"Your feet will bring you to where your heart is." - Irish proverb
In May 2018, we flew out to Ireland for 12 days. Northern Ireland which, is part of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
Ireland was split into two in 1920 and next year, this division shall clock a century. Northern Ireland continued to be part of the United Kingdom while Southern Ireland became a sovereign state, named Ireland or sometimes called the Republic of Ireland.
We decided to break our annual 3 weeks international holiday between Northern Ireland, Ireland and London. We wanted to revisit our memories of London and when we learnt that we could travel to both countries on a single Visa, our plan got unanimous approval. The British Irish Visa Scheme between Ireland and the United Kingdom allow for travel to and around the Common Travel Area (CTA) on a single visa. This applies to visitors from India and China, for a start.
Here, I present our personal itinerary for a 12 days trip to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for those who wish to mirror the same. For those with more time in hand, I suggest you further break down this itinerary to a slower pace that suits you and your family. Also, for those who has less, you can always pick and choose from the attractions mentioned. No time or budget is more or less when travelling.
12 days to 2 weeks
► Currency used
British Pound £ is the local currency in Northern Ireland Euro € in the Republic of Ireland
► Best time to travel
Indian and Chinese nationals can visit the UK and Ireland on a single visa in and around the Common Travel Area, for a short stay. US citizens with valid passports can enter the UK and Ireland visa-free for tourism / business, for up to 6 months and 3 months, respectively. European and Swiss nationals do not require a visa to visit, live or work in the UK and Ireland.
► Public transport
Translink is Northern Ireland's main public transport provider. You can download the mLink app from Google Play or App Store or visit the official website translink for more information. Bus transport is the main form of public transport in Ireland, common in most urban cities. Visit Transport For Ireland for more information. In Dublin, DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit); the city's electric rail system allows one to visit and discover the many beautiful sights along the coast of the Irish Sea, from Malahide or Howth in north County Dublin to as far as Greystones in County Wicklow. Visit Iarnród Éireann Irish Rail for further information. City Direct and Bus Eireann are the two companies currently running city bus services in Galway City. Visit www.buseireann.ie for more information.
► Tourist information centres
From this point on, I am including a Table of Contents for easy flow and quick reference. I also intend to break down this post into few sub-posts, with each post focussing on one specific region. Accordingly, I shall add on to the Table of Contents.
Table of Contents
4 days in Northern Ireland - Exploring Belfast and the northern countryside Mode of travel - Phase I (Mumbai, India to Belfast, Northern Ireland)Accommodation in Belfast - the base for exploring Northern Ireland Day 1 - Self-walking tour of the city centre in Belfast and an absolute mandatory drink for the adults and ice-cream for the kidDay 2 - Day trip to Giant's Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge ItineraryThings to noteAlternative transport optionsDays 3 and 4 - City Sightseeing Hop-on-Hop-Off 48 hour Tour A week in the Republic of Ireland - exploring the west and east coasts3 days exploring Galway and the Bay and Cliff Coasts Mode of travel Accommodation in Galway Day 1 - Exploring Latin Quartet and Claddagh Quay Day 2 - Day Trip to Aran Islands, the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren Itinerary Things to note Alternative transport options Day 3 - Exploring the City, things to see and do in Galway 4 days in Northern Ireland - Exploring Belfast and the northern countryside
One of the most gorgeous places I have visited. Despite its size (the smallest country in the UK), the sheer scenic beauty of Northern Ireland shall leave you gasping at every sight you chance upon. The diverse landscape; the picturesque Atlantic coast-line, the spectacular cliff-tops and mountain ranges, the delightful islands and gales have plenty to offer to travellers from around the world to explore and experience.
And Belfast, the capital city is an amalgamation of ancient customs, unforgotten history and rich heritage. It is a vibrant city with multitude of activities, lively restaurants and pubs and varied choice of accommodations. We chose Belfast as the base for our exploration of Northern Ireland for its uniqueness; it is part of the United Kingdom and at the same time, has a geographical and historical connect with Ireland.
Mode of travel - Phase I (Mumbai, India to Belfast, Northern Ireland)
► Leg 1 - 9 hours direct flight from Mumbai to Heathrow Airport, London. JetAirways used to have a direct flight prior to 2019. There are various other options but mostly, with stop-overs. We normally use MakeMyTrip for our flight bookings. We also make it a point to check the official website of the travelling airline for further information and assistance. Immigration formalities were completed in Heathrow.
