With family festivals galore, the world’s leading tourist attraction and currently holding the accolade of ‘Best UK City’, why not come and find out ‘What’s the craic?’ in Northern Ireland’s capital…
By Nadia Duncan
Belfast is just a short skip across the Irish Sea and the speedy 35 minute Flybe flight time isn’t the only reason that makes it a wonderful getaway destination to take the kids. Once you step off the plane there are a multitude of activities to enjoy lots of fun en famille. Impossible to miss from a window seat view just before you land, and minutes from the City airport, is the impressive sight of the ‘King of the World!’ of top places to visit – Titanic Belfast. Beating off stiff competition from eight global finalists – the venue sailed to victory in December to be crowned the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction. To date, the must-see building has attracted over three million visitors from across the globe. Described by The Guardian as “an inspiring testament to the Titanic and the city that built it” inside discover the true legend of the most famous ship in history over nine interactive galleries with special effects, dark rides, full-scale reconstructions and an ocean exploration centre. Open all year round, step back in time to take afternoon tea in the opulent surroundings of the Titanic Suite featuring the stunning replica Grand Staircase, and right outside, berthed next to Titanic, you can climb on board SS Nomadic – the last remaining White Star Line ship in the world. Also of interest nearby is Titanic Studios, where HBO’s hugely popular fantasy drama Game of Thrones is shot. Tours of the studio are not possible, but there are independently operated trips available from Belfast for fans to visit filming locations including The King’s Road, Winterfell, The Wall and Dragonstone.
Remaining in the Titanic Quarter of the City, a short five-minute stroll will take you to the SSE Arena, home to the city’s ice hockey team the Belfast Giants, and one of my children’s favourite spots, W5 – Northern Ireland’s award-winning science and discovery centre. Children are natural born scientists and this is the perfect place to let them imagine, explore, play and have fun. With over 250 amazing interactive exhibits across four exhibition areas, W5 provides a unique experience and fantastic fun for inquisitive minds of all ages. There are also frequently visiting exhibitions and events, which are free to attend with the general entrance admission, and a daily programme of live science demonstrations. Active kids will love scaling the heights of Climbit, an eleven-metre tall structure, towering above three floors, and there’s also plenty for younger visitors to explore. In the town of Discovery children can learn about themselves and the world around them, play animal sounds in the farmyard, paddle in a virtual rock pool at the beach or flick through digital storybooks in the castle.
If you want to see as much of Belfast as possible on your trip, cross the Lagan Weir Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge to Belfast’s premier shopping and dining hub Victoria Square, home to over 70 stores, cafes and restaurants. Take the glass elevator to the iconic Dome and enjoy spectacular panoramic views that stretch for miles across the city. On-hand tour guide Gerry is also available to point out areas of interest such as Belfast Castle, the Harland & Wolff Cranes and Belfast City Hall. Free tours run hourly each day from 10am to 4pm. Another great shopping destination to really give you a flavour of Belfast is one of the city’s oldest attractions St. George’s Market on East Bridge Street. Open on Fridays and weekends, browse food and local arts and crafts stalls and hear live music performances on Sundays.
Another must-see area of the city is the Cathedral Quarter, the cultural hub of the city. In Talbot Street, adjacent to St. Anne’s Cathedral, discover more of the city’s wartime past and the infamous Belfast Blitz at the Northern Ireland War Memorial. The free museum tells the story of the Ulster Home Guard, the role played by women in the war and the presence of US forces from 1942 to 1944. The museum also hosts regular family fun events where children can speak to living history specialists and try craft activities. Next stop just around the corner, The Metropolitan Arts Centre, aka The MAC welcomes all families to stop by and relax or play in their family room, peruse one of the visiting art exhibitions or take in a show at one of their two theatres.
If you do decide to pay Belfast a visit with your clan early in this new year, then February and March really are excellent months to go. From February 16-26 there will be infinite ideas for awesome entertainment at over 150 events at venues across the city during the 2017 NI Science Festival. Most events are open to the public and include an eclectic mix of talks, theatres, comedy, workshops music and film. And the first month of spring will bring not only one of the biggest celebrations of the year, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade with free concert, but also with kids’ entertainment at the top of its priority list, the 19th Belfast Children’s Festival (March 10-15). Discover a diverse range of the very best art forms for children and young people from both local artists and from across the world, including free events, workshops, exhibitions and activities. Highlights include the Big Festival Days Out Weekend (March 11 & 12), two jam-packed days at Titanic Quarter and the city’s Botanic Gardens with performances from NI Opera and the Ulster Orchestra’s instrument petting zoo.
For family-friendly events and fun things to do in Belfast visit ni4kids.com or download the ni4kids app
Flybe currently offers a choice of up to five flights daily from Edinburgh Airport to George Best Belfast City Airport. Departing at 07:05 on Friday and with the last returning flight on a Sunday at 20:20 visitors can make the most of a weekend break in the city. Lead-in fares for a single journey from Edinburgh to Belfast start at £24.99 including taxes and charges. Flybe also regularly offers promotional fares so it’s always worth checking the website for the best deals at flybe.com. Located three miles from the city centre, the journey from the airport takes approximately 10 minutes by taxi or there is also the option of the Airport Express 600 Bus.