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A Very Festive Tour of Belfast

A Very Festive Tour of Belfast

Belfast is a cracker city any time of year but it really comes alive during the Christmas season. The streets are aglow with decorations, the Christmas market cabins (and the people) are crammed side by side in the City Hall gardens and the pubs are full of festive-clad punters singing “Fairytale of New York” at the top of their lungs.

It’s a magical city to stroll through because every inch of the city is sprinkled with Christmas cheer – even the tiniest alleyways are decorated which makes it an ideal place to get a bit lost, even if you’re a local like me! I took myself on a festive tour a few days ago with just my camera and allowed myself to get caught up in the spirit of things. I took so many photos I thought I had to share them just in case you’d like to get a bit carried away too.

I’ve listed my favourite festive spots but if you think I’ve missed any gems make sure to tell me in the comments!

City Hall

I know City Hall isn’t exactly a secret what with the Christmas markets right outside but have you ever been inside? They have the most beautiful Christmas tree and there’s tours that can take you round the whole building if you fancied having a nosy. The staff are super friendly too – Gaz, one of the security guards had to get in on a selfie when he saw me snapping!

Christmas Markets

The markets can be really crowded on the weekends so my tip is to go early or, if you’re able to, head during the day on a weekday. It’s a beautiful place when it’s quieter mostly because you’re able to walk at a normal speed and because they’re quite small, it only takes a wee while to enjoy them.

There are plenty of photo opportunities too. The most popular place to capture the Helter Skelter is at the entrance to Patterson’s Place – you haven’t been to the markets unless you get this photo!

Margot

Margot is a relatively new bar on the block having just opened earlier this year but it’s already established itself as one of the cosiest bars in the city. Not satisfied with providing just a regular spot for a festive pint, the bar has gone all out on the Christmas decorations making it an essential visit this season. The Georgian buildings have been dressed to the nines outside and inside you can find a beautiful candle-lit fireplace and Christmas tree sparkling in the corner – very merry indeed!

St. George’s Market

St. George’s is on every Belfast tourist guide but at Christmas it’s an extra special place to visit. The decorations, music and lights bring the festive joy but the vendors are who bring the spirit. It’s a perfect spot to wander on a weekend morning with a toasty cup of mulled wine and at Christmas it is the best place to snap up presents from local businesses.

Revolución de Cuba

A popular watering hole for the city workers, Revolución de Cuba has really went for the festive decorations this year. They’ve kept the disco balls up and at night it sparkles and shines so much it almost feels like you’re inside a bauble – a bit trippy when you’ve tried a few of their cocktails!

Joy’s Entry

An historic thoroughfare, Joy’s Entry had been derelict for decades throughout the Troubles but now it’s one of the most colourful alleyways in the city. Each season the owners of The Jailhouse bar decorate the entry and this Christmas has been no exception with nearly every inch of the alleyway covered in beautiful boughs and bows. The music from the bar is played outside too so it’s hard not to feel happy if you decide to take a detour through there.

Henry’s / Jailhouse

Well, if you’re going through Joy’s Entry you might as well call in to the two sister pubs that are adjoined in the alleyway. Inside is just as beautiful as outside and if you’re brave enough, you can enjoy a drink on the terrace on the second floor.

Merchant Hotel

Of course the fanciest hotel in the city would have the fanciest facade and the facade of the Merchant is a real thing to behold this time of year. A Christmas in Belfast calls for a festive tipple in either The Great Room or The Cocktail Bar, each beautifully decorated and each as fancy as the next. ‘Tis the season!

Cathedral Quarter

The whole Cathedral Quarter is the merriest corner of Belfast and not just because it’s where the best pubs are! Every street is lit up like a Christmas tree and it makes a beautiful wee walk after a pint.

Queen’s Arcade

It’s a small piece of the city but it’s a cherished one having survived years of neglect and countless recessions. I love walking through here from Royal Avenue across to Sawer’s, another Belfast institution. The arcade is like stepping in to another time and at Christmas it’s a special part of the city that feels like a haven from the chaos of the main streets.

Sawer’s

Opened in 1897, Sawer’s is Belfast’s oldest Deli and is famous for it’s range of cheeses and chutneys. The deli provided the Titanic with it’s cheese and olives for its functions so it’s renowned as the best spot to get all the festive treats. Once you step inside it’s hard not to get carried away (I blame the deep wicker baskets the provide at the entrance!)

White’s Tavern

Another hidden corner of the city that can’t escape the festive touch! The oldest tavern in the city, White’s is a brilliant spot to find a quiet corner and enjoy a festive pint with a friend. Live music is played out in to the square outside that’s beautifully decorated throughout Christmas.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my favourite festive spots in the city! I hope you get to enjoy a few of them this season and savour al the good this city has to offer.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

 

Local Favourites: Armagh

Local Favourites: Armagh

It’s fair to say we aren’t known for our gratitude here in Ireland. We’re surrounded by towns and and villages so full of charm but the majority of us rarely appreciate them since it’s what we’ve either grown up with or used to. Cobbled streets and buildings older than Australia are just on our doorstep, so why not shine a light on them? That’s why I’ve started this new Local Favourites series to try an encourage a little love for these gems in our own backyard.

I may live in Belfast but I’m an Armagh girl born and bred so I’ve chosen my fair Cathedral City as the first in this new series. Although the town is technically a city, the population is only around 15,000 so it’s only wee. There was definitely a small-town vibe growing up here; I knew most people when I walked through the streets and I always felt incredibly safe even when I was a teenager running amok. Nowadays I feel a little more like an outsider after living away for so long but I think this gives me a fresh perspective and allows me to see the beauty of the town I grew up in.

