We found the ferries very comfortable. The journey took 2.5 hours so plenty of time to make use of the facilities on board which include a cafeteria restaurant, smaller cafe/coffee shop, shop, spa, cinema and "pod lounge" with Wifi & games consoles.
I'd advise taking your own food if you just want a sandwich/snack. We were banking on the smaller cafe for lunch and found that all they had left (at 12pm, so barely lunchtime) were a few prepacked sandwiches, none of the advertised toasties etc as they had been sold out on the previous crossing. The "restaurant" was much better. Nothing fancy, your food will come in takeaway containers, but good choice and no complaints about the actual quality. There was a fair choice including burgers, pizzas, pasta, fish & chips etc
We were coming from the south west of Scotland to Belfast. We chose to travel with on a Stenaline "Superferry" from Cairnryan [just north of Stranraer] to Belfast. There are various ferry times so check their website to find one that suits your travel plans.
We chose to do an inclusive day trip with Stena. This included return ferry crossing as foot passengers, entry to the Titanic Museum & bus transfers to the museum.
Fairly easy way to get to Belfast from Dublin International Airport (or indeed Dublin City Centre) is the Ulster Bus (Goldliner)/Bus Eireann direct to Belfast.
Leaves on the hour night and day from the bus center Busaras in Dublin, or 20 minutes past the hour from Dublin Airport bus park.
Get on, fall asleep,get off.
The route takes you straight up the motorway and passes through Newry (border town on the Northern Ireland side) and drops you off right at the Europa hotel.
Tip - Although there is no tangible border anymore there are still random spot checks for passports on the buses conducted by the police on either side of the 'border'. Make sure you have your passport and if you needed a visa for Ireland just double check its ok for the UK, and visa versa.
Price - somewhere in the region of £16 return
Good thing about Belfast City Center is that it is totally walkable, the Cathedral quarter is only a 10 minute walk from the city center.
the wall murals on the falls and the shankhill are too far to walk to from the center, and Stormont is much too far!
You best bet by far is the hop on hop off bus (you will find the ticket agents in various coloured jackets outside the main gates of the city hall) Check that the tour includes the murals on the falls, shankhill and stormont. That way you can see everything and will also get to see the loyalist murals on the Newtownards road on the way to stormont, as well as the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard (where they built the titanic)
The buses and trains are indeed an option for Stormont if you don't want to do the tour. From Donegal Square (city hall) take the 4A or the 20A and you can get dropped off right at Stormont where you can walk around the grounds and then pop over to the 4* Stormont Hotel for a cup of tea!
There are several ferry services to Northern Ireland from the mainland but I mostly used the Stena HSS (Stranraer to Belfast) which is a large catermaran powered by four gas turbines and capable of 30 knots. Lots of facilities onboard with my favourite being the quiet lounge behind customer services at the rear.
Getting onboard with a car is not too difficult and have had more difficulty in some multistorey carparks. There are good deals to be had on 5 day returns etc but look up on the wesites below.
Alternative services are....
Stena conventional ferry (Stranraer to Belfast)
P&O conventional ferry (Cairnryan (just outside Stranraer) to Larne)
P&O Express (Troon or Cairnryan to Larne(depends on season)
Norse Merchant (Birkenhead to Belfast)
It's important to know that there are two "Belfast" airports, especially if you are just visiting for a weekend. As with all cheap flights they look great on the net but when transfers are added it can be cheaper and easier to pay to get to the initially more expensive option. To this end I would recommend...
Belfast City which is 10 mins from city centre with a recently built terminal that includes all of the normal facilities.
Belfast International which is 40 mins from city centre via a nice drive through the Antrim countryside. This handle a lot more of the charter airlines and is where easyjet operates from.
