Britain’s top Game of Thrones® and medieval experiences

The epic television phenomenon Game of Thrones® returned this week for its 8th and final series, with the surviving characters set to battle it out for their seat on the Iron Throne. Based on the novel series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R Martin, HBO’s mega hit is renowned for its stunning filming locations, incredible battle scenes and unexpected twists.

Northern Ireland has provided the spectacular backdrop for a host of influential scenes throughout the series, and alongside visiting the locations, there are an abundance of fantastic Game of Thrones® and medieval experiences spread across Britain for visitors to enjoy.

Experiences in Northern Ireland

The Game of Thrones® Tapestry

Already eclipsing the length of the famed Bayeux Tapestry, the Game of Thrones® Tapestry at the Ulster Museum details every key moment from the monumental series. Designed and finished by hand but weaved by a state-of-the-art machine, the tapestry reveals the highlights of every episode from Seasons 1-7 on linen sourced from Ferguson’s Irish Linen, one of Northern Ireland’s last surviving linen mills. The Season 8 panel is set to be completed once the show reaches its finale.

When? On display until 28 July 2019

Game of Thrones: The Touring Exhibition

The official exhibition of the HBO show comes to the TEC Belfast in April, providing an in-depth look into the world of Westeros and beyond. From authentic props and sets to weapons and armour, Game of Thrones™: The Touring Exhibition uses an array of immersive environments and interactive displays to transport visitors to the heart of the Seven Kingdoms.

When?  11 April – 1 September (April to May, 10am-7pm; June to September, 9am-8pm)

Glass of Thrones

 

Visitors to Belfast can now discover a brand new installation, Glass of Thrones. As each episode of Season 8 airs, a beautifully crafted, freestanding stained-glass window will be placed in a location in the city. Illustrated by hand and stained by an artist in Bangor, Wales, each window focuses on a House from the show and depicts the most exciting and talked-about moments from the family’s history. The first window, unveiled on 15 April, focuses on the Starks. By the end of Series 8, the windows will form a new Game of Thrones® trail, leading fans across the city to the final window at the Titanic Studios, where much of the show has been produced.
 

When? 15 April onwards

Doors of Thrones

Having been hit hard by Storm Gertrude in 2016, felled trees from the Game of Thrones® filming location known as The Dark Hedges were carved into 10 intricately designed pub doors, each telling the story of an episode in Game of Thrones® Season 6. Each door is set near to one of Northern Ireland’s filming locations for the hit show, allowing visitors to embark on a Journey of Doors from Cairncastle and Cushendun Caves to pubs and hotels in Belfast, Ballintoy and Newcastle, among other locations.

When? Year-round (pub and cafe opening times vary)

Explore Castle Ward

Used as Winterfell when filming Season 1 of Game of Thrones®, Castle Ward is packed full of exciting themed experiences for fans to enjoy. Home to the Stark family in the hit show, visitors can dress up in full costume and fire arrows at a replica of the Winterfell Archery Range that has been carefully recreated in the courtyard. Cycle around the many filming locations as part of a cycle tour or visit the Winterfell Master-at-Arms for Game of Throws, an axe throwing experience new for 2019. Alternatively, fans can meet the real Direwolves, Odin and Thor, as part of the Direwolves tour, providing unique insight into the dog breed used for filming.

When? Year-round (booking in advance is required)

Giant Tours Ireland

Explore Northern Ireland’s lesser-known filming locations on a specialist tour with Giant Tours Ireland with Flip, the stand-in for Hodor during Season 6. The private tours take in many of the filming points that larger tour groups do not have the time or space to see, allowing fans to immerse themselves in the mysterious and beautiful backdrops that Game of Thrones® is renowned for.

When? Tours on selected days throughout the year (booking in advance is required)

Tour Tollymore Forest

Venture into Tollymore Forest Park and discover all of the different scenes it features in as part of an exciting guided tour. Be transported to the Haunted Forest north of the wall as part of the immersive experience, set foot on The Kingsroad and explore The Wolfswood near Winterfell while donning Stark coats for added effect.

When? Daily tours at 10am and 3pm (advance booking is required)

Be amazed by The Dark Hedges

Having featured as The Kingsroad on the path to King’s Landing, The Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland is one of the country’s most photographed spots. The rows of mature beech trees on either side of Bregagh Road in County Antrim date back to the 18th century and helped form the setting for Arya Stark’s escape, cementing their place in Game of Thrones® folklore.

When? Year-round

Find out more about Game of Thrones® filming locations at discovernorthernireland.com/gameofthrones. Alternatively, download the interactive app to discover all 26 incredible filming locations at discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/attractions/game-of-thrones/game-of-thrones-app/

Please note, the aforementioned experiences in Northern Ireland are independently run and are not affiliated with, sponsored or endorsed by HBO, nor anyone associated with Game of Thrones®

Experiences in Scotland

Discover the secrets of Winterfell

Take a unique guided tour of Winterfell at Doune Castle in Scotland, the stunning backdrop used throughout Game of Thrones® and also featured in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Explore one of Scotland’s best preserved castles, its huge Great Hall and exquisite courtyard design.

When? Tours run throughout the year (advance booking is required)

See falconry in action

Get hands-on with owls, buzzards, hawks, falcons and eagles as part of tailor-made bird of prey experiences with Falconry Scotland. Operating on an appointment-only basis from two sites, Dalhousie Castle Hotel and Spa and another at Shieldaig Lodge in the West Highlands, expert falconers provide flying demonstrations and handling sessions, as well as archery experiences.

When? Dalhousie Falconry operates year round; Shieldaig Lodge opens from 12 April 2019 (booking in advance is required)

Axe Throwing for all

Competitors of all abilities, ages and nationalities can compete at the Axe Throwing Scottish Open 2019, held in the beautiful grounds of Scone Palace. Participants across various categories can camp on site, while the Scottish Knight League is also hosting a Medieval Fighting Championship.

When? 4-5 May

Experiences in England

Walk the real life wall

Built by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago, Hadrian’s Wall once marked the border of England’s wild northern frontier. Much like the Wall in Game of Thrones®, the historic landscape and its crumbling forts remains an imposing sight. The best-preserved Roman site in the country at Housesteads Fort, the Temple of Mithras near Brocolitia Fort and the impressive Vindolanda Museum all provide a fascinating look into the region’s turbulent past.

When? Year-round (Housesteads Fort is open 10am-4pm in the winter, extended to 10am-6pm from March - September; the Vindolanda Museum is open daily 10am-5pm in the winter, extended to 10am-6pm from April - September)

Find adventure at Warwick Castle

Journey back to medieval England with a stay at Warwick Castle’s Knight’s Village, a set of themed tents, lodges and suites where guests can sleep like royalty. Take a trip through 1,000 years of history during the immersive Castle Dungeon experience, featuring carefully created sets and surprising special effects alongside a cast of historic characters. Or venture outside to see the world’s largest siege machine in action – a colossal replica of a Trebuchet that is fired in the shadow of Warwick Castle’s walls.

