I spent a semester in Belfast back in 2010. Before going to Northern Ireland, I had foolishly considered the Republic of Ireland as the “real” or “intense” Ireland. Northern Ireland was the “light” experience, in my mind, even if I never would’ve voiced those thoughts aloud. Then I left for Northern Ireland in my sophomore year of college and learned how wrong I was.
I’d had a pretty serious love affair with all things Celtic for about seven or eight years at that point, so when the opportunity came I jumped on board and never looked back. This semester was my first real experience abroad, and it was the perfect blend of challenging and reassuring altogether. For three months I lived in Belfast, and when I returned to the States I left behind a chunk of my heart.
I was able to attend several live music performances in concert halls, boats in the bay, sidewalks, and more. If you like Celtic music, Belfast has some for you.
2. Belfast has a complicated history, and its stories are incredible to learn
From the ancient Ulster Cycle to the Battle of the Somme to Orange-men to The Troubles and peace walls, to the childhood of C.S. Lewis and many romantic poets, Belfast has a wide and varied background. Try wrapping your mind around the Nationalist-Unionist debates that have gone on for over a hundred years, the rich mythology of the land, and more.
3. The Northern Irish take their culture just as seriously as their more Southern cousins
Belfast has countless museums, festivals, and living-history exhibits. I was just able to get a taste of what’s offered in the area in about three months. From a linen museum (which was actually fascinating) to free art museums to Queen’s, there’s a good bit to see.
4. It’s near the North Coast, Tollymore Forest, and the Giant’s Causeway
The North Coast is where C.S. Lewis and Joy went for part of their honeymoon. It’s still a favorite weekend getaway location for the Northern Irish. The wind in your hair and the smell of the sea at your nose is enough to think you’ve died and gone to heaven. Tollymore rivals, in my opinion, the Ring of Kerry in it’s beauty, even if it is smaller. If any elves are left in Middle Earth, they’re probably here. And the Giant’s Causeway? I don’t even need to say anything about that–you already know it’s a must-see.
5.It’s close to the rest of the UK
I’ve had friends fly to Dublin, just to get into Europe, ride two hours by bus up to Belfast, and get on a much cheaper flight to London or Edinburgh. Belfast is a brash mix of farms, docks, Irish, and English.
So, go ahead. Open the door to what Northern Ireland and Belfast can offer. You won’t be disappointed!