One Day in Belfast, Northern Ireland

One of the many murals on the the Belfast Peace Walls

With a quick work related trip taking me over to Belfast I managed to squeeze in a day of sightseeing around the city. Here’s some super quick highlights of the Northern Irish capital.

My trip only allowed one day in Belfast and was a midweek journey, which when flying from Glasgow, means there are only a limited number of flights over. With only early morning or late night flights as my options I opt for the 7am flight giving me an entire day to spend in Belfast.

I chose the cheapest option which was flying with EasyJet return from Glasgow International to Belfast International and, despite being further out than Belfast City Airport and requiring an airport express bus to the city centre, this still worked out cheaper than the Flybe alternative. With such an early arrival I wanted to take advantage of the extra time so, as much as I loathe them, I had booked a hop-on hop-off bus tour around the city at only £10 which looked a lot less hassle than figuring out the local bus system on such short notice.

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The first stop on the bus tour is, of course, the new Titanic Belfast exhibit which is quite a bit out my price range unfortunately and also probably an all day activity. I stay on the tour and instead make my first stop at Queens University which has quite a stunning main campus.

Queens University, Belfast
Queens University, Belfast

Luckily, it is a lovely day and so I head along to the Botanic Gardens which are just next door and have nice wander round the Palm House and Rose Gardens.  Also, within the gardens is the Ulster Museum so I also took a little trip in there too. With plenty of exhibits to explore you can spend hours in Ulster Museum but as I was trying to squeeze as much in as possible to my one day in Belfast I took more of a whistle-stop tour of the place before moving on again.

Displays in Ulster Museum, Belfast
Displays in Ulster Museum

You can’t really go to Belfast and not see the murals which symbolise Northern Ireland’s troubled past. My tour bus travelled through a variety of areas of Belfast both in the Loyalist and Nationalist sides and along the length of  one of the Peace Walls which still separates many of these areas.

Examples Loyalist Unionist and Republican Nationalist Murals
Examples Loyalist Unionist and Republican Nationalist Murals

The murals of Belfast and the 22 foot high walls running through parts of the city bring home the reality that Belfast is still affected by sectarian issues. The gates of the “Peace Walls”, which were envisaged as a temporary solution in 1969, still shut at 6pm every evening and remain closed at weekends.

The Peace Wall dividing Falls Road (Catholic community) and Shankill Road (Protestant area)

Such curfew walls are quite staggering in size and you can note the height in comparison to the lady with the buggy in one of the images above. The security gates on Northumberland Street were just one of many that stretch across the Northern Irish capital as well as cities such as Derry (Londonderry).

Whether you are interested in local politics or not it is hard to hide from them even you are only spending one day in Belfast. The city remains a community divided and with the current political climates at the time of writing (Northern Irish Assembly was dissolved in Sept 2015), the future of the Belfast peace process seems to have become more complex. Indeed,  many of those I spoke to on my short visit held the opinion that this was the end of the Northern Irish Government, that there was unlikely to be a solution to the “Stormont Crisis” and that things would return to their previous troubled state. It seemed a pessimistic view,  but, among those I encountered, a consistent one.

Despite the political upheaval I still wanted to visit the magnificent Northern Irish Parliament buildings and Stormont did not disappoint.

Stormont , Northern Ireland's Parliament Buildings in Belfast
Stormont , Northern Ireland’s Parliament Buildings in Belfast

A beautiful building atop a hill with an exceptional driveway. It was some walk up the hill but an impressive view back down as well and definitely a good spot for lunch. With my tour I also gained a little interesting trivia; that during World War II the building acted as beacon to bombers looking for the Belfast docklands and so a decision was made to temporary paint it black using a mix of bitumen and manure.  Their temporary solution turned out to be a little more permanent than hoped and it took seven years to get the stuff off the building –  you can still see dark sections even now.

Stormont , Northern Ireland's Parliament Buildings in Belfast
Stormont a little closer

I think I did quite well with only one day in Belfast and definitely got to see more than I would on typical local transport. I would never put anyone off visiting Belfast and for the many who are only looking for a stag or hen party in the city centre it’s right up your street but its worth remembering that Belfast is still divided and isn’t really a place you want to go exploring after dark. I have friends from the city and so was aware of issues which remain to present day but was still surprised by the security gates in the suburbs which lock every evening . I would of course head back to Northern Ireland and would love to see more of this beautiful country but for me Belfast is perhaps a one time trip.

Have you ever tried to explore a city in a single day? Do you thing one day in Belfast was enough?