When? Warwick Castle opens at 10am (closing times vary depending on dates and events)

Fight it out in Battle Archery

Mixing the skills of archery with the tactics of paintballing, Battle Archery is a thrilling action-packed game using bows and foam-tipped safety arrows. Based in Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park, different mission scenarios require a range of different strategies, but the soft arrows make for a pain-free experience.

When? Weekends and selected weekdays on request (booking in advance is required)

Experience a medieval banquet

Dine with knights, acrobats and jesters as part of an immersive banquet-theatre experience in St Katherine Docks, London. Don period dress and enjoy a song and dance while tucking into a Medieval Banquet as part of a fantasy meal out to remember.

When? Wednesday to Saturday at 7.15pm, Sunday at 5.15pm

Develop swashbuckling sword skills

Try out sword fighting at the London Longsword Academy, providing an opportunity to master a diverse set of medieval and Renaissance weapon styles. Get hands on with a longsword, messer, rapier or dagger in a safe and controlled environment that welcomes everyone from beginners to expert martial artists.

When? Classes take place on weekday evenings using different weaponry

Celebrate history at a Medieval Festival

See history brought to life at medieval festivals across England, while marking famous battles and discovering what life was like in medieval times. England’s Medieval Festival fills the grounds of Herstmonceux Castle, in East Sussex, and features everything from re-enactments and jousting to stage shows, music and dance, camping and medieval banquets. The Bosworth Medieval Festival provides a modern take on the battle, alongside a medieval market, a living history encampment and author talks, while the Tewkesbury Medieval Festival includes a dramatic re-enactment and impressive Sunday parade. Colchester Medieval Festival and Oyster Fayre Market features an array of period stalls and a combat arena where visitors can watch demonstrations of arms and armour. The annual Traquair Medieval Fayre hosts a cannon firing display and demonstrations of ancient crafts, giving visitors the opportunity to try their hand at willow weaving, watch chainmail making in action or trial Longbow archery. A sword and shield making workshop should keep children entertained too.

When? 25 May (Traquair Medieval Fayre), 15-16 June (Colchester Medieval Festival), 13-14 July (Tewkesbury Medieval Festival), 17-18 August (Bosworth Medieval Festival) 24-26 August (England’s Medieval Festival)

Watch jousting in action

Hear the crash of lances and the thunder of hooves as armoured horsemen go head to head in jousting tournaments across Britain. The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds is hosting the International Jousting Tournament, with knights from four nations set to battle it out for the ultimate prize. Watch as jousting lances splinter at Leeds Castle in May, or catch two weekends of medieval mayhem at the Loxwood Joust in August, packed full of workshops, experiences and delicious food to feast on. Kent’s Hever Castle also hosts regular jousting tournaments throughout July and August.

When? 19-22 April (Royal Armouries Museum); 25-27 May (Leeds Castle); 3-4 and 10-11 August (Loxwood Joust); 13-14, 20-21 and 27-28 July, 10-11, 17-18 and 23-26 August (Hever Castle).

Take a seat at the Knight’s Table

Sample delightful food at Arundel’s Knight’s Table Restaurant, with a menu that features classic meals from the bygone era, alongside more contemporary options. Think rotisserie chicken, delicious pies and a hog roast, as well as a carvery on selected days. Just what is needed after a visit to the spectacular Arundel Castle.

When? Wednesday to Sunday (opening times vary on those days)

See knights fight it out

Be transported back to the heart of a medieval encampment and watch as rival knights battle it out at Bolsover Castle’s Knight’s Tournament in May. Try on armour, discover more about the Middle Ages and get a taste for old-fashioned combat before the winning knight is crowned in the Grand Finale.

When? 25-27 May

Experiences in Wales

Feast in Welsh tradition at Ruthin Castle

The medieval feasts at Ruthin Castle take diners back to when the Earl of Warwick hosted extravagant feasts during the 16th century. Guests are encouraged to dress in traditional clothes and are entertained in the banqueting hall with a mix of Welsh and English song. Expect an evening of dining with daggers while toasting with mead and goblets of wine.

When? Feasts take place on a selected day or two each month

Venture into the dragon’s lair at Caerphilly

Come face to face with dragons at Caerphilly Castle! The 12th-century fortress is home to the Cadw dragon family, a set of incredible dragon models that form part of an audio-visual display. A set of medieval-inspired siege engines regularly catapult ammunition into the moat of Wales’ largest castle too, demonstrating the incredible engineering and ingenuity that existing in the medieval period.

When? Year-round (opening times vary by season)

Top ways to celebrate St Patrick’s Day

Britain will be awash with green in mid-March as St Patrick’s Day celebrations sweep across the major cities. Marking the death of the patron saint of Ireland, St Patrick, communities in Ireland and across the Irish diaspora come together to celebrate on 17 March – a Sunday in 2019 – with a host of colourful parades, exciting musical performances and a wealth of other events.

London

London marks St Patrick’s Day with an annual parade through the capital’s streets, featuring striking decorative floats, incredible marching bands and performances from Irish dancing schools and sports clubs. The 1.5-mile procession meanders its way from Piccadilly past some of London’s most iconic landmarks on its ways to Whitehall. As a celebration of London’s diversity and welcome, the theme for 2019’s parade is #LondonIsOpen.

The St Patrick’s Day Festival packs Trafalgar Square from midday and features performances from renowned Irish artists and special guests, alongside an abundance of craft stalls, delicious food and a family friendly area in Pall Mall offering themed workshops and activities.

When? 17 March (St Patrick’s Day Festival, 12pm – 6pm)

Manchester

A stunning parade from the Irish World Heritage Centre to Albert Square is the focal point for the Manchester Irish Festival, which runs from the start of March and culminates on St Patrick’s Day. Featuring an array of floats and representation from each of the Irish counties, the Manchester Irish Festival Parade is one of many events held in the city. The Manchester Irish Festival Market takes pride of place in front of Manchester Town Hall, offering Irish foods, crafts and souvenirs in abundance, as well as children’s rides and entertainment.

The Castlefield Hotel is also hosting a St Patrick’s night whisky tasting and 3-course supper, featuring a delectable range of Irish themed food and a selection of fine Irish whisky.

When? 1-17 March (Manchester Irish Festival), 7-10 March (Manchester Irish Festival Market), 10 March (Manchester Irish Festival Parade), 15 March (Whisky Tasting)

Birmingham

A week-long festival in the build up to St Patrick’s Day celebrates diversity and multiculturalism in Birmingham. The launch night event, featuring traditional Irish music and dance, a delightful 4-course dinner and a performance from Birmingham Irish band Salt Creek gets proceedings underway, before the festival is completed with a spectacular parade around the Digbeth area of the city – taking place on St Patrick’s Day itself in 2019.

