Today I thought I would share my recent trip to Belfast. I love Belfast and it has been a good few years since I was last there. Since my last trip, Belfast and Northern Ireland as a whole have become a popular place to visit for Game of Thrones fans.
I have to admit I’m not a massive Game of Thrones fan. I’ve read 4 of the books and stopped watching the TV show somewhere around season 5. Over the last few months, several different Game of Thrones related exhibits have appeared around Belfast as a way to celebrate season 8.
I didn’t travel to Belfast to visit all the Game of Thrones related exhibits. That is what ended up happening. So here is my unintentional Game of Thrones themed trip to Belfast.
MY GAME OF THRONES TOUR OF BELFAST
GAME OF THRONES IN BELFAST
Belfast is a place I’ve visited before. However, on that trip I didn’t get to see anywhere near all the things there are to do in Belfast. This was also way before Game of Thrones became popular so if anything there is even more to see.
Northern Ireland is one of the main filming locations of Game of Thrones. Certain sights like The Dark Hedges and various castles around Belfast have become very famous because of the show. The filming studios where a number of the indoor sets have been built is also located within Belfast, just next to the Titanic Museum.
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I used to love Game of Thrones. However, I became a fan sometime around the release of season one. Despite enjoying the show and reading most of the books I got bored with the long wait between seasons. Not to mention the fact that the book series hasn’t even been finished yet.
I also happened to be visiting just after the end of season 8. So there were many sights across Belfast celebrating this final season. It was fun getting to see some of the Game of Thrones themed exhibits. Even though I haven’t watched season 8 yet.
LEAVING EDINBURGH AIRPORT
As I mentioned above, this is my second time visiting Belfast and I was excited that I got to go back. Belfast feels far away from Scotland but in reality, it’s only a 30-minute flight from Edinburgh.
As much as I hate flying it’s the best way to get to Belfast. Last time I travelled over on the ferry. At the time this worked out great. You could get a train from Glasgow Central direct to the ferry terminal. But the ferry terminal has moved adding another bus journey onto the trip. So flying was the best way over.
Unfortunately, this meant a 4 am start. Which I wasn’t happy about because like I said, the flight was only 30 minutes. I think I spent more time sitting on the plane at the gate of Edinburgh Airport than in the air.
The only good thing about getting such an early flight was that I got to Belfast for just after 9. Right on time have breakfast in the hotel. I was staying in the Jury’s Inn which while not being totally in the centre of Belfast, it is very close to it and more importantly close to bus stops.
My first stop on this trip was the Titanic Museum. Last time I was in Belfast the Titanic Museum was just about to open. If that trip had been just a little later in the year I would have been able to see the museum right as it opened.
THE TITANIC MUSEUM
The Titanic Museum is situated in the harbour exactly where the paint shops of the shipbuilders were located. Right outside the museum, you can see the docks where ships were built.
It felt a little strange being here after my last visit. That time my family had taken a huge trip around Ireland. But we were based in Cobh, once known as Queenstown, the last place the Titanic stopped at before heading for New York.
The museum is really interesting, but I feel like it hasn’t been designed very well. Many of the exhibits are crammed into small alcoves within the museum.
This means that though there may be a huge amount of floor space. You’re forced into tight spaces within the exhibition. Admittedly this is only a problem in the initial part of the museum. It seemed to get better as the exhibition went on.
The one thing I would highly recommend you try while at the Titanic Museum is the little ride. The museum takes you through the whole history of shipbuilding in Belfast, how the Titanic was built and eventually its impact with the iceberg.
The ride gives you an idea of what working in a shipyard would have been like. You sit in small vehicles, like the doom buggies at the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland.
These vehicles move along a track, but can also move vertically as they go along this track. When I was there I had to wait about 20 minutes to get on the ride. You can skip it if you want to. But I would recommend giving it a shot. Honestly, it was the best part of the whole museum.
CITY SIGHTSEEING TOUR
I hadn’t planned this trip out too well so had no concrete plans for day two. Because of the early start on day one I had a slightly later start. My plan for the day was to wander around the centre of Belfast and see what there is to do. As it turns out there is a huge amount to do.
I eventually settled on trying the city sightseeing tour bus. Now I have a small tip when it comes to this tour bus. The city sightseeing buses are the red open-top busses you see in many town centres. According to the website, a two-day bus ticket costs £13 if you buy online or £14 if you buy on the day.
There were loads of reps for the tour company stationed around the City Hall in Belfast. There also seemed to be one guy who stood outside my hotel. I just walked up to one of these reps and asked about the tickets.
Which I managed to get for £10 rather than £13/14. The rep was also able to walk me to the start of the bus route which was a massive help because I would never have found it on my own.
Now I don’t know if I got a discount because I could have chosen any one of the tour buses running in Belfast. Or even if the guy was just being nice. But a few days later I did hear a couple be quoted £25 for the same bus tickets. It’s good to know this is the sort of thing you can haggle over a little bit.
THE BUS TOUR
I have to admit I enjoyed the bus tour. It was a nice day and an easy way to see Belfast. The bus starts by going around the Titanic Quarter. This was great because it also went past the studio where a huge part of Game of Thrones was filmed.
From there the bus goes on to Stormont. I’m not entirely sure why but I loved getting to see Stormont. This is the Parliament building for the Northern Ireland Assembly. It’s a bit outside Belfast at the top of a huge hill. The bus will drop you off right outside it. I don’t totally understand politics in Northern Ireland but it was interesting to see.