Already before coming to Belfast I had checked the timetable for which bus to take to Ballintoy. The best option for me was to take the 8.40 bus from Europa Bus Centre to Coleraine. It is a bus ride of 1h and 45 minutes and the ticket was £9.20 (March 2011). In Coleraine I changed for Ulster Bus service 172 which left 15 minutes after my arrival from Belfast. From Coleraine to Ballintoy it took 40 minutes and the ticket was £3.90. Before 11.30 I was at the hostel in Ballintoy and had the whole afternoon (and the next day) in front of me to explore the area.
If I had left Belfast with the previous bus (at 7.55) there had been changes of transport both in Ballymena and Ballycastle and the total travel time had been a little bit longer.
Buses are leaving the bus station at Foyle Street in Derry every half an hour for Belfast. It is Goldliner Service 212 that operates between the two cities and a single ticket was £10.50 (March 2011). I was sure I would miss the 10 o’clock bus as I left the hostel late. But when I walked in to the station one minute passed ten the Belfast bus was just in front of me and the chauffeur was just about to close the doors. I bought the ticket from the driver and went upstairs (the bus was a double-decker) to get a good view of the landscape along the way. 1h 45 minutes later the bus arrived at Europa bus station in Belfast and 10 minutes later I was already at the hostel where I was going to stay.
For me it was much cheaper to fly in to Dublin than to Belfast and as there is a bus from Dublin airport to Belfast that was a good option for me. Goldline service 200 runs every hour (almost) between Dublin and Belfast. The buses leave 20 minutes past every hour from Dublin Airport and leave Belfast on the hour.
My flight was supposed to land at 11.20 so I hoped to catch the 12.20 bus. To my luck the plane landed almost 25 minutes too early so I could take the 11.20 bus. The bus stop is Stop 8 Atrium Road and it is only a few minutes away from the arrival hall. Just follow the signs from the arrival hall and turn right as you leave, cross the road, walk through a building and you will have the bus stop on your left. Tickets can be bought from a machine at the bus stop, but can also be bought on board the bus. I bought a return ticket for 20 Euro (February 2011) and they are valid for one month. The bus made a few stops along the way and arrived at Europa BusCentre in Belfast 2 hours and 5 minutes after we had left Dublin airport. From the bus station it was only a 10 minutes walk to the hostel where I was going to stay.
Going back to Dublin airport I took the bus leaving 8.00 from Belfast. At this hour on a Sunday the entrance from Great Victoria Street (through the Great Northern Mall by the Monument to the unknown women worker) was closed so I had to walk around Europa Hotel to come to the bus centre. On the road the bus suddenly stopped and a man came aboard asking for passport or id-card. I saw we were standing in front of a sign saying Welcome to County Louth and I realised this was the boarder to The Republic of Ireland. This had not happened going to Belfast.
You generally return hire cars with a full tank of petrol/diesel, otherwise they will charge you. If you hire from Avis, you can buy a full tank when you pick up the car.....but it is quite hard to use a whole tankful unless you are staying for a week or so (I only used half a tank of diesel, and I drove well over 100 miles). So it's cheaper to just fill up the car before you return it.
The problem is that there are no petrol/diesel stations on the way from Belfast to City airport.
But do not despair. Drive past the airport towards Bangor, staying on the A2. Within a couple of miles you will find a petrol station on the right-hand side. Fill up, turn right at the adjacent lights and drive back along the A2 to the airport. You won't use enough petrol to stop the tank looking full.
Or, if traffic is too heavy to turn right across the lights by the petrol station, drive a little further on, turn off left and then turn right again onto the A2 dual carriageway in the direction of Belfast.
Don't be misled......this airport really is incredibly close to Belfast city centre.
It barely takes 10 minutes for the bus to get there.
I took the ordinary bus (600) to and from the airport. It runs roughly every 20-30 minutes, depending on time of day, and only cost 3GBP for a return fare. For me, it was ideal....it stops by Queens Bridge (a 5-minute walk from my hotel) and picks up from the Prince Albert Memorial (only a couple of minutes away). But the bus also goes further into the city centre, terminating at City Hall.
A taxi should cost you less than 10GBP, but if you haven't got a lot of luggage and your hotel is fairly central then the bus is perfectly feasible (and much cheaper).
