Planning conferences and business events usually keeps me busy but when my friend asked me to help plan her hen party how could I refuse?
Boarding the flight from Birmingham to Belfast
I met Steph back in 2010 when we were both on the same course studying for our CIM certificate in marketing. Since then we have had several fun adventures, including taking a surprise holiday together, so the bar was set high!
Once the guestlist had been confirmed we had a nice manageable group of 6 people, which made booking activities a lot easier than it is with larger groups. The next big decision was the destination, limited by the fact that the bride to be's passport was out of date and she didn't want to renew it, only to renew it again after the wedding, once her name had changed. This left all options outside the UK off the agenda.
Travelling regularly with work I've been to a fair few UK cities and selfishly, I wanted to go somewhere new. When I asked around to see where people I knew had experienced good weekends on stag or hen dos, my boss suggested Belfast. Perfect! Although still within the UK, we could get on an hour long flight from Birmingham, to make it feel more like a holiday. Plus, we only needed our driving license to travel, so no passport required!
The hen weekend is off to a great start
What is on offer for hen parties in Belfast?
Destination decided and dates set, it was time to research how to entertain six girls for the weekend in Belfast. By coincidence, when I went to Liverpool to speak on "How can convention bureaus maximise their use of social media?" at the MIA (Meetings Industry Association) Destinations Summit, I met Debs and Rachael from Visit Belfast. They were very helpful in sending me some suggestions over email and introducing me to what the city has to offer.
Vertigo Inflata Park
After nicknaming her 'Ninja Steph', due to her love of kick boxing, I needed something active to include on her hen weekend. With a variety of fitness levels within the group, I also needed something that was accessible and didn't seem like exercise!
Browsing around the Visit Belfast website, I came across Vertigo Inflata Park, an indoor inflatable adventure course. Luckily, on the Friday we arrived there was an adults only session.
Top tip: Advance booking was available but the website was promoting 20% discount for walk ins when you showed your taxi or public transport receipt. Trying to be cost conscious and considerate of the groups budget, this seemed ideal. Check the offers on the website before you book.
Tackling the inflatable assault course at Vertigo
Arriving at the inflatapark we purchased some grippy socks and sat through a short safety briefing before spending the next hour jumping, running and bouncing around the course. We challenged each other, cheered each other on and had such a giggle. The only downside was that everyone was worn out and too tired for the planned pizza and prosecco night when we got back to the apartment. However, thanks to the taxi driver's recommendation, we discovered Boojum, Mexico burrito bar on the way home, so popped in to grab a tasty burrito bowl, before heading home.
Black cab taxi tour
Next morning we were picked up from our apartment by Jake from Touring Around Belfast, for a black cab taxi tour. Wee Toast Tours beer bikes came highly recommended but I decided on a black cab tour instead, as I knew the previous night at the inflata park was going to be energetic! Touring Around Belfast, again, came as a suggestion from the Visit Belfast website and the company was owned by Blue Badge Guide Billy Scott, so I had confidence in who I was booking with.
Black cab taxi tour of Belfast
The tour took us around the sites that tell the story of Northern Ireland's political conflict, including Europa, "the most bombed hotel in Europe". At first I wasn't sure if it would be too sombre an experience for a hen weekend but the girls were fascinated.
Top tip: Jake stopped at a local shop and suggested we buy a bottle and some disposable cups. We enjoyed prosecco as we were driven around. Be prepared and take yours with you.
We saw the famous Belfast murals, we learnt about international affiliations with other countries and we heard stories from both sides of the conflict, including how communities were now coming together, even though the conflicts remain in living history.
When the taxi stopped at the peace wall, we had the opportunity to add our messages of hope to the graffiti. Then, after the two hour tour we were dropped off at The Bullitt Hotel.
Tipsy afternoon tea at Babel
Nearly every blog I read when researching Belfast, recommended Tipsy Afternoon Tea at Babel, the rooftop bar and restaurant at The Bullitt Hotel. It looked really pretty in all the photos and when we arrived in person it did not disappoint.
Tipsy afternoon tea at Babel
Seated at our table, we were served one of the most delicious afternoon teas I have tasted. Not a cucumber or salmon sandwich in sight, we ate our way through Cajun chicken, chorizo and beetroot sandwiches followed by mini doughnuts and raspberry mousse slices, polished off with mini cheesecakes and macaroons. Teapots full of gin cocktails helped to wash it all down. After food, we headed to the garden themed roof terrace overlooking Belfast, where musicians were entertaining the Saturday afternoon crowd.
Top tip: Book your table well in advance, especially if you are taking a group, as Babel is a very popular venue. We were not asked for advance payment with any of our activity bookings, which made sorting out the finances amongst the group really simple.
Cocktails at Muriel's
Cocktails at Muriel's café bar
Without a seat to be found on the roof terrace at Babel, we took the recommendation of our waiter and strolled down the road to Muriel's Café Bar. The bartenders served up our requested cocktails to resounding approval from the group. They were very moreish!
But why the lingerie hanging from the ceiling? On the menu was printed an Ode to Muriel, a girl who lived down by the dock:
"A milliner by trade, so
by day she made hats
but at night she stood on street corners
with the rats and the cats
With her bosom exposed
and her gusset pulled tight
off to work she would go
as the lady of the night"
Well, that explained that!
After a couple of hours back at the apartment, playing traditional hen night games and getting ready, we headed out into the city centre to experience Belfast's nightlife.
The cobbled streets of Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The cobbled streets of the Cathedral quarter, full of open air bars, traditional pubs and live music offered our playground for the evening.
After grabbing something to eat at the Yardbird restaurant, above Belfast's famous Dirty Onion bar, we stepped into the bustling street outside to explore the night scene and the atmosphere was brilliant. You could feel the energy!
A neon sign "Romantic Ballroom" caught my eye, like shiny objects attract a magpie. The friendly bouncer called us a lift and sent us upstairs to the New Orpheus, above The Harp, another of Belfast's famous bars. The lounge bar had a beautiful interior and of course live music.
We made our way around several other bars dancing, singing and chatting to the locals, many of them showering my friend with well wishes for her forthcoming wedding!
More to discover
As we travelled to the airport the next morning, we soon realised that our short trip just wasn't long enough to explore everything that the Belfast had to offer. The city centre, the Titanic quarter and the North coast including Giant's Causeway and Game of Thrones filming locations, were all areas that we wish we could have spent some time discovering but with genuinely friendly people wherever we went, the punctual and informative taxi drivers and the choice of more things to do, Belfast is definitely a place to revisit.
Whatever the personality of the bride to be, you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to hen weekend experiences in Northern Ireland's capital city.