When? 9-17 March (9 March, launch night; 17 March, Parade at 12pm)

Edinburgh

Join the Scots Music Group for Café Ceilidh to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, an afternoon session of songs, poems, music and stories that recognise the patron saint. The Cowgate St Patrick’s Festival is another cause for celebration, taking place over 3 days at 5 venues and performance spaces.

When? 19 March (Scots Music Group), 15-17 March (Cowgate St Patrick’s Festival)

Belfast

Eye-catching floats and performers in magnificent costumes form just part of Belfast’s spectacular carnival parade as it weaves its way from Belfast City Hall to Writers Square. An open air concert in Custom House Square will follow, headlined by the Vengaboys and including an array of Irish artists showcasing traditional music, dance and song. St George’s Market will offer traditional Irish food and music, as well as plenty of handmade crafts.

When? 17 March (Carnival Parade, 12.30pm; Custom House Square, 1.15pm; St George’s Market, 10am – 4pm)

Newcastle

Paddy Fest will return to the heart of Newcastle city centre for St Patrick’s Day 2019, featuring 4 days of events and entertainment. Beginning with Let’s Play Darts, cheese festival Cheesetoon will follow on Friday with 25 stalls offering an array of cheesy concoctions. Saturday of Paddy Fest will feature authentic Irish bands and a handful of DJs, as well as screens showing the final matches of the Six Nations Rugby Tournament, before the event is rounded off with the biggest Bongo’s Bingo! to be held in the north-west of England, taking place in Times Square.

When? 14-17 March

Liverpool

Liverpool will march to the sound of drums, flutes and pipe bands on St Patrick’s Day, as the annual parade makes its way from the Old Irish Centre in Mount Pleasant into the centre of the city.

When? 17 March (12pm-3pm)

Armagh

The Home of Saint Patrick Festival showcases Irish culture, song and dance, and recognises the leading role that St Patrick had in converting Ireland to Christianity many centuries ago. Both the Armagh Robinson Library and Armagh County Museum host an array of artefacts, manuscripts, collections and rare books that relate to the role of the city in early Christian Ireland. An abundance of cultural events take place throughout the festival period, including parades, lectures, concerts and church services.

When? 8-18 March

Five luxurious ways to travel around Britain

Get from A to B with these seriously glamorous ways to travel, which turn exploring British destinations into an upper-class experience all the way.

Train

One of the greatest travel experiences has to be while relaxing with a glass of Champagne, savouring luxurious surroundings while gazing out of the window at ever-changing, beautiful scenery. Train travel on board the lavish Belmond Royal Scotsman (sister train of the Venice Simplon Orient Express) evokes the romance of travel from a bygone era and is all about delivering an exclusive experience; only a maximum of 36 guests are on board on any journey. There are a number of routes available; whisky lovers should check out its Malt Whisky Trail or fans of history can book onto a journey that takes you to visit castles and country estates. But it’s the experience on board that’s just as unforgettable as the stops. Visit its on-board spa for an indulgent treatment, enjoy fine dining across its two elegant dining cars and relax in the Edwardian Observation car.

Even if you only have one day to spare, you can experience the thrill of luxury train travel by dining on board the Northern Belle, which departs from regional stations throughout the UK and takes you through some of the most stunning countryside. Enjoy Champagne receptions, grand dinners or sumptuous afternoon teas in its gorgeous carriages, each of which is named after a British castle or stately home.

Hot-air balloon

Admire the exceptional beauty of the British countryside as you float above the landscapes on an exclusive trip in a hot-air balloon. Visitors have their pick of companies across the destination offering these trips; one example is Kent Ballooning, which offers ballooning over the ‘Garden of England’ – the county of Kent – in south-east England. Take it to a more exclusive, luxurious level with its VIP flights. Two passengers board their own private balloon – after watching its inflation – and enjoy Champagne during the flight.  

Alternatively, why not take part in Britain’s most famous hot-air balloon festival by booking a once-in-a-lifetime hot-air balloon trip with Virgin Balloon Flights at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, which returns in August 2019? You’ll take to the skies over the gorgeous Somerset landscapes for three-to-four hours and witness all the other balloons taking part in the fiesta beside you, while sipping on Champagne!

Helicopter

See Britain from a different angle as you cruise above it by helicopter…all piloted of course! You just have to sit back and enjoy the scenery. If you’re in England’s capital, one of the most exclusive ways to see the city is on board The London Helicopter on a trip that takes in all the iconic landmarks from the Royal Albert Hall and Hyde Park to St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London. For an extra special journey tie in a luxury chauffeur service to and from your helicopter flight and, on arrival back at the heliport in Battersea, complete the trip with a glass or two of Champagne at neighbouring ‘The Pad’ at the Crowne Plaza. Helicopter flights can, of course, be more than sightseeing. Aerial Charter Scotland, for example, offers Helicopter Distillery Tours, where whisky lovers can travel between distilleries across the five distinctive whisky producing regions of Scotland. Spot the magnificent lochs, dramatic mountains and vibrant cities as you soar overhead en route to the distilleries.

Cruise ship

Britain is an island – so what better way to explore it than on board a luxury cruise ship? There are a wide range of cruise companies operating itineraries, from around the remote Scottish islands to cruises around the whole of Britain. You’ll find all-inclusive luxury – think butler service, gourmet dining, fine wines, Champagne, suites with private verandas and indulgent spas – with companies such as Regent Seven Seas, Six Star Cruises and Silversea. A two-week cruise by Silversea departs from London and stops at ports such as the spectacular Isles of Scilly off the coast of Cornwall at the south-western tip of England; the exciting city of Belfast in Northern Ireland, the stunning Scottish islands of Lewis, Shetland, Orkney and Mull as well as the vibrant Scottish capital Edinburgh. Six Star Cruises offers a ‘British Isles Legacy’ route, with stops in Fowey in Cornwall, Liverpool in north-west England and Scotland, while Regent Seven Seas’ offers a ‘Treasures of the British Isles’ cruise, departing from Bristol, heading up to the Scottish islands and across to Aberdeen, before taking in Guernsey in the Channel Islands and the Isles of Scilly.

Chauffeur-driven luxury car

Enjoy the VIP treatment by visiting some of Britain’s top attractions and most beautiful destinations via chauffeur-driven luxury vehicle. There is a wealth of companies across Britain offering this type of service but to enhance the experience further, ensure your driver is also a knowledgeable guide. British Chauffeur Tours offers tailor-made tours to suit individual interests but check out popular journeys such as its Harry Potter tours, football tours and tours of the Cotswolds. Ever wanted to channel your inner James Bond? Book onto its Espionage London tour to discover the secret world of the spy – all, of course, from the comfort of a luxury car. Visitors can also have multi-day bespoke tours created. British Heritage Chauffeur Tours, for example, offers entire trips around Wales, England or Scotland – which include five-star accommodation along the way – as well as tours across a range in themes, from Poldark to Queen Victoria.

