After Israel, we were excited to head to the UK to meet our friends in Northern Ireland. Scotty, Laura and I originally met during a fundraiser when I was working for charity: water in New York, and we’ve stayed in touch online and in person over the last few years. (Scotty and Laura had the chance to visit us in San Francisco during their honeymoon last year!) They were incredible hosts and gave us a wonderful tour of their homeland, from authentic home-cooked Ulster fry breakfasts and beautiful rides through the countryside, and from bustling downtown Belfast to the natural wonder of Giants’ Causeway. We felt like we got the insider’s guide to Northern Ireland all while getting to catch up with good friends. It was especially nice to stay with them in a family home – the first time we’ve done so in 4 months.
Their family home was nestled atop a hill looking farmland outside of Belfast. Laura is an amazing cook and we loved sharing meals at the house and enjoying country pleasures: greeting the neighboring cows, watching the sunset over the hills, and playing fetch out in the fields with their poodle McKara. The first night we caught up with each other outside around a fire pit, watching a spectacular sunset and discussing our plans for the next few days. I’m excited to share a few of our favorite day trip itineraries from our visit with you below.
The best day experiences in Northern Ireland:
1. Leslie Castle and Ambledown Cottage. This outing is actually in the Republic of Ireland, just across the border. Leslie Castle is a 16th century Irish estate still owned by it’s founding family. The gorgeous grounds include a mansion, chapel, equestrian center and beautiful ivy-covered sporting lodge. After exploring the estate, turn right out of the gate and look for parking near Ambledown Cottage, a pizza parlor/antique shop that I fell in love with! They serve incredible pizza and tables are nooked into the most charmingly decorated rooms – where everything you see is also on sale for purchase!
2. Hillsborough Castle + The Plough Inn. Visit Her Royal Majesty’s royal residence in Northern Ireland. Hillsborough Castle is not really a castle but a Georgian country house built by the Hill Family in the 18th century before they sold the mansion and grounds to the British Government in the 1930’s. Wills Hill, the original owner of the property, was charged by George III to ensure the American colonies remained a part of the crown. But after hosting Benjamin Franklin at Hillsborough for five strained days it’s believed their “negotiations” fueled the American Revolution. Stop by The Plough Inn afterward for a pint of Guinness and a delicious burger.
3. Giant’s Causeway. Legend has it that the hexagonal rock formations of Giant’s Causeway are the result of a fight between two giants, who flung stones at each other (in reality they are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption). Afterward, stop by Bothy’s for coffee and a scone or afternoon tea before heading onward to Dunluce Castle, a striking a 13th century castle perched on a basalt outcropping that is now in ruins. Afterwards drive along the coast to Portrush to Morelli’s to try what’s possibly the best ice cream in the world – order a “whippy” (soft-serve ice cream) or ask for a “99” (whippy with a chocolate cookie flake in it). Explore town, and reserve a table at Neptune and Prawn for dinner, a delicious Asian/Latin fusion restaurant.
4. Belfast. Take a half day to wander the streets of Belfast and develop a mental map of the city that famously built the Titanic. Climb the spiral stairs leading to the observation deck at the top of Victoria Square, where you can see the looming shipbuilding gantry cranes, named Samson and Goliath that speak to Belfast’s past as a shipbuilding giant. I recommend visiting Avoca for a souvenir, whether it’s a luxurious wool throw blanket or home decor item, then head to Commercial Court to enjoy a pint alfresco on the cobblestone lane lined with bars covered in overflowing flower boxes and ivy. Afterwards try to grab a private booth (with a door) at The Crown Bar, where well-worn “matches” strike plates are built into the carved wooden walls of each booth.
We’re so grateful to Scotty and Laura for sharing their home and showing us some of the most special places in Northern Ireland!
All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for stacieflinner.com