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When families visit Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital, they’ll experience history firsthand. A few highlights include discovering the birthplace of the Titanic; seeing murals illustrating the period of conflict known as the Troubles; exploring the medieval city of Derry; and walking along a causeway that some say was built by a giant.
Following is a guide on how travel advisors can best plan a future kid-friendly trip to Belfast.
What to DoFamilies visiting Belfast will want to spend time at Titanic Belfast, the interactive museum experience dedicated to Titanic and her sister ships. Through nine interactive galleries incorporating special effects, dark rides and full-scale reconstructions, visitors can explore Titanic’s short history that started from the Belfast shipyards and ended at her final resting place on the ocean floor.
"Titanic Belfast is authentic; it is located on the spot where the famous ship was designed and launched," said Eimear Kearney, head of marketing for Titanic Belfast. "Visitors can explore the sights, sounds and stories of Titanic all while situated beside the Titanic Slipways, the Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices and Hamilton Graving Dock — the very places where Titanic was designed, built and launched in 1912.”
Similarly, at Belfast’s Ulster Folk Museum, kids can experience what life was like more than 100 years ago. At this fully interactive museum, costumed characters demonstrate traditional crafts such as blacksmithing, tweed weaving, printing and open-hearth baking. The adjacent Ulster Transport Museum tells the story of transport and social change in Ireland since the start of the modern era though historical exhibits (including photographs of Titanic), as well as a collection of locomotives, horse-drawn carriages, vintage motorbikes and cars.
“Both museums really are jewels in the crown of what is on offer in and around Belfast for visitors,” said Brona Moffett, head of experience and enterprise for National Museums NI. “It truly is living history at its best.”
The best way to learn about the area’s political and social unrest is by taking a Paddy Campbell's Famous Black Cab Tours political murals tour. The driver-guides shuttle families around the city in retro London-style black taxis and provide firsthand insight into the Troubles.
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Day TripsThe walled city of Derry — also known as Londonderry — offers clients the chance to walk on 1-mile-long 17th-century walls (the only completely intact medieval walls in Ireland). Like Belfast, Derry also played a key role in the Troubles, because it served as the location of Bloody Sunday.
Known to many Americans (thanks to the song by Irish rock band U2), Bloody Sunday refers to an actual event on Jan. 30, 1972, when 14 people were killed during a civil rights demonstration. Derry's official Bloody Sunday mural depicts one of the most iconic scenes of the Troubles (not only for Derry, but for the whole country).
Halfway between Derry and Belfast is the world-famous Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Ireland's most impressive natural wonders. The approximately 40,000 basalt stone columns were created by an underwater volcanic eruption — or, according to legend, perhaps by a giant named Finn McCool. During a 40-minute guided walk, guides cover history, geology and mythology, so clients are free to make up their own minds about the area’s origin story.
Where to EatA must-visit spot in Belfast for a meal (and perhaps a pint of Guinness) is The Crown Liquor Saloon, a Victorian-era pub dating back to the 1820s that still has its original gas lamps and carved mahogany booths, called “snugs.”
“Game of Thrones” (GOT) fans should also check out The Dark Horse coffee house in the city’s Cathedral Quarter — but not just for the coffee. When several trees along Northern Ireland's famous Dark Hedges (nicknamed “the Kingsroad”) blew over, they were carved into 10 pub doors, and each door features the story of an episode from GOT’s sixth season. The Dark Horse’s door (No. 10) depicts the season finale.
Where to StayThe Hastings Hotels collection’s five-star Culloden Estate and Spa is located just minutes from the Belfast city center. Built in 1869, the 98-room luxury hotel offers a variety of accommodation options for families. For clients who want to be in the middle of the action, Culloden’s sister property, the Grand Central Hotel, is an elegant 300-room city hotel in Belfast's Linen Quarter.
“For a long time, Belfast wasn’t seen as a destination to come to, but it absolutely is now,” said Eoin McGrath, luxury leisure sales manager for Hastings Hotels. “There’s something for everybody within Northern Ireland.”