Belfast Mistakes to Avoid Class 101
Hello fearless, but maybe in this case fearful reader. I bet you’re wondering why the hell I would ever want to visit Belfast Northern Ireland? Am I right? I mean, who cares about Belfast mistakes when the place is a total dump and more known for car bombs than for anything of cultural significance. At least, that’s what the questioning glares said every time I told someone I was taking Belfast holidays (Anytime I asked someone what to do in Belfast, they stared at me like I needed a padded cell and a straight jacket a la Daria from MTV. Remember? She had a padded room).
Well, if you feel like that it’s all good because I’m not some crazy cult leader who is trying to brainwash you into drinking my Kool aid (but seriously, sign up for my newsletter. I’ll give you a pony and a popsicle. jk). But I do hope that I can MAYBE change your perception of this not so beautiful but totally awesome city.
Yeah, sorry but this place is an industrial hotspot so there are really no sweeping and romantic panoramic shots of this city. But Belfast does have two lovely, giant yellow cranes by the name of Samson and Goliath. I know, now you REALLY wanna visit such epic Belfast attractions. I mean, who doesn’t want to spend their vacation looking at oversized building equipment? It’s the stuff Home Depot dreams are made of.
Hmm, I ‘m not really selling Belfast very well am I? Well, let me back it up because I swear, I really did love my time there, even if the Albert Memorial Clock does have a bullet hole through Prince Albert’s head. On second thought, let’s pretend I didn’t say that. Suffice it to say that Belfast Northern Ireland has a rather colorful past that is punctuated with a significant amount of violence (Fun fact, the Europa Hotel in Belfast is the most bombed hotel in all of Europe. It was bombed 33 times but the IRA between 1970 and 1994. I bet you’re reserving a room at this Belfast accommodation right now).
So why should you visit? This city sounds like a total dung heap that is set in an industrial wasteland. Well, I feel like Belfast is kind of like that girl in school with the bad reputation. You know, the one that is super nice but has some deep seated daddy issues and sleeps with anything that has a pulse? Come on, every school has someone like her and she is super nice and totally misunderstood. Actually wait, the girl with the bad reputation at my school made fun of me and wasn’t nice at all. Actually, I still really don’t like her.
Well, like that girl, Belfast is misunderstood. So no, you won’t get firebombed if you visit and yes there are a ton of totally awesome, cultural experiences to be had here too. You just take the time a minute to look past the gloomy weather and industrial exterior to explore the beautifully sad past of this city.
But before you jump on the next Norwegian Air flight to Belfast, Northern Ireland, you might want to check out some of these Belfast mistakes that you should avoid. Trust me, the more you read, the better your trip will be, scout’s honor.
1. Paying for Each Bus Ride Individually.
Talk about the Rookie mistake of the century. Ugh, I made this mistake because well first of all, I hate riding the bus. I find it to be the black hole of all public transportation options since it generally sucks all the life out of you and is devoid of any joy or happiness.
But since Belfast is a rather small city I had to man up and ride the bus since there is really no other way to get around, besides walking or taking a taxi. And trust me, Belfast doesn’t feel so small when you are walking from one side to the next (Pshh, i’ll just walk to Cave hill, no big deal…5 hours later I’m dying of thirst and seeing Johnny Depp mirages in the distance).
So taking the bus is kind of unavoidable, even though I loathe it with every fiber of my being. But to be fair, the buses in Belfast are a lot better than the ones in New York. I mean they have actual seat cushions that don’t look like they’ve been gnawed on by a teething two year old. Plus, added bonus, the seats don’t smell like urine (up top Belfast).
But as delightful as they buses are, they can still get expensive with single rides between £1.50 and £2.00 a pop. Never fear though because Belfast has a solution for hat. You can actually purchase an all day bus pass for £5.00 and save yourself a ton of money. Oh wait, I didn’t do this because I am a total idiot. Yeah, don’t be like me and get the damn all day bus pass (True life, I don’t learn about things until the day I leave).
2. Assuming that Northern Ireland is TECHNICALLY a part of Ireland
So if I’m totally honest, and I always try to be, I first saw that Belfast was in Northern Ireland and thought, “Oh sweet, I’ll be heading to Ireland.” Yeah, no. Okay, well it depends on if you are a Unionist or a Republican but I’m not gonna get into a political debate. I really don’t need anyone sending me an Anthrax care package.
