Belfast has been the capital of Northern Ireland since its establishment in 1921. Belfast and Antrim Coast have played a crucial part in Northern Irish history, from the High Kings of ancient Ireland to the building of the Titanic. When you take a trip on the Antrim Coast, you’ll discover why it’s one of the top-rated road trips in the world!
After our Dublin Georgia Tech Adventure, we set off to Northern Ireland to spend a couple of days in Belfast before going home. Most things in Belfast City are fairly walkable, and we soon found that Belfast is a quiet city on a Sunday evening.
Titanic Belfast gives the ultimate Titanic experience through multiple levels and 9 interactive galleries. The building stands at the head of the very slipway where the Titanic was built. The external façade replicates four 90ft high, aluminum ship hulls, making the building look simultaneously like a ship and like a jutting iceberg. The tour begins with a gallery dedicated to the industrial history of Belfast. From there, you’ll move to the Shipyard Ride, an electronic dark ride that simulates the different jobs at the Titanic‘s shipyard. Next, you’ll experience the launch of the Titanic and see how the world’s most luxurious ship was decked-out. After joining crew and passengers for the ship’s maiden voyage, you’ll experience the tragedy of the Titanic‘s sinking, hearing first-hand accounts and then investigating fault during the aftermath. Complete the tour with a look at Titanic movie myths and a deep-sea exploration.
There are plenty of sites to see walking around Belfast City Centre. The Beacon of Hope is a public art metal sculpture that stands beside the river in Thanksgiving Square. The statue, depicting a woman standing on a globe indicating peace and harmony holding out the “ring of thanksgiving”, has become an icon for Belfast. In Queen’s Square sits Albert Memorial Clock. The tower was constructed between 1865 and 1869, stands 113 feet tall, and as a result of being built on wooden beams on marshy land, the tower leans 4 feet off. In the heart of the city centre is Belfast City Hall. First opened in 1906, Belfast City Hall is one of the best examples of Classical Renaissance style in the British Isles.
For our second day in Northern Ireland, we booked a Paddywagon Tour of the Antrim Coast. They are a Dublin-based country, but they pick up for tours in Belfast as well. This is my second Paddywagon Tour I’ve been on, and the tour guides are always very friendly and funny, making for an entertaining trip!
The Dark Hedges
The first stop of our tour was the Dark Hedges. The Dark Hedges are an avenue of beech trees that were planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century as an impressive entrance leading up to their Georgian mansion. Two hundred years later, the trees still remain an impressive lane. The location has even been used as a filming location Game of Thrones, representing the King’s Road.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge connects the mainland and the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede. Carrick-a-Rede had been an Atlantic salmon fishing spot since 1620, and salmon fishing was a flourishing industry up until the late 20th century. The first rope bridge was placed here in 1755 so that fisherman no longer had to rely on a boat to get to the island. The bridge is 66ft long and is 98ft above the rocks. From the island, you can see Rathlin Island, the only inhabited offshore island of Northern Ireland and a population of around 145 people, and on a clear day, which we were lucky enough to have, you can see Scotland.
Between the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the Giant’s Causeway sit the ruins of Dunseverick Castle. The history of the castle is rooted deep in Irish history. St. Patrick reportedly visited the site in the 5th century and baptized Olcán, a local man who would later become Bishop of Ireland. In the 6th century, Dunseverick was the seat of Fergus Mor MacEirc, or Fergus the Great, the great-uncle of the High King of Ireland, Muirceartaigh MacEirc. The ancient Slige Midluchra, the High King’s Road, ran to Dunseverick from Tara, making it one of the key ancient sites in Ireland. The castle was destroyed in 1642 by General Robert Munro during the Irish Confederate Wars. A small residential tower remained until 1978 when it eventually fell into the ocean. All that is left of the castle are the remains of the overgrown gatehouse.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Giant’s Causeway is one of the wonders of Great Britain. The Causeway is 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient feud between the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) and the Scottish giant Benandonner. Finn was a relatively small giant, but that didn’t stop him from yelling taunts across the sea at Benandonner, demanding a trial of strength. Finn built the path across the sea to Benandonner’s lair on the island of Staffa in order to show the Scottish giant how strong he really was. When Finn realized how big his foe really was, he high-tailed it back to his home. Benandonner chased him back to Ireland. Finn’s quick-thinking wife Oonagh told Finn to dress up like a baby and hide in their cradle. When Benandonner came bursting into their house, Oonagh told him her husband was out and it’s just her and the baby there. Benandonner took a look at this huge baby and decided that if this is the size of the baby, the father must be a Giant among Giants! He fled back to Scotland, tearing up the causeway along the way!
Or perhaps the columns are a result of a volcanic eruption, when the basalt intruded through chalk beds, cooled, and caused horizontal contractions leaving fractured cracks throughout this area.
One of Northern Ireland’s most romantic castles, Dunluce Castle was first built in the 13th century. The castle was owned by the McQuillan family in the 16th century until the MacDonnell clan displaced them during a series of battles. The castle was then improved in the Scottish style. In 1588 the Spanish Armada ship La Girona wrecked in a storm on the rocks nearby, and the cannons from the ship were installed in the castle’s gatehouse. The castle was the seat of the Earl of Antrim until the MacDonnells became impoverished. Then the castled deteriorated and parts of it fell into the sea below. But despite this, it remains an imposing and romantic site on the Causeway Coastal Route.
Have you been to Northern Ireland? Tell me about it in the comments!