There are so many reasons why Northern Ireland should be on your radar. Including high calorie food (ok, so maybe not a reason for some of you, but fried potato bread, anyone?), exceptional architecture, stunning scenery, and some surprisingly fine weather.
I feel like I say this about so many places I visit, and perhaps I intentionally set my expectations low, but I loved Belfast and NI way more than I was ever expecting to. And when one of your besties moves to Belfast and you’re about to move half way back across the world, it really would be rude not to visit!
Shout out to Ferg for being my personal chauffeur and to my Northern Irish brother Dave for some excellent archi tips. Get yourself to Belfast… fast! L xx
One of the best things about having friends who live around the world is having a ready made free place to stay, haha (no, really, it’s actually having a local guide who can show you the sights). If I didn’t have somewhere to stay in Belfast, you’d find me at Bullitt Hotel for sure. Designed by Belfast based ADO, make a visit to Bullitt for the restaurant and bar even if you’re not staying.
ARCHITECTURE & SIGHTS
The MAC is reason enough to visit Belfast. Spearheading the local arts and culture scene, the Hall McKnight designed complex is an architectural gem. Think pared back simplicity, terrazzo, concrete, brick, light play, and spatial complexity - The MAC is as delightful in real life as it is through a lens. If there is one thing not be missed in Belfast (especially for the archinerds), it’s The MAC… (I’m not sure if you can tell that I loved it). I also challenge you to not get 'Return of the Mack' stuck in your head for the entire day!
Take a walk through the Botanical Gardens and go see brutalist beauty, the Ulster Museum. The juxtaposition (archinerding real hard) of the original 1929 building with the brutalist concrete forms of the 1972 addition are truly sublime.
At the complete other end of the spectrum aesthetic wise is The Belfast City Hall - all pomp, marble, and ceremony. Still worth a quick nosy.
Outside of the city, Northern Ireland has some insane natural beauty to explore. If you’re a GoT fan, then you may well recognise a couple of these beauties.
The Dark Hedges were planted two centuries ago to impress visitors to Gracehill House and they are certainly impressive!
I had been dying to see The Giant’s Causeway for a while and NI really put on a show with the weather. The incredible views are matched by the incredibly clever architecture of the Visitor Centre by Heneghan Peng, reminiscent of the rock formations but in no way twee. The hexagonal rock pillars are so perfectly formed that they almost don’t look real.
Not too far from The Giant’s Causeway, is the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Don’t make the mistake I did and forget to look up the opening times (rookie error). If you're remotely afraid of heights though, you might want to skip crossing the bridge itself - it looks a real heart racer.
FOOD & DRINK
You could start the day the Northern Irish way, with a traditional Ulster Fry - bacon, white pudding, black pudding, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, and two different types of fried bread (YES, soda bread and potato bread!). Or… you could start the day at Established serving up some of the best coffee in town along with delicious (and mighty photogenic) food. It's also right around the corner from The MAC.
And lastly, make sure you have a Guinness (or two) at the most famous bar in Belfast, The Crown Bar. Now owned by the National Trust, the highly detailed interior has been beautifully restored. Would you just look at that floor!!!