Ten cool and unique ways to see Britain’s cities

Searching for an alternative to a walking tour of Britain’s cities? Here’s how you can turn city sightseeing into an immersive experience, whether it’s via watersports, from the sky…or even in a hot tub!

In a hot tub – London

Yes, you read that correctly – you can now step into a freshwater hot tub that sails down London’s River Thames, passing by some of the capital’s most iconic sights. The 90-minute HotTug experience sets sail from two different locations; its original site in Angel, north London, takes you through the cute and calm waterways of Regent’s Canal and, just last month, a new experience launched in the Docklands area around Canary Wharf/West India Quay. Book the VIP Experience and receive sailors’ hats, robe and towel rental and an essential ice bucket to keep drinks cool.

Kayaking by night – London

London’s landmarks are emblazoned with light come nightfall, delivering an atmospheric glow as you view them from double kayaks on the River Thames. On board the Night Kayak Tour you’ll paddle past the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge, a journey that takes you from pretty Battersea and ends in the historic maritime neighbourhood of Greenwich. Waterproof clothing, paddles, buoyancy aids – and instructors – are included.

By group cycle – Belfast, Northern Ireland

Chat face-to-face with your friends at the same time as cycling around Northern Ireland’s capital, on a specially adapted cycle with Wee Toast Tours – and enjoy a drink or two en route! An hour or two allows you to cruise around the city centre at gentle speeds, taking in such sights as City Hall and the Opera House. Wee Toast Tours also offers a Cathedral Quarter tour, through Belfast’s cultural heart, and will soon be launching a tour of the Titanic Quarter, home to the world-famous Titanic Museum, SS Nomadic and HMS Caroline.

Stand-up paddleboarding – Bristol, south-west England

Bristol is renowned for its historic harbours and waterways but why not explore its iconic waterside  via the contemporary watersport of stand-up paddleboarding with SUP Bristol? The professional team there will show you the ropes and take you out to float past Brunel’s SS Great Britain, the historic dockside and the multi-coloured houses of the leafy and elegant neighbourhood of Clifton – as the sun rises is a particularly lovely time to head out.

Singing in the back of a taxi – London

Black cab taxi driver – and professional singer – Aiden Kent had been driving customers around London for 20 years when he decided to combine his love for singing with his love for performing. The ‘Singing Cabbie’ fitted out his cab with a red carpet, Italian red leather seats and a bottle of champagne for guests, and a specially-adapted PA system to experience an extraordinary performance as you zip past London’s sights.

From a bird’s eye perspective – Cardiff, south Wales

Wales’ capital is packed with legendary landmarks – and one thrilling way to experience them is from the air! Hover Helicopters fly you to more than 1,000 ft/300 metres above Cardiff and over the Cardiff Bay, Cardiff Castle and the majestic Principality Stadium. Flights take place between March and October and the company can also take you over south Wales and its striking coastline. City skyline flights are also available over Manchester and Liverpool in north-west England.

On a ghostly tour – Edinburgh, Scotland

Enjoy the thrill of a fright? Ghost Bus Tours in Scotland’s capital takes you on a spooky theatrical experience around one of the UK’s most haunted cities, on board a classic 1960s Routemaster bus. Both entertaining and educational – it’s billed as a comedy horror show – you’ll learn all about the city’s former grisly sites where historic executions took place and hear eerie tales of supernatural occurrences.

Out on the river – Liverpool, north-west England

The legendary landmarks of Liverpool – the Liver Building, Albert Dock and the two stunning cathedrals that tower above the city skyline – can be seen from a different perspective from the River Mersey, on board the Dazzle Ferry, itself an attractive sight. The ferry was created by Sir Peter Blake, as part of the First World War centenary commemorations, with the design commissioned by Liverpool Biennial, 14–18 NOW the First World War Centenary Art Commissions, and Tate Liverpool in partnership with Merseytravel and National Museums Liverpool. Learn about the city as well as the history behind the ‘dazzle’ ship.

On the run – London

Don’t just walk around London – run through it! City Jogging Tours offers both specially designed tours or customised versions; all you need to do is bring your running shoes and be ready to explore. An experienced guide leads you to the city’s attractions and the tours cater for all running abilities, from newcomers to endurance runners. A great way to keep fit and fit in essential sightseeing.

Meandering through canals – Birmingham, central England

Did you know that Birmingham has more miles of canal than Venice and that they are lined with beautifully restored industrial heritage landmarks and intriguing contemporary buildings? See all of this on board a canal boat tour; there are several to choose from, ranging from tours of the more modern developments of Birmingham to the city’s pretty suburbs and out further into the countryside.

 

Accommodation Update - May 2018

Read on for the latest Accommodation Update, brought to you by VisitBritain's Destination PR team.

 

Recently opened

AC Hotel by Marriott Belfast, Northern Ireland
April 2018

Connect to the city in a new way at AC Hotel Belfast, an urban retreat in an exceptional riverside location. Explore Belfast on foot with Titanic Belfast, City Hall, Belfast Waterfront, SSE Arena and the shops of Victoria Square a short walk away. Guests can enjoy an AC Fitness Room, 24hr room service and can opt for a delicious continental or cooked breakfast. With two meeting rooms, an AC Lounge, riverside terrace and all-day dining, the hotel provides the perfect co-working space. When day turns to night, the restaurant “Novelli at City Quays” will excite as multi-Michelin-starred chef Jean-Christophe Novelli brings his flare to the dining experience and expert bartenders serve up local knowledge with craft beer and cocktails.

 

Crowne Plaza and Staybridge Suites, Manchester, England
August 2018
The first dual-branded (‘double decker’) hotel in the north of England will boast a 212-room Crowne Plaza and a 116-room Staybridge Suites. Crowne Plaza will feature an upscale restaurant, seven meeting rooms, catering for over 200 delegates and a gym. Staybridge Suites will be located on the upper eight floors and will offer a warm, social and home-like environment through a mix of studio and one bedroom suites.

 

Cow Hollow Hotel, Manchester, England
May 2018
A restored turn-of-the-century textile warehouse has now opened as the Cow Hollow Hotel following a long-running labour of love from married owners Mujtaba and Amelia. High-tech but with a touch of colonial Victorian majesty, the hotel has 17 rooms and is situated on Newton Street within Manchester’s vibrant Northern Quarter. A stay at Cow Hollow includes a range of complimentary features including an evening champagne and antipasti cart.

 

The Saint George Hotel, Harrogate, Yorkshire, England

April 2018
The Saint George hotel has opened as the only coast & country hotel in the North. This Edwardian Hotel is an iconic building in the centre of Harrogate and comprises of 81 modern bedrooms including a swimming pool, spa, sauna, steam room and fitness room with weights – perfect for those who like to keep active during those leisurely evenings away from home.

