Fancy a weekend away? Try 48 hours in Belfast
For an under-the-radar city break that's close to home but has heaps to offer, from a thriving food scene to brilliant sightseeing, take a trip to Belfast.
Muddy loves a city break and we’ve ticked off plenty of the big names, from Rome to Paris, but we’re always on the hunt for cool places that are as interesting as the star cities but less crowded and easier on the wallet. Belfast is a great example of this; a weekend getaway that won’t break the bank but will recharge your batteries with an energetic city buzz.
Northern Ireland’s capital is a bit under-the-radar when it comes to city breaks (compared to Dublin, for example), but Muddy was impressed with its great dining scene, plentiful sightseeing, lively historic quarter and accessibility – it took just 90 minutes to fly there from London City Airport. Belfast lies on the River Lagan but it’s also a short hop from the northeast coast of Ireland, so you can easily combine a city and seaside break.
Muddy kicked things off at the Titanic Quarter, where the fated ship was built. Strolling around the redeveloped dry docks it’s clear to see money’s been pumped into the area, including a new Titanic Whisky distillery in a former pump house that we’d like to have sampled, but it’s due to open in June. You can’t miss the Titanic Museum (which is the same height as the ship, fact fans) and designed by Eric Kuhne who also designed the Blue Water Shopping Centre, but believe us this is way better. Inside, we learnt all about how the boat was built, read moving personal stories about the fatal voyage and sang My Heart Will Go On and opened our arms wide like Rose (ok the last bit isn’t part of the museum experience).
The cobblestone streets of The Cathedral Quarter are instantly recognisable if you’re a fan of hit TV show Line of Duty, as much of it is filmed there, and it’s also the creative hub of the city – Muddy liked the cool vibe and lots of individual shops and restaurants. We caught a bus to East Belfast where celebs like George Best, Van Morrison and CS Lewis lived. The famous author was born in the city in 1898 and there’s a square dedicated to him which is filled with seven bronze sculptures based on his books, including The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
On our second day we joined a Black Cab Tour to discover the political side to the city, which included seeing Protestant (Shankill Road) and Catholic (Falls Road) communities which are still divided by one of the city’s Peace Walls. Huge murals offered a colourful insight into the struggles and violence which took place from the 60s to the 90s until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The tour was really moving and Muddy’s mind was blown that it wasn’t so long ago that we wouldn’t have been able to move freely around the city.
On a lighter note, Victoria Square, Belfast’s £400million shopping centre, offered some retail relief in the afternoon.
EAT & DRINK
Join a Muddy-recommended four-hour Taste and Tour guided experience to sample some of the best places in the Belfast food scene. First stop was Sawers Belfast where we tucked into delicious wine, cream cheese and lemon oil and crackers with chilli jam and cheese. Next up was Daisies for hot choc and cannoli – this was a total find that we’d never have come across under our own steam.
The Jailhouse was another top spot on the trail, serving delish cocktails in a really chilled, rustic-luxe venue, not that it’s always been that way – apparently it used to be the place prisoners were held before they were hung (gulp). The Deer’s Head served up rhubarb ale and a choice of two puddings – chicken and black pudding – and the finale was Mike’s Fancy Cheese for delicious bites of cured meats and local fromage.
Muddy was so full after the tour, we needed to pack in some major sightseeing (see below) before heading to James Street for dinner. This minimalist eatery was buzzing and had a great vibe and menu – we chose scallops to start, followed by succulent duck.
The Europa Hotel is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and lies in the heart of the city centre, so if you want to be part of the action and buzz of Belfast, this is the place to be. Muddy took a taxi from the airport and we were soon sipping a welcome drink and unpacking our weekend bag.
The vibe’s fancy. Europa’s a grand hotel with four stars and a whole lotta history, everyone from Lady Gaga and Julia Roberts to Justin Bieber and Bill Clinton have stayed here – infact there’s even a Clinton Suite if you really want to push the boat out (no cigars in the mini bar though *wink*). The hotel recently had a £10 million makeover and the improvements are clear to see, with plenty of cash splashed on the bedrooms which we loved and are surprisingly contemporary, with big bed, chic bathroom and city views.
When we arrived there was a cool interactive art installation in the lobby to celebrate its 50th anniversary, with games and interesting info about the hotel’s history including the fact that it was bombed so regularly at the height of The Troubles window fitters were on standby ready for the next shattered window replacement.
Food-wise, if you ate in the hotel all weekend you’d be more than satisfied. Lunch in the Piano Room (see, it is fancy, it has a piano room) comprised of dainty salted beef, tomato, rocket and red onion marmalade and salmon and creme fraiche sandwiches – the ideal carb-based energy booster for pre-city sightseeing.
To mark the occasion of its 50 anniversary it’s also running a 70s inspired menu this year, think prawn cocktail starter, beef wellington main course and baked Alaska dessert, or as Muddy is renaming it, retro yum.
A mark of a really good hotel are the staff and at The Europa we found everyone helpful and friendly which gives it a bit of a family feel, not least the chatty concierge who has been there for 37 years! Any faults? If we were being picky we’d say the fact there’s no gym – Muddy enjoys the occasional workout on vaycay, particularly when we need to work off food tour cals.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Europa Hotel is currently offering Golden Moments packages from £55 to celebrate their 50th anniversary, click here to book. Muddy flew with EasyJet, return tickets start from £43. For more info on Belfast and Northern Ireland, visit Discover Northern Ireland and Ireland.