Belfast is very well known for The Troubles and a large part of the bus tour is dedicated to that. I was visiting Belfast right around marching season which meant the Protestant areas were covered in flags.
I still find the whole thing slightly strange. The Troubles feels like something which happened before I was born. But taking the sightseeing tour made it obvious how this is a thing which is still ongoing to some extent.
But I had no idea there were huge peace walls around communities in Belfast. Separating the Protestant and Catholic communities. These walls have gates which are still shut every night and are something the local communities still want because it makes them feel safe.
BELFAST BOTANIC GARDENS
Day three started at the Ulster Museum and Botanic Gardens. The Botanic Gardens was one of the few places I knew for certain I wanted to visit while in Belfast. What I didn’t know was that the Botanics is set in the garden of the Ulster Museum. Which ended up being a worthwhile trip too.
I’ve never been to any botanic gardens before and I have no idea why. Glasgow’s botanic gardens are meant to be beautiful but it’s a place I’ve never managed to get to. The Botanics in Belfast has two glasshouses. The Palm House which was built in 1840. This has a selection of cacti, succulents and other plants.
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There is also the Tropical Ravine. This was originally built in 1887 but has recently gone under a huge renovation project. It houses a huge variety of tropical plants. I loved the Tropical Ravine, I could have spent hours in there.
I went first thing in the morning, arriving at the Botanics just before 10. It seemed to be a really good time to visit because the gardens were still quiet. The Palm House is open from 7 am and the Tropical Ravine opens at 10 am. The Tropical Ravine did seem to have more foot traffic but it was nice to walk around while still reasonably quiet.
THE ULSTER MUSEUM
The Ulster Museum opened at 10 am so I was able to get in right at open when it was still quiet. The museum houses a huge collection of art and historical pieces. But there was one thing, in particular, I wanted to see. A 77-meter long tapestry documenting the entire Game of Thrones storyline. This was just one of several exhibits in the museum about Game of Thrones.
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Of course, there was much more to see at the museum than just Game of Thrones stuff. An exhibition about The Troubles was particularly interesting. Like I said the Troubles is something I’ve always thought of as being from my parents time.
But this exhibition had photographs from the early 00s showing incidents related to The Troubles. It was weird to see these photos because this isn’t history. I remember 2001, not very well but I do remember it. But I didn’t realise some of these issues were still going on.
CRUMLIN ROAD GAOL
The original plan for day 4 was to take a train down to Dublin. I hadn’t planned anything more than that. I hadn’t bought train tickets or even knew what I wanted to do in Dublin. Eventually, I had to scrap that plan because it would have been too much time spent on the train.
Instead, I decided to visit the Crumlin Road Gaol. This was something I had gone past while on the sightseeing tour. So I took a taxi out first thing in the morning for it opening at 10 am. The Crumlin Road Gaol is slightly different because you can’t just walk around by yourself. They run guided tours throughout the day. These start on the hour but I think tours are run more often during busy times.
Even though I hadn’t booked in advance I had no problems getting on the first tour of the day. The actual prison is quite beautiful. It’s the last Victorian-era prison in Northern Ireland. The actual prison was closed in 1996 and it’s now an exhibition and conference space. There is also a pub and quite a nice looking restaurant within the prison grounds.
The tour takes you around one of the cell blocks within the prison. You also get to see the tunnel which connected the prison with the courthouse across the road. The tour was very interesting because the tour guide had originally worked as a prison guard in the Gaol and came back when it was opened for tours.
GAME OF THRONES EXHIBITION
It was still quite early after taking a tour of the jail and I didn’t have any plans for what I wanted to do. So I decided to head back out towards the Titanic Museum. Mostly because the cafes within the museum did nice cakes.
After lunch, I decided I would check out the Game of Thrones experience which was just along the road from Titanic. You can get money off these tickets if you’ve already bought a ticket for the Titanic exhibition.
The Game of Thrones experience is located in the TEC arena, right across the road from the film studios and literally right outside the huge King’s Landing set from season 8. You can’t see much of the set because of the walls around it but it’s definitely King’s Landing.
ABOUT THE EXHIBIT
I think this exhibition is just a temporary thing. I’ve heard rumours that they are going to build a more permanent exhibition. Possibly something like the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Watford. But this current exhibition was really enjoyable.
One of the things I was amazed about considering its a Game of Thrones thing was how quiet it was. I’ve been to the Harry Potter Studio Tour and could not get moved because of how busy it was. In comparison, I saw at most 20 people as I walked around the Game of Thrones exhibition.
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The exhibition possibly could have had more in it. But it was still enjoyable. It’s advertised as an experience but in reality, it’s just the props and costumes from the show with a few set-ups for fun photos. Yes, you can get your photo taken on the Iron Throne and yes I did do that.
At full price, the ticket is maybe a little expensive for what you get. But if you get money off it isn’t too bad.
That was my short holiday to Belfast. I just love Belfast so much. If you ever get the chance to visit you definitely should. Especially if you’re in Scotland because the flights are really quick and can usually be found for about £30.
I think that was the most surprising thing about the whole week. How little money I spent considering how much I did. I think the most expensive thing I did all week was the Game of Thrones exhibition.
If you only have a short amount of time in Belfast and want to see all the sights then the city sightseeing bus is worth the money. You can get a two-day ticket for around £15. Though you should ask around because you might be able to get it cheaper.
I know it seemed like I did a lot of Game of Thrones related things while on this trip. That wasn’t the original plan. There is still so much to do in Belfast even if you don’t like Game of Thrones. But if you are a fan it’s a must-visit.