Let’s just say that technically, Northern Ireland uses the pound and is a part of the United Kingdom. Something I needed to repeat about twenty times when I was calling my credit card companies to put a travel notification on all of my cards. They kept saying super helpful things like, “Okay, so you’re traveling to Ireland, and on what dates?” And normally I wouldn’t care except that I didn’t want the bank to deny me access to my funds if they saw a purchase in the UK, but thought I was really in Ireland (Just another one of the hidden and oh so glamorous joys of travel. I mean, my life is legit non-stop infinity pools and glamour). So yeah, Northern Ireland is in the UK.]
3. Not Visiting because You’re Gonna Get Maimed by a Rogue Car Bomb
I cannot tell you how many people were utterly shocked that I was visiting Belfast. The minute I said the magic words, “Northern Ireland” a look of sheer terror fell across their face and they immediately questioned my sanity and worried about my well being (I think I even heard someone whisper something about a padded cell).
So let me set the record straight. Yes, Belfast was unsafe throughout the time of the Troubles between 1968 and 1998. Wait, I better slow my roll because if you’re anything like me then you have no idea what I’m talking about (Thanks super awesome New York public school education. Way to inform me about the ways of the world). Let’s just say that the Troubles was a “Civil Rights movement” that brought about conflict between citizens who wanted Northern Ireland to become part of Ireland (and felt like they were not fairly represented by the UK) and those who wanted Northern Ireland to remain loyal to the United Kingdom.
However, once the Good Friday agreement of 1998 was signed, a peace was declared between these two factions. Therefore, you can now freely walk the streets at night without seeing hordes of armed guards, walking around in their sexy, I mean professional, uniforms. However, I wouldn’t run around shouting, “Hail to the Queen” in the pro-Ireland, largely Catholic areas of the city, but you don’t have to fear for your immediate safety since there has been a referendum on violence. Therefore, you can leave your bullet proof vest and bomb de-arming kit at home since no one wants a heavy backpack anyway (Don’t worry guys. I saw the Rock and can easily dismantle any stray bombs).
4. Thinking Belfast is One Big Industrial Wasteland
You know a city is industrial when their home town pride and joy are two enormous, yellow cranes that actually have names. I know, crazy right? I want to see a birth certificate. But one is named Goliath and the other is Samson. Just don’t ask me which is which because I have no idea. So if you’re expecting sweeping, romantic cityscapes and streets that are aglow in a thin sheen of gold, you’ll be totally disappointed by Belfast. And it’s not the Belfast is some hideous beast of a city, it’d just that it isn’t the prettiest city I’ve ever seen.
However, that doesn’t mean that this city is totally devoid of any architectural or natural charms. Between cave hill, CS Lewis Square, the Titanic Museum, and Victoria Square shopping center, there are a ton of Instagram worthy photo ops to be found in this metropolis of industry (hint, hint, more on Belfast’s Instagram hotspots in a future post. Excited yet, because you should be. And obviously being Insta famous is like the most important thing ever. Just ask my two followers).
5. Missing out on the Beautiful Street Art
I’ve traveled the world and was born and raised in New York, so I’ve seen my fair share of awesome street art. However, none of it can compare to the diversity, magnitude, originality, and beauty of the street art that I found within this Belfast’s aptly named Cathedral Quarter (The name makes sense since there are so many White Castle’s here. Kidding, not a White Castle in sight. Harold and Kumar will be super disappointed). Seriously, I have never seen so much street art in my life, so even if you hate street art, you’ll still love walking through this quaint part of the city (also don’t miss Belfast’s version of Portugal’s hanging umbrellas). Just have a camera ready because if it isn’t on Instagram then it didn’t actually happen.
Now why the crazy amount of street art? Well, back in the day, people who wanted Northern Ireland to become a part of Ireland were not unable to express their political views through the written word. So no papers, no flyers, no nothing. And since the Irish can be quite feisty, rather than remain silent, these people took to the streets and voiced their opinions on any wall space that they could find. And while much of the street art today is no longer totally political in nature, there is still a vibrant tradition of using street art as a medium for unregulated, self expression.
6. Doing Anything after 7 pm on a Sunday
So er, um, as you can probably guess, a majority of the population is either Protestant or Catholic. How devout these beliefs are I have no idea. But since Sunday is the sabbath for both of these religions, there is a historic tradition that most shops and buildings remain closed, or close early on Sunday.
Therefore, if you need to go anywhere or do anything on Sunday, make sure you do it before 7 pm because that’s when Belfast literally becomes one giant ghost town (Adam Lambert eat your heart out). No joke, I really thought I wouldn’t be able to get food or get back to my AirBnB because everything was closed and the streets were almost totally devoid of any human beings. So don’t be like me and prepare for the Sunday evening hiatus from any and all public activities.