 

West Stow Pods: New Pod Hollow, Suffolk, England

5 May
West Stow Pods is a family-run glamping site in the heart of Suffolk’s scenic countryside, situated roughly four miles from East Anglia’s historic town of Bury St Edmunds. West Stow Pods offers a range of lodging styles including four cosy MegaPods and their newest development, the Pod Hollow, a Halfling-inspired subterranean dwelling nestled in the side of a grassy knoll. Guests will have a unique and tranquil glamping experience in Suffolk’s picturesque woodlands.

 

New holiday homes in the woodland retreat of Sandy Balls Holiday Village in the New Forest, England
April 2018
£1 million has been invested in creating the Zen, an innovative new type of caravan that has been designed so people can escape their busy lives and tune out from digital noise and the stresses. Hidden among the trees within the beautiful and relaxing setting of Sandy Balls, the Zen offers a calming and peaceful escape away in the woodlands.

 

Relaunches and Refurbishments

Hotel du Vin at the Avon Gorge Hotel, Bristol, England

June 2018
Perched on the edge of rocky Avon Gorge, this classic Victorian hotel enjoys a fabulous location overlooking the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It was recently acquired by the Hotel du Vin group and is currently being upgraded in line with a rebranding. The stylish, new-look rooms are complete and the restaurant, reception and terrace are still a work in progress.

 

Opening Soon

Crowne Plaza London
18 June 2018
Crowne Plaza London - Albert Embankment will be the first luxury hotel to open in the Albert Embankment area, offering breath-taking views over the Thames, including the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. The hotel will have 142 bedrooms, a state of the art gym, an American lobby bar and a rooftop terrace.

 

Native Glasgow
August 2018
The first Native foray in Scotland sees the opening of Native Glasgow, located in a fabulous Art Deco office building built in 1906 as the former headquarters for the Anchor Line Shipping Company. The building has been restored with many of the original features retained; the ornate wood panelling, feature fireplaces and crystal glazed windows give the statement rooms a touch of the elegance found on the grand ocean liners of the time.

Native Glasgow are working with the appointed interior architects, ICA, on this multi-million-pound refurbishment programme to create 64 studio, one bedroom and penthouse apartments.

 

Hampton by Hilton Belfast City Centre, Belfast
August 2018
Located in central Belfast, Hampton by Hilton Belfast City Centre offers modern rooms with free WiFi and secure discounted parking beside the hotel. Travellers of all types will appreciate our proximity to the main road networks and public transport hub making, Belfast City Airport (BHD) and SSE Arena within easy reach.

The hotel is within walking distance of the fashionable Victoria Square shopping centre and many of the city’s attractions. The Grand Opera House and the Lyric Theatre are less than two miles away. Walk to Great Victoria Street railway station for easy access around the city and the surrounding areas. After a busy day, unwind in your spacious room with a clean and fresh Hampton bed™.

15 incredible ways to celebrate World Gin Day in Britain

Shaken or stirred, with tonic or in a cocktail, the popularity of gin continues to boom and, with more than 160 gin brands across the UK according to the Gin Guild, plus a host of boutique distillers opening, Britain continues to lead the gin revolution. As World Gin Day celebrates its ten-year anniversary on 9 June with a four-day festival in London, make sure these British gin experiences are on your to-do list.

 

England

Stay at Britain's first gin hotel, Portobello Road Gin’s Distillery hotel, London

Book into The Distillery on Portobello Road; this gin lovers' paradise is home to two gin bars, stocking a huge range of gins (including the famous Portobello Road Gin) and the Ginstitute, the hotel's gin museum and blending room, which runs masterclasses showing you how to make your own gin blend.

 

Embark on a Gin Journey tour, London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle

The Gin Journey takes its guests in a chauffeur-driven carriage to five bars in your city of choice, including a local gin distillery, with samples of specially selected premium gin in each. Other tours on offer in London include ‘The Gin Masters Masterclass’ for a chance to learn all about the various styles of gin and its manufacturing from a master distiller.

 

Head for London’s largest collection of gin, London

Featuring more than 500 gins and 30 tonics the Gin Bar at Holborn Dining Room is seriously impressive, offering the discerning gin lover more than 14,000 possible gin and tonic pairings, plus new gin cocktails.

 

Order gin from a ‘Bath’, Bath

The Canary Gin Bar in the south-west England city of Bath, is a haven for gin-lovers due to its vast collection of the spirit on offer. A micro-distillery has also been launched at the bar and has created its very own type of gin, ‘Bath gin’.

 

Enrol in gin school, Leicester
Join the Gin Experience at the 45 Gin School in Leicester and tour the home of Burleighs London Dry Gin, before selecting and distilling your choice of botanicals and bottling your own 70cl bottle of gin, under the guidance of a master distiller.

 

Feast on cake and gin, London

Hayman’s English gin makers and Brigit’s Bakery have joined forces to offer a Gin Lovers Afternoon Tea Bus Tour of London. Tours on the charming, vintage Routemaster bus take in some of London’s most iconic landmarks as a bespoke B Bakery Afternoon Tea is served with Hayman’s Gin infused treats and three seasonal Hayman’s Gin cocktails.

 

Scotland

Indulge in gin pamperingm, Glasgow

Created by the people behind Glasgow’s first dedicated gin bar – Gin71 – the Gin Spa is the world’s first botanically inspired day spa. Find bespoke treatments using the bar’s passion for gin mixed with natural botanical ingredients and sip on a complimentary gin cocktail that comes with every treatment.

 

Venture to the far north for gin, Shetland

Take a tasting tour at the UK’s most northerly gin distillery; the Saxa Vord Distillery on the Shetland Isles. Its recipes infuse gin with either locally harvest apple mint or bladderwrack seaweed to give it a unique Shetland twist.

 

Sail on a gin cruise, Edinburgh

The people behind Edinburgh’s Juniper Festival, Scotland’s first-ever gin festival, now offer special gin tasting events on board its Juniper Cruise. Heading out from Edinburgh on the Lochrin Belle canal boat, its two-hour tasting session teaches guests about gin’s fascinating history while sampling five Scottish gins. Cruises run until November and the Juniper Festival itself takes place at Summerhall, Edinburgh, between 1-3 June.

 

Gin along the North Coast 500, Caithness

Ask someone else to drive this stunning road trip along 500 miles of the far north of Scotland as you’ll want to stop by these two gin distilleries en route and sample the goods. Head to the new visitor centre of the Dunnet Bay Distillery, in Caithness, to discover tales of illicit distilling and the history of prohibition in the local town of Wick, before sampling its flagship gin Rock Rose. Further along near Inverness is the intriguing Glen Wyvis, 100% owned by the local community with a new distillery that aims to be 100% powered by green, renewable energy.

 

Mix gin with chocolate, Perth

The Perth Chocolate and Gin Street Festival, an hour north of Edinburgh, is a haven for those with a passion for chocolate and a love for gin. Coming to the city this November (17-18), there’ll be gins to try from all over the UK and a chance to see how well the two products go together in the chocolate and gin pairing event.  

