We had a string of housesitting commitments throughout the UK and we ended up with a five-day gap between the last two. We needed to get from Sheffield in England to Belfast in Northern Ireland, there are some great places worth visiting between those two cities! We had checked out direct airfare prices, but they weren’t as cheap as we’d hoped, so we started considering alternate ways to get to where we needed to go. The temptation to visit a couple of other places on the way also inspired skipping the plane. We decided train travel and a ferry ride offered the best way for us to get to Belfast.
Overland travel in the UK made getting to Belfast so much fun, and really comfortable. Here’s how we made the most of our journey, 3 cities in 4 days on our way to Belfast.
Travel in the UK is convenient and comfortable
One of the reasons we wanted to come to Europe was how easy it is to get around to see a lot of different destinations. There are so many ways to get from place to place, including cheap flights, trains, coaches, and ferries. It’s nice to have so many options to find the best way to get somewhere!
In Europe, and specifically the U.K., train travel is convenient, quick and comfortable but it can be a bit expensive. Booking train tickets online and at least 24 hours in advance is a way to save a lot of money. We booked our tickets in advance and our total cost for three trains and the ferry ride cost us $196 USD, almost 10% cheaper than the direct flight we looked at booking.
Taking the train made it easy for us to visit different cities along the way to Belfast. It was also affordable because we avoided booking at the last minute at the station. The convenience was the best part though our first stop was Manchester and the train station was right across the street from our hotel!
24 hours in Manchester
When you only have a short time to see a destination saving time is a priority. We researched before our visit to map out the places we wanted to see. We decided to stay in the center near Piccadilly Station for access to attractions and to ensure our hotel was close to the train station for convenience and to save a bit of money on cab fare.
The train station and all of the things we wanted to see were within walking distance from our hotel! Manchester is a big city, but most of its attractions are located close together in the center. This makes it a great destination for a fun, quick visit!
We arrived in Manchester just before 2 pm. Here’s how we made the most of our 24 hours in Manchester:
Day 1– We stayed downtown at Motel One Manchester Picadilly, a top rated budget hotel. This place was full of great surprises. The decor and amenities offered at this budget hotel made it feel designer expensive, but the rates are really low!
We like to experience local culture in the places we visit. Attending festivals and community events are great ways to do that. We checked out the Visit Manchester website to find out what was happening in the city during our stay and the main event was the Manchester Food and Drink Festival. Some of the best street food vendors in the city and throughout Britan had kiosks there!
The specially built food neighborhood was our first stop and an absolute delight complete with a well-stocked beer garden and festive live entertainment. There is nothing better than a festival for bringing the best of everything together in a city! We enjoyed a late lunch and after we had our fill of delicious food and drink we were ready to move on and explore more attractions.
Next was the John Ryland Library. Acclaimed as the best example of Victorian Gothic Architecture in all of Europe, the esteemed library holds one of the world’s finest collections of rare books and manuscripts! Well worth a visit, the building facade and the interior were absolutely stunning. We investigated every nook and cranny and even got to peek inside some of the treasured books via their digital database.
When we had finished at the library the sun had started to set. We made our way back to our hotel with one last quick stop, couldn’t resist another photo op. Manchester is so pretty! Manchester Cathedral lured us in, another example of exquisite Medieval architecture located in the center. The Cathedral has an exciting history dating back to the 7th century!
Day 2- We spend the better part of the next morning exploring the enormous Museum of Science and Industry. We planned out the exhibits we wanted to see before we visited because the museum is so big. You could easily spend days discovering all of the cool things on display in this multi-building treasure trove! A great place for kids, Mak had so much getting close to giant planes, navigating an underground sewer, learning a little Manchester history in the process!
Next stop, Liverpool
We arrived in Liverpool late in the afternoon on day two. Our ferry to Belfast was booked for early morning on day three so we didn’t have a lot of time to see specific attractions in Liverpool. Given our short timeframe, we opted to stay centrally again and just explore the areas within walking distance from the hotel.
Our goal was to get to the waterfront so we slowly weaved our way through the center walking along Church Street, Liverpool’s main shopping area. The street only allows foot traffic and buzzes with performers, buskers, and scads of would-be shoppers. It was kind of a roundabout way to get to where we wanted to go but a lot of fun because of the cool cultural vibe just the same.
Liverpool’s historic waterfront is designated a Unesco World Heritage Site. There is a huge variety of things to do in the area making it the perfect place to visit if you’re in the city for a short break!
We explored along the water enjoying the art, history, and lovely views finally stopping for dinner at Albert Dock. The World Famous Docklands Fish & Chips did not disappoint. It definitely lived up to its name, the fish and mushy peas were absolutely amazing!
Day 3- The ferry ride to Belfast. We checked with our hotel to find out the most efficient and economical way to get to the ferry port from the center in the early morning. They advised taking the train from the center through the Mersey tunnel to Birkenhead. The port was on the other side of the Mersey River so we needed to travel through the tunnel to grab our ferry to Belfast. Taking a cab through the tunnel can be slow and expensive during the morning rush so the train was the best for time and our budget.
The ferry took most of the day to get to Belfast. We booked a four bunk berth to make our trip more comfortable and it definitely did! We had no idea how many amenities were available on ferries; Restaurants, cafes, a movie theater, a play area for kids, an arcade, and Wi-Fi just to name a few. It was a very fun and relaxing travel day.
An awesome introduction to Belfast
We had two days until our housesitting assignment began in Belfast so we booked a room with an Airbnb host. We found out about an event called Culture Night that was happening the night we arrived in Belfast! Dubbed Belfast’s biggest and boldest cultural celebration, we couldn’t resist going. We took a cab from the port, dropped our bags at our host’s place and set out in search of Culture Night adventure.
Tens of thousands of people packed into Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter to celebrate the city’s annual Culture Night! The air downtown was electric as people enjoyed hundreds of arts and entertainment installations. It was an outstanding introduction to Northern Ireland, to say the least.
Day 4- Our Airbnb host told us about the award-winning Saint Georges Market, one of Belfast’s oldest attractions. It opens every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Visiting markets is another way we love to experience culture in the places we visit and it was Saturday so we jumped at the opportunity to check it out. We arrived to enjoy a delicious lunch. Local producers cook up traditional favorites and a fusion of specialty foods from around the world. We had a very hard time deciding what to try first! After lunch, we browsed the market listening to some very good live flamenco music. Saint Georges Market was a great place to start our first full day exploring Belfast.
Next stop Belfast Botanic Gardens, just what we needed to walk off all the delicious food we ate at the market. The park contains a variety of exotic trees and impressive plants and flowers. It is a popular venue for concerts, festivals, and community events. As luck would have it, there was a children’s festival happening the day we visited.
Our last stop for the day was the Ulster Museum, conveniently located right inside the Botanic Gardens. Northern Irelands treasure chest of past and present, the Ulster Museum helped us come face to face with dinosaurs, meet an authentic Egyptian Mummy and learn about Belfast’s troubled past. It was an awesome introduction to Belfast!
It was really fun to try and see as much as we could on our way to Northern Ireland. Overland transportation, attending community events, and visiting markets helped us experience local culture in all the cities we visited. All of the attractions we visited were free which was great for our budget and staying centrally helped us save time and money on transportation costs.
All in, overland travel with stops costs a bit more than flying direct, but all of the experiences we had along the way made visiting two more places great value for money. Do you have any tips for making the most of overland travel? Please feel free to share in the comments.