After a bus from Betws and a train from Conwy, we arrived in Liverpool from Wales about lunchtime on Easter Sunday. We found lunch in a pub near the train station (left our backpacks in a left luggage facility in the train station – charged for the first 3 hours, then after that it was 3-24 hours!!) and then took the open-top bus tour, a first for us! They are normally so expensive, but Liverpool’s was something like £9, and as we were short on time decided it was worth it in order to see a bit of Liverpool. It was quite a good trip and the commentary was great, however by the time it got to our stop it was pretty full up the top so we went around twice in order to get better photos (once we got back to the bus’s starting point, most people disembarked so we could nab good seats on the top deck).
The most interesting points, we thought, were the White Star hotel (built by the White Star line for their luxury passengers on ships such as the Titanic), Catholic cathedral (designed by a Protestant architect) and Anglican cathedral (designed by a Catholic!). Interestingly the guy who designed the Anglican cathedral also designed the red telephone boxes!
We discovered that fog rolls in from the river very quickly in Liverpool, and the temperature can drop by several degrees in minutes. The city centre turned grey and cold, however it was still sunny and warm out at the airport. We flew with FlyBe (front row seats in a turbo prop plane which wasn’t even half full) across to Belfast, landing a bit before 9pm. Fortunately the bus timetable was pretty straight forward and 15 minutes later we were in central Belfast, 5 minutes’ walk from our hotel. We stayed in a Premier Inn right in the centre of town – cheap as chips, good bed, good bathroom, clean, good service – everything we’ve come to expect from Premier Inn.
As we enjoyed the bus tour in Liverpool and Belfast’s was also cheap, we did the same thing on our first day in Belfast. The Belfast one is much longer – about an hour and a half. The tickets are also valid for 48 hours which is handy. We did the entire route in one day on our first day, then stopped off at two points on our second day. As the bus only comes around every half hour I’m not really sure which is the most efficient way of doing it.
Again the commentary on the bus was excellent – highlights were the Harland & Wolff shipyards where the Titanic was built (and where you can see the biggest ship loading cranes in the world, nicknamed Samson and Goliath); the peace wall which still divides Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods; the famous murals (dedicated to both the nationalist and unionist causes); Queen’s university; Parliament buildings and the Crumlin Rd gaol. For anyone who wants a crash course in Irish political history, this is a great option. We already had a vague understanding of the history behind the partitioning of Northern Ireland, but this explained it very well, especially the modern history of it.
We found Belfast an interesting place and were especially intrigued by how fractured the city still is. It seems absurd to us to label someone as a particular political persuasion based simply on their religious views – or indeed their accent – but the divides still exist (although not as distinctly as they used to be). We visited the City Hall after the bus tour, and had lunch at the Victoria street shopping centre, which has a viewing platform in a glass dome which gives a view of the city. The City Hall offers tours but we just looked around at some of their exhibits and didn’t spend long there.
The next day we joined the bus tour again (the tickets are valid for 48 hours) and were dropped off at the Titanic museum. We spent several hours there – if you are into Titanic history, I’d say allow 3 hours. I’m sure I don’t need to go through the story of the Titanic for everyone, but the museum was very good. It starts with a history of Belfast itself, taking you through to the ship-building era, which leads into the Titanic’s story.
It featured reconstructions of the different class berths, crockery and fabric which was used on the ship, and stories of survivors and victims. At the end it had a section dedicated to the inquiry into the crash.
Interestingly, all the experts interviewed for the inquiry stated that Captain Smith had done nothing wrong in his operation of the ship – all, that is, except for one. Ernest Shackleton (of Antarctic exploration fame) testified that Captain Smith had been cruising too fast for such an ice field. Several myths were debunked, including the claim that first class passengers were more likely to have survived.
After we left the Titanic Museum, we caught the bus (which unfortunately only runs in one direction, and our next stop was near the end of the circuit) to the Ulster Museum, ‘Northern Ireland’s treasure house of the past and present’.
We didn’t get long there because we only arrived about an hour before closing time, but had enough time to see the sections on Northern Ireland’s history, modern & ancient (we were not so interested in world history or natural history exhibits). If we’d had longer in Belfast I would have spent more time in this museum.
The next day was our last morning in Belfast. We had breakfast, as we had every other morning, at the Whetherspoons pub a few blocks away (super cheap breakfast – Ulster fry for under £3!) before making our way back out to the airport to pick up our hire car.