When my friend announced he was marrying his Northern Irish fiance I was thrilled. I was even more thrilled when he told me the wedding was to be in her home town of Lisburn, Northern Ireland. A country I had not visited before.
We sorted our Easyjet flights to Belfast and back, using Emirates Skywards Miles and booked a Premier Inn, where most of the wedding party were to be staying. The timings of the flights meant we would have an early arrival the day before the wedding and a chance to do some sightseeing.
We collected our hire car from Belfast airport and first off we drove northwards to the Tunnel Of Trees. This site made famous by being a film location used in Game Of Thrones is also known as the Dark Hedges and is situated just outside of Ballymoney.After a brief photo stop here we continued north to probably Northern Ireland’s most famous landmark, The Giants Causeway. This spectacular and rare geological formation was made a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1986. An area of 40000 (about one for every tourist it seemed!) interlocking basalt columns formed by ancient volcanic activity is located 3 miles outside the town of Bushmills. To save costs you can park at the Heritage Railway about 800 metres away (£6 all day parking) rather than the National Trust car park that charges a ridiculous £8.50 PER PERSON to park there and visit the shop/museum. The actual Giants Causeway site is not owned by the National Trust and is therefore free. Simply walk through the car park under the high bridge and down to the site. For the less mobile there is a bus that costs £1 each way.
Onwards we continued with some of our party dropping out to sample some of the less salubrious attractions of Ireland, namely a pint of Guinness! So it was left to myself and Vanessa to continue on alone to Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge, a few miles along the coast from the causeway. Perhaps the others had made the right decision as this site I was less than impressed with. Perhaps it was the blustery Atlantic coastal weather or the tiredness from the early flight but I felt that paying £6 to cross a rope bridge from the mainland to a tiny island was a bit over the top, hair-raising as that was with the bracing wind.
By now it was 6pm and time to head back to our hotel in Lisburn to get ready for the pre wedding festivities. Plenty of the black stuff was sunk but it was all quite calm with the wedding the next afternoon.
The day of the wedding we had a morning to explore Belfast city centre. With limited time we took the ubiquitous Hop-On Hop-Off bus around town. This was perfect as it meant we could get a flavour of what the city has to offer in a short space of time. I was surprised how much was there to see and we made a point that we return to see some of the highlights on Sunday, the day we flew home.
The wedding was spectacular and ‘el vino did flow’ but myself and notably Vanessa after a hearty fried breakfast roused ourselves and headed back to Belfast city. We took the hire car to the peace wall. It is impossible to go to Northern Ireland and not make mention of ‘The Troubles’, the religious tension that has plagued this part of Ireland and beyond since the time of William Of Orange in the 17th century. The peace wall was put up during the height of the conflict in 1969 to divide the British Protestant (Loyalist) estates from the Irish Catholic (Republican) ones. This inevitably has become a homage to political and religious graffiti and makes for interesting stop on any visit to Belfast.
The last thing we did in Belfast was squeeze in a visit to the extensive and perhaps too expensive (£18 Per Person entry) Titanic Museum. On the site of the shipyard where it was built this modern museum give visitors lots of information about the famous ship as well as interative displays. We found the passenger manifesto and the mock up of the passenger cabins particularly interesting.
After that our short trip to Northern Ireland was over. We had crammed plenty in, found our Irish hosts typically accommodating and agreed we would both like to re-visit the country to see some other places and Belfast again in more depth.
- When you hire a car abroad consider using maps.me app which uses your phone GPS signal rather than data roaming.
- For the Giants Causeway park at the Heritage Railway and walk down to save money.
- If you do not have a hire car negotiate a price with a black cab driver who can give an unofficial tour of the city and an insiders view of the history of The Troubles.
- Visit the Titanic Museum for a history of what was at the time the world’s largest ocean liner