 

Wales

Buy biosphere-inspired gin

Taste and take home the unique Pollination Gin, distilled by the family run Dyfi Distillery, located in the UNESCO World Biosphere of Dyfi in north-west Wales, on the edge of Snowdonia National Park. It’s produced in very limited small batches, made from foraged botanicals from within the biosphere, pure grain spirit and locally drawn spring water, making it a special gift to take home.

 

Sample sea-inspired gin

Fans of seafood should put this on their must-try list; a small batch gin made with a variety of botanicals infused with seaweed from the Welsh coast, Dà Mhìle Seaweed gin is pretty special. Find out more of how this unusual gin is made with a tour of the distillery near Ceredigion in west Wales, two hours from Cardiff.

 

Northern Ireland

Take Northern Ireland’s very first gin tour

The Belfast Gin Jaunt launched last year and takes guest to five bars to try seven different gins – including three distilled locally – starting at a Victorian Gin Palace and finishing three hours later at the city’s famous Cathedral Quarter.

 

Explore Northern Ireland’s first craft gin

Find out the fascinating story of how Northern Ireland’s first craft gin – Shortcross Gin – came about in a tour of its distillery on the Rademon Estate in County Down, one of Ireland’s oldest historic estates located just half an hour from Belfast. And, of course, the essential tutored tasting of the end product.

Eccentric Britain

Summer in Britain is more than picnics in the park, strawberries at Wimbledon, and drinking Pimms at a barbecue. One thing it does better than anyone else is good old-fashioned eccentricity! Adults dancing on hobby horses, faces stretched into hilarious contortions, and a festival of fools make Great Britain THE place to be this summer for tourists seeking adventure off the beaten path. From the sublime to the ridiculous, there’s an unusual activity to satiate every traveller’s metaphorical palate.

 

The Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss Festival

Padstow, Cornwall, 1st May

Head down to the Cornish port town of Padstow on May Day and you’ll find one of the most unusual British traditions where each year, thousands flock to watch two ‘Obby Osses’ (hobby horses) dancing to the beat of drums and accordions. 

 

Belfast Festival of Fools

Belfast, Northern Ireland, 4th – 8th May

Held over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend, Belfast gets together to laugh itself silly as a whole host of offbeat and alternative comedy acts, circus performers and street theatre combines to make the silliest summer entertainment. A free festival, those coming to Belfast for the event can expect to get their walking shoes on and pound the historic streets, enjoying events like cabaret and comedy as they go.

 

Blackawton International Festival of Worm Charming

Blackawton, Devon, 27th May

Starting back in 1983, ‘Worm Master’ Nat Lowson and his team of worm-charming officials preside over the annual event each May, where people compete for the dubious accolade of who can charm the worms out of the ground the fastest.

 

Cheese Rolling at Cooper’s Hill

Brockworth, Gloucestershire, 28th May

An event harking back to the 1800s, cheese-rolling is as bonkers as it sounds. Contestants chase after a speeding wheel of Double Gloucester cheese as big as a newborn baby, and the first to reach the cheese (which can go as fast as 70 miles an hour) is the victor.

 

The Highland Games

Various venues, Scotland, May – September

Quintessentially Scottish, the Highland Games have been an important annual event for centuries. Taking place across several cities, towns and islands across the country, they attract thousands of excited spectators from around the world. 

‘Expect the unexpected’ is an unofficial mantra, as sports such as Caber Toss and Tug ‘O’ War stand alongside best-dressed pet competitions and, of course, Highland dancing.

 

World Bog Snorkelling Championships

Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales, 26th August

Over a weekend at the end of August, plucky snorkellers race against each other in the murky Waen Rhydd peat bog – they can wear wetsuits, snorkels and flippers but can’t use any recognisable swimming stroke.

Hundreds of participants compete each year in the event which Lonely Planet described as one of the Top 50 “Must Do” activities in 2014.

 

Egremont Crab Fair and World Gurning Championships

Egremont, West Cumbria, 14th – 15th September

Held every September in beautiful Cumbria, the historic Crab Fair has been running since 1267 to celebrate the season of crab apples of September.

Alongside street-racing and ‘The Cuddy’, aka horse racing, the fair plays host to the famous World Gurning Championships where folk compete for the title by contorting their faces through a horse collar. A truly strange tradition, it’s thought to have started as a way to “mock the village idiot”, but is now simply a fun competition to see who can pull the most grotesque or silliest face.

Roll up, roll up for original theatre in the round

The circus is in the spotlight in 2018. And it's not just because Hugh Jackman is strutting around in a red cape on centre stage. While Jackman's star turn as P.T. Barnum, the creator of the three-ring circus in The Greatest Showman has put the modern circus and its unconventional tribes back in the spotlight, this year also marks the 250th anniversary of the #FirstDayOfCircus, which originated near Waterloo in London in 1768.  From Bristol to Belfast, here is how to get your circus on in the UK's Six Cities of Circus in 2018.

To juggle between joyful acts in Blackpool
The words bedazzling… remarkable… breathtaking have been rolled out by ringmasters at the Blackpool Tower Circus since it opened its doors in 1894. Take a seat in the oldest permanent circus arena in the world to enjoy jaw-dropping stunts and acrobatics and slapstick antics from clowns Mooky the Clown and Mr Boo.   

With 'Sawdust and Sequins' in Bristol
Bristol, in Southwest England, is home to more circus companies than any other British city. The Royal West of England Academy will celebrate Bristol's history as a City of Circus with the Circus250 Sawdust and Sequins: The Art of the Circus exhibition. Expect glitter and dare-devilry.

Step back in time in Derry and Belfast
Step back in time to enjoy Derry's flagship vintage circus festival, Carnival of Colours, and the over-the-top Tumble Circus in Belfast, which is turning circus on its head with acts such as Strong Lady, Jitterbug Jackson and Bucky Buckshire.

A collision of pop culture in London
Circus is the original 'pop-up' event. Find out how far the modern circus has evolved 250 years on as Roundhouse presents CircusFest 2018: 250 Years in the Making. The highlight of the modern circus concept has to be the parkour acts with the artists possessing all the panache of the late performer Fred Astaire.

For over-the-top fun in Newcastle-under-Lyme
The so-called Father of Modern Circus', Philip Astley, was born in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1742. Astley developed the 42ft diameter circus ring, which is still the standard size used in circuses across the world. What better way to celebrate the showman's legacy than in his hometown. The Philip Astley Project will include the premier of Lexicon, a daring, contemporary take on the modern circus.

At the Norwich Summer Spectacular
Norwich is the birthplace of Pablo Fanque, the famed 19th century circus proprietor. It's also home to the Hippodrome, in nearby Great Yarmouth, Britain's only surviving complete circus building. The celebrations at the Hippodrome Circus this year include four world-class circus shows including a Summer Spectacular & Water Show where the ring magically morphs into a giant pool replete with swimmers.

Britain’s best coffee houses – the new British brew

Brits may be stereotyped as avid tea drinkers, but it hasn’t stopped a growing coffee culture brewing across the nation.

