It's the Bank Holiday weekend, and what better way to celebrate than by getting out and about in the place we call home?
Our resident New Yorker, Claire Hamilton, is as passionate as you could ever be about Northern Ireland and she's compiled her must see, eat, drink and do list for Norn Iron.
How does a gal from Central Park get her kicks in Belfast and beyond? Over to you, Claire!
We may always have Paris…but these days I’m all ‘bout ye’ Belfast!
Since moving to Northern Ireland in the summer of 2017, my husband and I have picked up many familiar faces at the airport and played the part of a Northern Irish tour guide. One of the best parts of moving to a new city is taking pride in showing off all the reasons why you moved there. We love sharing why we adore Northern Ireland with friends and family and exploring bits of Belfast and beyond that we didn’t knew about.
Generally speaking, when people plan to visit this region, they usually think of Dublin, Galway or Cork as destination hotspots, with Belfast sometimes an afterthought. This has really changed in the past five years and was validated when Lonely Planet named Belfast the number one place to visit in 2018.
The global phenomenon Game of Thrones has definitely played a huge part in this, but there is so much more to Northern Ireland than just Westeros and Direwolves. From my first visit in 2014, I have witnessed an incredible resurgence of business and buzz in Northern Ireland – new restaurants, new hotels, new flights, new exhibits and new ideas springing left and right.
As a non-native who just added BT to her postcode, everything is new, so in a way I am also a wanderlust tourist. This May is going to be a rollercoaster of hosting visitors from the US, so I feel a bit of a responsibility to make sure they go back eager to book their next flight over. Here is a small sample of some of my hot tourist tips – and don’t let this wee but mighty place fool you, there is a ton to do, see, eat and drink.
Claire’s Guide to Belfast and Beyond
Do – I’m a big fan of walking tours. I always try to schedule one on the first day of the trip in a new city. Belfast has a great walking tour that meets at City Hall. I went on a Belfast city tour recently with friends that came to visit from Hong Kong and was blown away by all the history.
See – You can’t come to Belfast without seeing the Titanic Museum. It’s a fascinating museum that tells the history of Belfast’s innovation during the industrial revolution. Plus, the building is really impressive and insta-worthy!
Eat – I recently went to The Muddlers Club and I am hooked! I book it every time we have a visitor. It has a hip atmosphere with a constantly evolving, experimental and delicious menu. And if you’re in the mood to be extra, why not try their fabulous wine pairings.
Drink – Duke of York will always be my favourite. Although a bit “touristy”, it has an amazing whiskey selection, live music and great “craic.”
Do – Castle Espie Wetland Centre is a lovely place to visit. Get up close to Ireland's largest collection of native and exotic water and migrant birds whilst enjoying the stunning views.
See – A walk on the beach makes everything better. Strangford Lough has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world for a relaxing stroll. It’s no wonder that perfumes and candles find inspiration from the Irish Sea.
Eat – Daft Eddy’s is one of my favourite spots for delicious, local seafood. It has something for everyone. Great for families, a romantic dinner or just hanging out at the bar with friends - don’t forget to order the buttery crab claws as a side dish!
Drink – The Smuggler’s Bar always seems to be the place we meet up with friends during the holidays and breaks. It has a homey feel, great gin cocktails and is right around the corner from the water. Everyone has a great time at Smugglers!
Do – No holiday is complete without ice cream. Definitely stop by Morelli’s to pick up some of their award-winning vanilla ice cream. A family-run Irish business, it’s the most delicious ice cream and brings back memories of warm summer days by the beach.
See – Holywood has a lovely trail along the Belfast Lough coast. There are lots of dogs playing by the water and if you’re with kids, you’ll pass a great playground.
Eat – Noble is one of my favourite restaurants in Northern Ireland. The menu is inventive, local and yummy. The restaurant has an intimate feel and the waiters are extremely friendly. They make you feel like you’re having dinner with a friend. I’d definitely recommend this place!
Drink – If you’re looking for somewhere fun, friendly and cozy, the Dirty Duck is the spot. A nice place to grab a drink with a group of friends, plus there are some gorgeous views of Belfast Lough.
Do – No visit to Northern Ireland is complete without a whiskey tasting. Bushmills Irish Whiskey is made at Ireland’s oldest working distillery in County Antrim on the stunning North Coast. I’d highly recommend the Bushmills Brand Experience. This includes a tour of the distillery, tastings and a stop at the gift shop with exclusive offerings. Plus, a bottle of Bushmills is a perfect gift to bring back for friends and family.
See – With its incredible history and legend, the Giant’s Causeway is a geological wonder and one of the most popular tourist destinations. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and has a great visitor’s centre that goes into detail about the incredible mythological battle between giants.
Eat – Ramore is an absolute must if you’re visiting the North Coast. Something for everyone, it is a real celebration of Northern Ireland’s incredible food and drink culture. You’ll understand why Northern Ireland was given the Year of the Food and Drink status in 2016.
Drink – The Bushmills Inn is also a lovely spot for a glass of whiskey. In the winter-time you can sit by the fire and enjoy live music in their snug bar and in the summer-time, you can enjoy the outside weather and sip some of Northern Ireland’s unique gin brands.
I feel lucky to be here during what I see as a positive cultural and economic evolution. We can’t wait for this summer when many more of our nearest and dearest pop over from across the pond and beyond to enjoy a slice of Northern Irish heaven.