We really had no expectations upon our arrival in Belfast. Aside from articles, travel shows and a sampling of random options we didn’t know much about what we might encounter there.
For a travel researcher like me, this was actually a very refreshing feeling. While I’m flexible with my plan and expect it to change, I often over research and a little bit of the unexpected was a nice change.
In this case, it was a refreshing feeling that only got better. Needless to say, I loved the Belfast area!
The minute we stepped off the train it felt different – maybe a bit more reserved, more business-like and, after Kilkenny, a lot less touristy. In an odd way, there were parts of the city that resembled Washington, DC to me. The English influence could be seen in the architecture, but it still felt very much Irish.
The food experience was equally as pleasing and I really liked learning about the differences in foods and food names between the north and the south.
For example, there was no sign of a full Irish breakfast in Belfast, but the Ulster Fry could be found on multiple menus. According to the local guide magazine I picked up the Ulster Fry is a full Irish breakfast minus the pudding, plus some potato bread and soda bread. We also noticed there was no mention of brown bread, but there was always wheaten bread.
Our first night we randomly stumbled upon McCrackens which was tucked away on a narrow side street. It turned out to be one of our favorite finds of the trip. It was a modern bar with the feel of a pub, full of some interesting history. I also had one of the most unique meals of the trip here.
First, I apologize for the bad quality picture, but I simply have to share this with you.
The entire menu here was loaded with creativity and this was no exception. It was sausage made from salmon and it was served over creamed leeks with smoked salmon with potato slices. I’m hungry for it now just writing about it! The flavors were simply perfect.
Early the next morning, we made a quick stop at St. George’s Market on our way to the train station and our day trip to Giant’s Causeway. On our walk there I thought it was so cool to see modern milk jugs that had arrived in the early morning on the doorsteps of both restaurants and what looked to be apartment buildings.
Things were just getting set up at the market, but there was plenty to see. We snagged a blueberry and raspberry yogurt scone for breakfast and ate at the station.
These were as good as they look. I noticed that the scones here were less of the mildly sweet variety like the fruit scones in the south and more of the sweet, pastry-like version we often see imitated in the States.
Next up was the gorgeous coast and Giant’s Causeway. I’m pretty sure these girls hanging out munching away redefine the term Happy Cows.
After the Causeway we squeezed in an unexpected visit to Bushmills Whiskey distillery. We hadn’t realized it would be so close and it turned out that it was even a bus stop on the route.
Our tour guide was not as informative as the one we had for the Smithwick’s brewery tour, but it was nice to see the grounds and gather what information we could. Of course, it’s never a bad thing when there is a sample at the end. Whiskey distillery tours are hard for us to fairly evaluate because we are exposed to some of the best available with our bourbon distilleries here in Kentucky.
For lunch we headed into the town of Bushmills to look around. We had spotted Hip Chip earlier in the day and lunch was enjoyed on a bench while splitting a take-out order of Fish n’ Chips. This is the way to go for fish n’ chips. It beats a sit-down restaurant order any day. After that we managed to find some whiskey flavored ice cream!
Once back in Belfast, a bit exhausted from our day of exploring, we set out to find The Kitchen Bar which I had read about. What caught my attention was the Paddy Pizza – pizza made with a soda bread crust! The place was packed with lots of people already out to celebrate their Friday night, but fortunately they were still serving food so we got a table.
I went with the Thai Fish cakes. These were tasty, but they had a lot more potato in them than fish. Not necessarily a bad thing, just not what I was expecting from the other fish cakes I’ve had.
My husband went for the pizza. This was an unexpected combo, but a good one. It had a white sauce, chicken, bell peppers, onion and cheese. The crust was brilliant and I plan to give it a shot in my own kitchen.
The next morning we squeezed in a quick walk to Queen’s University campus and the Botanic garden. I’m so glad we did because it ended up being my favorite part of the city. The gardens were beautiful and Botanic Avenue was lined with the cutest restaurants and cafes.
We ended up stopping at a French café for scones and coffee. Believe it or not this was the only place throughout the trip where I finally got my clotted cream. I had been on the lookout, but it just ended up that all the places I had scones only offered Irish butter. The best butter in the world, but butter.
I went for the cherry scone which ended up being made with maraschino cherries instead of fresh or dried, but it was still a tasty scone. My husband went for blueberry. It was the perfect quick stop to break up our walk. There were so many more things on their menu I would have loved to try.
Belfast was the one place that felt the most rushed to me and I think that was because we planned the day trip out to Giant’s Causeway. I wouldn’t trade the day trip, but I would’ve loved to have spent more time exploring the city. The great places we found offered unique food and we were surprised to finally find some craft brews. We did a lot of quick eating, but every bit of it was delicious.
Last stop – Dublin!