► Leg 2 - 55 minutes flight to Belfast, the capital city of Northern Ireland. British Airways flies daily to Belfast. After some freshening up and refreshments, we were ready.
► Leg 3 - Airport to accommodation
By taxi / cab - The International Airport Taxi Company, located right outside the terminal building is available 24×7. It took us from the George Best Belfast City Airport to our Airbnb accommodation at 7 Joanmount Park, in less than 30 mins. It cost us a good £30, very steep but there was no direct public transport facility available and after almost 16+ hours of checking-in, travel, halt and more travel, we prudently decided on the taxi. By rental car - You can rent your car of choice right at the airport if you plan to self-drive around Ireland. This is the most budget-friendly option and includes insurance at a separate cost. You can best optimise your visit with a rental car that allows you to visit places which are otherwise inaccessible, not even connected by public transport. However, please make an informed decision because you are actually going to drive in two separate countries; there could be two different set of rules and documentation required. There could also be additional charges. You will find numerous car rental agencies like Europcar, Budget, Hertz, Sixt in the Arrivals hall. By Airport shuttle - Airport Express 300 operates every 15 minutes on weekdays and weekends. The bus stop is located opposite the terminal exit and stops at Templepatrick, Royal Avenue and Belfast Europa Centre. From these locations, you can find the desired bus to your lodgings. For those with a higher travel budget, private transfers can be arranged with a professional driver for pick and drop.
Accommodation in Belfast
As always, we booked ours through Airbnb. A detached self contained small bungalow at 7 Joanmount Park, behind the main house occupied by the hosts. About 20 minutes away from the city centre and well connected by public bus service. At a fare of £2, it took us to the city centre from just across the lane. At a cost of £6 - £8 by taxi, if need arose.
There are various other options available to book your lodgings. From high-end to budget hotels, hostels and couch-sharing; everything is available online. Fire up Google and enter your criteria to select the most suitable accommodation for you and your family.
My tip when booking your accommodation - Book closer to the city centre (within 10-15 minutes walking distance) or a well connected public transport stop (in front, across or the next lane). This might raise the price of the accommodation but cuts down on the commuting cost.
Day 1 - Self-walking tour of the city centre in Belfast and an absolute mandatory drink for the adults and ice-cream for the kid
With the better part of the day over and jet-lag gripping us, we rustled up lunch at home and enjoyed a short nap. The bus no. 12A took us from Carr's Glen bus stop to the city centre stop (opposite the City Hall) in 15 mins. It was close to 5 PM, the city centre was not overly crowded. We began what we call our 'leisure' walking tour; Donegall Square, Royal Avenue, Victoria street, enjoying the sights and sounds and watching the crowd before settling down for a quick bite and drink. The walk rejuvenated us as we tried to get adjusted to the wind and chill.
Things of notice for later exploration
Belfast City Hall Grand Opera House St. George's Market St. Anne's Cathedral Castle Court Shopping Centre
The mandatory drink ????
Day 2 - Day trip to Giant's Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Pre-booked online, in advance, through Viator. It gave a small discount on each booking. e-voucher is accepted.
1st stop - The Dark Hedges, Ballymoney, Northern Ireland. A great photo opportunity for Game of Thrones (GOT) fans. A key filming location, the tour allows you 15-20 minutes to admire the Dark Hedges. The trees were planted 270 years ago by the Stuart family as a driveway to their Gracehill Manor. 2nd stop - Giant's Causeway, Bushmills, Northern Ireland. This spectacular landscape made up of interlocking basalt columns, formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. A good 1.5 hours to enjoy this UNESCO World Heritage Site, climb the gigantic formations and click pictures. 3rd stop - Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Ballintoy, Northern Ireland. Along the coast, we head towards this 66-foot long bridge that links the mainland to the Carrick-a-rede Island. Approximately 1 hour 20 minutes to explore, either cross the bridge (only when weather permits and the bridge is open) or hike to enjoy views of nearby Sheep Island and the Mull of Kintyre. We were fortunate to experience this crossing. 4th stop - The Caves of Cushendun, Cushendun, Northern Ireland. On the way back, a quick 15 minutes to explore the 400-million-years-old caves often used in the filming of GOT. However, you don't have to be a fan of the show to enjoy the dark, over-whelming beauty of these ancient caves.
Back in Belfast by 6:30 PM with enough time to partake dinner and a few drinks in a local pub before heading to our accommodation, this time by taxi.
