This post is produced in collaboration with Stena Line
Exploring a new city is my favourite thing to do, particularly with Paddy in tow, so after a bit of a rough week last week I was really looking forward to spending my weekend getting stuck into a spot of sightseeing in Belfast. I'd been to Northern Ireland as a child, but it feels like forever ago now and I barely remember it, so revisiting the Emerald Isle was something that had been on my list for a while. Paddy and I had actually been hoping to visit Dublin for Valentine's this year, but with him moving down to England for his new job and me leaving my old job plans were waylaid just a tad.
In what I now deem as perfect timing, Stena Line got in touch to offer me the chance to swap cities with a Belfast blogger, The Belfast Girl, for a day so that we could both experience the best of each other's cities, whilst also getting to enjoy the comfort of the Cairnryan to Belfast crossing. So, on Saturday morning I set off on a snowy drive down the Ayrshire coast to Cairnryan, approximately two hours from Glasgow, and boarded the ferry to Belfast.
The crossing was an absolute breeze, all I had to do was drive my car on and park up in the lower deck before heading upstairs and finding myself a comfy window seat in the Stena Plus lounge. I made the most of the drinks and snacks on offer (hello, shortbread!) and got lost in my book for the first part of the journey. When we were well and truly on our way, I climbed to the top deck and took in the views from the Sun Deck, albeit not quite so sunny, and had a nosey in the Pure Nordic Spa. Yup, a spa onboard a boat. Best. Thing. Ever. A bit of pampering never goes amiss, so I treated my slightly neglected nails to a fresh set of gels ready for the weekend ahead.
Before I knew it, we had docked in Belfast and after reuniting with my car I headed off to find Paddy and get started with our sightseeing. The Belfast port is a stone's throw from the city centre, roughly 10 minutes by car and served by a regular bus, and despite being nervous about driving in an unfamiliar city it was nowhere near as bad as I had expected. We were staying at the Holiday Inn on Hope Street, perfectly placed for the city centre, and after a quick freshen up we headed out to see what was on offer.
First thing on the cards was lunch, so we decided to take a wander through the heart of the city and check out the area surrounding Victoria Square. We stumbled across a cosy little pub tucked away down an alley called McCrackens, and after catching the end of the rugby and refuelling with some good old gastropub grub we were ready to explore some more. The city centre was full of beautiful buildings, like the City Hall, and had lots of hidden gems to discover. It was so colourful, and the street art adorning the walls is not to be missed. It felt quite similar to Glasgow in some ways, with a vibrant mix of old and new both showing their charm.
Our early start had left us feeling a little bit sleepy, so we headed back to our hotel for a quick nap before dinner. Somewhat stupidly, we hadn't realised that it was Valentine's weekend, and so our dinner plans had to be altered somewhat. Gemma had recommended a cosy Italian called Coppi which we had been so keen to check out, but they only had tables at 10pm which was a little later than we would have liked. Instead, we ended up heading to 2 Taps Wine Bar for some delicious tapas and a couple of drinks to round off the day.
On Sunday morning we were up bright and early to try pack as much as possible into our final few hours in Belfast, so we headed over to the Titanic Quarter to have a quick nosey at the attractions there. The Titanic Experience has been rated as one of the top tourist attractions in the world, so we were keen to check it out, but it really needed a good few hours to explore properly. As we didn't have long before we needed to head home we decided to hop on the Belfast Sightseeing bus instead. I love sightseeing bus tours, as I think they're such a brilliant way to see the highlights of a city in a short space of time, leaving you with a better idea of what you want to explore more.
The bus tour was only an hour and a half long, but it covered so many sights I'd been wanting to see including the towering Samson & Goliath Cranes, the parliament buildings at Stormont Estate, Queen's University and the murals dotted around the city. Our guide provided the most insightful (and entertaining) background to the city, explaining its history and the significance of the sights as well as explaining a lot about the political situation in Northern Ireland which I found so interesting. There's so much history to this city, which I hadn't even realised until I set foot there myself.
Our final stop in Belfast was St. George's Market, a bustling hub of activity and one of my favourite places from the whole weekend. After wandering around the stalls we settled on our meals of choice, a selection of Spanish cuisine and a burger, which we then enjoyed whilst watching the live band. The atmosphere was something else, it had a real community feel and everyone was so happy. I couldn't resist picking up a few baked goods before we left, which were devoured in record time. If you've never had a fifteen, you really must try one.
Before we knew it, it was time to leave, and so Paddy headed off to the airport whilst I returned to the ferry. After a whirlwind 24 hours of sightseeing, I was ready for a bit of relaxation before heading up the road. I was very kindly provided with access to one of the Superfast Suites for my return leg, which was the perfect place to wind down and read my book whilst tucked up in a cosy blanket with a stash of biscuits. I was pretty smitten with the idea of an onboard spa after checking it out on my outward journey, so decided that the crossing was the perfect time to indulge in a bit more pampering and booked in for a back massage. I was a bit concerned about how having a massage at sea would affect my stomach, but I have honestly never felt more relaxed than I did whilst on a heated bed being gently swayed to sleep and having my aching back soothed! I only wish I could experience that every day, god knows it would probably help me be less stressed.
City breaks can be a bit stressful at times, particularly when you're pushed for time, but the whole experience was an absolute breeze and I couldn't be more grateful for the chance to try it out and see the best of Belfast for myself. I've also uploaded a vlog from the weekend, which you can check out here. I feel like I barely scratched the surface of the city and I can't wait to head back at some point to discover even more. I'd love to take the car over again and spend a week holed up in a cute little cottage, checking out the Causeway Coast and revisiting the city itself.
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