PS Things are open on Sundays but not much, so that might be a super good day to head to Giant’s Causeway or take up knitting or darning or needlepoint. Kidding! I stay cool by hiding, under my blanket fort, from all forms of human contact and watching Netflix shows until my eyes bleed.
7. Assuming you’ll visit St. George’s Market on a Weekday
You know how they have party foul’s? Well, this was a total trip foul because I didn’t really look at the hours on St. George’s market. Oops. I just assumed that it would be open all week since this is Ireland’s oldest, continual market; a market that was first started in 1896 (Guy’s, lookout how super knowledgable and awesome I am. You should totally read this blog everyday. I mean, it’s not like I looked that factoid up or anything. I am just that smart. Feel free to insert an eye roll here).
But sadly this hot spot of gastronomic and cultural awesomeness is only open on the weekends. So when I showed up on Monday and found nothing but tumbleweeds rolling through the facility, I was totally bummed out, and for good reason! This Victorian era market place has a Friday market with flowers, produce, meat, fish, homewares and second-hand goods that are all for sale. On Saturday the market becomes a food and craft mecca with must try stalls like Suki Tea, Ann’s Pantry bakers and Hillstown Farm. Then on Sunday, the delight of this place is enhanced by a bit of lively music (Can I get a whoop whoop? But so sad that Belfast didn’t get to see my River dance caliber dance moves. I am so good that people mistake me for Elaine from Seinfeld). So the moral of the story is don’t be a dumbass like me and make it happen.
***This market is open from 6am-3pm Friday, 9am-3pm Saturday, and 10am-4pm Sunday. There is also a free shuttle bus to the market from Donegall Square, that departs every 20 minutes from 11am to 3pm on Friday and Saturday.
8. Visiting the Titanic Museum during the day or on a day that’s NOT Sunday
So to translate this convoluted mess of a title, what I’m trying to say is that you should visit the Titanic museum on a Sunday night. Why the specific time stamp on your Titanic voyage? Well, this is when the Titanic Museum offers afternoon tea to its visitors (whoop whoop). And who doesn’t love carbs, slathered in fat, that are served with a piping hot beverage that is chock full of caffeine?
So if your love for carbs rivals the enthusiasm of an Atkins dieter in a Bagel store, then heed my advice See, I was totally unaware and thought that they offered afternoon tea everyday, but nope (sob). I missed out because it’s only on Sundays. So make sure you’re not the Biggest Loser (hope that’s not trademarked) like me and book you afternoon tea, online between 12:30 pm and 3:30 pm on a Sunday afternoon. And bonus, while you’re there you can totally relive the epic romance of Jack and Rose since the museum has recreated the staircase that was used in the film. Don’t roll your eyes. You know you loved it when it came out and are only hating on this movie because it has become such a cliche (Never let go Jack). So indulge a little and make all of your Titanic movie fantasies come true (okay, maybe not all of them because Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t come with the afternoon tea experience for £25 per person (FYI that does NOT include a ticket to the Titanic Museum).
Now, once you’ve had your tea, I would then visit the museum because at night, the building is illuminated in these stunning blue lights that make for an amazing photo of the museum in all its neon blue glory. Yup, yet again, I missed out because I visited on the wrong day. Womp, womp, womp. So whatever you do in this crazy world of ours, don’t be like me.
9. Assuming you can get afternoon tea any day of the week (Just Kidding! I was looking under a rock and there are plenty of places that have afternoon tea everyday)
So Americans don’t really do tea, let alone afternoon tea. I mean yea we have it, but it is just not the same as afternoon tea in England or Scotland. Plus, the scones here are dry and the clotted cream is totally rank. That’s why, every time I visit the UK, I always try to experience an afternoon tea of some sort.
Now, when I was in Edinburgh, Scotland I could basically get afternoon tea any day of the week. Therefore, I just kind of assumed that since Northern Ireland is a part of the UK that it would be the same there.
And it is. Sadly, I must have been looking under a rock because I failed to find the 10,000 places that offer afternoon tea every day of the week like Avoca, Hastings Europa Hotel, Malmaison, Culloden Estate, Ten Square Hotel, etc. So if you love scones and afternoon tea as much as this pleasantly plump kid in training does, then make sure you plan ahead and book your afternoon tea sessions so you don’t miss out like I did.
***From what I’ve heard, Maryville House offers an epic afternoon tea experience everyday of the week (it’s also a bed and breakfast so you can stay here too). I would have gone but it was kind of out of the way for me but make sure you go!!
***PS Real confession, I always order coffee at afternoon tea. I know, a total faux pas but I can’t help it. My Americanness is showing.
