Recently I have developed an increased appreciation for the wonders of modern transportation.
From Preston, England, it only took a hop, skip and a jump (or rather a one-hour train followed by a forty-five minute flight) before I found myself in the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland.
For a whirlwind tour of Belfast, I would advise visiting the Ulster Museum, where you can see everything from dinosaurs, to 2,500-year-old mummies, to a collection of portraits of everyday people from Belfast.
Leaving the museum, it is impossible to miss the Botanic Gardens, which makes up a portion of the nearly 3,000 acres of parks in Belfast. The Palm House is a domed greenhouse built in the 1830s in the Botanic Gardens and is definitely worth visiting to admire the architecture and the flora.
After wandering around in the mist (it rains roughly one out of every two days here), you might like to pop into a traditional Irish pub for dinner and a pint of Guinness. You are in Northern Ireland, after all.
While it would be possible to spend all of your time exclusively in Belfast, I would suggest taking the Giant’s Causeway bus tour, which allows you to take in some of the surrounding area. The tour stops at several castles, including Carrickfergus Castle, which was built in the 12th century, and is one of the best preserved medieval buildings in Northern Ireland.
The tour is a great way to take in some scenery while traveling up the winding coastal road. Before making your way to Giant’s Causeway, you will find yourself at the Old Bushmills Distillery, the oldest licensed distillery in the world (founded in 1608). You can have a free sample of whiskey with your lunch at the restaurant inside before continuing on the tour.
Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is ranked as the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom. It consists of interlocked columns of hexagonal basalt rock formed by volcanic activity over 60 million years ago. Irish legend says it is the remains of a causeway that an Irish giant built to battle a rival giant on the Scottish isle of Staffa, where there are similar formations.
While at the Causeway, you may find it worth your while to hike up to a rocky promontory with a beautiful view of the area. After struggling up a treacherous path (I’m being exceedingly generous here – it wasn’t exactly a path – think 5 percent path and 95 percent treachery), I found there was a significantly gentler route up the back of the cliff. Whichever path you choose, you will be greeted at the top with a view of craggy cliffs, an ocean edged with blues that look as if they belong in the Caribbean and quite probably a feeling that this moment you are living in is very near perfection.