If you’re single this Valentine’s Day, and in fact, even if you’re not, why not celebrate the love of your friends and catch up in the city with some fun things to do? This weekend I’m hosting the Cathedral Quarter’s inaugural Galentine’s event at the Merchant Hotel with some of my friends including Paddy McGurgan, Tiffany Brien and Fiona McCartan (Gluten Free Fi) and it inspired me to go seeking out some fun things to do with my gal-pals. Here are my top ten…
Take in a show at the MAC, The Lyric or The Grand Opera House. Each of these venues provides a fab backdrop and interesting architecture as well as the shows on the stage. At The MAC, “Ubu the King” is grotesque, gruesome and hilariously absurd. Inspired by Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, which caused a riot in Paris in 1906, Tinderbox Theatre Company dares to bring the primal monster to life through a succulent feast of sheer inventiveness and fearless theatricality. A feast for the wicked.
At the Lyric, Michael Cameron’s ‘RUBY!’ celebrates the life of popular 1950s singer Ruby Murray, who hailed from Belfast but enjoyed global fame as she became the only recording artist in history to have five songs in the Top Twenty in the same week. But there is more to life than pop songs it seems…
And down at The Opera House, the international, award-winning smash-hit musical based on the blockbuster film, THE BODYGUARD is back and features three-time Brit nominee and X-Factor winner, Alexandra Burke. Former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard, Frank Farmer, is hired to protect superstar Rachel Marron (Burke) from an unknown stalker. Each expects to be in charge – what they don’t expect is to fall in love.
2. ARTY MARTY:
I recently saw the Leonardo DaVinci exhibition at the Ulster Museum, which is awe-inspiring when you think just how influential he has been on modern art and science, among other subjects….. but there is also a Game of Thrones Tapestry exhibition on at the Museum too. Weaving the story from Seasons 1 to 7, this impressive tapestry gives Game of Thrones® fans the perfect chance to reminisce over all the action that led to the finale of Season 7, with further panels depicting the story of Season 8 due to be added to the tapestry in June 2019. And even if you’re not a GOT fan, feel some pride in the fact that it was designed locally by hand but woven by a state-of-the-art machines and hand finished in Northern Ireland. The linen used to form the background of the tapestry has been sourced from Ferguson’s Irish Linen, one of the last surviving linen mills in Ireland – and as a former marketeer of Irish Linen, I am intrigued to see this piece of work.
There are lots of other galleries and art-filled places to see in the city too – and a personal fave of mine is at the Ulster University art/textiles students’ shop at the Belfast campus too.
3. BRUNCH BUNCH
I haven’t even been here yet and I’m recommending it; such is my trust in so many foodie friends’ judgement. Brunch at Freight Belfast – formerly Pot, Kettle, Black - is reputedly delicious with a capital D. Located in the C.S. Lewis Square in east Belfast, five converted shipping containers house one of Belfast’s most talked about eating spots and I am most definitely making a date to eat there this weekend myself.
Another great brunch venue, but back in the city centre, is AM:PM. Positioned at the epicentre of all that happens in Belfast both literally and metaphorically, AM:PM is unique, quaint, chic, cosy, opulent, and funky. These descriptions almost-but-not-quite describe how fab this place is. You will find the shabby chic rubbing shoulders with the classically demur.
Brunch or lunch at Café Parisien is definitely dining with a view, although I’d recommend it anytime from dawn ‘til dusk for the truly wonderful French cuisine – from delicious morning crepes to bistrot dishes and succulent steak au poivre. And the house wine isn’t bad either!
Finally, Brunch at Babel in Builltt Hotel’s rooftop bar and garden offers panoramic city views, mouth-watering cocktails and delicious food. Accessed via its own entrance on Ann Street side of the hotel. Babel’s creative shrub cocktails use ingredients and garnishes inspired by its living walls which contain over 300 plants. Babel prides itself on its home grown botanicals, subtle sophistication and innovative ideas. If you’re tee-total, it’s important to note that Bullitt serves arguably the best coffee in the city, if you’re an aficionado like that…
4. ON YER BIKE:
For some physical activity, why not hire Belfast Bikes or let your feet do the talking and take to the towpath or the seafront paths – breathing in some fresh air while you’re at it. If the weather’s bad (and it’s kinda likely, considering this is Ireland) then pop into Flow Yoga studio in Hill Street for a stretch and some zen time.
5. SHOP TIL YA DROP!
Visit Victoria Square, CastleCourt, Donegal Place and out of town areas like the Lisburn Road or Bloomfield Avenue are great places to soak up some retail therapy.
6. MANI/PEDI/SPA DATE
My personal favourite in the city for a girlie get together, spa-style, is the Merchant Hotel Spa, where the therapists are highly trained and super knowledgeable. Plus, the sauna and relaxation areas are perfect places to really get away from it all. But having said that, there are loads of great salons and spas across the city, and getting a booking for a group shouldn’t be to hard if you plan in advance.
7. JUNGLE BOOGIE:
Be a tourist in your own city and take a tour of The Tropical Ravine and The Palm House in Botanic Gardens. The Palm House contains a range of tropical plants, hanging baskets, seasonal displays and birds of paradise, and is one of the earliest examples of a Victorian style glasshouse made from curved iron and glass. The building was designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, who also helped design parts of nearby Queen's University. Across the paths lies the Tropical Ravine, which contains some of the oldest seed plants around today, as well as banana, cinnamon, bromeliad and orchid plants. The listed building dates back to 1887 and has been restored with many of its original Victorian features reinstated and preserved. The ravine is split over two levels with an open reception area on the ground floor, and the building has been modernised to make it more energy efficient with new triple-glazed windows installed to retain heat and create the right environment for the tropical plants it is home to. Visitors can learn about the conservation work and plant collection through interactive and digital exhibits. And, final point on both these places? They’re both fab backdrops for insta-perfect pics!
8. COFFEE AND CAKE:
I’d recommend Patisserie Valerie on Donegall Square West, where you can enjoy the unique café atmosphere including the now famous Toulouse-Lautrec style cartoons by Terron. In their havens of self-indulgence, you will discover only the best quality cakes and patisserie, continental breakfasts, lunches, the finest teas and coffees and an atmosphere that is unique to each location. Across the road, Hotel Chocolat offers wonderous chocolate treats and hot chocolate drinks while out of town and up the Lisburn Road, you’ll find Miel et Moi, which is inspired by classical French patisseries… This truly is a little bit of Parisian Paradise in the city with its enchanting afternoon teas, delicious dishes, scrumptious cakes and delightful cocktails.
Even though I rarely eat bread and cakes myself, the ultimate afternoon tea experience for me is at the Merchant Hotel. Set in the sumptuous splendour of The Great Room Restaurant, Afternoon Tea in The Merchant Hotel is a truly elegant and utterly delicious experience not to be missed. Complete with a bottle of Krug Champagne and Royal Beluga Caviar, it really is the height of indulgent luxury.
9. MAKE ME UP:
A group lesson or make up application at Paddy McGurgan’s Make Up Pro store is the perfect experience for anyone who wants to gain an insight into their own makeup routine or just get ready for a night out with friends.
The Perch Rooftop Bar is located on the fifth floor of a historic building and has a beautiful large centre bar, surrounded by original window features, original brick clad walls and adorned, of course, with birdcages and similarly themed artwork lending itself to the name. Nip up in the original sliding door lift and find yourself looking over the sights of Belfast whilst sipping a cocktail in the outdoor area or take a perch at the bar and sample some delicious beer and gins.