Belfast to Armagh 60.4km (40 miles)/80 minutes at 30mph
A great music scene, buzzing restaurants and atmospheric old pubs have made Belfast one of the best city-break destinations in Europe. And if it's world-class sightseeing you're after, then head for the dazzling Titanic Belfast – a shining light in a city laden with attractions.
Take a few days to relax and enjoy what Belfast has to offer, before joining the St Patrick's Trail for nearby Armagh. It's only a 50-minute drive, so why not make a detour at Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles.
On the shores of this scenic lough you’ll find the Ardboe Cross – one of the finest high crosses in Ireland.
According to local legend, it was built with the help of a cow, which sustained the workmen with cream, milk and butter during construction.
You can take various boat trips around the lough, and out to its islands, or why not just chill out shore-side with a picnic before heading south into the ancient city of Armagh.
The smallest of Northern Ireland’s six counties, Armagh still packs a high-grade historical punch. You might not guess it from the elegant Georgian streets and the lively bars and restaurants, but this genteel little spot has been the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland since the 5th century.
Soak up some of the city's laid-back atmosphere at The Mall, a pretty tree-lined central promenade with a surprisingly shady past (think horse races, cock fights and bull baiting).
If you get the feeling that you’re being watched… well, you are. Hidden behind windows and inside nooks and crannies all over Armagh are small, intricate and (as far as we know) inanimate bronze sculptures of gargoyles, chimeras and angels. These are all part of the city’s sacred architecture – and are fascinating curiosities to keep an eye out for.
You might also want to stop by the Armagh Public Library. Here, you’ll find a first edition of Gulliver’s Travels, complete with Jonathan Swift’s handwritten notes in the margins. Or nip into the Armagh County Museum and uncover archaeological finds from the early Christian period.
St Patrick's Cathedrals
You’ve probably heard that St Patrick’s Cathedral is a must-see for anyone visiting Armagh, but did you know there are two of them? The Church of Ireland cathedral sits proudly on Sally Hill, with a superb view stretching for miles. Underneath, you'll find a dramatic crypt that dates back to 1268.
The cathedral is also famous for being home to Irish royalty – Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland who defeated the Norsemen in 1014, is buried in the North Wall here. The battle cost him his life.
On the opposite hill is the twin-spired Catholic St Patrick's Cathedral, guarded by two magnificent marble archbishops, and flanked by seven flights of steps to the arcade of statues peering down from the main exterior doorway.
Ever wanted to touch a meteorite? Well now you can, at the Armagh Planetarium. And not just any meteorite, but Ireland’s largest one; 4.5 billion years old and weighing in at 24 stone. Also on the intergalactic menu is an exhibition of spaceships and satellite models. For kids (or kids at heart) you can even build one yourself.
Pop into the museum at No. 5 Vicar’s Hill and you'll see the sparkling collection of gems and early Christian artefacts collected by Archbishops Robinson and Beresford. Keep your eyes peeled for the macabre-sounding Bell of the Blood, reputedly blessed by the man himself, St Patrick. Architecture buffs will be happy to know that the building has retained many of its original features. Not bad for a structure that’s almost 250 years old.
Armagh isn’t just about history, of course: this is a town that knows a good time when it sees it. The Hole in the Wall bar (used as an informal courthouse in the 17th century) and Red Ned’s are just two examples of the city’s quirky side.
For a central location to spend the night, the Armagh City Hotel has panoramic views overlooking the city.