Info and details about transport to and from the airport on the airport website below.
I booked my Ryanair flight from EMA to George Best Belfast City Airport for the total price of 2 pence return!
A 'Free' offer- (I checked in online, hand luggage only and paid with my Visa Electron card, so nothing extra to pay). www.ryanair.com.
Departing East Midlands at 06.20, the flight took just 45 minutes! Returning at 20.20, this gave me plenty of time to explore the compact city of Belfast.
Belfast City Airport began operating commercial flights in 1983. On May 22 2006, it was renamed in memory of George Best, Belfast's (and one of the worlds) most famous soccer legends. (This would have been his 60th Birthday). Not everyone was happy about the decision to rename it after Georgie though - A soccer genius, but with a destructive lifestyle- over the years he became as well known for his alcoholism, and alienated many, when he continued to drink following a liver transplant.
George Best Belfast City Airport is located just 2 miles from the City Centre, and is adjacent to The Port of Belfast.
Belfast International Airport is located 18 miles north-west of Belfast CLICK HERE FOR INFO
to be continued...
Bus service Airport Express 600 runs every 20 minutes from Belfast City (George Best) Airport to Belfast Europa bus station, which is a short walk from the city centre. (adjacent to the Europa Hotel and Shopping Mall)
The journey is about 10 minutes and costs £2 single £3 Return journey. It operates operates between 0530 and 2205
- You pay the driver on entry.
The buses have wheelchair access.
On your return, you catch the bus at stand No 1 in the Europa bus station.
The bus station was designed by Robinson & McIlwaine Architects, and received a Regional Award 1992
- This is a bit of blurb about the designing of the bus station -
"The brief was simple: to provide a new experience in bus travel in terms of design, amenities and finish. Within an existing 15.5x90m double-height space, in the ground floor of a multi-storey carpark, a public concourse, travel centre, ticket kiosk, flexibus office, shop, cafe, electronic timetable screens etc. are provided in an air-conditioned environment.
A mezzanine floor provides general office space. The accomodation is laid out to one side of a public concourse stretching the full length of the building. The interior is light and airy, with controlled, soft colours and curvilinear forms to soften the building’s hard rectangular quality, creating the illusion of movement. Internal walls are finished in off-white partitioning, pink granite and mirror cladding; floors in ceramic tiles; ceilings in solid and egg crate forms; signage in silk-screen printed aluminium with extensive interior planting.The Centre includes a large sculpture entitled ‘The Waterfall of Souvenirs’ by John Kindness. Externally a new parcels building, paved forecourt and covered platform are provided.
I was very impressed with this sculpture - worth a look at!
Europa Bus Station
Great Victoria Street
When exiting the bus station through the shopping mall- check out the mosaic sculpture-‘Waterfall of Souvenirs’ by John Kindness - lots of mosaic tiles depicting all aspects of Ireland.-I'll be adding this pics of this in my Off The Beaten Tracks tips. Check out info here too
I've used this companies bus tour in Granada, Marrakech, Madrid, Milan, Padua and Valencia, and have found them to be a good way of learning a bit about the city, its history and culture, then using it as a way to get around. Tickets are usually valid for 24-48 hours, so I've used it like a local bus.
This was the first time that I'd encountered a guide giving a live commentary- usually it was listening to a taped recording through headphones (provided free and for you to take away - I've then used these on airlines that offer Music/TV/Film - not Ryanair though I'm afraid.)
To be continued.....
The city airport isn't in Belfast city centre (strange, I know!) you're best to book a hotel in the centre of town and then travel to the airport. There's a shuttle bus from great victoria street station to the airport (The Airport Express 600) which operates every 20 minutes. Great victoria street station is right in the heart of belfast city centre and is located beside the famous Europa hotel... there's a days in or the jurys hotel on the same road as these (great victoria street)... check out the prices online. The bus operates beween 06:00 and 22:05, and costs £2.20 for a return journey.