BELFAST Travel Guide

Travelling to Belfast

Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland and has a population of approximately 340,200 people. The city is well-known for building the famously tragic boat Ship of Dreams, the Titanic. Belfast is not to be confused with Dublin, which is the capital city of the Republic of Ireland. See the map below for further clarification.

map of ireland, differentiating northern ireland and the republic of ireland

The easiest way to get to Northern Ireland – or Belfast, more specifically – is by flying. Personally, I flew from London Stansted to Belfast International Airport, although there are two other airports within Northern Ireland: George Best Belfast City Airport and City of Derry Airport.

You can also take the train if you’re travelling from England, Wales, or Scotland. The trip, however, will be split partway to include the ferry trip to Ireland. There are also direct coaches to Dublin serviced by the National Express if you wish to have a cheaper alternative to planes and trains.

Where to stay in Belfast

As a solo traveller, I cannot recommend hotels unless you are travelling with two other people.

Belfast has a lot of hostels on offer, all within walking distance to the main city centre. Prices can range between £10-£15 per night at a hostel; I stayed at Lagan Backpackers for 2 nights and didn’t pay more than £26 total, and the place had a TV with a Netflix subscription, newly refurbished bathrooms, and they even offered a free breakfast to those who opt-in!

If you’re willing to spend a little more for privacy, then I would suggest Airbnb as an alternative.

Getting around Belfast

  • walking – the farthest I walked from one tourist destination to another was 20 minutes
  • by bike – Belfast bikes cost £1 per half hour
  • by bus – Belfast has THREE different bus services and I highly suggest using the Translink journey planner to navigate
  • by train – the main train stations in Belfast are Great Victoria Street Station and Belfast Central Station
  • by taxi / uber / car rental

Things to do in Belfast

I highly recommend just typing in “things to do” on Google Maps and see if any of the options offered are compatible with your interests. Getting into the habit of making bookmarks and lists on Google Maps is helpful in planning daily itineraries and, sometimes, choosing a hostel or Airbnb that is most convenient for you, the traveller.

Here is a list of places I visited within the Belfast city:

  • Ulster Museum
  • Belfast Botanic Gardens
  • The Palm House
  • The Tropical Ravine
  • Belfast Peace Wall
  • The Big Fish, Salmon of Knowledge
  • Belfast City Hall
  • Belfast Castle
  • Cavehill (I climbed to the very top!)

I also went on day trips, where I visited:

  • Strangford, where I spent the morning at Winterfell Castle and had lunch at The Cuan (where Sean Bean and all the other Game of Thrones actors stayed during their shoots!)
  • Bushmills, where I ate my lunch on the Giant’s Causeway steps and spent the afternoon walking the trail around the Shepherd’s Steps
reading a book, Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, on the giant's causeway
from September’s reading challenge

What to expect from Belfast

Expect the unexpected.

an ancient proverb, probably

Belfast – and Northern Ireland, in general – is a super friendly place. The bus drivers are really easy to speak with and they are more than happy to help a lost little tourist. I honestly believe the locals are psychic because they always know where you want to go and will just gently nudge you towards the right direction. Everyone I spoke with, from the waitresses to the random man I befriended as I walked the Cavehill nature trail, was softspoken and kindhearted. Belfast is brilliant!

Lastly, expect to receive some Northern Ireland banknotes. They are different to the ones in circulation around England, but they are still Sterling notes and can be exchanged for Bank of England notes at any bank in the UK.

And in conclusion…

I spent an approximate total of £270, including travel, accommodation, and food. Belfast is an amazing place with a lot of history and great architecture. The food is good, the people even good-er, and the only downside was the confusing bus network. 10/10 will recommend for other solo travellers to visit!

Northern Ireland Adventure: A Day of Culture

I mentioned in my previous post that I plan to go to the Botanical Gardens and the Ulster Museum, and perhaps Belfast Castle if I had the time in the afternoon. Naively, I figured that today was just going to my like yesterday, full of fun and adventure and wonder, then I realised that I only booked two nights at the Lagan Backpackers and have booked, for the remainder of my stay here in Belfast, an airbnb conveniently located across the other side of the city.

Why did I book an airbnb, you may ask? To be honest, I severely underestimated how lovely Lagan Backpacker’s was and thought hm, wouldn’t it be great to spend a night or two sleeping sounds without strangers snoring in the same room. It’s a legitimate thought, which I am slightly thankful for right now, but not during the 45-minute walk – with my suitcase! – as I traversed Belfast city in my pursuit of some privacy.

All throughout the day, I was concerned about changing accommodation from a hostel to an airbnb; it put a little bit of a downer on my mood, but it’s not like I could complain too much as I did put myself in this situation. Both types of accommodation have their positives and negatives, after all. In all honesty, I just didn’t want to spend money on two bus tickets or an uber, so walking for 45 minutes was a necessary evil that I conquered this afternoon.

