Many Things To Do On A Day In Belfast, Northern Ireland
On our cruise through the Nordic countries, we were excited to enjoy a day in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Our Oceania Cruises ship docked in Belfast. And then we toured along the scenic Ards Peninsula.
When I travelled to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland, I was surprised to find it a mighty industrial power. But I must admit that we were not sure what to expect in Northern Ireland. Growing up during the period of the civil unrest in Ireland, our preconceived view of Belfast were pretty grim. We found lots of reminders of those past troubles. But we were delighted to see a vibrant city that has recovered well.
We had one rainy day. But we found lots to see and do on a day in Belfast. And we only just scratched the surface.
1) Visit The Titanic Museum
When our ship docked for a day in Belfast, we were surprised to be able to see the Titanic Museum close by. The museum front was shaped like a shiny bow of a ship. The museum maintained the dry dock where the infamous ship was built. And the museum displays talked about the building and history of this ship. We saw murals in Belfast that also paid tribute to the Titanic and its builders.
As we moved around Belfast, it was evident that Belfast had a major ship building past. Other pieces of street art showed less polished ship statues.
We cruise a lot. So we don’t often like to think about major disasters at sea. And the Titanic certainly proved that ships are not unsinkable. We passed on a visit to the Titanic Museum on our day in Belfast.
2) Street Art In The Modern City Of Belfast
What we saw of Belfast we got through the bus windows as our guide provide background information. She talked about “The Troubles”. This was the period between 1978 and 1998 when there was mass unrest and violence.
The Troubles were usually spoken of as a battle between the Protestants and the Catholics. But the line was not drawn along religious beliefs. It was really between the sectors in Northern Ireland that either wanted to stay or leave the United Kingdom. As we drove along we saw a lot of street art that depicted the historical conflicts. And showed that not all of the conflict was forgotten.
We always love to look for street art when we visit cities. Much of the street art talks to local history or traditions. That was certainly true on our travels during our visit to Belfast. And not all of the street art was about war and violence. We saw colourful murals. And other pieces of art in the streets.
It was obvious that the end of The Troubles has resulted in a resurgence of Belfast. Shops and restaurants lined the streets. Our guide talked about the entertainment now available in the city. Belfast certainly looked like a spot to return on a visit to Ireland from North to South.
3) Stop At The Parliament Buildings In Belfast
We saw some of the key tourist spots in Belfast as we moved through town. On the way out of town, we made one quick stop at the Belfast Parliament at Stormont to take pictures. After the Troubles, the main political parties in Northern Ireland established some political agreement. Talks led to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. This Agreement restored self-government to Northern Ireland.
Our guide noted that self-government has not gone smoothly over the years. Parliament had been dissolved for over a year when we visited. The Brexit talks brought many issues to the head again. Brexit will again divide the island of Ireland. Northern Ireland would leave the European Union (EU) while the Republic of Ireland will remain in the EU. This has stirred new unionist tensions.
4) Drive Along The Ards Peninsula
We left Belfast and drove out to the Ards Peninsula. Twice a day the water rushes in and out of the fjord. It was named violent fjord’ (Strangford) after the fierce currents in these tidal narrows.
The tide was out and most of the Strangford Lough was wet mud which made it an ideal spot for bird watching. Especially when the Brent geese arrived for the winter. I was sure this drive along the Ards Peninsula would have been stunning on a sunny day. And a great way to spend a day in Belfast.
5) Visit The Grey Abbey Ruins
Along the Ards Peninsula we found the Grey Abbey ruins. The Grey Abbey was one of Ireland’s most impressive examples of early gothic architecture. This Cistercian abbey was the first established by a woman (in 1193 by Affreca, wife of John de Courcy, the Anglo-Norman invader of East Ulster). Today only ruins remain. But we were amazed at how big the site was.
We walked around the grounds and looked at the abbey ruins in a beautiful park setting. We passed through the cloister to the church. The ruins showed what a stunning gothic site this must have once been.
On the same site we saw the newer St. Saviour’s Church. Beside it was the gate to the Grey Abbey House, a private estate owned by the Montgomery family for more than 400 years. This house was not given to the National Trust to run. But rather was kept for hosting historical, architectural and horticultural groups and was used a a filming location for period dramas.
Even though it poured rain while we explored, we enjoyed the chance to walk around the ruins of the Grey Abbey. It was a very different stop on our cruise through the Nordic countries. But something to visit on a day in Belfast.
6) Stop For Irish Coffee At Pier 36 In Donaghadee
The final stop on our day in Belfast was in the small fishing village of Donaghadee on the Irish Channel. We walked along the waterfront. And were amused to find a group of women as they headed in for a swim. They totally ignored the pouring rain.
Two large busloads of wet tourists piled into the Pier 36 Pub. I was sure that this large group scared all the locals away. Glass mugs were lined up on the bar. A shot of Irish whiskey was added to each glass. Then coffee and cream were added for our Irish Coffee treats. Definitely a great pub stop on a rainy day.
As we drove back to Belfast, we drove up along the coast on the Irish Sea. This was a very different side of the Ards Peninsula. We saw some of the expensive real estate on the coast. And the small towns and farms in this area. When we returned for more than a day in Belfast, we would definitely want to spend more time around both shores of Ards Peninsula.
7) Head Out Of Town To The Giant’s Causeway
We visited the Giant’s Causeway when we did a cruise port stop in Londonderry on our travel from north to south in Ireland. But the Giant’s Causeway is also an easy day trip when you spend a day in Belfast. The Giant’s Causeway was a fascinating stop. Local folk lore tells a tale of the creation of this iconic spot. But a basic understanding of geology and volcanic action told a more scientific tale.
We were amazed as we moved from flat stones to higher basalt pillars. We hiked up the red path on the hill for stunning views over the Giant’s Causeway and the path beyond.
A walk along the Giant’s Causeway was a great way to spend a day in Belfast.
We Enjoyed A Day In Belfast, Northern Ireland
We were happy to spend a day in Belfast in Northern Ireland when did a cruise of the Nordic countries. It was interesting to see this before we headed to Dublin in the south. Belfast has recovered well from the Troubles. But you can feel political unrest stirring again.
Belfast had so much to offer. Whether you stay in the city, head into the countryside or take a day trip you will find so much to see and do in Belfast.
Have you spent a day in Belfast in Northern Ireland? Do you want to see more?
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