Belfast… Beyond Basketball

So you’re travelling to the Belfast Classic Basketball Hall of Fame in November. Well, in between all that action, you won’t miss an opportunity to see one of Europe’s most intriguing, beautiful and complicated cities. Belfast is a wonderful blend of the old and the new, and a great base from which to explore more of Northern Ireland. Here are six things you won’t want to miss during your stay.

1. Game of Thrones Tour

You’ve seen Game of Thrones, right? You’ve marvelled at the rugged landscapes of the North? Well, how about exploring a real-life Westeros? When in Belfast, you can do exactly that with the Game of Thrones Tour. With two different tours to choose from, you can look forward to the prospect of visiting the 16th Century castle that you’ll know better as “Winterfell”. This tour will take you across nine different locations used during some of the show’s most memorable scenes. (It’s also the magical place that inspired C. S. Lewis to create the world of Narnia.) Alternatively, you might prefer the Causeway Coastal Route. Passing through Carrickfergus Castle and Magheramorne Quarry, you’ll know them better as the location of Castle Black and the Wall. And a visit to the Cushendun caves takes you to where Melisandre gave birth to a dark spirit. Eeep!

Feeling confident? Well, you’ll need it to walk across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Almost 100ft above the rocks below, you’ll be happy to eventually find yourself back on solid ground. A tip – there’s plenty of walking involved, so you’ll want to dress accordingly. Fit yourself out with some good walking shoes, raingear and a packed lunch and you’ll get on just fine.

2. Titanic

The story of the ill-fated Titanic is known the world over. Less known is the fact that Belfast is where the ‘unsinkable ship’ was actually built. Belfast was once one of the world’s most capable ship-building cities, and Titanic Belfast lets you explore the intricacies of its most famous ship. Perched on the city’s waterfront, the museum’s one-hour Discovery Tour takes you through the famous drawing offices of the Harland & Wolff shipping company. Here you’ll find out from personal guides how these talented designers came up with their elaborate ideas for the Titanic and other impressive ships. Alternatively, the museum’s Titanic Experience takes you through some of the fascinating artefacts behind building the world’s most famous ship. Venture outside of the museum and you’ll find a range of other exciting activities too. From walking tours to the ‘Wee Tram’, it’s an area brimming with history. The Titanic Museum is also equipped with a restaurant and a café. It’s a beautiful place to spend a few hours during your visit to the city of Belfast.

3. Giants Causeway

The Giants Causeway has been captivating visitors to this island for centuries. Rooted at the heart of Ireland’s northern coast, you’ll marvel at the statuesque columns that appear as if arranged by hand. These rock formations that have been millions of the years in the making, so exploring the Causeway is a genuine voyage through time. Given the sheer popularity of the Giants Causeway (around half-a-million visitors each year), there are plenty of dedicated tour groups that will get you there and back. The Causeway was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, so your trip to Belfast won’t be complete without a visit.

4. Ulster Museum

The Ulster Museum caters to art lovers, history buffs, inquisitive kids and curious minds alike. The exhibits originate from Ireland and further afield. A trip to the museum will bring you face-to-face with an Egyptian mummy and the remains of a dinosaur. One special source of local intrigue can be found with the museum’s collection of Bronze Age jewellery. Discovered as recently as nine years ago, the collection’s golden coiled torc had been lying undisturbed in a Fermanagh field for over 3,000 years! The only piece of jewellery of its kind from Ireland, it weighs around 720 grams. Just to put that into perspective, your average wedding ring weighs about 10 grams. You better believe this golden torc belonged to someone very, very important. The museum is a great way to experience the rich history of both Ireland and further afield. Topping it all off is the fact that admission to the Ulster Museum is free!

 5. Belfast Black Cab Tours

So, you’ve wandered around Giants Causeway, spent time marvelling at the city’s shipyards, and now you’re looking for something a little bit different. Belfast’s Black Cab Tours might just fit the bill. Belfast is a city with a past that is both exciting and troubling. These tours – all from the back of your personal taxi – will take you through some of Belfast’s most important landmarks. With an informed guide pointing out all the little idiosyncrasies this city has to offer, your tour will, of course, take in the political murals of the Falls and Shankill roads. Beautifully designed, yet harking back to darker times, you’ll also discover the infamous peace line – a wall designed to keep the city’s Nationalist and Loyalist factions apart. Visiting the City Hall, the Crumlin Road Jail, and the 19th century Crown Liquor Saloon, it’s a wonderful way to learn about Belfast from someone who really knows their stuff.

6. St. George’s Market

For a first-hand experience of Belfast at its best, no trip is complete without a visit to St. George’s Market. You’ll struggle to find another market like it. The site has been home to a market since the turn of the 17th century and today the market brims with local character and charm. You’ll find a variety of attractions depending on what day you choose to drop in. Open from 6:00am to 3:00pm, the Friday market has almost 250 stalls offering a wide range of food, drink and interesting antiques, complemented by local musicians playing all over. On Saturday, you have the later start-time of 9:00am. Bringing together exotic foods from all over the world, it doesn’t compromise the local attractions either. However, best of all might just be the Sunday market (10:00am – 4:00pm). Bringing together the best of the Friday and Saturday markets, it has a special emphasis on local arts and crafts. Named the UK’s Best Large Indoor Market in 2014, it really is a fun way to experience the real Belfast of today.

The Basketball Hall of Fame: Belfast Classic takes place in Belfast from November 29 to December 1st. The 2018 event will feature an expanded field to eight schools. The schools will compete in two four-team brackets, with University campus round games in America leading into two tournament brackets in Belfast aptly named ‘Samson’ and ‘Goliath’ after the iconic Harland and Wolffe cranes in the Titanic quarter shipyard of Belfast. The field for the 2018 event is as follows: University at Albany (America East Conference), University at Buffalo (Mid-American Conference), Dartmouth College (Ivy League), LIU Brooklyn (Northeast Conference), Marist College (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference), University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Horizon League), University of San Francisco (West Coast Conference) and Stephen F. Austin State University (Southland Conference).