Although I went to school in west Belfast I haven’t lived there for years, so when tourist development agency, Visit West Belfast (@FailteFeirste) asked if I would like to check out some old and new haunts, I thought it would be an interesting blast from the past.
The west of the city has enjoyed some regeneration of late, with funding being increased to improve tourist and cultural opportunities. As I only had a day to spend, I could only get a flavour of what the area now has to offer and would recommend taking more time to enjoy it to the full.
Some of my favourite tweets are from a place called That Wee Cafe (@thatweecafe), which is beside St Mary’s College and is aimed at the student market. With its regular Twit pics of delicious fry’s, jumbo baps and 80’s teen idols, I knew this was the perfect place to start our day. It was hard to choose from a menu that had options such as ‘the 6 counties fry’, ‘brekkini’ and ‘lovely bit of crumpet’, but after much deliberation I went for a bacon & egg soda, while my friends went for cheesy veda and breakfast bagels. When you see the excellent value for money you wonder if the quality is any good, but I’m a fussy eater and the food here tastes as good, if not better than somewhere that would cost a fortune in the city centre.
Bellies full we needed a walk to burn it off, so made our way to the Conway Mill (@Artistsatthemill) for a bit of retail therapy. Ok St George’s Market it isn’t, but it does have a certain charm that makes it the perfect Saturday morning easy breezy shopping destination. There are all sorts of stalls from artists, to jewellery designers, to painters and embroiderers. There is a historical textile tour of the Mill, which we didn’t do this time, but it can be organised by Rosie Moore (@CutOutDoll). When you do visit, make sure to chat to artist and local character Paddy Ferris and check out his hand painted Celtic art collection.
All that shopping was hungry work, so we decided to take a break for more food (I know, any excuse). Walking back up the Falls Road we passed my old school, St Dominic’s, and the Harry Clarke stained glass window still looks as grand as it did when I was a pupil.
Regular G Spots! readers will be aware that I have been learning Irish, so what better place to brush up on my Gaeilge than Bia cafe (@BiaBelfast) at Culturann (@Culturlann) in the Gaelic Quarter. The hearty food is always delish and an extra bonus is the fact that the venue has traditional music every Saturday afternoon, as well as a chance to see exhibitions from local artists hanging on the walls.
No visit to west Belfast is complete without a trip to Clonard Monastery (@ClonardMMonastery) which is probably best known for its annual Novena. A private company is now starting tours for larger groups, but in this instance my small group made up of Johnny, Melita and Barra were happy to be the guinea pigs and give our advice. Clonard Monastery is a sight to behold, from the mosaics, to the ornate altars, to the crypt and the private quarters of the clergy. The tour took a few hours, but we got the bells and whistles version – shorter versions are available depending on what each group wants. Our knowledgeable tour guide, Eugene Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org/07961097066) books all tours, and with the tourist season starting soon I’d say he’ll be very busy over the coming months.
One of the best things about west Belfast is the fact that there is so much on the tourist trail to choose from, many of it within walking distance – but don’t take my word for it, get out there and experience it yourself. There were a few other activities we would have liked to do but ran out of time. For the adventurous among you there is Sky Trek (www.skytrek.tv) or Escap3D (www.escap3d.com) and if you want a more relaxed tour then Taxi Trax (www.taxitrax.com) could be for you.
The latest local tourism slogans are #LovinBelfast and #ItsTime – well hopefully after reading this you’ll feel that #ItsTime to get on your walking boots and start #LovinWestBelfast –because my tourist experience of the west is that it really is the best.