Dublin and Belfast: a dream double city break
If there’s one thing the island of Ireland has in abundance, it’s fun cities. And each has its own unique character and atmosphere…
Two of the most popular city breaks on the island are Dublin and Belfast, and best of all, they’re surprisingly close to each other – just over 2 hours on the train door-to-door. So why go for one, when you can have two?
Dublin’s "Fair City" awaits, with friendly locals, great neighbourhoods and excellent sightseeing....Explore Day 1
Hit the cobbles
To get to know Dublin, and really understand it, a walking tour is the way to go. The Dublin Free Walking Tour takes in the city’s most famous sights such as Trinity College and Temple Bar. Your charismatic and informative tour guide will detail the social and cultural history of these Dublin landmarks, giving you a deeper understanding of what makes the city so special.
You can also try Pat Liddy’s Walking Tours, which takes a historical journey through the city’s streets, peppered with famous stories and personal anecdotes.
For lunch, make your way to The Woollen Mills Eating House for a rustic soup and sandwich with views of the Ha’penny Bridge and River Liffey.
Culture-wise, Dublin has lots going on, with Temple Bar across the river from the Woolen Mills, packed with cultural hotspots such as Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, the Gallery of Photography and the Project Arts Centre. From here, it’s a pleasant 20-minute stroll through the leafy historic campus of Trinity College (home to the Book of Kells) to the National Gallery of Ireland.
Step inside the light-filled modern Millennium Wing in the heart of the gallery and you can enjoy a delightful collection that includes European masters such as Caravaggio, as well as work from famous Irish artists including Jack B Yeats, James Barry and Paul Henry. The gallery is free to visit and offers guided tours at the weekends.
Fancy something more modern? Jump on the Luas tram, alight at the James’s stop and it’s less than a 10-minute walk to the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Housed in the 17th century Royal Hospital Kilmainham, this museum hosts the national collection of modern art as well as ever-changing exhibitions. In the summer months, IMMA Outdoors sees a special exhibition take place on the expansive grounds of the site, hosting new work, talks and musical performances.
Sights and shopping
If you’ve still got room for more, you can stay in the area and visit Kilmainham Gaol, or stroll across to the Phoenix Park, one of Europe’s largest enclosed city parks, before jumping on the Luas back into the heart of the city.
Dublin comes alive after dark and a good place to kick off any evening is Grogan’s pub on South William Street, where locals gather to chat amid art-lined walls. This part of the city is great for grabbing a bite to eat, too, with some of Dublin’s top restaurants all in walking distance. Try Uno Mas for excellent Spanish fare, 777 for high-end Mexican cuisine or stroll up to Frank’s Dublin on Camden Street Lower for biodynamic wines and seasonal dishes in an old butcher’s shop.
A dockland delight
You’ll have plenty of hotel options in Dublin, but if you want a good hub for public transport, the Gibson is a perfect chic urban retreat. Situated beside the 3 Arena, this hotel has all the essentials including a gym, bar, restaurant and relaxation area. It’s also perfectly located – with a Luas line at your door, you can be at the nearby Connolly train station in minutes – which will come in handy for the Belfast portion of your trip!
Make the most of Dublin by going beyond the city and exploring some of the great coastal locations on its doorstepExplore Day 2
Let's go to the seaside!
It’s easy to enjoy a day trip out of Dublin, and the Dart train will bring you out to either the northern or southern coastal suburbs in around 30 minutes.
A great place to really get away from it all is the fishing village of Howth. The first attraction you’ll reach when you get off the Dart is Howth Pier, which is particularly fine on a sunny day – so if the winds are favourable, walk out to the end and look back for lovely views of the village. Make sure to grab some fish and chips from Beshoff Bros or an ice cream.
Take a hike
The most famous attraction in Howth – and one of the top walks in Dublin – is the Howth Head Walk. This route takes in glorious views of the surrounding Dublin Bay, as well as the striking Baily Lighthouse. There are a few different routes that vary in difficulty – but all in all, the walk should take about three hours.
