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July 2019

Belfast Travel United Kingdom

2 Nights in Belfast

July 7, 2019

“Belfast is a city which, while not forgetting its past, is living comfortably with its present and looking forward to its future.” 

James Nesbitt

Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was only within the past 20 years when this place was even considered as a safe travel destination. I am drawn to places slightly out of the norm and had been curious about Belfast for quite some time.

I experienced a city that’s vibrant and modern yet carries the heavy weight of a tumultuous and tragic past. There are reminders of this past everywhere from the politically themed murals, to memorial gardens, to the fences and gates that still separate the Protestant and Catholic areas. To really understand Belfast I think it’s important to read the history of the conflict and also to take a Black Cab Tour where your driver will take you to the different parts of town and explain the background of the murals you’re seeing (see below).

While I would never advocate visiting a destination that is truly dangerous, I am all for exploring places that were once considered dangerous but have become safer in the recent past. Also keep in mind that if you are touring around Ireland and mention to others that you are visiting Belfast, you might get a mixed reaction. While the younger generation seems to have a more positive reaction and openness towards the Northern city, there is still definitely tension among those who lived through the Troubles. 

STAY

Jurys Inn Belfast | Great Victoria Street, Belfast, BT1 6DY, United Kingdom 

While I usually opt for AirBnBs or Boutique hotels, for my first trip to Belfast I wanted to be extremely centrally located. Not knowing the different neighborhoods yet or having a feel for the safety situation, we wanted a place was 100% in “neutral territory”. Our room was great and the hotel staff was attentive and friendly. We particularly enjoyed that the hotel also had a restaurant and bar and was in walking distance to the Courthouse, the Cathedral Quarter and Crowne Bar. They also arranged our Black Cab Tour (see below) for us for immediate pickup onsite. 



Booking.com

EAT & DRINK

44 Hill Street | 44 Hill Street, Belfast BT1 2LB, Northern Ireland

Mediterranean cuisine served tapas style – a lovely option in the cute & vibrant Cathedral Quarter. Also close to all the bars and nightlife in the area so a great place to start your evening. The cheese plate was delicious!

Cafe Metz | 55 High Street, BT1 2AB Belfast

Found this place when walking from the Cathedral Quarter back to our hotel and liked the cafe atmosphere. I was also happy that they offered a Vegetarian version of the famous “Ulster Fry” – it was delicious and filling!

The Pocket | 69 University Rd, Belfast

We stopped in here after walking around the Queen’s Quarter and the Botanic Gardens and I loved the atmosphere and food at this adorable place! The interior is cozy and the food and drinks were healthy and delicious. I loved how in Ireland and Northern Ireland so many places offered Haloumi cheese (which is more rare in the States) and adding it to the Buddha Bowl was delicious!

White’s Tavern | 2-4 Winecellar Entry, Belfast, BT11QN

Very cool old pub, in fact one of the oldest in Belfast. Nice place to grab a pint, the food was also good (even though we had to take it to go to not miss our tour bus)!

Crown Liquor Saloon | 46 Great Victoria Street, Belfast BT2 7BA, Northern Ireland

I would say this is a “must visit” in Belfast – we happened to luck out because it was right by our hotel. I would say it is the most well-known and famous pubs in the city, a beautifully restored relic from the Victorian era complete with intricate wooden interior booths and stained glass.

DO

Cab Tours Belfast | (Arranged through the front desk at Jurys Inn)

First off, I would 100% recommend doing a Black Cab tour when in Belfast. Belfast has so much history and I believe it adds so much to the experience of seeing the city when you try to understand the culture and background. I found the murals and memorials and was fascinated by all the history we learned.

Run by a Catholic and a Protestant, this company gives you an unbiased tour of the city. Our guide Jimmy drove us through both the Protestant and Catholic areas and gave us a real understanding of the history and tensions between the two groups. We were also able to get out and take pictures at the murals and memorials while he told us the information and history behind them. He went above and beyond to provide us an unbiased history of The Troubles along with stories of his personal experiences.

I would say that a cab tour is essential when visiting Belfast and I would definitely recommend this company as I’ve heard they don’t all equally show you both sides.

Botanic Gardens | College Park, Botanic Avenue, BT7 1LP

Adjacent to the Queen’s University Campus (aka real life Hogwarts), the Palm House was a lovely spot to warm up on a brisk damp day and enjoy the beautiful tropical plants. If you are a fan of the BBC/Netflix crime drama The Fall, you will recognize it from the first season when serial killer Paul Spektor went to stalk his next victim.