With award-winning roasters and World Barista Champions, an emphasis on ethically sourced, independently roasted and perfectly brewed flavours, plus “third wave” coffee tastes from Aeropress to cold-drip methods, it’s clear there’s more to Britain’s caffeine fix beyond regular chain-café coffee.

 

Brighton: Small Batch Coffee Roasters

This family-run coffee house roasts its own Arabica coffee, sustainably sourced from local farmers in over 20 countries. Now a powerhouse in local coffee culture, Small Batch has eight locations, serving everything from the classics to their own unique blends and cold brews.

 

Bath: Colonna & Small’s

Co-owned by Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, a three-time winner at the UK Barista Championships, this speciality coffee hub is all about flavour. The menu changes weekly for that reason, rotating seasonal coffees from across the world, sourced by expert roasters all over the UK.

 

Bristol: Full Court Press

This minimalist interior matches the slick menu which features two filter blends and two espresso blends that change weekly. The coffee comes from individual farms and co-ops all over the world, as well as some 30 roasters in Europe, enticing people to keep coming back.

 

London: Prufrock

Owned by World Barista Champion, Gwilym Davies and UK Barista Championship Head Judge, Jeremy Challender, this café scooped Time Out’s ‘Best Coffee In London’ accolade. Hand-brewed filter coffee is the star of the show in this two-floor wonderland where each week, three coffees are showcased on the brew-bar while you ask the baristas their secrets.

 

Birmingham: Quarter Horse Coffee

What makes this independent roaster so special is you can see the roasting process in action at its on-site roastery. Premium beans, sourced from all over the globe from entrepreneurial female producers in places such as Colombia and Guatemala, are roasted weekly for maximum freshness.

 

Leeds: Laynes Espresso

This espresso bar is not only is a sleek hangout where you can try dedicated brews (and some of the best sweet treats in the city from Porterhouse Cake Co) it’s also an educational space offering classes for hobby baristas through to professional qualifications.

 

Manchester: Pot Kettle Black

This inviting space in the Victorian-era Grade II-listed Barton Arcade was set up by two local Rugby League stars who wanted to serve artisan coffee in atmospheric surroundings, alongside a menu of healthier food choices including gluten-free and vegan options.

 

Sheffield: Steam Yard

Steam Yard’s owners wanted to keep the alternative, independent spirit of Sheffield’s Division Street alive and this café, with its cool concrete-wood-leather interior, still retains touches of its industrial past. Set in a Grade II-listed building, it serves coffee from London’s award-winning Square Mile Coffee Roasters, and is also known for its speciality coffee-doughnut combo, known as the “Steve McQueen”.

 

Newcastle: Flat Caps Coffee

For coffee brewed in three ways – Filter, Aeropress and the old-fashioned Syphon – head to this bohemian basement café. Owned by a UK Barista Champion finalist and former banker, Joe Meagher, the café sources its beans from roasting companies around the UK and Europe.

 

Edinburgh: Brew Lab
Brewed with meticulous detail and precise brewing techniques, you can try single-original filter and cold brew coffees alongside traditional espresso roasts at Brewlab where a weekly changing coffee menu and locally produced food add to the charm.

 

Cardiff: Quantum Coffee Roasters

Resembling a funky science lab, Quantum loves experimenting with its brewing methods, using V-60 and Chemex pour-overs, I-brick and cold brew towers to get the perfect brew from their in-house roasted blends.

 

Belfast: Established

One of the pioneers of Belfast’s growing coffee scene, the fine coffee blends and tempting brunch menu are a big draw at this cool, minimalist café in the Cathedral Quarter. There’s also a dedicated training room where visitors can learn how to brew better coffee at home.

48 hours in… Belfast

Get inspired by our series of 48 Hours In..., this time in Belfast! Having been named the best region to visit in 2018 in Lonely Planet's Best in Travel, we shine the spotlight on the fascinating capital of Northern Ireland.

 

Why Belfast?

Belfast is a city of many quarters, each with its own character and story to share. The oldest quarter, and the city's cultural heart, is the Cathedral Quarter, characterised by cobble streets and traditional pubs. Home to some of Belfast's iconic political wall murals, the Gaeltacht Quarter is an area where Irish language and culture flourishes. Encompassing historic Queen's University, Ulster Museum and the Lisburn Road, the Queens Quarter has informal cafés, bars and independent shops. The RMS Titanic is so synonymous with this city that a whole neighbourhood is named in its honour. Delve into Belfast's rich industrial and maritime heritage in the Titanic Quarter, and witness the story of the origins, construction, launch and legacy of this world-famous ship.

A day of celebration throughout Ireland and beyond, St Patrick's Day falls on 17 March every year. Belfast commemorates with the colourful St Patrick's Day Carnival, an array of floats, musicians and dancers that parade their way around the city from Belfast City Hall. There's also a free concert with a variety of talent, ranging from traditional Irish dance groups to well-known pop acts, plus smaller events at pubs and venues around the city.

2016 is Northern Ireland's Year of Food & Drink, celebrating the epic landscapes, traditions and people that make the regions food heritage so unique. With a different foodie theme each month, this is an ideal time to enjoy a taste of Belfast.

 

DAY ONE

Time to check in

A three-star hotel with 171 simple, modern rooms, plus a bar and restaurant, Premier Inn Belfast (Cathedral Quarter) is affordable, well located, and one of the top-ranked hotels on TripAdvisor.

More indulgent, Malmaison Belfast is a four-star hotel with 62 rooms and suites in a converted Victorian warehouse. Original features such as carved stone gargoyles and wrought iron pillars complement the velvety, contemporary décor.

Blending Victorian grandeur with Art Deco elegance, the Merchant Hotel is an award-winning five-star property. Exclusive amenities include airport transfers in the hotel's chauffeur driven Rolls Royce Phantom, and a rooftop gym and spa with stunning views.

 

10:00 Have a Titanic adventure

Arguably the world's most famous ocean-going vessel, RMS Titanic was built in Belfast's historic shipyards. One hundred years on from the ship's ill-fated maiden voyage, April 2012 saw the opening of Titanic Belfast, the world's largest Titanic-themed visitor attraction. This monumental structure by Texan architect Eric Kuhne rises from the docks like a glass and aluminium iceberg. Inside are nine galleries telling the story of the Titanic, from her conception in Belfast in the early 1900s, through her construction and launch, to her ill-fated maiden voyage. This state-of-the-art visitor experience includes a special effects-laden shipyard ride, underwater exploration theatre, and recreations of the ships cabins.

 

12:00 Meet ‘Samson & Goliath' and other dockyard heavyweights

Two huge yellow gantry cranes dominate Belfast's skyline. Part of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, birthplace of many great ships including RMS Titanic, these two cranes were constructed in 1969 and 1974 to service a new graving dock. Affectionately known by locals as Samson & Goliath, they've become city icons.

