocoa ever since. While the name of her chocolate is Co Couture, the name of her shop on Chichester Street has been renamed Daisies. Inside, the environment is calm and inviting – a must for both visitors and the chocolate itself. While visiting, I was blown away by her award-winning treats – any guesses about what I had?
DID YOU KNOW?
The new shop name was inspired by a Nadine Stair poem, “I’d pick more daisies.” The poem is from the P.O.V. of someone who wishes they had enjoyed their life more and worried less. It encourages the reader to enjoy those special moments — the very kind McCanny hopes to encourage with her shop.
7b Chichester St
Belfast BT1 4JA, UK
The Maritime Mile & Titanic Quarter
One of the best ways to see Belfast is to explore The Maritime Mile, a historic waterfront area that stretches along River Lagan. Be sure to stop at the SoundYard, an all-weather structure on Queen’s Quay designed by Hannah Wilson, Matthew Kernan, and Eunan Deeney. The sound it makes, activated by motion sensors, is inspired by striking metal sounds that would’ve been prevalent in one of the old shipyards. Further down the mile is Titanic Quarter, one of Europe’s largest urban waterfront regeneration projects. Here I met with Maureen McKinney, whose grandfather was one of the many individuals who worked on the RMS Titanic. See how she and the Belfast Titanic Society keep both the ship and all the involved individuals’ memories alive.
GOOD TO KNOW
Plan to give yourself enough time when visiting. Even though the Titanic Belfast is open 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM, last admission is 3:20 PM!
Titanic Queen’s Road
The Titanic Quarter
1 Olympic Wy, Belfast BT3 9EP, UK
Titanic Hotel Belfast
If you want to stay somewhere truly unique, book a room at Titanic Hotel Belfast. Also in the Titanic Quarter, it’s located in the former Harland & Wolff Headquarters. This Victorian-style building once sat at the center of Belfast’s bustling shipyard and was where ocean liners were created and constructed. And, yes, that includes the RMS Titanic. The hotel takes its design cues from its nautical history, featuring over 500 artworks and photographs to transport guests back to the Golden Age of Ocean Travel. All through the property, you’ll find nods to Harland & Wolff’s history, but one of the coolest I had a chance to visit is known as the Presentation Room.
Belfast Traditional Music Trail
When it comes to traditional Irish music, the name simply does not do justice to what you actually hear. The music itself is magical but what makes the experience even more special is that it’s often enjoyed in a pub with drinks and camaraderie all around. One of the best parts is that anyone can join in as long as they know what they’re doing. I had the chance to sit down with Jason O’Rourke, Ciara Taaffe, and Cormac O’Briain at The Second Fiddle to learn more about the traditional Irish music scene and learn what the heck their instruments are!
PLAN YOUR OWN VISIT
Want to experience the traditional Irish music scene but not quite ready to go to a pub on your own? Join the Belfast Traditional Music Trail, which runs every Saturday from 4:00 PM – 6:30 PM. Two of their professional musicians will guide you around Cathedral Quarter to a number of spots where you’ll enjoy all sorts of pub sessions. Bring your dancing shoes!
What’s a visit to Northern Ireland without visiting at least one castle? In this episode, we visit the thriving Glenarm Castle, which sits along the Antrim Coast and has belonged to the MacDonnell family since 1636. It was built by the first Earl of Antrim, Randal MacDonnell, to be a country house, and it has remained with the family ever since. You really have to wonder what this castle saw in its nearly 400 years and 15 generations of earls! From the stone walls surrounding the grounds to the castle rooms and nearby buildings brimming with history, Glenarm offers many ways for visitors to learn more about castle life. You’ll have to see what they had me get up to on my visit!
Did you know?
Before the MacDonnells, there were the MacEoin Bissets. The land was acquired by John Bisset, who made Glenarm his capital in 1260. The MacDonnells would take control of the land after the last MacEoin Bisset died in 1522 and would build Glenarm over a hundred years later.
2 Castle Lane, Glenarm
Ballymena BT44 0BQ, UK
The Milk Parlour
Italy’s not the only place for gelato! Be sure to stop by The Milk Parlour while visiting Glenarm Castle. Newly established in 2021, it utilizes Shorthorn Herd milk to make some of the most delicious gelatos I’ve had yet. They sustainably source their milk from the Barr Family over at Tannybrake Farm, which has the only known dairy Shorthorn herd in Northern Ireland. You can even see pictures of the cows responsible for your gelato up on the walls of the shop.
The Giant’s Causeway
No trip to Northern Ireland is complete without stopping to visit its most incredible natural wonder – Giant’s Causeway. This UNESCO World Heritage site consists of interlocking basalt columns that formed 60 million years ago and stretch five miles along the coast. Legend has it that once there was a giant who was challenged to a fight by a Scottish giant. He built a causeway along the North Channel to meet him but ran back when he saw his size and pretended to be a baby. When the Scottish giant crossed the causeway and saw the “baby,” he decided the father must be the biggest giant there ever was to have such a large child! He ran back, tearing up rocks as he went to destroy the path! This means that, yes, normal-sized humans can walk along the basalt columns and imagine what it must’ve been like for a giant to run across them. How many columns do you think there are remaining today?
Did you know?
In reality, Giant’s Causeway is the result of a volcanic fissure eruption. This is when molten basalt erupts through a linear vent in a volcano instead of just an explosion like we usually imagine. The columns formed as the lava cooled and contracted.
The Giant’s Causeway
44 Causeway Road
Bushmills, County Antrim, BT57 8SU, UK
Invented in New Zealand, blokarting is one of the coolest ways to enjoy the beach. Sit in a 3-wheeled kart that uses a sail and wind power to get you moving. Think of it as a way of sailing while still remaining on land and avoiding the many dangers water can bring! It’s also great for families as the design is safe for kids, and it’s easy to assemble and disassemble for transport. In Northern Ireland, the place to go is Blokart World, owned by 3-times British Champion Pat Letters and his family. You’ll have to see how I manage my own blokart!