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Wee Northern Ireland

November 3, 2016

Following my adventures across the Republic of Ireland, I ventured to the north part of the island. I have a friend who lives in Enniskillen, so I visited her for a couple days before moving on to Belfast.

 

ENNISKILLEN

 

Enniskillen is a small island village in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. Despite its small size, it has a huge history. While there, I kept hearing about what happened in Enniskillen during the "Troubles" in the late 20th century, but its history goes back much further than that. I took a bus there from Dublin, which took a little more than 2 hours. My friend was at the bus depot to greet me and OH how excited I was to see her after 4 years (we had worked together in Michigan a few years ago)!!! After checking into my Airbnb place, we drove to the next village over to have afternoon tea (on my bucket list) at a fancy-schmancy hotel. Later that night, we went to some pubs and my friend ordered drinks for me that are uniquely Northern Irish (WKD was my favourite). My favourite pub was Blakes of the Hollow. Not only did this pub have cozy, private corners with fireplaces, they also have a Game of Thrones door!

 

I'm ready for my afternoon tea!

 

The following day, my friend took me to her work. That morning, her work was hosting a religious talk, but I was really there for the tea and scones, heh. I was introduced to many people (mostly elderly), and what struck me was how incredibly friendly and kind everyone was. They saw an unfamiliar face in the crowd and approached me to introduce themselves. They asked if I was new to town or was visiting, and then asked me about Canada. What's even better is that many of them have either lived in Canada or have family there! One lady said that she had lived in Toronto for a few years, and her cousin still lives there. Turns out, her cousin was the last Chief of Police in Toronto. What a small world! After the talk, I was on my own to explore the town until my friend finished work. My first stop was Enniskillen Castle.

 

Enniskillen Castle

Enniskillen Castle 

 

One of the main attractions in Enniskillen itself is Enniskillen Castle. This is also where the town's tourist office is located. It's a neat little castle that was used throughout the years for various purposes. There were exhibits on the two World Wars, local history, and findings from archaeological digs in the area. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to go up into the tower that's pictured above, but I'm sure it would have provided an amazing view of River Erne. I also visited Castle Coole, which was about a 30 minute walk from Enniskillen Castle. There are some neat local shops and food places that are worth visiting. My friend suggested I go to Cafe Mauds for lunch because the food is great, and it truly was.

 

Although Enniskillen is a small village, there is much to see in the surrounding villages. I went to Crom Estate, which has an 18th century castle on its 2,000 acres of land. The castle is still being used as a private residence, but the grounds and some of the other buildings are open to the public. My friend and I walked to the Old Crom Castle, which is ruins, and by the time we walked back to the car we got a beautiful view of the sun setting on Upper Lough Erne. There's also Marble Arch Caves and Global Geopark where you can go cave exploring, hiking, cycling, and canoeing. Although I didn't have time to visit the park, I was told that one of the caves in the park was used for filming a Game of Thrones scene (ooooh). My guess is the scene involving Jon Snow and Ygritte...

 

BELFAST

 

Belfast is a smaller and cleaner version of Dublin. Major attractions are (mostly) within walking distance, and I did a lot of walking! I was lucky to have found a host to stay with for my 2 nights. If you're wondering what I mean by host, I use Couchsurfing.com when I travel. It's a great site to meet locals and other travellers, as well as find locals to stay with. Here are some of the things I did in Belfast:

 

  • Belfast Castle is located well away from the city centre. Luckily, my host drove us to it as he also wanted to join me on the hike near the castle. This castle is more of an event venue than it is a tourist attraction. It is beautiful, but not worth making your way out there to visit it.

  • Cave Hill is a hill over looking Belfast. There are some trails behind Belfast Castle that you can take to hike to the summit. Yes, there are caves that you can explore. Unfortunately, I couldn't but I was oh so close to one (picture below). On a clear day, from the top of the hill, you can see the Isle of Man and Scotland!

  • Belfast City Hall offers free daily tours depending on whether council is in session or not. Fun fact: Mayor's are elected once a year from members of the city council. 

  • Queen's University Belfast like most, if not all, European universities have incredible buildings that are hundreds of years old. My favourite was the main building, which I couldn't photograph as I was being rained on by angry Sky Gods. There is an art gallery in the main building, but if you like history and architecture, I would go just to walk the grounds or find a nice cozy spot to read a book.
     

 Belfast Castle

 

Cave Hill - You can see the largest cave entrance in the middle of the picture. More smaller caves just above it.

 

The one thing I was probably looking forward to the most about Belfast was visiting Titanic Quarter. This area is north east of the city centre near the docks where Titanic was built. There is a lot to see in this area, including Titanic Belfast (a museum about the history of Belfast and of course Titanic), SS Nomadic (the only remaining White Star Line vessel), Titanic Studios (Game of Thrones is filmed here), as well as a beautiful view of the city centre, river, and docks. I really enjoyed my experience at Titanic Belfast. So much, that it took me more than 3 hours to go through the museum.

 

 

Belfast has much more to offer than the places that I listed here. Like Dublin, there are also day tours that leave from Belfast. One that I really wanted to do but couldn't (to stay within my budget) was a Game of Thrones tour. Northern Ireland has a HUGE Game of Thrones tourism industry because the TV show is filmed there. So they have many day tours that take you to castles and other locations that were used in the show. One film location that I want to see next time I'm in Northern Ireland are the Dark Hedges.

 

I spent 2 full days in Belfast, and I probably could have gotten more done, but part of my trip was to meet locals and get to know them. On my last night, there was a Couchsurfing event happening at a pub close to the city centre, so my host and I went. We met with a few other travellers, locals, and people who recently moved to the city. It was a great night getting to know people and making new friends. But the night ended earlier than I wanted to as I had an early flight to Edinburgh the following morning. I also need to point out the horrible 'goodbye' I got leaving Belfast thanks to a moody and rude taxi driver. Not to mention that he nearly drove off while I was trying to get out of the taxi with the door still open. That incident was soon forgotten when I had the best taxi experience after arriving in Edinburgh.

 

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