10. Not Wearing the Right Shoes to Climb Cave hill (and not having baby wipes)
All right, I am not afraid to reveal my secret shame. I too have fallen into the trap of Instagram addiction. Yes, my dear friends, I seek out experiences and places for all those epic Instagram shots so that I too can take over the world via Instagram (How very Pinkie and the Brain of me). I vowed I would never become that person who lets her food and coffee get cold, while taking 10 million pictures of it, but I have become that person indeed. Pleas don’t hate me. I am currently repenting for my sins as a plague of locusts descends up my house.
That’s why when I visited Belfast I just had to hike up Cave hill to get an epic panoramic shot of the city. Well, what I didn’t realize was that for this hike, you kind of need proper footwear. So if you plan on wearing your Steve Madden sneakers, don’t, because then you’ll be like me. See, I was climbing up a narrow mud ridden path since there is always mud in Ireland because it rains all the damn time. Now, getting up was a bit dicey because there were thorny plants all around me and slippery, mud laden rocks that made me feel like I was trying hog tie a greasy pig (I don’t fully understand this reference but it seems funny).
But I eventually persevered and made it up this treacherous climb, only to find out that the crest of the hill was marred with thorny bushes that made a scenic view of any kind totally impossible. So I shrugged my shoulders and decided to descend the hill. And by descend the hill I mean fall down it. Like mud all over my ass and prickers all over my hands kind of descent down the hill.
So basically, I had to walk all the way back to my AirBnB looking like I had pooped myself. So the moral of this tale of woe is don’t be like me. Make sure you have the proper gear so that you won’t become known as poopy pants MaGee (Okay, no one actually called me this but I know what they were thinking).
11. Thinking Everyone is a Total Dick
So given all the tension and violence of the recent past, you might readily think, “Oh gee, all these people must be bitter assholes who hate everything and everyone. (Oh wait, that’s New York)” And while I’ll admit that there are assholes everywhere and that I probably just didn’t encounter any, I will say that the people of Belfast are some of the nicest people I have ever met. Not only do they have a tour Belfast shop with super helpful people, but my AirBnB host said I was a ,”Gorgeous person”. Like aww, that was such a nice thing to hear. Plus, someone thought I was lost and offered to help me, even though I didn’t ask for help. Like for real? My mind was totally blown.
I mean in NYC, someone would pretend to help you and then shank you with a stray razor blade. Okay, I’ve been watching too many crime shows because that is a bit extreme. But in all seriousness, New Yorkers are a skeptic lot who generally believe that anyone and everyone is out to get them. So its kind of refreshing to meet people who genuinely want to help you out. That’s why I say, three cheers to the lovely people of Belfast who helped me out whenever I got totally lost and almost had a minor nervous breakdown. You go Belfast, you go!
12. Trying to Hail a Cab that says Fone-a-Cab
Okay, so I have seen a lot of things in my life, but I have never seen taxis like the one’s in Belfast (or someone actually giving birth. And I never want to). Now that might just mean that I live a super sheltered life, but I am still a little perplexed by their system.
***FYI you can hire a traditional black taxi, call an Uber, or even hail a taxi that doesn’t have that weird Fone-a Cab sign on top.
So here’s the part where things get a little strange (and I’m one odd duck so if I’m saying this then it must be true). But to hail one of these weirdo taxis, you need to walk into a shop that basically has one phone and that’s it. I mean, its plastered with signs that say get a taxi here but basically, there is just a phone and some seats in the store. To get a taxi, simply pick up the phone and it will automatically dial the taxi operator that owns the store front. The operator will then ask you where you want to go and what you name is and that’s it, besides obviously paying the driver at the end of your journey.
But it just boggled my mind because I have never ever seen taxis that work like this. And its fine. I’m not opposed to it or anything. I just find it hard to believe that people rent out an entire store for one phone. Like really? I love my cell phone but wouldn’t rent out a store to profess my love for it.
13. Saying long live Ireland in an Area that is littered with British Flags
So whether you are a die hard supporter of the Crown, or yearn to see the Irish Republic “reunited,” watch what you say and where you say it because the city is still very much divided. There are currently peace walls in place that separate the Unionists from the Republicans. So while there is a sort of tenuous peace here, both sides are still bitter and reeling from the recent past (Homes along the peace wall still have nets to catch any stray bombs falling through the sky. You’ll also see Republican mail boxes painted green, as an act of defiance against the traditionally red mailbox of the UK).
Therefore, just be mindful of where you are and respect the beliefs of the people that live there because you are a guest in their city. So don’t say long live the Queen if you see an Irish flag flying or long live Ireland in an area where pictures of the Queen line the windowsills. I mean, I doubt anything would really happen to you but no need to provoke anyone. Besides, you don’t want to be THAT person, the one who started an international incident in Belfast Northern Ireland because legit, no one needs that type of thing on their conscience.
14. Avoiding a Black Cab Tour because it’s “too expensive”
Now, I could have just signed up for the most expensive Black Cab tour in town because mine was insanely expensive, like £50 expensive. I honestly don’t even want to think about what that would cost in American dollars, so I’m not gonna. But don’t let the price tag scare you because I am actually tearing up while writing this and thinking about this tour. And I’m really not a cryer. So even if it is expensive, just do the Black Cab tour because it is a truly powerful experience that words simply cannot do justice.
But I’ll describe it anyway because I really had no idea what the tour was all about. I was kind of like, “Um, by black cab do you mean hearse? No, okay good.” So essentially, your tour guide will be either a Republican or Unionist who was imprisoned during the time of the Troubles. They will pick you up at any location you wish, and will give you an hour and a half tour through the area in a , you guessed it, black cab.
Now this tour will explain the cities turbulent past and discuss the civil rights movement that emerged here, but from someone who lived it and is still living it. Also remember that your tour will be very different depending on who gives it. I mean, my tour guide was a Republican so his version of events is probably very different from someone who fought for the Loyalists. I honestly would love tot take a tour with a Loyalist just to hear how they describe the very same events of the past. However, no matter who gives your tour, just make sure you do it because it brings attention to the divisions and civil rights conflicts that have shaped Belfast and the people who lived through such a violent past (And you thought I couldn’t play it serious. Muhaha).
15. Taking a Cab from the Airport
This one is a super obvious one because generally speaking, if you take a cab to and from the airport, you know its gonna be insanely expensive. For Belfast, we’re talking like £35 expensive. So take the airport bus instead. It’s a giant, blue, translink bus that has the number 300 on it and in case that wasn’t obvious enough, the words express airport bus are painted all along the side of the thing (so yeah, even I found it).
To catch this bus, use the bus stop that is located in the terminal behind the Europa Hotel (Just walk through the mall to the left of the hotel and the terminal will be in the back). The ride will generally take about 45 minutes, with buses departing from the Europa every twenty minutes. Typically the cost of a one way ticket is £7.50 while a round trip ticket is £10.50. So you don’t need a Calculus degree to figure out that you should get the round trip ticket if you want to save some money. I know, public transportation bites the big one but its either that or blow all your hard earned money on a cab ride. Yeah, I’ll suck it up and just ride the bus (It wasn’t that bad. Way better than the ones in New York that I refuse to go on).
15a. Not Watching Game of Thrones
No, I am not suffering from premature Alzheimers. That number really does say 15a because apparently people like numbers that are in divisions of five or ten, and I am never one to go against the wishes of all the devoted bots that pretend to read my blog. So 15a stays because it is absolutely imperative that you watch Game of Thrones before you visit Belfast, Northern Ireland. Why you may wonder? Well, since much of the show was filmed throughout Northern Ireland, many tours have a Game of Thrones theme, even if the tour isn’t advertised as such.
So when I went on a tour to see Giant’s Causeway, we would stop at all this iconic filming locations where some voodoo witch doctor on the show had a baby that would eat a snail and take over the world. Can you tell I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones? But when everyone else was going all goo goo gaga for these admittedly picturesque filming locations, I was over there like, “Umm, I don’t get it. It’s just a bunch of gnarled trees. Why the fuss?”
That’s why you are absolutely required to watch Game of Thrones before you visit. This way you will actually know what everyone is going bananas over because legit, I don’t get. Think I’m exaggerating? The tourism board of Northern Ireland actually weaved a tapestry, using ancient regional weaving techniques, that is probably over a 100 yards long and details the entire sequence of events that make up the Game of Thrones series. I went because I felt like I was obligated to (for the bots) but I really had no idea what was going on. So find Game of Thrones and watch it now, that is all.
***To view this larger than life tapestry for yourself head to the fourth floor of the Ulster Museum. The tapestry has an entire room all to itself and like 10,000 signs that make it easy to find. Plus, the museum is free so why not?
Now you have bore witness to the harrowing tale that was my voyage to the land of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Be weary my fellow traveler and guard thyself from the tragedies that may befall you as you begin a quest of this magnitude. Oh wait sorry, I thought I was in the Game of Thrones. My bad. Apparently the mania is catching. Anyway, thanks for suffering through my post and avoid all these mistakes because if you don’t, you could end up like me (the horror, the horror. Cover your children’s eyes or they will surely go blind).
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