Give your family an autumn treat with a visit to Belfast city
Summer may be gone but many of us are still in holiday mode.
In fact, according to Tripadvisor’s newly published Autumn Travel Index, half of Brits are planning an autumn break this year.
With lingering uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, staycations are still the trip of choice this autumn – 62% of Brits are planning to travel domestically, while only one in seven (14%) are planning on going abroad.
There’s no place like home and where better to start than Belfast itself, which was named number 2 in the top 10 destinations for autumn travel across the UK by Trip Advisor, beaten to top spot only by Cardiff.
Tourism chiefs are asking everyone to “embrace Northern Ireland’s giant spirit” and experience the province through the eyes of a tourist.
So wrap up warm and get out and explore the bright lights of Belfast with the family.
Here’s our top picks.
No family outing to Belfast would be complete without a visit to Titanic Belfast.
Next year marks the tenth anniversary of the opening of the award-winning visitor attraction – an iconic, six-floor aluminium-clad museum reminiscent of a ship’s hull - which pays homage to the city’s rich maritime history on the site of the former Harland and Wolff shipyard at Titanic Quarter.
2022 will mark 110 years since the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic in the early hours of April 15, 1912, the luxury steamship perishing off the coast of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic after colliding with an iceberg during its maiden voyage. Of the 2,240 passengers and crew on board, more than 1,500 lost their lives in the disaster.
There are numerous Titanic museums around the world – the most recent opening in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee - but nothing comes close to the Belfast version.
The self-guided, award-winning Titanic Experience extends over nine interpretive and interactive galleries, which explore the sights, sounds, smells and stories of RMS Titanic (initially known as Number 401 before it was named), as well as the city and people who made her.
Crumlin Road Gaol
The Charles Lanyon designed Crumlin Road jail, HMP Belfast - known colloquially as ‘The Crum’ - held prisoners since 1846, detaining Republicans and Loyalists during the Troubles.
The jail closed its doors as a prison in 1996, lying dormant for many years before opening as a major tourist attraction, conference centre, events space and wedding venue (yes, really) in November 2012.
Launched in 2019, the “Crumlin Road Gaol Experience” is a unique self-guided tour, which includes video, audio, and holograms throughout the site.
The tour takes you around the historic holding cells, the claustrophobic underground tunnel in the bowels of the gaol where thousands of prisoners were led to the courthouse on the opposite over the road and the truly jaw-dropping Condemned and Hangman’s cells (where 17 men met their fate), complete with gnarly rope.
Their bodies were buried within the prison walls in unconsecrated ground, the only marker being the men’s initials, scratched into the wall against the year of execution.
Learn the story of the last man executed on the island of Ireland, 26-year-old Robert Andrew McGladdery.
The last person McGladdery saw was the face of Harry Allen, one of Britain’s last official executioners, who had the job of putting the rope around the young man’s neck.
The prison now hosts concerts, Halloween and Christmas events and was even visited by Her Majesty the Queen in 2014.
Black Black Cab Tour
It’s the most fun you will ever have in a cab – and you might learn a thing or two about Belfast.
And if you want a mobile showcase of Belfast’s history with five-star entertainment thrown in make sure to hire the brilliant Blue Badge tour guide, Billy Scott.
A quare geg, as they say in these parts and with a truly encyclopedic knowledge of the rich, famous and infamous characters of the city’s past, Billy will take you on an unforgettable journey around Belfast’s notable landmarks.
He’ll take you to the many murals which have divided the city and you can even sign the Peace Wall just as US President Bill Clinton did.
Through the Falls and the Shankill Road, Billy regales tales of tragedy and humour, quoting Shelley’s ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ about Lord Castlereagh or the folk story of Shankill man William Bloat, who killed his wife, “the curse of his life,” with a knife.
And he even has a gag about locals telling passengers arriving at Belfast City airport that the famous H&W initials, which adorn the world famous Samson and Goliath cranes, really stands for “Hello and Welcome”.
My favourite though is the Sunflower pub sign: “No topless bathing. Ulster has suffered enough.”
