As anyone who’s ever read anything on my blog will know, travel writing isn’t my forte. In fact, this will be the first time I dabble in such a dark art but it seemed essential after an incredible weekend in Belfast.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was in Belfast for sporting purposes (of course I was, I live and breathe the stuff). Last weekend saw the final of the UK Strongest Man and the Ultimate Strongman Masters World Championship take place at Belfast’s Crumlin Road Jail. As a big Strongman mark it seemed like a great opportunity to do a bit of travelling with my good friend Jack (a fellow Strongman fan) and catch some of the action. The two Strongman shows were recorded by Channel 5 and will be televised in late November/early December, so you’ll probably get to see my smiling face on TV just before Christmas. What more could you ask for?
The UK competition itself was great, with Laurence Shahlaei eventually pipping Scotland’s Tom Stoltman to win the competition. The podium was completed by 2-time Ireland’s Strongest Man, Pa O’Dwyer. The familiar refrain of ‘stand tall for the man’ grated after a while but it was still a great experience. The weather was great on Saturday and whilst we were subject to a lovely deluge at the start of Sunday’s proceedings, it picked up then for another great day of competition. 4-time World Strongest Man Zydrunas Savickas won Sunday’s competition, and the consummate ease with which he completed each event in comparison to the struggles of his fellow competitors was masterful.
The Strongman event was not the only event in Belfast on Saturday, as it was also Belfast Pride. Whilst we missed most of the parades , the city was still out in full force and it made for a fantastic atmosphere in the evening. If you’re ever in the city, I’d highly recommend going in Bootleggers, home to arguably the best burger I’ve ever had. Going out in a new city is always intriguing, mostly because you end up drifting from place to place as you don’t know ‘where it’s at’, but the nightlife in Belfast was great.
We went to three different bars during the evening, each having a unique vibe. There definitely was something for everyone. Our first stop was an outdoor bar called the Dirty Onion, which had a slightly older crowd than we were looking for, and following a recommendation from one of the security staff, we headed over to Filthy McNasty’s. Before that though, we stopped off in a traditional Irish bar called The Five Points. It was expensive (Jack’s rage at a £5.60 Vodka mix was highly amusing) but it had a phenomenal atmosphere – singing along to Wagon Wheel, drinking Magners and live Irish dancing sounds like a stereotype but it was great. We then wended our way over to Filthies, where we had another few drinks, met two local lads called Colm and Darren who provided great company for the rest of the night, and managed to crash a 30th birthday party. The night was capped off by getting in a scrap in the local Subway with a charming French bloke with a rather creepy moustache. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but we had a phenomenal time. Life is about experiences and it’s an experience I’d happily have again.
In terms of nightlife there really was something for everyone and whilst it was expensive, and that will put some off, it’s a scene I’d highly recommend.
For the trip Jack and I used AirBnb and we stayed with a lovely local guy called Kyle. Based in East Belfast, we were situated in a great location that gave us easy access to the city centre but also gave you more room than a hotel or hostel might. He was a great host and I’d have no issue staying there again and I’d highly recommend him to anyone else.
Arriving late Friday night and spending the first two days there at the Strongman didn’t really give us too much time to do touristy stuff on Monday. The city sightseeing bus was £10.50 each, taking you throughout the city and showing you everything from Stormont to the Titanic exhibition, with all the Republican and Unionist murals in between. The murals are etched in the hearts of these communities and serve as a living reminder of Northern Ireland’s tumultous history. The continued existence of peace walls and security gates demonstrate that whilst the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement have done a lot of good, the issues that divide these communities haven’t completely gone away.
I felt quite sad to leave on Monday afternoon, feeling I’d barely scratched the surface of such a fascinating city. The Giant’s Causeway? Didn’t see it. The murals? Didn’t see enough of them up close. Titanic Exhibition? Didn’t have the time. I’d highly recommend the city to anyone looking for a mini break, or just a holiday in general. I’ll be back as soon as I can. See you soon Belfast.