► Things to note
Cost - £32 adult / £30 youth (0-18 years) Duration - 9 hours Departure & Return time - 9:30 AM & 6:30 PM, respectively. Departure & Return point - 31 Chichester Street, outside the entrance of Top Shop and across the road from Garrick Bar. Inclusions - Transport by air-conditioned coach, professional guide, live commentary on board, access to all attractions without extra charges. Cross Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge only when it is open to public. Exclusions - Food and drinks and Hotel pick-up / drop-off. Please carry refreshments especially, when travelling with kids.
► Alternative transport options to the listed attractions in the above itinerary
◆ From Belfast to The Dark Hedges, Ballymoney.
By self-driven car, about an hour. By bus and taxi, approximately 2 hours. Bus no. 218 / 218a (every 2 hours, daily) from Belfast Bridge Street to Cloughmills Park and Ride, at £8-£12. A 15 minute taxi ride to The Dark Hedges, at £30-£35. By train and taxi, approximately 2 hours. Hourly train from Belfast Lanyon Place to Ballymoney, at £8-£12. A 15 minute taxi ride to The Dark Hedges, at £30-£35. You can also choose to walk the 30 minutes from Cloughmills Park and Ride / Ballymoney to reach the Dark Hedges.
◆ From The Dark Hedges to Giant's Causeway, Bushmills
By self-driven car, about 30 minutes. By taxi, 30 minutes at £35-£40. Public transport is practically non-existent for this route.
◆ From Giant's Causeway to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Ballintoy
By self-driven car, about 15-20 minutes. By taxi, about 15-20 minutes, at £25-£30. By bus, about an hour and 15 minutes. Walk about 2.5 kms / 30 minutes to Giant's Causeway The Nook bus stop. Bus no. 172 / 402 / 402a (hourly) towards Ballycastle shall take you to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge bus stop, at £4-£6.
► From Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge to the Caves, Cushendun
By self-driven car, about 25-30 minutes. By taxi, about £25-30 minutes, at £45-£50. By bus, about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Walk about 1.7 kms / 20 minutes to Ballintoy Carrick-a-Rede Bridge bus stop. Bus no. 402 / 402a / 172 / 172b (hourly) shall take you to Ballycastle Marine Corner bus stop, at £4-£6. From there, bus no. 162a (twice, daily) shall take you to Cushendun Square bus stop, at £4.50-£7. Walk another 950 meters, approximately / 12 mins to reach the caves.
► From the Cushendun Caves to Belfast Europa Bus Centre
By self-driven car, about an hour. By bus, about 2 hours 45 minutes. Walk back to the Cushendun Square bus stop and take bus no. 150 (4 times, daily) to Ballymena, at £6.50-£10. From there, take bus no. 218 /218a / 219 219b (hourly) to Belfast Europa Bus Centre, at £7.50-£12. By bus and train, about 2 hours 45 minutes. Walk back to the Cushendun Square bus stop and take bus no. 150 (4 times, daily) to Ballymena, at £6.50-£10. Transfer to the train station and take the hourly train to Belfast Lanyon Place station or Belfast Great Victoria Street staion, at £7-£11.
I earnestly suggest that you download the Rome2rio app from Google Play / App Store or visit the website Rome2rio when planning your trips. It is a superb application that provides all travel options, booking information and so on.
However, my sincere request is to avoid public transport in Ireland. It is time consuming, increases your commuting budget and can get tiring and long, especially when you are travelling with children.
The Dark Hedges
The basalt columns
The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge crossing
The Cushendun Caves
Days 3 and 4 - City Sightseeing Hop-on-Hop-Off 48 hour Tour
I consider the Hop-on-Hop-off City tour a MUST in bigger cities, the best means to an in-depth feel of the city. You can always hop off to explore an attraction of your choice and hop back on once done. Also, it brings down the local commuting cost.
Pre-booked online, in advance, through Viator. You can also book your tickets on BelfastCitySightseeing and have the option of choosing either the 24 hours or 48 hours tour. Paper voucher is mandatory.
With the 2 days / 48 hours pass, you can choose to either stay on the bus (I suggest, for the first ride, at least) or hop-on and hop-off at any of the route's 23 locations.
