Over reading week, I jumped on a train and head up north to Belfast. Every year pre-COVID I’ve tried to get away and see somewhere new, whether it be in Ireland or Europe. I have seriously missed having this freedom to travel, so let me give you a rundown of some of the highlights from my time in Belfast, and why you should head up north too!

The Botanical Gardens

We got particularly lucky on our trip up, but the weather was beautiful on the first day. Picking up an easy picnic, we headed to the Botanical Gardens surrounding the Belfast Museum. These gorgeous gardens have wide open grass areas that are perfect to just sit down and relax, and during the sunnier months are filled with people running about and playing sports on the green.The park isn’t just green spaces: there’s plenty of gorgeous little meandering routes around the gardens filled will florally fantasies and surprises at every corner. I would highly recommend a stop in the Botanical Gardens, especially if you’re already in there to see the Ulster Museum.

Ulster Museum

I’m a sucker for a good museum and let me tell you Ulster Museum does not disappoint. It’s unassuming from the outside but once you come through the front doors and look up at the wicker dragons hanging from the ceiling the sheer size of this museum quickly becomes apparent. The museum itself is free to enter, just make sure you book your ticket online in advance. As you circle through each section you travel back in time, starting with a display on the Troubles. The museum provides plenty of physical snippets of history that summarise and explain the complexities of the period without isolating out any group. The posters and publications were especially interesting, with a display on Belfast punk movement zines near the start of the display. While you circle on through, you explore all elements of art and artifacts, with a personal highlight for me being the Art Nouveau period fashion pieces. These gorgeous garments are in immaculate condition, displaying fashions from the early twentieth century ranging from wedding dresses to mourning dresses. This multifaceted museum breaks into an interactive scientific section with an expansive exhibit on the elements of the period table, and a stunning collection of crystals and geodes. After leaving this section, you make your way into perhaps one of my all-time favourite gallery spaces to date. This exhibit has an expansive range of works. You first enter a section of art works depicting political affairs in an expressive and visually captivating exhibit. These pieces have some more modern works depicting events as recent as the Black Lives Matter protests spreading across America. After this section, are a range of twentieth century modernist pieces and video exhibits. Finally, though, continuing with the travelling backwards in time theme, the gallery shifts to high quality renaissance period pieces. The hues of these paintings are exquisite and have been expertly maintained. If you’re a gallery buff in any shape or form, I couldn’t recommend this space more! All in all, the Ulster Museum is without a doubt something that should be high up on your places to visit list if you head to Belfast.

DC Tours

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I have been on a lot of walking tours. My expectations are always high, and DC Tours did not disappoint. We met at City Hall to start our History of Terror Tour. First off, our tour guide Donzo was incredibly friendly and upbeat, he made it clear that we were free to ask questions and he would do our best to answer, something I really like about a good walking tour. Secondly, we were supplied with non- intrusive earpieces that let us hear whatever was being said by Donzo, regardless of how far behind him we were. This was a tiny little addition, but it made the whole experience way more enjoyable, you never felt like you needed to sprint to hear the side pieces of information he was giving. On the tour, Donzo guided us around Belfast, highlighting the areas of terror during the Troubles and beyond. I appreciated this tour a lot. It wasn’t trying to decorate any of the more gruesome or upsetting facts, but it also wasn’t one sided. It highlighted the issues from every angle, exploring the long-lasting effects of the Troubles on the everyday person of Belfast. Of course, as someone studying history, this was always going to appeal to me in some way, but I found Donzo’s approach, looking more at the human elements and the public memory of the events, really brought it home in a way that only elevated the tour more. From renovated hotels to incredible graffiti work, this tour could not be recommended enough by me. It’s only £18 per person, its wheelchair accessible, and the tour is an information packed 2 hours long. Check this one out next time you’re in Belfast.

The Vagabond Hostel

Now, you might be wondering what’s the best way to stay in Belfast without blowing your entire budget? Well, look no further than the Vagabond Hostel. This hostel is located right next to Queens University, so you’re in a prime spot for student nights out. The Vagabond is in a prime location, with the city centre and shopping districts only being a short walk down to the left. There’s plenty of spots to grab a bite to eat just down the road too, so you won’t be stuck for places to stop for some grub. The hostel itself is gorgeous, with a range of rooms for all sorts of group sizes. Some of the rooms have private bathrooms and showers, but there’s some in the main hallway too! Each of the beds has its own plug next to it, as well as storage options both under the beds and in a main locker unit. If you’re stuck for a shower or towel, they can be rented from the hostel staff. The main common area space is perfect for some pre-night out drinks or even just a cosy morning in while you have your breakfast. There are board games, instruments, and the whole thing is decorated with art from all over the world.