Here are a few things I love most about my hometown…

Architecture

Armagh is built on seven hills which can be hard on the old thighs but can give you wonderful views across the city and it’s countryside. The most notable buildings are of course the two cathedrals which dominate the Armagh skyline like two aul men. Both cathedrals are named after St. Patrick (he was a popular man in these parts) however the older cathedral belongs to the Church of Ireland denomination and the younger is Roman Catholic. I adore both of these buildings for different reasons. The older dates back to 445 AD and has withstood monumental changes in Irish history – it even has a High King of Ireland buried in it’s grounds! The younger cathedral dates back to the 19th century and is also special because my own family history is tied to it. My parents were married here, I was christened here, made my first Communion and Confirmation here and I said goodbye to my sister all in the same colossal space. It’s gothic walls contain so many local memories within them and the intricate ceilings have my jaw hanging open every time.

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St. Patrick’s Cathdedral (The Older)

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral (The Younger)

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Armagh is also know for it’s Georgian architecture which can be best found around The Mall. The Mall is a public space with the Gaol on one end and the Court House on the other. Alongside it there are some beautiful Georgian houses as well as the Armagh County Museum – the oldest county museum in Ireland! Another example of some Georgian architecture is the local library found on Market Street where you can pick up a few spuds, a carpet and a bunch of flowers if the mood takes you.

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Georgian House by The Mall – swish!

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The Library on Market Street – a great place to people watch!

The Palace Demesne is another great place to explore especially during Autumn. The grounds are lined with trees that turn the most amazing colours around October and behind the palace itself are some gardens that many locals don’t even know about. By the gates of the Palace you can find ruins of a Franciscan friary which is a great place to take some snaps before nipping to Friar Tuck’s across the road (it’s a fast food joint so don’t get your hopes up).

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The Palace from the Palace Gardens

History

Armagh was named after the ancient goddess Macha (the Gaelic translation of Armagh is “Ard Mhacha” or “Macha’s Height”) who appears in a few different Irish myths. My favourite story of Macha is when she appears as a wife to Cruinniuc who boasted at a chariot race that she could run faster than even the King’s own horses. She begged him not to but she was forced to run despite her carrying twins. She won the race and gave birth on the finish line to Fir and Fial which means ‘True’ and ‘Honest’. She then cursed the men of Ulster to suffer her labour pains in the hour of their greatest need. What a woman!

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Armagh was also once the ancient capital of Ireland and you can actually witness a little piece of that history by visiting the Navan Fort, a ceremonial monument that was a royal site in Pre-Christian Ireland. There is a visitor centre here that has lots of information on the importance of this site and you can climb to the top and imagine yourself as a Gaelic warrior looking out over your lands. Or you can just take a wee photo for Instagram.

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Me pretending to be an Irish warrior

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View from the Navan Fort

Food

For breakfast you can’t beat a bagel and Armagh has the infamous Bagel Bean to ensure you start the day off well. There are now two Bagel Bean’s in Armagh on Market Street and English Street in case you needed a choice but most importantly the bagel you have to choose is the BC because it is AMAZING! They do some pretty tasty smoothies too in case you need to wash it down with something nutritious.

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There are more and more wee lunch spots popping up around Armagh including the Craic’d Pot which is an absolute gem. It’s not like anything else in town and to top it all off it moonlights as a wine bar at night – hurrah! Other great places include Embers and Rumours that both serve hot food that will warm your tummy in the chilly weather. Mulberry is another wee gem that has great views of the Catholic cathedral and does a great brunch too.

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If you find yourself in Armagh to catch a play or concert at the Market Place Theatre you will surely need to refuel beforehand. For a good steak then the Aussie restaurant Uluru won’t disappoint or The Castle Tower both a stone’s throw from the theatre for the wino’s amongst you.

If you are a hallion like me and might still have room for something sweet after a day of eating then please head to Macari’s for ice cream. The place is an institution in Armagh and I will forever have space for a tub of vanilla ice cream topped with melted marshmallow (insert pig emoji here).

Craic

Armagh is not short of pubs although there are a few that I would recommend more than some. Red Ned’s is an establishment that is a regular for many in town. It’s argued they serve the best pint of Guinness in Armagh and they have regular folk and traditional music in the corner to keep the spirits up.

The Hole in the Wall is another classic and has been voted Pub of the Year on numerous occasions. The pub is set in an old jail that dates back to 1615, hence the bars on the windows, and is steeped in history. The pub is said to be haunted but what should give you more of a fright is the pub’s pet parrot, Casper, who will scare the bejaysus out of you when you come through the door!

Countryside

The beauty of a small town is that you don’t have to travel too far to be surrounded by fields and silence. There are a few beautiful locations so close to town where you can shower the head and see the county countryside at it’s best. Since Armagh is the Orchard County of Ireland, I have to recommend a visit during the apple blossom season in May when the county’s roadsides turn different shades of pink. Come again in September when the apples are ready for pickin’ and you get some of the best weather of the year.

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Some other great spaces are Gosford Forest Park or The Argory which is pictured below – no matter how many times I was dragged to this place for school trips I still love it.

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Well that’s Armagh in a nutshell. If you haven’t had a dander around the streets of saints and scholars yet then I hope this post might give you a bit of encouragement to get in the car and make the trip. It will be well worth it I promise 🙂