Dublin and Belfast: Top 10 attractions

Dublin

Torn between a visit to Dublin Castle or Titanic Belfast? In just a two-hour trip, you can see both. Here are 10 attractions not to miss in the island of Ireland’s capital cities.

Picture it. You’re standing in the Titanic shipyard in Belfast, a breath-taking legacy to the city’s golden era of shipbuilding and industrial triumph. Two hours later, you’re walking the charming cobbled streets of Dublin, surrounded by some of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Europe. Ireland’s capital cities are very different, but they complement each other perfectly. Take a walk through James Joyce’s Dublin. Hop on a bus ride around the legendary musical sights in Belfast. Two cities, two unforgettable experiences… are you ready?

1. Titanic Belfast

Belfast is the hometown of the ship of dreams, and the Titanic’s story lives large in the city. Head down to the Thompson dry dock (the largest ever constructed) where she came to life and prepare to be swamped by the magnificent scale of the ship’s physical imprint. Inside the pump-house, the engineering brilliance is almost perfectly preserved in the original pumps and colossal hydraulic accumulator. Then, head for the shimmering shell that is Titanic Belfast, the world’s largest Titanic exhibition, where eight interactive galleries trace the ship’s story from industrial glory to tragic end.

2. The Book of Kells

Perfectly preserved in Trinity College Dublin (downstairs from the glorious Long Room Library), the Book of Kells is a tribute to Ireland’s rich scholarly history. One of the most beautifully illustrated manuscripts of the Early Christian world, the tome is richly decorated with abstract art and intricate figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts. Its history is equally impressive. Written by monks in the 9th century, it survived two Viking attacks, and was smuggled to safety from Scotland to Ireland around 807AD.

3. Belfast Black Taxi Tour

Hopping on a famous Black Taxi Tour is one of the best ways to get the most out of this compact city. The tour guides are friendly, knowledgeable and full of local tips. Take a spin around the colourful political murals splashed around the city walls, a central part of Belfast’s recent history (they also make for some epic street art). Want to see some iconic sights outside the city? The tour will happily take you as far as the legendary Giant's Causeway.

4. The Guinness Storehouse

Get the story behind the ‘black stuff’ at the Guinness Storehouse, modelled into the shape of a giant pint of Guinness. Climb seven floors of history, from the Atrium right up to the Gravity Bar: have a pint and soak in the breathtaking 360 degree view of Dublin city. More of a whiskey fan? The Teeling Distillery brings you up close and personal to the inner workings of the production process, from start to liquid gold finish.

5. Hillsborough Castle, Belfast

This gorgeous 18th century Georgian estate, Hillsborough Castle, is the official residence of the British Royal Family on their visits to Northern Ireland. Take a walk through the State Rooms, the majestic Throne Room and Lady Grey’s Sitting Room. Make sure to check out the mahogany secretaire with a bookcase top, said to have been made for the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic. Outside, the ornamental grounds, woodlands and carefully trimmed lawns are perfect for a stroll.

6. Dublin Castle

Dublin derives its name from the black pool, or ‘dubh linn’ founded by Vikings at Dublin Castle. Since it was first built the castle has served countless purposes, from military fortress to prison to treasury. Today, the guided tour of the grounds includes sights such as the Viking defence bank and the stony medieval Undercroft. Don’t miss the nearby General Post Office (GPO) on O'Connell Street. Still a working post office, this grand edifice has retained some beautifully restored original features, such as the ornate ceilings and iconic exterior pillars. The GPO is now home to a permanent visitor attraction 'GPO Witness History'.

7. Belfast city music tour

Did you know that Led Zeppelin first performed Stairway to Heaven live at the Ulster Hall in Belfast in 1971? Just one musical nugget you’ll pick up on this rock and roll bus tour through Belfast’s legendary musical history taking in the likes of Ulster Hall, Van Morrison’s childhood home and even the site of the old Wizarding studios. Of course, the soundtrack to the tour includes everything from blues to traditional and rock. It finishes at the Belfast Museum Exhibition at the Oh Yeah Music Centre, a mecca of music in Belfast.

8. Literary Dublin

Dublin is only the fourth UNESCO City of Literature in the WORLD with the likes of Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift and James Joyce citing Dublin as their inspiration. Try the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, where guides perform works from the city’s best-known writers. Continue your literary odyssey at the Little Museum of Dublin on St Stephen’s Green. With three floors packed with all manner of quirky curiosities donated by the public, you’ll love the first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses, his writing desk and even his deathmask….

9. Victoria Square Shopping Centre, Belfast

With four levels, over 70 stores, boutiques, and eateries, Victoria Square Shopping Centre is a day out in itself. Bright, airy and topped by a gigantic glass dome, you could easily spend hours browsing. Shopping done, take the stairs (or the lift!) to the observation deck at the top for a 360 degree panoramic view of the city skyline, dominated by local landmarks such as the iconic Harland & Wolff shipyard yellow cranes and Belfast Castle.

10. Phoenix Park

At 17,752 acres, Phoenix Park is the largest urban park in Europe. Encompassed within the park’s embrace is Áras an Uachtaráin (the residence of the President of Ireland) a herd of fallow deer and Dublin Zoo. The park’s stately homes (including Farmleigh House – former residence of the Guinness family) and monuments are open to the public and the visitor centre is packed with historical exhibitions for curious minds. Bike rides, as favoured by the likes of Beyoncé, are a popular way to explore the entire park.

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