This wasn’t my first trip to Northern Ireland, but I wanted to take some of my family as they had not been before. I also wanted to celebrate my birthday, so I thought, “Let’s do Belfast!” 

After leaving my hometown of Dublin, we did a slight detour through Derry to Glenshane Country Farm, which is approximately 50 minutes from both Derry and Belfast. If you’re thinking of touring this area, you can make this stop on the way to either city! 

Jamese McCLoy is a fourth-generation shepherd on his family’s farm in the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains in Maghera.

Jamese will welcome you with tea or coffee on arrival and explain a little bit about his farm, what he does there and the commands he uses to instruct the farm dogs (all gorgeous border collies). Depending on how much time you have, Jamese will tailor the experience, which usually includes a demonstration of sheep dog herding, visiting some lambs and sheep shearing. 

Jamese has created a very welcoming place to visit — young or old, you’ll come away with some great memories! 

We then headed to Belfast and checked into our hotel right in the city center: The Grand Central. Since it’s the second tallest building in the city, you’ll see it as soon as you enter the city, identifiable by its seahorse icon at the top of the building. Now a 5-star hotel, it has an old, storied feeling, yet it’s still quite new having opened in 2018. 

After getting settled, we hopped in a cab to the Titanic Belfast Museum for the last admission of the day. Ideally, you should allow two hours to see everything and have time to peruse the gift store on your way out — they also have a lovely café there! 

Titanic Belfast focuses on the building of the Titanic and its effects on the city of Belfast, which is quite a lot as the area is now called Titanic Quarter! The exhibit features a shipyard ride — don’t skip it!  You’ll also learn about the ship’s maiden voyage. If you have time after your visit, check out the Titanic Hotel, which is the original building that housed the drawing office for the designers of the ship, Harland and Wolfe! You’ll see some great memorabilia there; they also have great cocktails in the bar (the original drawing office).

The next day, following breakfast in the Seahorse restaurant Saturday morning, we met with our private driver to tour the Antrim Coast. This was a great way to spend the day as everyone could relax and not worry about driving or navigating. Fergus, our driver, was great and tailored his tour to include the kids on board as well and kept them engaged. We had a basic itinerary drawn up before meeting, but changed some things around on the day to take into account what everyone was interested in seeing. 

Our first stop was the Dark Hedges, made famous in Game of Thrones. Cars and buses can take you fairly close, and then you walk the length of the avenue of hedges. It was originally built as a driveway to impress visitors as they drove to the mansion at the end of the road. 

The mansion, a gray stone fortress originally built in 1775, was dubbed Gracehill House after the owner’s wife, Grace. James and Grace Stuart planted the beech trees to impress visitors arriving to their estate. Now a golf course, the mansion and its row of tangled tree limbs are still a most hauntingly beautiful sight. 

We then headed to the famous Carrick-a-Rede, a rope bridge that connects the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede. The bridge spans 20 meters and is 30 meters above the rocks. You do have to cross the bridge a second time to return to the mainland.

Some travelers cross over and explore the small isle before coming back. From the drop-off point, it is a quick walk down to the bridge, parts of it with steep rocky steps, so plan accordingly! 

Next stop, Giants Causeway! This is a very unique place laced with myth and legend of the great Giant Finn McCool, who tore up parts of the Antrim Coastline in order to save his land from another giant across the sea. The path, now called the Giant’s Causeway, allowed Finn to cross the Atlantic to reach and defeat his foe. 

The walk down to the rocks is about 25 minutes, and well worth it. Once you get to the rocks you can climb on them and marvel at the neatly packed columns of hexagonal basalt rocks created millions of years ago by a flow of basaltic lava.  

Heading back towards Belfast, we stopped at Ballintoy Harbor, another location from Game of Thrones. We also drove through Bushmills, home of the world famous distillery. It was closed the day that we were touring but worth including if you have the time!

Safely dropped back at our hotel by Fergus, we had some time to relax in the hotel and prepare for dinner. We ate at Fratellis Belfast, a stylish, family-friendly Italian restaurant with great food and great service. 

We finished the evening with cocktails on the 22nd floor of the Grand Central’s Observatory Bar. With spectacular views over the city a trip up to the bar is not to be missed! 

All in all, a great time had by all and many memories made! 

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