Belfast may not be the most obvious place to head for a city break but the city’s recent history, vibrant past, and plans for the future means there’s a lot on offer, especially in this Titanic anniversary year. After four days in the city, we pull together our findings with this summary of top 10 things family friendly things to do for a Belfast city break.
Top 10 things to do for Belfast City Break
Wherever you go in Belfast at the moment you see ‘2012- Our Time, Our Place’ and it does seem like this city’s time is now. As the birthplace of Titanic, it has a year long festival of celebrations and commemorations going on including world class concerts and plays. It has a brand new multi million pound visitor attraction that forms the centre piece of a regeneration project that other European cities can only dream of. It has the peace that once seemed an impossibility. It has Guinness. And it has the Irish. From the moment we cycled in to this city we were charmed by the people and engaged by the place.
5 Titanic Related Attractions
Titanic Belfast Visitor Attraction
If you do one thing in Belfast with the kids, we recommend it is this. Titanic Belfast is a brand new £90m building filled with movies, interactive exhibits, memorabilia and fascinating fact. You also get to go on a ride through an atmospheric shipyard, although when we went the queues were more substantial than the thrills. Whether or not you are interested in Titanic, you’ll find this an imaginative exploration of Belfast in the early 19th century, and watching the footage of the wreck today is a sobering experience.
Titanic’s Dock and Pumphouse
If you are ‘Titanorak,’ this is a must see. The dry dock where Titanic was fitted out claims to be the ‘only authentic Titanic landmark.’ But even without this title, the Dock and Pumphouse is a weighty attraction. You can descend 44 ft into the dock itself and imagine the dizzying size of the luxury ship and the buzz of 3000 men creating her luxury finish. www.titanicsdock.com
The world’s only Titanic Boat Tour
We climbed on board ‘Mona’ with Lagan Boat Company Tours for 75 minutes of entertaining commentary and local insight into a century of dockland development. Mona is a pretty little boat and if the sun is shining it’s a treat to pootle around the outskirts of the newly regenerated Titanic Quarter on one of her Titanic Boat Tours.
Sitting happily in the Hamilton Dock where she began her life, the SS Nomadic is the tender vessel which carried passengers to the Titanic. She wasn’t ready during our visit, but the current restoration work will be followed by a chance to climb on board. She’s a testament to the determination of the maritime enthusiasts of Nomadic Belfast who raised the money to restore her back to her former glory.
Quirky Titanic Tours
There are many varied and quirky ways to see the Titanic sites. You can be guided round by a relative of a survivor, you can tour the City Cemetery, you can have a pub tour, or a Titanic food Tour with the exciting Kaboosh theatre company. Or you can do what we did and let your smartphone guide you around the Titanic sites. But whether or not you do the pub tour, don’t forget to make time for a pint of Guinness.
5 Non Titanic related
A Mural Tour -street art with bite
One local said to me that he despairs of people cashing in on Belfast’s troubled times, “It’s like going for a job interview and telling them all the bad things about yourself,” he explained. But I disagree. To know this city is to know about its recent and not-so recent past. You can do this in a number of ways including ‘trouble tours.’ We chose to guide ourselves around the murals with the help of a mural map available from Tourist information We awarded the children points for every mural they spotted, while for Stuart and I it was an immersion into the passion and politics of this city.
Art in the city:The balls on the Falls to Nuala with the Hula
While the Belfast authorities invest time and energy into commissioning huge art projects, the locals invest almost as much energy into renaming giving them names that stick; -they’ve already christened the 200 ft Titanic Belfast ‘The Berg.’ But despite the comedy tag, the art is worthy of any modern city. Nuala with the Hula throws her ring of light over the bay, our kids loved the giant airfix model of Titanic in the Titanic Quarter and Rise; otherwise known as The Balls on the Falls really brightens up a dreary junction.
Belfast City Hall Tours
Unsurprisingly City Hall is one of the landmarks of the city, and its also one of the most elegant interiors. You can take a tour led by an experienced guide through the marbled staircases and wood panelled rooms or you can attend a special event in the building. We saw the radio play The Wireless Room being performed live by Wireless Mystery Theatre in the atmospheric great hall. Whatever the reason for your visit, check out all the portraits of the mayors on the walls. They are allowed to choose the artist and style of the painting and its great to differentiate the wackier personalities from the traditional types. No booking is needed and tours run three times a day on weekdays and twice on weekends.
Also worth a quick look if you’re passing City Hall is the brand new memorial garden on the east side; the only place in the world where all who died on the Titanic are individually named.
W5 is a child’s paradise. And when the children are the parents are too. The surrounding complex is packed with bowling alley, pizza places and sports bars, but the main draw is a massive discovery centre/science museum. It’s so big that it never feels crowded and to say there’s something for everyone is an understatement. Stuart loved the live experiments led by a man in a white coat. On our visit he exploded film canisters using the vitamin pills that occasionally cure my hangovers. I loved standing next to a digital screen floating with butterflies, and waiting for one of them to land on my fingers. Hannah created her own animated movie starring a beetle, a ladybird and an ostrich. Matthew loved turning his face upside down and seeing where his eyebrows landed, and Cameron got blown away by a hurricane. Not often that you get to combine all those activities on a family holiday!
Ulster Folk and Transport Museum
If you fancy getting out of town just a little, then drive past the Harland and Wolff shipyard and down to the coast. Stop for a little walk on the beach before pressing on to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum where you can walk around the houses of people going about their business in the early 1900’s. The museum is set in vast grounds and you can spend all day walking to and from the various rural buildings if you’ve the time and inclination. Our kids liked the secret door between the bank managers house and the bank, as well as the school room, where one local lad cast himself in the role of the teacher to Educate us all about potatoes. But it’s the Transport Museum that really shines, with its brightly painted trains, new Titanica exhibition and transport cafe with a difference.
A great way to travel
Getting there: We travelled by Stena Line, and it was lovely to wave goodbye to Liverpool (on a sailing from Birkenhead) in the early evening, tuck the kids up for the night in their little beds, and wake up in Belfast.
Getting around: We took our bikes with us a which takes away the inconvenience of parking charges, or traffic queues and you can get around the dock area much faster than pedestrians. You are even allowed to bike around the Botanic Gardens. Tiptoeing through the tulips on a tandem is a rare experience.
This post is part of our Tales of Titanic Cities Tour.
We’ visited Liverpool and Belfast to find out more about how the two cities are connected to Titanic, joined in the Titanic Festival and tried to figure out what the story of the Titanic has to teach us one hundred years on.
Read these other posts from our Titanic Season.
- We’re more a steerage sort of family
- Kids make headlines at the Merseyside Maritime Museum
- She was alright leaving here – World’s only Titanic Boat Tour
- Marking the moment – Tiitanic hits an Iceberg
- Ten lessons from a sinking ship – Titanic sinks – marking the moment
- Inside the Berg – The Titanic Belfast Visitor Attraction
- That’s the problem with the wireless generation
- 10 ideas for family craic in Belfast city break