Some attractions along the tour route:
Stormont and Parliament Buildings - Houses the Parliament buildings that are open to the public between 9am and 4pm, Monday to Friday. Take a free tour of the building and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the Estate. The River Lagan - Enjoy a quiet walk along the river and take pleasure in watching a variety of wildlife. St. George's Market - Open on Fridays (6:00 AM to 3:00 PM), Saturdays (9:00 AM to 3:00 PM) and Sundays (10:00 AM to 4:00 PM), this is Belfast's oldest attraction offering a wide range of fresh products. To the beat of live music; you can browse the various food and crafts stall, have your pick from international cusines and generally, have a glorious time. Victoria Square Mall - Not for just the shopping and restaurants. Visit the spectacular Dome for a 360º view of Belfast. Opening hours: 9:30 AM to 7:00 PM. The Titanic Quarter - Choose from a variety of attractions that could keep you and your kids occupied the whole day. Visit the Titanic's Dock and Pump-house, experience the most famous ship in the world, take a ride on the Wee-Tram and so much more. The Cathedral Quarter and the St. Anne's Cathedral - The Cathedral Quarter has the St. Anne's Cathedral and interesting literary quotations curved in stone on the pebbled road outside its entrance. Bustling with bars and restaurants it is a vibrant place for some night life. The Crumlin Road Gaol - Popularly known as the Crum, the Crumlin Goal was a prison and is known for its historical and architectural significance. You can take a guided tour and learn more of its disturbing history. Priced at £7, the daily tours are between 10:00 AM and 4:30 PM. You can also be part of the other tours like Paranormal tour, Victorian tour and so on. Please visit crumlinroadgoal for more information. The Belfast Peace Walls - The first of these was built in 1969 as a measure to keep the Republicans and Loyalists apart after a series of riots. Over time, due to their effectiveness more walls kept getting built. The city has a violent past and these peace walls or lines are symbolic of that sad history. Now, they are a dominant tourist attraction. The political wall murals - These walls best depict the violent history of Northern Ireland. Take a walk along to discover depictions of 'The Troubles', also known internationally as the Northern Ireland conflict. The University Quarter - Dotted with innumerable restaurants, pubs and budget accommodations, the University Quarter caters to the student crowd. The Queen University is the architectural centre-piece of this vibrant and colourful side of Belfast. You can also stoll and relax on the extensive grounds of the Botanic gardens, have a picnic and enjoy this beautiful public park. Belfast City Hall and City Centre - The city's civic body is housed in the City Hall located in the city centre. You can avail free public tours Monday to Friday at 11:00 AM, 2:00 PM and 3:00 PM and, Saturday and Sunday at 12 noon, 2:00PM and 3:00 PM. You can also take the opportunity to laze around its beautiful lawns and have a picnic. Castle Court Shopping Centre - This shopping centre on Royal Avenue is the answer to your much needed shopping therapy. With over 80 retail stores including cafes and food joints, it is family-friendly and a great place to spend time especially, when it is raining outside.
► Things to note
Cost - £12.50 adult / £6 child (3-15 years) Duration - 90 minutes, if you stay on the bus Frequency - Every 30 minutes Departure & Return time - First tour starts at 10:00 AM and last tour ends at 4:30 PM (March - October), 4:00 PM (November - December), 3:00 PM (January - February). Departure & Return point - Start and disembark at any of the spots listed in the itinerary. You are provided with a map with all the attractions and spots listed down for your convenience. Inclusions - 2 days unlimited hop-on-hop-off bus pass, on-board audio commentary available in several languages + free headphones and discount booklet for local attractions and tours. Exclusions - Food and drinks and Hotel pick-up / drop-off
Hop-on-hop-off City Tour Route Courtesy 'Belfastcitysighseeing'
The Parliament Buildings
The Botanic Gardens
St. Anne's Cathedral
The Belfast City Hall
This was a great way to explore Belfast which has lots to offer. You can best optimise your time without having to worry about parking spots and parking fees across the many attractions in the city or spend time waiting at public bus stops and train stations. Belfast is a city steeped in history and the presence of the knowledgeable guide made the tour even more interesting. Her repertoire of the rich history, culture, and customs made this tour worthwhile. I highly recommend the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing tour.
If you have another day or two in hand, you can choose to break down the Day 2 itinerary into two days. This shall give you more time to explore the attractions at a slower pace and using the public transport becomes more feasible. Or, you can include another guided or self-driven day trip to Derry / Londonderry, the second largest city in Northern Ireland.
When I started to write this post, I did not realise that it could get so elaborate. A such, I have decided to present the itinerary part by part. This makes it simpler for me and I believe, for the reader too.
My next part of the Ireland itinerary shall cover our 3 days in Galway; our experiences and explorations in Galway, and the Bay and Cliff Coasts.
Till then... Bon voyage... to lands, known and unknown.