Belfast: 14 - 18 Feb 2018
Updated: Sep 26, 2021
1. Flew into George Best Belfast City Airport (BHD)¹. This airport is much more convenient than Belfast International Airport (BFS). The customs agent hassled me about the fact that I was traveling full time and was unsure when I would be returning to the States (this happened again when I landed in Glasgow a few months later - must be a U.K. thing).
-took the #300 Bus from the airport to the city center. Buy your ticket at airport information or onboard the bus (£2-3). If you're staying downtown, take the bus.
2. Belfast City Hall Tour: free tours daily. The Belfast City Hall is quite impressive - built over 100 years ago when Belfast was a city on the move. The stained glass windows in the main hall are quite interesting.
3. Free Walking Tour: always a good idea after first arriving in a new city. Rick Steves (the European Travel God) is not a fan of the free walking tour, saying "you get what you pay for". To which I . . . agree, if the free walking tour guide gives you a solid tour with some history, humour, and hospitality, then slip 'em €10. If they don't, then you don't - seems fair to me. You can give a guide $200 upfront, as I did, only to realize that despite prior great reviews, he/she is just not the right fit for you.
4. Conflicting Stories- Political Tour (€18): Tour started at Divi Tower on Falls Road with a former (or current?) member of the IRA (and his dog). He gave a fascinating tour of the Falls Road (Republican) neighborhood including sites of some of the street battles (in which he partook), the murals, and memorials. He spent a number of years detained in a British Army concentration camp (without being charged) before he escaped. I asked him how and replied "a tunnel"' I then said "that's real WWII shit!", to which he replied, "you ever see The Great Escape²?". He then handed us off just on the other side of the Falls Road Peace Wall gate (which is only open 7:00 to 7:00 daily) to a former officer of the British Army. He then gave us a tour of the Shankill (rhymes with ankle - Loyalist) neighborhood. He described (in detail) what it was like being next door to the Frizzel Market when it was demolished by a Republic bomb on 23 October 1993. This tour is a must if you want to make a small attempt to better understand what The Troubles were all about. Both men claim that it is all in the past, and the path ahead though long, is a peaceful one, but I'm not so sure. This is an AAR Must See.
-Afterwards, stop in at The Rex Bar for a pint and some conversation. Note the rather large section of the bar devoted to Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. Mind ya step mate, this is most definitely a Loyalist establishment (and the oldest).
5. Titanic Experience: interesting and extensive exhibit on how the Titanic (and sister ships) were constructed. Emphasis on the construction and the shipyard, much less on the sinking. Has a Disneynesque aspect to it (which includes a ride).
6. Ferry to Liverpool: I took the overnight Stena ferry to Liverpool. There is no public transportation to the ferry landing, which is about a mile from the city center, so you will need to cab it or walk as I did. Use google maps to get the route and a time estimate. I made a pit stop at the American Bar (which sometimes has live music), and so should you. I didn't rent a cabin and slept in the lounge (don't worry you will not be alone) on a banquette. The ship has food and drink available for purchase when you arrive and after you awake.
-You will not dock in Liverpool, but in Birkenhead (directly across the Mersey River). You can then walk to the Seacombe Ferry Terminal in about 10 minutes and ferry cross the Mersey to Liverpool.
- Recommended listening, what else but "Ferry Cross the Mersey" by Gerry and the Pacemakers (Liverpool's other band.).
- Due to The Troubles, Belfast is yet to be swamped with tourists (the hop on - hop off bus only just started). So enjoy it sooner, not later.
¹ George Best was a Northern Irish professional footballer who played as a winger, spending most of his club career at Manchester United. A highly skillful dribbler, he is regarded as one of the best players in the history of the sport.
- you know you're in Europe when the airport is named after a soccer, or should I say, football player.
² The Great Escape is a 1963 movie detailing the escape of 76 Allied servicemen from a German POW camp during WWII. Based on a true story with an all-star cast that includes Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough. Possibly one of the greatest WWII movies ever made.
³ This Peace Wall runs directly down the middle of Cupar Way separating the Republican Falls Road neighborhood (the Catholics) from the Loyalist Shankill neighborhood (the Protestants). As sometimes a wall can do what religion cannot.