Thursday, April 22, 2010

What not to do in Belfast - and a couple of things you should try

There is only one thing you shouldn’t do on a weekend trip to Belfast and that is pack inadequate clothing. I have visited this chilly city many times over the past couple of years, and although I have seen this historical city with its lush green surrounds develop and regenerate into something ‘grand’, my inability to dress appropriately remains unchanged.
Cheap Ryanair flights to Belfast ‘George Best ‘City Airport and clear, direct roads means you can traverse from London Stansted to the heart of Belfast in under 2 hours. The Belfast landscape however is best seen from above. Head towards the Belfast Castle where you can take a stroll around the grounds and surrounding hillside and get an illuminating panoramic view of the city and its harbour. The gardens of the castle itself are small but well tended and it appears the gardener has a penchant for cats as several are hidden amongst the flower beds and mosaic tiles – you’ll have fun trying to spot them all whatever your age. From there jump back into the car and take more of those clear, direct roads north towards the Giants Causeway. It’s likely you will be chasing dark, ominous, low lying cloud all the way to the lands end, praying they do not burst before you reach your destination and making the picturesque journey a dramatic race to the finish. After only 1hr 30 on the road however you can explore this beautiful coastal landscape and view one of the world’s natural wonders. Formed by volcanic activity hundreds of years ago these hexagonal rocks are a wonder to observe – and climb. Take a circular route to see the best of the site, heading firstly downhill towards the water’s edge and climbing to the top of the cliffs for a bird’s eye view afterwards. At this point adequate clothing becomes absolutely necessary as the full force of wind blasts straight from the Atlantic Ocean and whips around your head. Steady footing and sturdy footwear are a must unless you were planning on an icy dip.
By then you should deserve a hearty Irish lunch. 15 minutes along the coast is the sea side town of Portrush, complete with obligatory amusement arcade’s and ice cream vendors – operating even in the arctic conditions of winter. Perched on the rocks overlooking the harbour is the Ramore restaurant, serving a great combination of steak, champ (mashed potato and spring onion for the non-Irish readers!) and the BEST BANNOFFEE PIE EVER – as named by me. Back in the City Centre you’ll find the trendiest new bars and restaurants near the renovated Victoria Square Shopping Centre – a modern mall to keep the shopaholics happy. The location of the Malmaison Belfast hotel is perfect for sampling the shops and bars and like the rest of its sister hotels rarely disappoints, if boutique style and great location is your thing. From there it’s a short stumble to Cafe Vaudeville, the self titled ‘Luxebar and dining establishment’. Contemporary styling, hearty food and a buzzing atmosphere it’s a great way to end your day – just don’t forget your coat!