What a day! But let’s focus on the good parts, such as the Botanical Garden and the Ulster Museum.

LiberaTarts Sits in a Rose Garden

After a full English breakfast, I walked fifteen or so minutes to the Botanical Gardens where I encountered a lot of people on their morning commute. I had a brief flash of “oh, this was me two weeks ago,” obviously referring to my summer internship that is now (thank goodness!) over and done with. I am so not suited for office work in a small company, especially if you were the only Asian.

The Botanical Garden is a very beautiful place to be, and I sure hope that the people who lived nearby realised how lucky they are to have such a well-maintained park at their disposal.

“[There are] assorted tropical plants, giant bird feeders, a rose garden, an alpine garden, mature trees, flower beds and sculptures,” according to the Belfast City’s government website.

I only visited the tropical plants and the rose garden, as it was too cold that morning to do much wandering around… hence the reason why I sat in the rose garden for a good chunk of the morning, reading my book and contemplating the very nature of humanity.

an orange rose bush with a bee buzzing around, flying towards the camera
buzz off, human (ノ→ܫ←)ノ

In hindsight, wearing a bright mustard yellow shirt was a bad idea to wear to a flower garden. The bees kept buzzing around me – one even landed on my sleeve – and I was helpless on how to properly react. Intellectually, I knew that bees were good for pollination and the they are important for the environment and the ecosystem, etc. However, the simple and more anxious-of-nature side of me was panicking because what if that bee hurts me.

Thankfully, the bee did not hurt me.

The Palm House, the Tropical Ravine, and Me

Literally two minutes away from each other sits the Palm House, the garden’s greenhouse, and the Tropical Ravine, which I suppose it also the garden’s greenhouse but so much newer and has its own little waterfall feature inside. I didn’t take any pictures though, so shame on me. The Palm House, on the other hand, was built during the Victorian Era, back when British society was colonising expanding its reaches across the world and people were super interested in foreign plants  – and ferns, for some reason.

It’s not that big of a greenhouse, but the fact that I was blown away by the sheer number of plants in that place was amazing in and of itself. I love visiting greenhouses – it’s like stepping through the front door I’m transported back to the climate in the Philippines and I get a little nostalgic. There’s something about warm humidity that gives me sensational flashbacks of my childhood (which is so weird because I spent all my time indoors reading fiction books!).

The down side of being inside a greenhouse? It seems like the very building aims at your head with its dropping water droplets.

The upside? I was wearing a hat and it was so damn pretty in there that I didn’t care even if I wasn’t wearing a hat.

a panoramic image of The Palm House front door
a panoramic image of The Palm House front door

FUN STORY:

The greenhouse officially opens at 10am and I was the first person in that day because, unobservant old me, just swanned through the open doors like I owned the place. It didn’t matter that all the other visitors / tourists with their suitcases were mingling nearby waiting for the building to open; I just walked in, all assured, and started taking pictures.

FOLLOW UP FUN STORY:

Walking around with a purpose while I panic in my head is a habit of mine and earlier today while I was at the Ulster Museum, I power-walked towards a set of glass doors thinking it was unlocked and – as you may have guessed already – it wasn’t accessible by the public and I had to turn around. What’s funny about this, aside from the whole oopsie-daisy, silly me situation, was the fact that a lady in her 40s was following me thinking I knew for sure that those doors led to the outside worlds.

We both giggled over our misjudgments. I wholly blame my glasses and their lack of usefulness in reading signs from a great distance.

Speaking of the Ulster Museum…

LiberaTarts Gets Her Culture Shades On

This museum blew my mind away. I didn’t expect to spend so much time inside that building as much as I ended up doing today: I arrived around 11:30, 11:45… and I didn’t leave until 4pm. When I got hungry around lunchtime, I ordered the nicest meal my rumbling stomach could ask for, which was some meatballs and potatoes in this really stodgy, flavourful and all-around delicious creamy sauce and wow was I impressed.

meatballs and potatoes on a plate
today’s special at the Yellow Box, Ulster Museum’s cafe on-site

My visit to the Ulster Museum was split into two parts: the History part, where I brushed up my knowledge of the UK (and more specifically, Ireland) from Neolithic Age up until the late 20th century, and the Art part, where I admired the practical applications of art found within the exhibited ceramics and then stared at a painting of a nude woman for a solid amount of time. I also learned about the intermingled relationship between fashion and feminism, which was just the metaphorical cherry on the cake that was this museum.

painting of a reclining lady in nude

I love the Ulster Museum. 10/10 would recommend to any visitors, especially those with children since one of the reasons why I adore it so much is the fact how 1) accessible it is to handicapped individuals, and 2) the exhibits were made with children and interactivity in mind, as seen by the descriptions printed at eye level and clear signs encouraging people to touch an arrowhead or a silver brooch, and so on.