Other shipbuilding and Titanic-related attractions in Belfast's Titanic Quarter include Titanic's Dock&Pump House. The largest dry dock ever constructed, it's here that workers put the final touches on the most luxurious liner ever built.

 

12:30 A tasty Titanic lunch

The Titanic Quarter visitor attractions offer various lunch options, including Titanic Belfast's Bistro 401 restaurant and The Galley tearoom, and Titanic's Dock&Pump House Café. A small, stylish choice, Cast&Crew is nestled beneath the ‘Samson&Goliath' cranes, and serves delicious locally sourced food.

 

Go onboard the last surviving White Star Line ship

Her siblings either sunk or were scrapped, but visitors to Belfast can still go onboard SS Nomadic, the only surviving White Star Line vessel afloat today. Launched in Belfast in 1911, it was built as a tender to big ships including RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic, giving first-class passengers (including Marie Curie and Charlie Chaplin) their first taste of White Star Line luxury. Later used as a minesweeper and troop rescue ship during both world wars, it's now back home in Belfast's historic Hamilton Dock and restored to her original glory.

 

15:00 Take a free peek at treasures from across the globe

You'll see dinosaurs, an Egyptian Mummy and modern masterpieces at Ulster Museum, Northern Ireland's treasure house of the past and present. This extensive collection of art, history and natural sciences is free to all visitors.

 

18:00 Have an aperitif in a Victorian ‘gin palace'

Open since 1885, Crown Liquor Saloon is a stunning example of a Victorian ‘gin palace'. It features private snugs with a bell system for summoning staff, designed to ensure customer privacy during the stern Victorian era. Now owned by the National Trust, it's wonderfully atmospheric with elaborate tile mosaics, period gas lighting, and etched and stained glass windows.

 

19:30 Enjoy modern Northern Irish cuisine

For modern fine dining, James Street South serves fresh and locally sourced Northern Irish produce in a contemporary space. Signature dishes include Strangford Lough Bouillabaisse and organic Irish lamb. Open since 2003, chef Niall McKenna now has a cookery school and two further restaurants (Bar + Grill and Hadskis) in Belfast.

Another fine dining option is the spectacular Great Room Restaurant within the Merchant Hotel. 

Or there's restaurateur Michael Deane's EIPIC, a recent recipient of a coveted Michelin star for chef Danni Barry - only the second female chef ever in Ireland to gain a star.

 

22:00 Sample Belfast's lively pub scene

Although there are excellent pubs and bars throughout the city, Belfast's Cathedral Quarter has many characterful choices. Options include McHugh's Bar and Restaurant, which dates back to 1711. Its Main Bar is full of historical objects and memorabilia, while the Basement Bar is a live music venue hosting gigs by established artists like George Ezra as well as up-and-coming alternative bands.

The John Hewitt is a pub uniquely owned and run by the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre, funding its work via the sale of hearty home-cooked food, speciality gins, craft ales and cider including locally produced MacIvors Irish Artisan Cider and Maddens Mellow Armagh Cider.

 

DAY TWO

10:00 Wake up to an Ulster fry

Start the day with an Ulster Fry: potato and soda bread, fried eggs, sausage, bacon, black and white pudding and a tomato. The secret is to cook everything in one pan to secure all the flavour. George's Of The Market has overlooked historic St George's Market for more than 15 years, and serves an award-winning version using sausages made of pork and Irish dulse seaweed, a local delicacy.

 

10:45 Shop for the best local arts, crafts and foods

Dating from 1890, grand St George's Market was voted Britain's Best Large Indoor Market in 2014. There's been a Friday market on this site since 1604, a tradition upheld with the Friday Variety Market, where stalls sell fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, antiques, books and clothes. Saturday's City Food and Craft Market sees local and international speciality foods plus handmade pottery, glass, metalwork and local photography. The Sunday Market focuses on local arts and crafts such as scented candles, handmade jewellery and homemade confectionary. There's often live music from local bands.

 

11:30 Take a Black Taxi Tour of Belfast's political murals

Northern Ireland has witnessed many political and religious divisions over the years. An estimated 2,000 murals, considered the most famous political murals in Europe, document these troubles. Significant murals from the 1980s tend to endorse either Republican or Loyalist views, depicting sectarian events such as the Ballymurphy Massacre and the hunger strike of Bobby Sands. The current trend is for murals representing peace and tolerance. These striking examples of political street art provide an overview of Northern Ireland's recent history. Take a 90-minute Black Taxi Tour to see what the walls of Belfast have to say. 

 

13:00 Sample Northern Irish cuisine, language and culture

An arts and cultural centre housed in a former church in the Gaeltacht Quarter, Cultúrlann McAdam O Fiaich celebrates and fosters Irish culture with poetry readings, traditional and contemporary Irish music, exhibitions and céili's. Its homely café-restaurant Bia is a meeting place for Belfast's Irish Language community, and a place to enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner in an authentic Gaelic atmosphere. 

 

14:00 Go to prison

First opening its gates to prisoners in 1846, Crumlin Road Gaol housed murderers, suffragettes, and loyalist and republican prisoners for 150 years. It has witnessed births, deaths and marriages and has been home to executions, escapes, riots and hunger strikes. Closing its doors for what many thought would be the final time in 1996, the gaol reopened in 2012 as a major visitor attraction. The 70-minute tour pays a visit to the condemned man's cell, the execution cell, and the underground tunnel connecting the gaol to Crumlin Road Courthouse.

 

15:30 Escape to the past

Set in more than 170 acres of rolling landscape overlooking Belfast Lough, visitors to the Ulster Folk&Transport Museum will discover how people lived and travelled over the centuries. Wander though history, encountering costumed visitor guides and passing cottages, farms, schools and shops. There are also horse-drawn carriages, electric trams, motorbikes fire engines and vintage cars.

 

18:00 Recharge

Head back to your hotel, with just enough time to shower and change before a second night out.

 

19:30 Dinner to suit all tastes, appetites and budgets

Carnivores will devour the signature Beef Shin Burger at The Barking Dog, but there are excellent fish and vegetarian options too. With exposed brick walls and scrubbed wooden tables, this informal eatery is ideal for a full meal or a quick bite, while the upstairs cocktail lounge serves drinks and nibbles.

One of Belfast's favourite restaurants, Mourne Seafood Bar specialises in fresh local seafood at an affordable price in rustic surroundings. This winning formula means it's very popular, so reservations are essential for dinner (if you miss out, you can try lunch, which is first come, first served).

With its quirky, mismatched furnishings and relaxed vibe, Muriel's Café Bar is especially popular for Sunday brunch and dinner - bear in mind that last food orders are 7:45pm, although they serve platters of cold cuts and other nibbles until midnight. 

 

Getting here

Belfast is situated on the east coast of Northern Ireland. It's served by flights into Belfast International Airport and George Best Belfast City Airport. Scheduled flights operate from most major British airports, as well as from many major European cities. There are also ferry connections with England and Scotland.

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