As can happen on any cruise, bad weather forced some missed ports during our 14-Day Celtic Explorer Cruise on Holland America’s ms Prinsendam. The good news was that two unplanned “bonus” ports were added to our cruise in place of the three that were skipped.
One of those “bonus” ports was Belfast, in Northern Ireland, which thrilled us, even though we’ve spent time in the city before. Ever since the 1998 Belfast “Good Friday” Agreement that was seen as the end of The Troubles (the conflict in Northern Ireland that began in the late 1960s), the city of Belfast has worked hard to rebuild tourism. Tourism representatives boarded our ship to hand out city maps, and help direct guests who wanted to explore specific highlights. Free shuttle buses transferred cruise passengers from the port to the Visit Belfast Tourist office.
There is much to experience in Belfast, from the Titanic Belfast museum to the city’s iconic ship-building cranes nicknamed “Samson & Goliath.” The Victorian Palm House near the Ulster Museum and Queen’s University are all worthy of a visit while walking around Belfast. There are numerous public art installations to view such as The Big Fish ceramic mosaic sculpture or the 64-ft. tall girl with the ponytail known officially as the Thanksgiving Statue by Andy Scott. Belfast has great restaurants and iconic pubs.
The complimentary cruise shuttle let us off at the Visit Belfast Welcome Center on Donegall Square North, right across the street from the stately Belfast City Hall.
We knew from our prior visit how helpful this visitor’s center is; we went inside and bought two Metro bus Day tickets. These tickets only cost £3 each, and are valid for all Metro services in Belfast for the full day.
Most helpful, the person selling us the tickets marked on our map where to pick up the bus to take us to our desired location.
We wanted to visit Cave Hill Country Park that overlooks the city of Belfast, and offers a hiking route with panoramic views.
Cave Hill is distinguished by its famous ‘Napoleon’s Nose’, an outcrop which is said to resemble the profile of the famous French emperor, is officially named McArt’s Fort after Art O’Neill, a 17th-century chieftain who controlled the area. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see people hiking on “the nose.”
Cave Hill is thought to have inspired author Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. When Swift resided at Lilliput Cottage near the bottom of Belfast’s Limestone Road, he imagined Cave Hill as resembling a sleeping giant safeguarding the city.
We rode one of the bright pink public buses on Antrim Road, about 4 miles north of the city center of Belfast. Our bus driver kindly told us that this was the best stop to reach Cave Hill. We headed through the neighborhood in the direction he pointed.
Finally, we reached the park border. We decided to follow the paths to Belfast Castle since they were paved. While the weather was postcard perfect while we were in Belfast, the unpaved trails indicated there had been recent heavy rainfall.
Multiple hiking trails lead from the Belfast Castle up to “the Nose” and past the five caves in the hillside. Dissuaded by the muddy trails, we gave up on reaching “the Nose.” Instead, we hiked back down the hillside via a different paved route, and through the neighborhood to catch a return bus to the city center.
All of that hiking and bus-riding made us thirsty. We headed to “The Entries” — a series of narrow alleys full of pubs — just off of High Street in the oldest part of Belfast. We enjoyed Smithwick’s Irish Pale Ale at White’s Tavern, which dates to 1630 and is said to be Belfast’s oldest pub.
As we contemplated lunch, we remembered our favorite seafood meal during our prior visit to Belfast.
As one of Belfast’s most popular restaurants, there was about a 15-minute wait for a table.
All of the fish and seafood that we’ve tried at Mourne Seafood Bar has been delicious. Our favorite, however, are the Mourne Mussels cooked with white wine and garlic cream, and served with crusty bread. Ask for more bread, as there’s not enough to sop up all of the delightful sauce. Of course, the mussels pair nicely with a glass of carefully-selected white wine.
As we enjoyed our seafood feast, we learned that the couple sitting next to us was also in Belfast via a cruise. They were, however, on the Oceania Insignia, on the last part of a 180-Day-Around-the-World cruise. We enjoyed the conversation as much as the food.
Have you visited Belfast or other parts of Northern Ireland?
We used this book to help plan our day in Belfast, as it includes a detailed section on Northern Ireland and Belfast (although they are part of the United Kingdom)
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Ireland
If you prefer a tour when in Belfast, check out these options (and many more) from Get Your Guide: