While you probably wouldn’t condone your kids watching Game of Thrones, you should definitely take them to the fantastic land where it’s filmed. Northern Ireland is spectacularly beautiful with landscapes like nowhere else on earth. And of course, the capital Belfast should be the centerpiece of your trip. Here are four fun things for your family to do with 48 hours in Belfast.
Get your bearings with a city tour.
What did we do in the days before hop on hop off tours? They’re the perfect way for you and your family to get your bearings and make some decisions on what you might like to explore further. But for something more personal, try the very popular Black Cab Tour on your first morning in Belfast. You’ll see the famous landmarks, and many colourful murals including those depicting “The Troubles”. Your kids can be a part of this history and write their own messages of peace on the famous wall built to keep Nationalists and Loyalists apart. I found this tour to be given in a completely unbiased manner and came away with a better understanding of this Irish difficulty without knowing whom our tour guides may have sided with.
For more information visit www.belfastblackcabtours.co.uk.
Explore the Giant’s Causeway
After lunch, head to the Giant’s Causeway, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and the number one attraction in Northern Ireland. It’s a little over an hour out of town and you can travel by rental car or via one of many tour company options. Start off in the award-winning Visitor Centre (built in 2012) where you can watch an animated film of the legend surrounding the bizarre rock formations. Folklore tells of an Irish giant who built a causeway across the sea to Scotland to fight a Scottish giant. Young boys are totally into that! Most prefer the version of the tale where the Irish giant tricks the Scot into retreating, destroying the causeway on the way to prevent being followed.
Guided tours are available or you can pick up headsets for self-guided audio tours. Or simply explore nature on your own with a walk down to the seaside, below towering cliffs. Discover how such a freakish wonder of the world came to be. You really have to see these naturally occurring basalt columns that rise up from the earth to believe it. Your kids can test their agility like mountain goats leaping along the low-lying ones. There’s a cliff top trail for bird’s eye views.
Commune with critters at the Belfast Zoo
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Spend your morning of day two at the Belfast Zoo. It’s home to over 150 species on a hillside property overlooking the city. You’ll feel the climb up, and be happy when you start your descent, but with all the stops on the way to observe the animals it really is very manageable. Take some refreshment at the top at the Treetop Tearoom. When I visited on a sunny September afternoon, there were only about a dozen other patrons at the time. It was so lovely, quiet, and free of crowds. But in general, I always recommend arriving at zoos at opening time to get ahead of potential school crowds.
The Belfast Zoo takes part in breeding programs that help to ensure the survival of many species under threat.
Go back in time at Titanic Belfast
The grand finale for your 48 hours should be Titanic Belfast, with 9 interactive galleries that tell the Titanic story. You’ll be in awe of the architecture alone! Recently named the top tourist attraction in Europe, its completion in 2012 marked the centenary of the ship’s maiden voyage out of this very port. Each angular corner is reminiscent of a ship’s bow and the aluminum-clad exterior almost sparkles in the sunshine. Nicknamed “the iceberg” by locals, the structure has swiftly become a symbol of the city. The main “prow” juts towards the actual slipway where Titanic was built and that area is wide open for exploration. (Almost adjacent to the slipway, you’ll notice Titanic Studios where much of Game of Thrones is shot. While dining out one evening, we chanced upon five cast members taking a meal at the same restaurant.)
We enjoyed wandering the sights outside almost as much as seeing the interior, so if you are on a budget you could do just that. But it’s a great experience to take the tour inside; so much to see and learn. We particularly liked the ride through a shipyard simulation and learning about Titanic’s construction. And I would definitely recommend taking a counter-service meal at Bistro 401 Restaurant. You can even take afternoon tea with a replica of the famous grand Titanic staircase as a backdrop. The Titanic Store is well stocked with great Titanic themed souvenirs for the whole family.
For more information including events and ticket prices, visit www.titanicbelfast.com.
Visit www.discovernorthernireland.com for information on travel in Northern Ireland.