The United Kingdom (UK) comprises of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If you’re looking for ideas for what to do in the UK, here are some great travel tips from the Europe a la Carte team.
Cool Off at the Diana Memorial Fountain, Hyde Park
You may dangle your feet in the refreshing stream at the Diana Memorial Fountain in London’s Hyde Park after a hard days sightseeing but you’re not allowed to walk through the structure.
We were told we would hear the truth.Â The facts would be correct.Â The numbers, the events, the statistics would all be true.Â We were also told though, that the reasons for those truths, the background to those truths would be interpreted freely and from an admittedly biased perspective.Â Four hours later, we had walked own the Falls Roads in Belfast with a staunch Republican.
Coiste organizes walking tours of Belfast on the Republican side of Belfast.Â Their main objective is to give former IRA political prisoners work after the amnesty agreement and their subsequent release from prison, although not all guides are former political prisoners.Â The company offers a variety of different tours on the Republican side of Belfast.
The group does not hide from their past.Â Instead, they use it to their advantage and as a teaching tool.Â Several times throughout our tour, we were told that it would be a good idea to take a similar walking tour on the Loyalist side of Belfast with a similar group called EPIC (unfortunately their website is currently being renovated but contact information can be found here).
Throughout the tour we were told the history of the Falls Road, the background to the numerous murals painted along the road, the sites of murders, attacks, bombings.Â We eventually made our way to the Milltown Cemetery, the burial site of several IRA members and itself a site of historical significance.Â After the cemetery we crossed the street to a Republican pub and received our free glass of Guinness.
What was supposed to have taken about two and a half hours, took four.Â And I couldnâ€™t get enough.Â Our guide, Jack Duffin, was knowledgeable, engaging, had an intimate connection with the area and was greeted several times by people walking along the streets.Â He even cracked a few jokes along the way.Â Considering the severity of the topic at hand, it was good to lighten the mood every now and again.Â Duffin also provides other tours in the Northern Ireland area with a company called Irish Historical Tours.
Belfast isnâ€™t always at the top of the list when people are doing their Europe travel planning. It should be.Â I was amazed by the history of the area, and the changes taking place in a city so long tied with the Troubles.
Update 30 January 2010: The competition is now closed. The winner is Carrie-Ann, who correctly answered that the location of my Twitter background photo was Brussels. There were over 30 competition entries with some very good answers to the tiebreaker question â€œWhat most appeals to you about visiting Belfast?” Here is Carrie-Ann’s winning response:
Belfast has it all!
B eautiful buildings @ The Grand Opera House
E ntertainment @ Laverys
L uxurious treat @ Aura Day Spa
F amily fun @ Belfast Zoo
A mazing scenery @ Island Magee
S hopping @ Victoria Square
T asty food @ no 27 Talbot street
The Europe a la Carte Blog Twitter competition (5) launches today. To win you have to correctly identify the location in the background photo of my @karenbryan Twitter page. Iâ€™ll be giving clues on Twitter during the competition to help you work out the background photo location. Youâ€™ll also need to answer the tiebreaker question.
The destination displayed on the Twitter page background has been written about in the Europe a la Carte Blog. You must leave your answer as a comment on this blog post, also answering the tiebreaker question. The tiebreaker kicks in if either no-one gets the destination correctly or if more than one person gets the correct destination. The tiebreaker enables me to choose a winner by judging the most entertaining and/or insightful answer.
The short break to Belfast comprises of four parts, to be taken between 01 February 2010 to 01 July 2010 from Birmingham, East Midlands and Manchester to Belfast and from 01 February 2010 to 25 March 2010 from Cardiff. Prize excludes travel from 12-21 February 2010, 27 March -18 April 2010. Please refer to the terms and conditions at the bottom of this post for full details.
Part 1: Two return flights with bmibaby to Belfast International Airport from these four UK airports – East Midlands, Birmingham, Cardiff or Manchester during specified period. Flights to Belfast operate up to two times a day with fares starting from just Â£9.00 one way including taxes and charges. You can follow bmibaby_com on Twitter to keep up with their latest offers and useful link to information about their 31 European destinations. Transfer from the airport to the hotel is included.