Aunt Sandra’s Candy Factory
Located in the heart of East Belfast on the Castlereagh Road this magical shop has been producing handmade sweets since the early 1950s.
Inside the bright pink exterior you’ll find a sweet shop Willy Wonka would be proud of, a veritable ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ of candies.
The fun factory will transport you back to sweet shops of your childhood – remember Parma Violets, Brandy Balls, Liquorice Torpedoes and Clove Rock?
The business makes boiled sweets, chocolate and fudge, which are supplied to shops all over Northern Ireland
But it is most famous for its homemade Yellow Man and honeycomb which is made by “Uncle” David Moore, who has been running the factory since 1981 alongside his brother, “Uncle” Jim.
The welly-booted David – who makes up to half a ton of golden honeycomb every day - delivers a withering, tongue-in-cheek warning to kids as they arrive: “If you don’t study hard at school you could end up in a place like this.”
The factory runs candy and chocolate workshops – the latter hosted by the delightfully theatrical ‘Chocolatey’ Claire - who invites children to make their own chocolate pizzas and feast on jars of candy treats.
If you’re visiting, don’t tell your dentist.
Colin Glen Black
For adrenaline junkies head outside the city to the 200-acre Colin Glen Forest Park - and the white-knuckled Black Bull Run.
Ireland’s first alpine coaster is an exhilarating 565-metre toboggan ride down through the heart of the forest park with 22 curves, 22 twists and two tunnels.
At full throttle you can get up to 25mph – it seriously does feel faster - and once you’ve done a circuit you can line up and do it twice more.
Children aged between three and seven do have to be accompanied by an adult, while youngsters aged eight to 17 can ride by themselves but they must have a supervising adult with them.
The popular attraction takes its name from a story from local folklore legend; when fairies stole away Den McGaw’s mother for seven years, he shot at them. They responded by sending a great black bull to haunt him for ever more.
The £5m adventure park hosts a number of family activities including the The Forest Flyover - a 250m zipline which launches from a 50ft tower and reaches speeds of 30mph.
Guaranteed rosy cheeks all round.
Doggy Paddle on
the River Lagan
Fed up with taking your dog on the same boring old walks?
Look no further then than a gentle Sunday kayak experience down the River Lagan - with your four-legged friend on board.
The meeting point is at Shaw’s Bridge where you can paddle leisurely to your heart’s content towards Gilchrist Bridge.
Starting at 9.30am and lasting an hour, the serene paddling experience is becoming an increasingly big hit with Belfast dog owners.
The ‘doggie paddle’, on Canadian kayaks, is operated by aquatic host John Hubbucks who runs Mobile Team Adventure.
Trained chef John has been teaching people to kayak and canoe since 2005 and also runs outings at Strangford Lough where you can forage for mussels served up with his very own Irish whiskey cream sauce.
And if the Lagan or Stangford paddle doesn’t float your boat John can also take you on an exhilarating mountain bike ride through the forest and woodland area around the Lagan towpath.
Indoor sky diving,
We are Vertigo
While Belfast’s Titanic Quarter is renowned for its rich maritime history, you can take literally to the air in the shadow of the famous Samson and Goliath shipyard cranes.
We are Vertigo operates the country’s only indoor skydiving centre where families, or even work colleagues seeking an unforgettable team-building adventure, can check in for a unique flying experience.
There’s no doubt it’s an adrenaline rush and perfect for those who’ve always wanted to try sky diving but are naturally terrified of plunging themselves out of a light aircraft at 10,000 feet.
We are Vertigo’s version lasts about an hour and involves a ‘full package’ experience, so that means a rigorous safety brief and training with instructors – even a physical warm up - your own flight suit, a wow-factor flight demonstration by one of the experienced experts and of course your own flight.
So strap in for take off in a circular tunnel which blasts out hurricane wind speeds of 120mph thrusting you into the air like a ping pong ball, guided by attentive and encouraging instructors.
There are beginners packages but also silver and diamond options which increases your flight time in the tunnel. And the Spiderman-like demo by one of the instructors is worth the admission fee alone.
Thank you for reading this article. We’re more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
Please consider purchasing a copy of the paper. You can also support trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription of the News Letter.