Belfast, Northern Ireland

48 Hours in Belfast: A Travel Guide for the Emerald Isle

As Northern Ireland's capital, Belfast has plenty of claims to fame. It was the city in which the ill-fated ship the Titanic was built, it is well known for the violence suffered during 20th century Troubles and more recently, it has provided stunning cinematic settings for Game of Thrones. And what you may not know is that it's the birthplace of ginger beer and the portable defibrillator as well!

For visitors and locals alike, Belfast boasts a whole host of attractions, from historic landmarks and stunning architecture to a lively nightlife scene and an excellent array of restaurants and cafes. In Novemver, I had the pleasure of spending 48 hours in the city with two old friends and we had a marvellous time. This post is dedicated to sharing exactly what we got up to!

Belfast city hall Christmas markets

Escape Lounge, Stansted Airport

My Belfast trip definitely began in style! My friend Freddie and I made the short flight to Belfast from London Stansted Airport and before taking off, we had the pleasure of experiencing the Stansted Escape Lounge for the first time. After passing through FastTrack security in moments, we headed straight for the conveniently located Lounge to enjoy some pre-flight Prosecco and nibbles.

When we arrived at the Escape Lounge, we were greeted by a friendly and efficient staff member on the reception who took us over to our reserved table. We could help ourselves to as much as we liked from the self-service food bar which included Full English breakfast items, cereals, pastries, toast, and fresh fruit. Sadly there were no meat-free sausages or similar for me to enjoy as a vegetarian, but I was happy to fill up on the delicious freshly baked croissants!

Escape Lounge Stansted airport review
Escape Lounge Stansted airport review

The atmosphere in the Escape Lounge was really relaxed and made a nice change from the hustle and bustle of the regular departure lounge. It was great to know that you were guaranteed to have somewhere comfy to sit before our flight! Other complimentary facilities in the Lounge included wifi and print newspapers and magazines to keep you entertained.

My only complaint about the Lounge's facilities were that not every table had a plug socket nearby. This was a bit of a pain on our visit because I needed to charge my phone before the flight, but it certainly didn't ruin the experience. If you pre-book your Escape Lounge entry, prices start at £30. This will get you up to three hours in the lounge. It doesn't matter which airline you're travelling with - all Stansted passengers are welcome!

Escape Lounge Stansted airport review

Carlingford, Ireland

Once we landed in Belfast, our adventures began with a scenic drive. Our first stop was the pretty town of Carlingford, which is located along the Cooley Peninsula Scenic Drive, Ireland's most beautiful route by road. Although it is over the border from Northern Ireland, it was only an hour's drive away from our base in Belfast and we couldn't resist the short trip. We were met with stunning scenery and a quaint and picturesque Irish town. 

It was very easy to explore on foot - first we paid a visit to Carlingford's Medieval priory which was founded in c.1305. The remains of the priory, constructed from the beautiful local greywacke stone, can be found on the south side of the town. A quick walk to the north will have you at King John's castle, which offered incredible views across the Lough. Although very sleepy by day, Carlingford has a reputation for great nightlife and is a popular hen-do destination, so it really does have something for everyone!

Carlingford priory Ireland stone scenery

Belfast Christmas Markets

It wouldn't be the festive season without a trip to a Christmas market! And Belfast's definitely got us into the spirit. The city hall was lit up in beautiful Christmas lights and there was a carousel and helter skelter to entertain the young ones. For the adults, there were stalls aplenty selling local produce and tons of food - everything from giant German bratwurts to Belgian chocs. I enjoyed a mug of mulled wine as a winter warmer!

We didn't want to spend too much money but we still had a fantastic time wandering around and soaking up the warm and welcoming atmosphere. It was busy at the markets but not oppressively so. There were plenty of places to stop and chat and what's more, all of the stall owners were happy to talk to you about their wares. I'd highly recommend that you stop by the markets if you find yourself in Belfast!

Belfast Christmas markets city hall
Belfast city hall Christmas markets

Hillsborough Castle

During our down-time in Belfast, my friends and I binge-watched the incredible Olivia Coleman starring in the third season of The Crown. This put us in a right royal mood, so when the opportunity arose to visit Hillsborough Castle, the official Northern Ireland residence of Queen Elizabeth II and the rest of the royal family, we couldn't say no! The castle has only just started admitting members of the public - it first opened its doors to visitors in April of this year. And with over 100 acres of manicured gardens and an opulent Georgian house to explore, it's well worth a look!

Hillsborough castle history Northern Ireland royal residence
Hillsborough castle history Northern Ireland queen

When you arrive at the castle, you enter the grounds through an 18th-century walled garden, which has been expertly restored using traditional methods. The garden is a horticultural masterpiece, stocked with plenty of home-grown veggies, fruit trees, and herbaceous borders which provide the two on-site cafes with farm-fresh produce. What I loved most about Hillsborough Castle was the peace and quiet - it was so lovely to switch off and embrace fresh air, nature, and idyllic views. This was one of the highlights of our whole trip!

nature robin Northern Ireland Hillsborough Castle gardens

Have you ever visited Northern Ireland? Let me know in the comments!