Monday, 16 December 2013

48 Hours in Belfast

Christmas at Europa Hotel Belfast

This weekend, I spent a fabulous 48 hours in the Northern Ireland city of Belfast with the lovely Kat from Lady Loves Cake. I’m going to tell you all about our stay in the next couple of weeks but I thought I’d give you a quick idea of all there is to do in this friendly and enchanting city. First, let me share some valuable advice:

  • 48 hours is not nearly enough to spend in Belfast. If you have planned a weekend of leisure and relaxation as we did, it is entirely possible that you won’t have enough time to take in all the sights. That said, I wouldn’t change our weekend for the world and I’ve returned to London feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
  • If you’re visiting Belfast, you must pack walking shoes! Belfast is a compact city and it is really easy to get around on foot. High heeled, knee high boots might look great, but your feet will not be very happy once you reach the 5km mark.
  • Compared to London, taxis in Belfast are really affordable. There are also bus and train routes across the city. If you are short of time like we were, consider catching a taxi or bus. To give you an idea, we caught taxis both to and from the airport as well as between our hotels and each trip was about £8.50. Obviously, the more of you there are, the more affordable this becomes.

Getting to Belfast from London

I’m always on the lookout for destinations that I can easily visit in a weekend and getting to Belfast was extremely easy. We caught the Gatwick Express from Blackfriars after work on Friday and then caught the 19:40 Flybe flight to Belfast City. We learned at the airport that the Flybe service might be changing in 2014 but there are also reasonable easyJet and Aer Lingus flights from Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted and Luton which fly to both Belfast City and Belfast International.

There is no shortage of things to do while in Belfast and I will absolutely be returning. However, if it is a weekend of luxury and relaxation that you are after, might I suggest that you follow our itinerary?

The Piano Lounge at the Europa Hotel

Drinks in The Piano Lounge at the Europa Hotel

The strains of laughter and piano music could be heard as we made our way up the circular staircase to The Piano Lounge at the Europa Hotel. The atmosphere was festive and every seat in the lounge was filled with groups relaxing before or after Christmas functions. We soon found a seat by the window overlooking Belfast’s most famous pub, the Crown Liquor Saloon and we chatted the night away while Belfast’s best December weather blustered away outside.

The Christmas Market at City Hall Belfast

Take a walk around Belfast

With everything in Belfast so conveniently central, it makes perfect sense to explore the city centre and surrounds by foot. You can head south to the Ulster Museum and Belfast Botanical Gardens, both of which have free entry or you can head north east to waterfront to visit the brand new Titanic Quarter and Titanic Experience. We had so little time that we opted to head east to see the murals in the Falls Road and then we headed back into the city centre to spend a far more festive time in the Christmas Market at City Hall.

Afternoon tea at Europa Hotel

Enjoy a Festive Afternoon Tea in the Europa Hotel

The first thing you will notice at afternoon tea at the Europa Hotel is how well thought out and intentional each part of your experience is. Helen McCune was on hand to explain every choice between the impressive selection of 10 Thompson’s Family Teas, the locally-sourced produce and the seasonal afternoon tea menu variations. Look out for the superb County Down roast turkey finger sandwiches with savoury stuffing – we had to ask for a second serving!

The Crozier Lounge at the Culloden Estate and Spa

Live Jazz and Cocktails at the Culloden Estate and Spa

The moment I saw the beautiful Crozier Lounge located in the old chapel of the Culloden Hotel, I knew that I wanted to spend an evening there enjoying drinks by the fireside. As it turns out, we were in for a treat. As we sipped our respective rum and gin cocktails, we were entertained by a fabulous jazz trio playing a mixture of Christmas tunes and jazz favourites. The trio were only meant to play short sets but they proved to be extremely popular and played for over 90 minutes as patrons streamed from the restaurant to listen to them. It was a fabulous, memorable evening and we were glad to have secured seats before the lounge got busy.

The Spa at Culloden

Unwind and relax at The Spa at Culloden

There is something wonderful about floating in a swimming pool in a warm, bright and airy spa, oblivious to the cold and rainy wintery weather beyond. We splashed about in the pool, relaxed in the Jacuzzi, spent time in the steam room and cooled off under the refreshing monsoon showers before another dip in the pool and time spent snoozing on the recliners. It is the first time I’ve ever gone to a spa during the winter months but for just a couple of hours, I was filled with brightness, warmth and light to chase away the winter darkness. Highly recommended!

Afternoon tea at Culloden Hotel

Experience Afternoon Tea in the Culloden Hotel

The Mitre dining room at Culloden Hotel overlooks the Belfast Lough and the mountains of County Antrim beyond. It is certainly the best view I have ever encountered during an afternoon tea. It is here that you’ll encounter the fluffiest scones you have ever tasted as well as the perfect ham sandwich. The view, food and service set this afternoon tea experience apart from any I’ve previously experienced.

We had a wonderful time in Belfast and I can’t wait to tell you more about our experiences there. From the people to the service (always with a smile) to the accents and atmosphere, Belfast has become one of my top destinations in the United Kingdom. Dare we say love at first sight?

I’m keenly aware of what we didn’t see during our all too short time in Belfast. What would you recommend for our next visit?

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© 2008 - Mandy Southgate | Emm in London

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