If you want to explore Howth in more depth, give Hidden Howth Experiences a go. Their passionate guides will detail the history and culture of the area, while clueing you in to all the top spots for a meal or a drink.
Some seaside delights
You could head back into Dublin city for dinner, but Howth boasts some great places to eat, so it’s worth sticking around. If you fancy fine dining, pop into the Pier House and try their oysters or shrimp tempura, or book a table at Mamó, where you can enjoy an upscale “cod chip”.
The Dart back to the city runs until just before midnight, so you’ll have time to pop into a local pub such as the Bloody Stream, Brass Monkey or McNeills for a quick nightcap before you wrap up your day!
It’s time to discover a city rich with history, culture and Titanic tales… Set your sights on BelfastExplore Day 3
Getting to Belfast from Dublin couldn’t be easier. Frequent trains leave from Connolly station in the centre of Dublin and take around 2 hours 15 minutes. This is one of the island's busiest train routes, so make sure you have your ticket booked in advance. It’s a beautiful journey as you travel along the coast, with views of the Irish Sea and a patchwork of green fields out the window.
Once you arrive in Belfast, make your way to the Cathedral Quarter for a spot of lunch. This buzzing creative district is a hotbed of brilliant places to eat, from the cheap and cheerful Yardbird, which specialises in rotisserie chicken, to the elegant surrounds of Waterman House, as well as authentic Italian pizza and pasta at Coppi.
Rediscovering the Ship of Dreams
After lunch, take a walk over to the Titanic Quarter and the visually stunning Titanic Belfast museum. Housed in the location where the ship was built and launched, this fascinating spot details the vessel's story, from its conception through to its maiden voyage.
Stepping through the original Harland & Wolff gates, and walking through Hamilton Dock as you approach the museum is like stepping back in time. The exhibition itself is just as impressive, bringing you through the history of shipbuilding with immersive animations and reconstructions.
To keep the Titanic theme going, head to the Titanic Hotel. Originally the Harland & Wolff Headquarters and Drawing Offices, the hotel boasts an award-winning restaurant called The Wolff Grill, which boasts beautiful views of Titanic Belfast.
The perfect nightcap
Make your way down to the 1852 hotel and wind your evening down with a few cocktails in its funky Town Square bar. This spot hosts gigs, performances and special drink tastings so it’ll be the perfect way to wrap up the night. When you’re tired out from the festivities, make your way to one of the 1852’s spacious, comfy rooms and sleep like a baby.
Wrap up your trip with a challenging and rewarding walk, and some of the finest cuisine Belfast has to offer...Explore Day 4
The view from the top
Kick off your final day with a cup of the 1852’s world-class coffee, and then make your way out for your final journey. A great way to uncover a personal side to Belfast's past is with the Black Taxi Tour. With a knowledgeable driver as your guide, each tour will take you through a different aspect of the city's history – from the political murals, to a 3-hour tour that takes in all the top sights.
For lunch, you’ll find some gorgeous street food spots dotted around the city including addictive Mexican food at Taquitos, or the diverse mix of flavours at Urban Scullery. Once you’re charged up for the day, make your way to Cave Hill Country Park. There are plenty of Translink busses that head from the city centre which will take you to the entrance of the park in about 15 minutes.
From here you can walk up to Belfast Castle and choose your walking route. If you want a gentle walk, the Castle Trail will take you through the beautiful parkland and gardens surrounding the area but if you fancy a challenge, the Cave Hill Trail will more than suffice. This walk has some steep sections and uneven ground, so if the weather is a bit on the heavy side, make sure to dress appropriately and wear some good shoes!
But while it’s an occasionally difficult ascent, it’s more than worth it for the sprawling panoramic views once you reach the top – you’ll be treated to sights encompassing all of Belfast city and the distant mountains beyond, a real sight to savour.