Breezy (Literally) Belfast Beginnings

Welcome to Northern Ireland! It’s a first-time visit for both of us here in Belfast, so we’re excited to explore a new place and to add a new city to our repertoire. And we had a nice, easy travel experience from Edinburgh, with a VERY quick (30-35 minutes) flight on Flybe. I can’t say I’d ever heard of them before we booked the flight earlier this year, but they seemed as good as any other European budget airline. The plane was actually a dual-prop rather than a jet, which I don’t think I’ve ever flown on before. Since I lived to tell the tale, I think it’s safe to say they aren’t really any different. 🙂

As I start this post, it’s the morning of our first full day here (Thursday), which is really the only full day we have in Belfast because we’ll be on a day trip tomorrow (more on that later) before we move on to our next destination (Galway) on Saturday. And we may not have gotten to our hotel until about 3p yesterday, but we still got out to see some of Belfast, knowing we wouldn’t have a lot of time here. Onwards to our first half(ish)-day!

The weather here yesterday was…erratic, to say the least. Windy, with blowing rain, then sunny and not raining, then sunny and drizzling, then cloudy and windy again, etc. It was very confusing! As in Scotland, the rain was never very heavy, but the wind was really getting on my nerves as it was blowing exactly the right way to whip the rain directly onto us and also to continually flip our umbrellas. But the weather is the weather and rain feels appropriate for the UK on any trip (even if it’s not desirable), so we took it for what it was.

Not having arrived until 3p, we clearly didn’t have time to do too much, but here’s what we saw:

  • Albert Memorial Clock – this one is pretty self-explanatory! It’s a big clock built in the late 1860s as a memorial to Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert.
  • Belfast Cathedral (The Cathedral Church of St Anne) – a Church of Ireland cathedral that is unique in that it is the seat of not one, but two, bishops.
  • McHugh’s Bar – this is where we had dinner and is notable for being the oldest building in Belfast.

Before going anywhere, we spent some time getting settled at our home-away-from-home in Belfast, the Hilton Belfast. As we were talking about this leg of the trip earlier this week, we were initially thinking the hotel was a little further away from the action than we’d like to be, but we were happy to discover that’s not the case. It’s super close to the airport (the Uber ride was less than ten minutes), which may not sound like a good thing (since airports aren’t usually centrally located), but Belfast Airport is very close to the city, so this Hilton is in a pretty ideal location. Based on what we’re planning on seeing, it seems like almost everything is within 25 minutes’ walking distance, which is totally doable. And if the rain makes walking problematic, we’ll Uber. Easy! Anyway, the hotel seems perfectly fine – we have a nice, big room with a proper king bed (the hub in Edinburgh advertised a king bed, but it definitely wasn’t – felt more like a slightly bigger queen bed), a nice bathroom (though I discovered this morning that the water pressure isn’t amazing), and a nice, tasty breakfast (which we just enjoyed). Seems like it will work perfectly for us!

Check out the hotel below.

Not the most interesting facade in the world, but the hotel is currently remodeling, so maybe that will change.

Nice room!

Looking towards the door from the window.

You can’t see it in this photo, but there’s also a decent amount of space off to the left.

We even have some nice views from our window (as seen during one of yesterday’s intermittent sunny periods).

It had stopped raining right as we arrived at the hotel, but it started up again right as we were leaving to explore. Thanks, weather gods! It was annoying, but at the end of the day, it’s only water. And if the rain had been heavier, it could have been SO much worse! We were originally going to visit Belfast Castle because we heard it was actually worth visiting in the evening, but it closes early on Wednesdays, so we decided to head to the Albert Clock instead. It was…exactly what it sounds like – a tall clock. Interestingly, it was built by the man who wan a competition held in 1865! Also interestingly, it leans notably (about 1.25 meters/4.1 feet) when you look at it from the right angle because it was built on marshy land. Unlike the Leaning Tower of Pisa though, it doesn’t seem like there are immediate concerns that it will simply topple over one day. That may be due to the restoration/reinforcement work that was done in 2002 to shore up the base though. If it does collapse, at least we’ll be able to say we saw it!

Keep time with these photos, won’t you?

From this angle, it doesn’t seem to be leaning at all.

From this angle however, it’s VERY evident.

I haven’t seen much street art on this trip, so was happy to find this across the street from the clock.

We walked by The Merchant Hotel after we left the clock.

From the clock, we made our way to Belfast Cathedral, just a short walk (maybe 5-7 minutes) from the Albert Clock. As you may or may not know, a church is called a cathedral when it’s the seat of a bishop/diocese, but as mentioned above, this particular cathedral is the seat of two bishops because it serves two different dioceses. I don’t think I’ve heard of that before! As cathedrals go, this one is very young, with the first stone having been laid in 1899, but the neat thing about it is that it was built partially around the old parish church that stood on the same spot and they continued using that church until 1903, when it was then demolished, with only that church’s Good Samaritan window retained/reused. Cathedrals are never quick to build and work continued on different parts of this one until the early 1980s, so it’s definitely not ancient like others we’ve visited. Also slightly unusual is the fact that this cathedral charges an entry fee. Certainly I’ve seen that at places like St. Paul’s in London, but it’s not the norm in my experience. Either way, the fee is only £5/$ 6 USD each and they even accept cards. How modern. 🙂

Put your hands together for some church photos!

Outside the cathedral.

An imposing view looking towards the altar.

The roof of the baptistry is a work of art created with 150,000 pieces of glass.

This cathedral has only one tomb in it – that of politician Lord Carson.

A stained glass window with its donation plaque underneath.

Taking pictures of lecterns, as usual.

A close look at the huge altar space.

Looking to the front door from the altar.

Also as usual, a photo of the organ.

More stained glass.

After the cathedral, we had more off-and-on rain (ugh), making our stop at Belfast City Hall (always planned to just be a photo opp) extra quick. By that time, we were ready to get back to the hotel and make plans for dinner, so we did exactly that. The rain was mostly off again on the walk back (thankfully), so we didn’t get too soaked. And for one of the first times in all my travels, we made use of the hotel concierge to get some recommendations for dinner. They gave us a few options, but since I had already suggested pub food earlier in the day, Scott decided to go with McHugh’s, a pub that’s just about a ten-minute walk from our hotel. Interestingly, it’s also the oldest building in Belfast, having been originally built as a private home around 1711 (though today it also encompasses a more modern building next door that used to be a separate pub). The food, a steak for Scott and a burger for me (we’re being consistent with that on this trip, it seems) were both tasty and Scott’s was unique because the steak is served on a very hot stone (as in, hot enough to continue cooking the meat), apparently allowing diners to cook it more to their liking when it comes out. Scott wasn’t asked how he wanted it cooked and he said when it came out, it was medium, so perhaps they cook them all that way and let people continue cooking them on the stone if they want a more-done steak? If you’ve eaten a steak there and know more, leave a comment!

A few more pictures to round out the day.

A drive-by photo of City Hall.

Not sure what this building is, but it was across from City Hall.

Outside McHugh’s.

Scott’s fancy steak-and-stone meal (and my less-fancy burger).

It took awhile to get our food at McHugh’s (the only negative aspect) and it was getting later by the time we left, so went back to the hotel and went to sleep shortly thereafter. It was definitely nice to be back in a king-sized bed and in a room with some space to stretch out!

We also had a great first full day here, including some magnificent weather. Read all about it here!

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About thejeffelston

Based in St. Paul, MN and love to blog about travel. Comment, follow, and join me on my journey!