Today was a long day, both in the good sense and the bad. I am currently writing this post in my new airbnb, so the bad stress from today is all but gone, and looking through the pictures I took today reminded me of all the good memories. Belfast has so much to offer!

Total spend for the day: £11.49 for lunch and a cake, £1 for a magnet souvenir, and £7ish for a craving-induced KFC binge, all equalling to £19.49. Curse you, airbnb, for being within a 5-minute walk to several fastfood joints.


Over to you guys: The Ulster Museum is definitely Top 3 list of museums and art galleries… what are your Top 3? Comment below and we can find out if I’ve been or have plans to go there soon!

Tomorrow, the plan is to go all the way to the northern coast of Northern Ireland and see the Giant’s Causeway. I was reminded of this location by a video I saw today about volcanoes in the museum, and I wanted to make a full day trip to somewhere that isn’t the Belfast city centre. See you all tomorrow, folks!

Northern Ireland Adventure: The Westeros Cycle Tour

My first full day in Belfast was a physically tiring one. Since I’m staying at a hostel, I woke up at 6am to avoid the morning bathroom rush and was out of the door and ready to explore the wonderful world of Northern Ireland by 7am. My goal for the morning? To be in Strangford before 10am for the Westeros Cycle Tour I impulse bought at Stansted Airport the day before.

Are you ready for today’s adventure recap?

LiberaTarts Goes to Winterfell

The walk from my hostel to the city centre took about 20 minutes and by the time the number 15 Ulsterbus arrived, I was frantically googling how much it cost for a day ticket to Strangford. And then I remembered that the buses here in Belfast don’t do day tickets, for some reason? Anyway, the kinder-than-usual bus driver tolerated my ramblings about “return tickets” and “changing buses halfway through my journey,” which was nice because if there’s anything I could take away from this trip, it was the fact that the people in Belfast are super friendly and nice.

Case in point:

  • I got lost (as I do) trying to find the meeting point for the cycle tour. Not only were the Castle Ward staff super helpful, but also the random early morning visitors who said to me “ah, you’re looking for Winterfell.”
  • One of the cycle tour guides told me – out of the blue and with no prompting whatsoever – that I can visit the ‘GOT Door’ in this pub called the The Cuan. The Game of Thrones actors such as Sean Bean stayed at this pub / hotel whilst they were filming the Winterfell scenes during the early seasons.
  • The waitress at The Cuan waved off the 5p from the £5.55 cheesecake I ordered. She didn’t have to do that? Why did she do that?
  • I didn’t have the right bus ticket to get back to Belfast from the Strangford village centre but the bus driver let me on anyway.

My conclusion? Belfast is a very, very nice city to live in despite the absolute chaos that is its public transportation system.

Anyway, let’s talk about Winterfell! Finding the cycle tour meeting point, having had taken the bus instead of driving (like what most people would do, I suppose), meant I had to walk through Castle Ward…

an image of 18th century Castle Ward
view of castle ward from the distance

…before you get to the castle’s farmyard, which is famously known as the filming location for Winterfell from the TV show Game of Thrones.

road leading to winterfell, featuring tower buildings and a wall surrounding the area
“there must always be a Stark in Winterfell”

The tour begins with a guide walking you to various places within the Winterfell courtyard, pointing out key filming locations and describing how the crew of Game of Thrones essentially CGI’d Winterfell into being. I saw the tower where Bran “fell”, the brothel where we first meet Tyrion, and I stood in the exact same spot the Starks stood to greet King Baratheon’s entourage. It was an entirely surreal experience.

Following the walking tour, the guide (his name was Hugo, by the way, for those who are interested) handed me a helmet and bike. It was bright red and looked like it could take me all the way to King’s Landing; there was also a map attached to the handlebars, but that only detailed Winterfell and the nearby Audley’s Castle and grounds, which is famously associated with Robb and his army during the early seasons of the show.

The Westeros Cycle Tour is supposed to last 2 hours and 30 minutes, but the entirety of the course can be completed in half that time. I spent a good chunk just sitting atop Audley’s Castle and enjoying the view, eating my lunch and contemplating the insignificance of my human existence. And aside from all the times I got lost on the trail because I can’t read maps for the life of me, I still returned to the base camp in Winterfell with half an hour to spare.