Part 3: A guided taxi tour to explore the Belfast’s historical past and see the city’s major landmarks and attractions.
View over the city from the top of the Belfast Wheel
Part 4: Dinner on one night (up to the value of Â£90) at the award winning no27 Talbot Street restaurant, tweeting as no27talbotst. This contemporary restaurant in Belfastâ€™s Cathedral Quarter offers an extensive menu of wholesome dishes with a focus on fresh local produce.
2 Decide on the location of the background photo. Itâ€™s a European capital city. Follow me on Twitter @karenbryan for some more clues during the week. To follow me you need to click on the Follow button just under the small photo of me at the top left of my Twitter page.
3 Return to this blog post and write a comment with the name of the location in the Twitter background photo and the answer to the question, â€œWhat most appeals to you about visiting Belfast?” Only one entry per person allowed.
Good luck and look out for some more great prizes in future Europe a la Carte Twitter competitions.
Members of the Europe a la Carte blogging team canâ€™t enter the competition (as they can read the comments in blog admin).
Competition entries by blog comment must be made by midnight GMT on Friday 29 January 2010.
Terms and Conditions
1 The winner is entitled to return travel for two passengers with bmibaby from East Midlands, Birmingham, Cardiff or Manchester Airport to Belfast Intl on the bmibaby network.
2 The winner is entitled to two nights bed and breakfast at the Malmaison Belfast (34-38 Victoria Street, Belfast, Antrim, BT1 3GH)
3 Closing date for the competition is 29 January 2010.
4 Prize valid from 01 February 2010 to 01 July 2010 from Birmingham, East Midlands and Manchester to Belfast and from 01 February 2010 to 25 March 2010 from Cardiff. Prize excludes travel from 12-21 February 2010, 27 March -18 April 2010.
5 Flights and hotel are subject to availability. Availability is more restrictive during peak periods. Greater promotional seat availability is offered on off-peak flight services.
6 Travel must be booked 14 days in advance of outbound travel date.
7 Prizes are non-transferable, non-refundable and non-changeable. Flight details, dates and times, plus the hotel details cannot be varied once they are booked. Cash or credit alternatives will not be offered.
8 bmibaby reserves the right to provide substitute prizes of similar value should the specified prizes become unavailable.
9 Route may vary due to timetable changes.
10 bmibaby reserves the right to change its flight schedules without prior notice.
11 The winner will be responsible for supplying valid passports and visa.
12 It is strongly recommended that travellers take out adequate travel insurance.
13 All flights are subject to the terms and conditions under which they are issued including bmibaby’s general conditions of carriage for passengers and baggage.
14 bmibaby reserves the right to cancel or amend the terms of this prize promotion and without notice in the unlikely event of major catastrophe, war, earthquake, or any actual, anticipated or alleged breach of any applicable law or regulation or any other similar event.
15 By participating in this prize promotion, you grant the promoters permission to use your name and likeness for advertising and future promotional purposes without additional compensations (except where prohibited).
16 Winners are liable for any tax liability accruing as a result of this promotion.
17 This promotion is governed by English Law.
18 The judges decision is final.
Kerry Dexter of Music Road recommends An ChultÃºrlan, an old church which has been made into center for Irish language community in west Belfast.Â It’s aÂ bookstore, a tourist point, a cafe and hosts frequent music events. It’s in the Falls Road, a short walk from the city center.
@foxychops suggests a visit to W5 the science and discovery centre at Odyssey as it’s great for families with lots of different levels with a variety of interactive experiences. She especially liked the stringless harp.
View over the city from the top of the Belfast Wheel
I stayed at the Malmaison Belfast, which was like being on a gothic film set. After checking in on the evening of 28 July, I ate at The Apartment, opposite the City Hall. Then it was on to the restored Victorian Crown Bar with its intricately carved wooden booths and stained glass windows. What a contrast between the glass fronted Apartment and the dark wooden cosiness of the Crown Bar, however I loved them both!
