Belfast, Northern Ireland with Kids
What better place to head on New Year’s Day than Belfast in Northern Ireland. The ticket price on EasyJet was right and we figured the weather couldn’t be any worse than what we would face in the Netherlands. What we didn’t know is that we would be arriving just in time to be bashed by winter storm Eleanor, a storm that caused the Dutch to close their storm surge gates. (Read about that here.) Despite the cold and rain we found plenty to explore in this lovely capital city. We also found Belfast to be one of the most eye opening places we’ve visited as we saw first -and the division that still exists in the country.
Schiphol was still dressed in its Christmas best on New Year’s Day when we arrived to fly to Belfast. Heading to Northern Ireland you must pass through passport control at Schiphol, so it’s good to arrive a bit early. We were hoping to grab breakfast at the Priority Pass Lounge but found it was full. This is an experience that is all too frequent at the non-Schengen lounges at Schiphol.
It is an easy hour and a half flight from Amsterdam to Belfast. The Belfast airport is easy to navigate. The car rentals are on location so we had no trouble picking up our car. We did pay extra for an automatic which really took the pressure off of Jeff, since we would already be driving on the opposite side of the road. In the past he has done a manual, but this was a much more relaxing experience and worth the extra cost.
We headed directly to our rental house to get settled in. The place was perfect. It offered a small fully stocked kitchen and plenty of space for our family. The Little Little was in serious need of a nap and the Big Little was uncharacteristically mellow. I opted to stay with them, particularly once we found a marathon of The Great British Bakeoff on TV.
Jeff headed out with the Middle Little to do a bit of exploring and pick up some groceries and diapers for the trip. They walked over to Queen’s University and explored the campus a bit.
There is no shortage of great places to eat in Belfast. Walking distance from our apartment were so many options we had trouble making a choice. We finally settled on Fratelli knowing it was kid friendly. The Big and Middle both ordered the make your own pizza kids plate which came with enough food to feed the Little Little as well. The menu has so many choices that adults are sure to find something they enjoy. We walked home and got everyone tucked into bed knowing it would be an early start.
We hit up C.S. Lewis Square the next morning after breakfast at the apartment. The park is perfect to visit early in the day before other attractions are open. We parked in a free lot across from the park. It was wet and cold but we still enjoyed tracking down all the familiar characters from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
The timing was perfect for us since we just finished the book as our read aloud book in December. The Big Little loved running along the path and introducing his younger brothers to all the characters.
He steered us all clear of the White Witch, warning us not to eat her Turkish Delight.
We fond the beaver family who helped us find the right path to discover Aslan.
The great lion looms over the amphitheater. We thought that was the end but the Big Little insisted that the stone table must be around there.
Sure enough, we found it on the other side of the open space.
The next stop was my favorite. We visited the RMS Titanic Museum. There is paid parking under the museum. It is your only option in this area if you have driven the car.
The museum is incredibly well laid out. It focuses on the full history of the Titanic from its first steel beam to the pieces that lay beneath the ocean’s surface. There are sections on the pop culture hysteria that have surrounded it since it met its terrible end.
The museum sits where the Titanic was built. The first part of the museum takes you through the history of the shipbuilding yards that have always been a huge part of Belfast’s economy. I could have spent the better part of the day in this museum reading every sign board.
The museum has a lovely children’s activity book that kept the kids engaged enough for us to do quite a bit more reading than we typically get to do at museums. They had dolls to hunt for that were hidden in each museum section. They also had questions to answer, many of which required our kids to ask questions of the staff. Our kids loved this and learned so much on the tour. At the end they got certificates.
While visiting the museum you can actually look out and see where Titanic was built. The slips are marked in the concrete and visible from the glass walls of the museum.
The museum is packed with interactive exhibits, a ride, movies and hands-on displays. It’s a museum you won’t soon forget. The entry tickets are timed so the museum never gets too crowded. If you are visiting during peak tourist season you may want to book your tickets ahead of time.
We ended up eating a delicious lunch in the restaurant at the museum. They had lots of choices and high chairs so it worked out perfectly for us.
While you are down in the dock area don’t miss viewing Sampson and Goliath. These two large gantry cranes dominate the skyline of Belfast. If you have transportation loving kids, like we do, they will be in awe of these two giants.
We drove a bit closer to check them out because the boys were so enthralled.
Next we headed to the Belfast TI to pick up our Black Cab Tour. You can pop into the TI and they will call you a Black Cab Tour which takes you into the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods of Belfast illustrating the violence and tensions that exist. On the tour you ride in the back of the black cab and hop out at important spots around the city. We were amazed by the murals and walls on both sides celebrating the violence that still exists here. The price is fixed, so you don’t have to be nervous about being scammed. Expect to pay around 35 GBP for a full cab.
The kids did incredibly well on the tour. We were a bit worried it wouldn’t be appropriate. They loved riding around in the cab and we fed them snacks as we drove. You get in and out enough that the kids were engaged and never bored.
Our last stop was the Belfast City Hall. We had to go in the back as they were cleaning up from their Christmas Market. Belfast City Hall is home to a free museum so it’s worth popping in to check out.
The boys really loved the over-the-top Christmas decorations inside the City Hall.
I always love seeing old buildings all decorated.
We also enjoyed some of the exhibits, like finding a grandpa look alike in the city Mayor exhibit.
We also found the key to South Bend (home or our alma maters) as a sister city to Belfast. The boys had had enough though and were ready to settle down for the night. We picked up burritos for dinner and enjoyed them back at the apartment to the continuation of the Great British Bakeoff marathon. At this point winter storm Eleanor was in full swing and we were happy to be warm inside.
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