I used that half hour walking to Strangford. The muscles in my legs are still burning as I type up this post. On the plus side, the nature walk from Winterfell towards the little village of Strangford offered this scene of pure delight:

image of a nature walk with a sign saying "the wild wood: marry the hare say take care"
the wild wood

Overall, the Westeros Cycle Tour was a 9 out of 10 experience for me: the views were great, the weather was unbeatable, and my nerdy little soul was happy to pretend I lived in Westeros for an entire morning. My only criticism is the lack of clear signposts of the cycle tour. As much as I joke around about my inability to read a map and my wonderful habit of getting lost, the cycle route was quite difficult to parse and I wasn’t the only one confused! There was a group ahead of me who circled around Audley’s Castle twice because they couldn’t figure out how to get to Temple Water.

Total cost for the day: £38 for the cycle tour, £5.50 for dessert, and £20ish for the bus rides, which all totals to £63.50. The cost for getting to experience Westeros? PRICELESS.


Over to you guys: if you could go visit any fictional world, where would you go and why?

Subscribe to LiberaTarts if you want to hear more about my Belfast city break! Tomorrow’s plan is to check-out of Lagan Backpacker’s and into an airbnb. Places to visit will include the Botanical Gardens, Ulster Museum, and perhaps Belfast Castle if I’ve got time and/or energy to spare in the afternoon. My legs still hurt from all the biking I did today.

Northern Ireland Adventures: How to Get There

I mentioned last week that I will be travelling to Belfast to celebrate the end of my internship, so isn’t it a surprise that I am currently typing this post up from a backpacker’s hostel in Belfast? And a damn good hostel, too, with its own Netflix subscription and multiple wi-fi networks. I’ve been to my fair share of hostels. and let me just say that Lagan Backpackers near Queen’s University Belfast is definitely in my Top 10.

Anyway, if you’re curious as to how my city-break-turned-geeky-adventure is coming along, just keep on scrolling It’s only the first day and already I’ve gone over budget because I left my train tickets at home – silly me!

LiberaTarts Tackles Northern Ireland

THE PLAN

Take a train from home to London Victoria train station. Ride the National Express coach from the coach station to Stansted Airport. Fly to Belfast using the ever so friendly budget airline, Ryan Air. Total cost for all this plus the return tickets back? £51.21.

WHAT WENT WRONG

I left my train tickets at home – or more specifically, I forgot that I had them sent to my by post weeks ago because I like to prepare for these kinds of things. The earlier you buy your train tickets, the cheaper they tend to cost. As it turns out, being prepared like this is counter-intuitive if your memory is as bad as mine. I had to buy another set of train tickets to go to London and for my way back.

But then! More things went wrong.

The train links in the north Kent and south London area has “planned engineering work” so as it turns out, London Victoria was out of commission. I would not have been able to make the coach to Stansted Airport even if I took an uber from Otford, the station closest to Victoria that I could get to. What I had to do in the end was to make my way to Tottenham Hale and grab the Stansted Express train, which cost $$$ that I was not willing to spend.

suitcase and backpack in a train station platform
an attempt at “travelling light”

Once I got to the airport, it was all smooth sailing.

I had a hearty breakfast at Stansted Airport, where I whiled away the time waiting to board my plane by looking for fun things to do in Belfast. I impulse-bought a cycling tour for several Game of Thrones film locations – because really, as a millennial brought up in the digital age, my first thought when someone says “Belfast” is GoT, not Titanic. Apparently, this was where the so-called Ship of Dreams was built? They have a museum dedicated to it and everything.

The Ryan Air flight I took arrived 10 minutes early at Belfast International Airport, though whatever amount of time it saved by doing that was undoubtedly reversed when they took f o r e v e r loading the luggage carousel. From there, I took the Airport Express bus, which cost me a pretty £8, and walked all the way to my hostel because no way am I paying for another bus ticket when I could just walk for 20 minutes.

My total for the day? I would like to say that the ballpark figure for that is £110, which includes all the food, snacks, and coffees I had today. I could have saved around £30ish if only I didn’t lose my train ticket and if I knew in advance that London Victoria was closed for the weekend. But oh well, I’m not complaining… this adventure is only starting, after all!

“It’s not a LiberaTarts trip until I…

  1. forget something at home
  2. get lost while using Google Maps, and
  3. somehow manage to go over budget.”

Ancient Wise Proverb (probably)

Complain as I might, the lovely views I get to witness as I travel will always be worth it.

gif of the view from a plane
flying over Belfast


Over to you guys: Have you ever been to Northern Ireland? Did you mess up travelling there just like I did? (Oh, the woes of those who cannot drive…!) Let me know if there are any hidden gems you think I should visit; I’ve already bookmarked all the popular tourist-y locations and I will attempt to visit them all at some point this week, but I’m always open to suggestions.

My next post will most likely be about my morning trip to all nearby Game of Thrones filming locations, so keep an eye out for that if that tickles your fancy.