City Hall and the Belfast Wheel
The next morning I ventured out of the city for a visit to the Ulster Folk Museum where I spent most of my time in Ballycultra Town, a recreation of a typical Irish town from the beginning of the 20th centtury. I was keen to see the Botanic Gardens, so caught the train back in to the city. The Palm House and the flowerbeds were an absolute riot of colour. Next it was a sighseeing bus tour around the city which covered Stormont, the Murals, Queens University and the Cathedral District.
The International Wall murals, Belfast
I then had a ride on the Belfast Wheel before heading down to the River Lagan. I was amazed by how much construction in going on around Belfast, which led me to christen it “City of Cranes”. The whole area around the former dockyards is being regenerated into a mix of housing, retail and office accommodation.
Belfast, City of Cranes
There’s a Peace and Reconciliation sculpture at Laganside.
Peace and Reconciliation Sculpture
Futher along, close to the weir, is a giant blue fish sculpture named the Big Fish.
The Big Fish at Laganside
My favourite installation around Laganside was the water feature in Custom House Square, a water jet fountain powered by the River Farsett flowing beneath.
Water feature, Custom House Square, Belfast
On my final day in Belfast, I visited Victoria Square shopping centre, not necessarily to partake of some retail therapy but to admire the view from the observation platform in the dome. I then had a very tasty tapas lunch at La Tasca Spanish Restaurant.
La Tasca Spanish Tapas Restaurant, Victoria Square, Belfast
Well – Belfast certainly lived up to its reputation as a great short break destination.
Europe a la Carte Summer 09 UK Blogging Tour sponsored by
You may be questioning my wisdom at naming the Victoria Square shopping centre as one of the best free attractions on the Belfast stop of the Summer 09 UK Blogging Tour. This is not becuase I’ve morphed into a shopaholic but because it’s an interesting recent construction with great views from the free observatory platform in the dome.
There are several restaurants and bars in Victoria Square, many with seating outside the premises, which on a sunny day almost feels like sitting outside because of all the light streaming in through the glass dome. I had a very tasty lunch at La Tasca Spanish Tapas Restaurant
I had planned to walk around to find a restaurant for lunch during the Belfast leg of the Summer 09 UK Blogging Tour. However it started raining and I was in the Victoria Square shopping centre where I’d noticed several restaurants so decided just to eat at one of them. I selected the Spanish Tapas restaurant, La Tasca. It turned out to be an excellent choice.
La Tasca, Victoria Square, Belfast
There are tables outside but I thought it was rather cool to sit there so plumped for the interior. I decided to go for the offer of 5 tapas for Â£10, available Sunday to Friday until 5pm, which was described as lunch for two. However based on previous experiences in tapas joints I thought it’d probably just be a decent lunch for one. I selected fried fish, meatballs, aubergines, vegetable paella and a salad. Everything was delicious and would have almost been enough to feed two (no, I didn’t scoff the lot).
Tapas at La Tasca, Victoria Square, Belfast
Overall I’d recommend La Tasca for a tasty, value for money lunch in pleasant surroundings. There are seventy La Tascas around the UK, although I’d never been to one before. They do various promotions currently including 50% off food bills vouchers and Tapas for a Tenner Sunday to Tuesday 5pm to 9pm.
The 84 water jets are powered by the River Farsett which flows beneath the ground. The jets vary in height and intensity and it’s a favourite game to dare your mates to run between the jets without getting soaked.
Water feature, Custon House Square, Belfast
Custom House Square was revamped in 2005 an outdoor events venue. The Albert Clock sits at one end of the square and it’s a short walk to the River Laggan.
It’s free of charge to visit the Belfast Botanic Gardens and enter The Palm House. However be aware of the visiting hours of the Palm House, on weekdays it’s closed from noon to 1pm (I was lucky with this as I hadn’t checked the opening hours, arriving soon after 1pm). At weekends The Palm House doesn’t open until 1pm.