After our week exploring Co. Donegal last week we headed over to Northern Ireland and Belfast for a few days. For anyone who has never been to Belfast it is most definitely worth a visit. The city is buzzing! Belfast has something for everyone and PLENTY for families. With 72 hours we were spoiled for choice in how to fill our time.
Open Top Bus Tour
It may seem terribly touristy but one of the best ways to get a sense of a city is an open top tour bus. There are two major tour operators in Belfast and we chose the Titanic and City bus tours. Both
bus tours do the same loop essentially. This tour company just happened to be outside where we were eating breakfast and drove us around to the start of the tour. We were also able to also negotiate on price!!
Aside from convenience and price, the tour operators were informative and went out of their way to make
the trip fun for the kids. Local tour guides oozed pride in their city. The tour stops at all the key points around the city and is valid for 3 days. It’s a great way to get your bearings in a new city with hop offs pretty much anywhere you would want to stop.
During our bus tour we hopped off at Queens University and visited the nearby Ulster Museum. The Ulster Museum needs to be on your MUST SEE in Belfast list!! The museum has exhibits showing natural sciences, human history and art. There is so much to see here you could easily spend hours. Even though a lot of the exhibits have a lot of reading, there was plenty to occupy the kids. Each exhibit includes a hands on discovery room* where kids can learn through their own exploration. The natural sciences exhibit was a big hit with our family. The kids loved learning about the ice age and dinosaur extinction!
While we would have paid for our visit, the Ulster Museum is entirely FREE!! *Discovery rooms close for an hour at lunch time.
The W5 is a hands on kids exploration museum located in the Odyssey Pavilion. Spanning three floors kids have an opportunity to play and explore in a village that includes a cafe, shop, construction etc. They can get hands on and learn about health, hygiene, circuits, construction, robotics, technology and much more! Admission also includes a ticket to the live science demonstration. The demonstration was a dramatic science show that captivated young audiences while teaching science. The kids loved the chance to get hands on and played for several hours. We all enjoyed working together to figure out things on a number of the exhibits.
In July W5 was busy as expected. Arrive early to beat the crowds. We arrived at opening and had much of our visit completed before it got over crowded. Throughout our visit a number of staff were cleaning and maintaining exhibits and play areas. However I did find some of the touch screen activities were broken or difficult to work. Although I found this a bit disappointing, the kids didn’t seem to mind.
I have to be honest I was in two minds about going here. I had heard the museum contains a lot of reading which is lost on young kids. Our previous visit to the Titanic Experience Cobh has really peaked an interest in the Titanic with both kids and they really pushed to go. Titanic Belfast focuses on the famous shipyard that built the Titanic and employed much of the city at the time. Titanic Belfast takes visitors on a tour of the shipyard where you can walk the decks and learn what life was like working on the building of Titanic and other ships. The focus of this exhibit is really on Boomtown Belfast and the building of the Titanic. As you can’t talk about Titanic without acknowledging the sinking the museum does touch on this but the main focus remains the building of Titanic and the city at the time.
The kids received their own treasure map and were challenged to find a number of characters throughout the museum.
It’s true there is a lot of reading throughout the exhibition. If we hadn’t had the kids in tow I agree that us grown-ups possibly would have read and learned more. However, the Titanic Belfast has gone to lengths to make it accessible to children. This Irish Girl and This Irish Boy enjoyed seeking out staff members to ask specific questions to complete their scavenger hunt. Huge kudos to the staff who all interacted with the children and helped them learn more about Titanic.
Don’t miss the SS Nomadic, Titanic’s “sister ship.” This ship was built alongside Titanic and has been restored to great condition. Admission to the SS Nomadic comes with your ticket. The kids loved roaming around the ship and we all got a better sense of what life was like back in the early 1900s.
**If I had more time in Belfast I would have totally booked afternoon tea for myself and This Irish Girl at the bottom of a replica of Titanic’s grand staircase (the replica isn’t included in admission to the Titanic Belfast).
Before we hit the road home to Cork we wanted to burn some of the kids’ energy and paid a visit to the Gruffalo! The Colin Glen Forest Park is located just outside of the city centre and is home to the Gruffalo Trail. A forest walk where visitors wander along the path and encounter sculptures from the beloved children’s story. Admission to the park is FREE. The path is paved and accessible to all. There are just enough inclines that tired the kids for part of our trip home!
You can visit on your own or book into one of the special events which includes a story reading along the walk. There is a tea room and gift shop as well as toilets at the entry to the park.
This Irish Family Top Tips:
Where we stayed: We stayed in the Premier Inn on Alfred Street. It was reliable and affordable. The city centre location suited us and the walls were well insulated so our stay was quiet. Parking and breakfast however were not included.
Where we ate: The city has plenty of restaurants to choose from. We did enjoy Brooklyn Sq kid friendly, good prices and HUGE portions.
Where we shopped: Victoria Square shopping centre is Belfast’s largest shopping centre. There are plenty of family friendly restaurants as well as fast food outlets if you’re hungry. We didn’t get much shopping done beyond visiting Build-A-Bear which of course the kids loved! It was our first time at Build-A-Bear and we spent way more than we thought we would.
It was a great few days in Belfast and there is plenty we didn’t get to see or do. This Irish Family will definitely be back again. It was great to see a booming city that has so much to offer. Although we were with the kids it was apparent that there is a great nightlife to Belfast. With so much to do trips to Belfast can grow with our kids! We already can’t wait to take the kids back to all the museums when they are a bit older!
Belfast has clawed back from its challenges of the past to a vibrant and thriving city today that all families should visit!