Street Art | Cathedral Quarter, City Center, everywhere

In addition to the political and historical murals you will see on your Black Cab Tour, Belfast has a TON of other street art everywhere. There are a lot of cool facades and murals in the Cathedral Quarter, including a little alleyway with umbrellas that was sadly under construction when I went. You can find the umbrellas and some other great gems on Commercial Court, the Alleyway between Hill Street and Donegall Street.  See some of my favorite finds from the city below:

STAYING SAFE & SENSIBLE

As an American tourist in Belfast City Center, with no local political or religious affiliation I felt perfectly safe.

Safe/Not Safe Areas?

That said: there are definitely still tensions between the Protestants and the Catholics in Belfast and a clear separation outside the city center. It was described to us as “Sure, everyone gets along and works together in the city, then the Catholics go home to their neighborhoods and the Protestants go back to theirs.” There are still gates that separate the sections of town that are closed and locked at a certain time every day. Falls Road is where the Catholic neighborhoods are centered around, while Shankill Road is where the predominately Protestant/Loyalist community is centered. People will ask each other, “Where do you hail from?” to get insight into what their affiliation is, a kind of asking without asking sort of thing. Again, I highly recommend doing the tour we did above because they take you to the different areas and explain what you are seeing and why.

We stayed predominately in the City Center, Queens Quarter (during the day around the University and Botanical Garden), Cathedral Quarter (in the evening) & did a run from our hotel to the Titanic Quarter. I did not feel awkward or unsafe in any of those places.

Talking Politics

The guide books will tell you to not discuss politics with locals, to not wear any colors seen as Irish (green, yellow, orange) when walking or running through the city. It would also make sense not to walk into some random pub in a neighborhood you are not familiar with and start discussing Irish or UK politics. You will likely NOT run into this problem in the city center. In fact, the young staff at a local bar we grabbed drinks at were actually quite open to discussing the situation in Northern Ireland, Brexit, healthcare, etc. My take on it is, the younger the person is you are talking to, the more open they will be about discussing it, especially if you are in a touristy area. I was happy we were able to have these discussions with the locals, as I find history and politics fascinating. I wouldn’t recommend bringing it up unless they do first though. Like American politics as of late, it could be very polarizing.

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Ireland Kinsale Travel

A Getaway in Colorful Kinsale, Ireland

July 5, 2019

Even though I’ve been to Ireland 3 separate times, each trip has held special meaning for me. My first trip was during St. Patrick’s Day weekend when I was studying abroad in Italy, visiting my friend who was studying in Cork. I had dreamed of visiting Ireland since I was a little girl (for some reason I always felt a pull to the idea of it’s rolling green hills) and so my first brief trip there was a realization of that dream. My second trip there was also special because it was with my love (at the time my soon-to-be fiance who is now my husband) and it was to celebrate my 30th birthday.

This most recent trip was also special, as I traveled with my best friend Molly. Molly and I met our freshman year of college in the dorms and had always talked about doing a trip to Ireland together. The trip was over 10 years in the making but we actually did it and had an amazing time touring around together! After spending our first night night in Cork City, our next stop was the colorful and quaint Kinsale, a seaside village on the south coast of County Cork. Molly had a particularly important reason to visit Kinsale: not only did her great grandfather grow up here but she also has relatives still living in the town!

Imagine walking into a local shop in Ireland and telling the person working there that you are actually their cousin visiting from America!

That was the scene when Molly and I walked into Mylie Murphy’s Bike & Bait Shop and were greeted by Gillian, Molly’s cousin with whom we soon became fast friends. Between loaning us bikes to explore with, chatting over photography and Instagram strategies (Gillian owns a LOVELY plant and gift shop in Kinsale, see below) and enjoying a (few) bottles of white wine over lunch, Kinsale became a destination that will hold a special place in my heart. 

Candy colored shops, locals enjoying an ice cream cone from the local Centra, sailboats on the horizon and fields of colorful yellow flowers – Kinsale is postcard perfect! We stayed there for 4 nights and it was a great amount of time to explore and relax. I would certainly recommend stopping by for at least a day if you are visiting Cork City, and staying for a few nights if you have the time. We were there in late April and it was still a bit chilly but very popular – I can only imagine how lively it gets during the summer months. 

WHERE TO STAY

Kinsale Cozy Studio/Tiny House

We had a wonderful 4 night stay at Rosemarie’s adorable cottage! Rosemarie went above and beyond to make our stay comfortable, starting with picking us up at the bus so we wouldn’t have to walk with our bags which we really appreciated. She and her dog Curly were so friendly and gave us plenty of tips on where to go and what to do in Kinsale. The cottage was beautifully decorated and well equipped with breakfast and snack staples and toiletries. The location was close to the main village (about a 5 minute walk) and the front yard had a gorgeous view of the water. I would definitely stay here again and would recommend to anyone planning to stay in Kinsale.

FAVORITE EATS

Bulman | Summercove, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland

A colorful (and popular!) spot on the outskirts of town as you head towards Charles Fort. The inside has a cozy and jovial atmosphere while the outside affords you a great view of the water. Come a little after lunch hour in order to try to avoid the crowds.

Fishy Fishy | Crowleys Quay, Kinsale Co, Co. IE, Ireland

If you love seafood and want to treat yourself to a nice lunch or dinner, this is your place! We had an amazing meal here with Molly’s family. Delicious mussels, seafood pie and a rhubarb cobbler that was the perfect ending to the meal, washed down by a bottle (or 2?) of the house white wine. Elegant atmosphere and great service.

UNIQUE SHOPPING

Greenhouse & Other Stories | 8 Pearse Street, Kinsale, Ireland Co. Cork

Molly’s cousin Gillian owns this adorable shop filled with beautiful plants and curated gifts including stationary, pots, jewelry children’s clothing. I would definitely recommend stopping by if you’re looking for something unique to bring home for someone, or a little gift for yourself.

Aesthetically pleasing display at Greenhouse & Other Stories

Rain Bath & Beauty | 42 Main Street, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland

Assortment of gorgeous responsible and ethical beauty products – a great shop to buy something to pamper yourself with.

Gourmet Pantry | 4 Market St, Sleveen, Cork, Ireland

We did a lot of self-catering in Kinsale for our evening meals (buying prepared foods, cheeses, wines etc and bringing them to our AirBnB.) While there are a few groceries downtown, this shop has higher quality and locally made items – perfect for a picnic, aperitif or souvenirs to bring home (jams, crackers, etc).

LIVE MUSIC & NIGHTLIFE

Dalton’s Bar | 3A Market St, Sleveen, Kinsale, Co. Cork, P17 E068, Ireland

Molly is a huge fan of traditional Irish music, so we went out to listen to a session pretty much every night. That said, we had our best live music experience in Kinsale at Dalton’s Bar during our first night out in Kinsale. We went in on a Monday night, which is when they have an open mic situation of sorts called a “sing-a-long” with a local band to back up the hauntingly beautiful melodies. Cozy interior with a fireplace, friendly bartenders, and unlike more touristy places that play the same 5 Irish songs to a raucous audience, during these sessions everyone shushes the patrons before the person starts singing so everyone can listen and enjoy. It was a genuinely moving experience and I would definitely recommend this place especially if you are here on a night they are doing a sing-a-long.

The Harbour Bar | Scilly, Kinsale, Ireland

Off the beaten path, this bar was truly unique. It’s inside a house where the owner has turned his first floor into a pub. You grab a drink from the fridge (bottled beer, wine and mixed drinks only), pay, and make yourself at home while his little jack russell terrier might jump into your lap. There is old fashioned decor, a TV with the game on, a local crowd and a stunning view of the Harbour (hence, the name).

View from the Harbour Bar

ACTIVITIES

Drive out to The Old Head

About a 10 – 15 minute drive from downtown, the Old Head is a must see. Like a mini Cliffs of Moher, it’s adjacent to a well known golf course and is the closest piece of land to where the RMS Lusitania sank. We went during golden hour to check it out and it was absolutely stunning, especially with all the seabirds flying around below us. It would be a gorgeous spot for an evening picnic or to take photos.

Scilly Walk/Charles Fort

There is a nice walking path from downtown Kinsale to Charles Fort. (We actually took bikes even though I don’t think you are technically supposed to bike on the walking trail.) You can take Lower Road and follow it from the downtown up to the Spaniard Bar, then past the Bulman Pub and out to the fort. You pass great views and lovely homes along the way, there and back is a little over 5km.

Explore Downtown Kinsale

Kinsale’s downtown is incredibly charming. I am a sucker for colorful waterfront towns and Kinsale certainly hits the mark. There are plenty of cute shops to explore, cafes to duck into and the locals we met were all very friendly. If you get the chance to immerse yourself in this place for a few days, definitely do so.

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