Travelogue: Northern Ireland With Kids

Once we confirmed with our Southern road trip that baby James was a good little flyer (see parts 1 through 3 here, here and here), we set our sights on an even longer set of flights – Europe! I’d been planning a trip to Greece for months and had booked cancellable accommodations, but getting to Greece was still up in the air. There aren’t any direct flights from Seattle, and the less expensive flights with stopovers had inconvenient times or layovers that were too long/too short so it made more sense to stop in a hub for a few days and then fly on. I looked into Amsterdam, but hotels were expensive and flight prices increased by about $2,000 between when I started looking and when we felt comfortable booking them. Dublin, on the other hand, had shorter flights and was significantly less expensive than Amsterdam (as in, enough to pay for the whole trip to Ireland). Since we’d already seen Dublin and the southern half of Ireland several years ago, we decided to rent a car and drive north to Belfast. Side note on the car rental – we just had to tell our car rental company (Europcar) that we were going North and pay about 35 EUR; we also had to bring a letter from our credit card company¬† dated within 3 weeks of travel saying that they cover Ireland in order to waive the collision damage coverage. This was easy to get by calling Chase – they just e-mailed us a standard form letter with our name, sufficient credit card details, and the dates.

Newgrange

On our last trip, we had tried and failed to visit Newgrange because you really have to be there first thing in the morning to get tickets. So after landing in Dublin, we took a quick drive north to a B&B in Drogheda (Rathescar Grove, which is about 15-20 minutes from Newgrange). We ate at an Indian restaurant in town (Garam Masala; delicious and very friendly. Our waiter made my chai masala to order) and tried our best to keep the kids quiet while we all dealt with the throes of jet lag. We were all more or less awake from about 12 – 4 a.m., so despite our best intentions, we didn’t get to Newgrange until around 10 a.m. However, since the visitor’s center is undergoing construction, admission was free, and since it was quite rainy, we didn’t have to battle too many crowds and got timed tickets for the 11:15 a.m. tour. You have to take a tour to visit the site and can choose to see Newgrange, Knowth, or both. We chose just to do Newgrange since the combo tour is about 3 hours. We waited in a small tent with a scone and coffee from the onsite food truck (surprisingly quite good) and then took a short walk to the shuttle bus for our tour. The tour guide was friendly and knowledgeable and we really enjoyed the tour – the space inside the mound is quite small and it made everyone very chummy. It is so amazing what people were able to engineer thousands of years ago with very few tools and no computers! Also, it’s impossible not to love the people and their love of the wee ones. James had a blowout and the bus driver let me change him in the back of the shuttle as if were just no big deal while he chatted with Julia and Peter up front.

Belfast (Northern Ireland)

Our first afternoon in Belfast was pretty much consumed with picking up a new changing mat (I left ours in the Seattle airport bathroom – whoops!), checking into our apartment, attempting a walk to the botanical gardens (we got rained out), and going to dinner. We stayed at the Malone Lodge & Apartments, which was near Queens University. We had a 2 bedroom apartment with a kitchen and free parking for a pretty reasonable rate, and it was right up the street from a convenient bus into town. We did have to go to the actual hotel to check-in and get the keys to our apartment, but they weren’t particularly far away from each other. For dinner, we went to Made in Belfast. It was so delicious that we went back again (to their other location, although we preferred the Wellington address) the next night. They had a killer kids’ menu with options that weren’t just french fries. Julia had a really juicy roast chicken with broccoli and mashed potatoes, and she was so pleased to have what looked like a miniature adult meal. I had a lamb duo, and Peter had fish and chips, both of which were so phenomenal.

When I originally planned the trip, I really wanted to drive out to the Giant’s Causeway. However, the forecast for essentially the entire time we were there was rain, rain and more rain. It didn’t seem like the best choice to go clambering around slippery rocks with small children, so we headed to the Titanic Museum instead. One of the things we loved about Belfast was the fact that you can use an app (mLink) to purchase a digital day use ticket, so we didn’t have to visit a special office for passes or have exact change on a bus. It made it much easier to take an awesome double decker bus and then transfer to a streetcar to get to the Titanic. Once we got to the museum, my favorite part was the intro, where you learn about life in Belfast at the time the Titanic was being built (there was a huge linen industry, for example). There was also a ride (small, slow, and very kid friendly) where you learn about the building of the Titanic while coasting by different levels in a small car. The riveting was most impressive – people heated individual rivets, tossed them up to the riveters, who then worked in pairs to pound them into place against each other. Everything at the museum was really interactive and it captured all of our attention, including James and Julia. There were also bathrooms and seating areas throughout, which I appreciated for breastfeeding and changing James’ diaper.

Peter and James Titanic Museum.jpg
Just a couple of guys in front of the Titanic Museum

 

Tickets to the museum also include entry to the SS Nomadic, which was a tender (a smaller boat that took people from shore to the huge ocean liners) to the Titanic. Another really well done and interactive museum, with dress-up, games to play, and places to climb.

dressup on the SS Nomadic.jpg
Playing dress-up on the SS Nomadic

We decided to walk to dinner along the waterfront, which let us cross Lagan Weir (a nice pedestrian bridge, which also had some temporary Game of Thrones art installations that went with an exhibit nearby) and see the Salmon of Knowledge sculpture.

The next day, we needed to drive to Dublin in time to check-in to our apartment, but wanted to take breaks along the way (it’s about a 2-2.5 hour drive from Belfast to Dublin without stopping). Peter found the coolest park for us to visit – Slieve Gullion. I’ll never be able to pronounce it correctly, but this completely free park had a wonderful playground, as well as the Giant’s Lair trail. It was about 1 mile or so in length and had fairy houses, an amazing fairy kingdom playground, and some other fanciful stops (like musical instruments made of natural materials, etc). There were also very clean restrooms and a cafe on site with pretty good lunch choices (a variety of prepared salads, sandwiches and soup and some good coffee).

Julia fairy houses
Julia explores the fairy houses at Slieve Gullion
Julia fairy kingdom
Climbing around the fairy kingdom

We also stopped about a half an hour toward the coast (just over the border into Ireland) in the village of Carlingford. There were beautiful views and the town was very cute to walk through, but we didn’t spend much time there.

We spent one night in Dublin that was a little bonus in order to make sure we were at the airport on time the next morning. We booked an apartment through Booking.com (it had a beautiful view, but we only got that apartment because the owner accidentally double booked our original reservation) and walked to the Old Spot, a gastropub nearby, for dinner. We had just enough time the next morning to have breakfast at The Queen of Tarts before heading to the airport. Our Northern Ireland experience was really wonderful, and the food was honestly significantly easier to find good things for Peter than in Dublin, oddly enough. I would go back in a heartbeat, especially if we could see more of the northwestern coast.

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