Is Northern Ireland better for pet-friendly travel than the south? Our writer takes her Yorkshire terrier on a trip to Belfast and the Causeway Coast to find out…
My 13 year-old Yorkshire terrier works the retinue of 80-plus trees like a seasoned traveller. Corsican Pine, Beech, Sycamore, Lime and Maple… Romy stops to sniff, mark her territory and moves on. It’s the equivalent of Facebook for dogs, with lots of news to be gathered. That’s the thing about holidaying with pets. You both need to get something out of it!
Belfast and the Causeway Coast have been on my radar for the last few years, and I decided to go back this summer for a deeper dig with terrier in tow.
After a mid-morning stroll on Cyprus Avenue, lunchtime saw us chilling at Belfast’s Botanic Gardens, where dogs are welcome but must be kept on a lead.
While a visit to the city’s biggest attraction, Titanic Belfast, was out of the question with Romy, you can do the free, self-guided Titanic Trail Walk and download it on your mobile device. There’s also lots of outdoor signage and historic information to read along the way if you are on a digital break. History buffs should definitely stroll the Maritime Mile, with 18 stops along the Lagan river, while Games of Thrones fans might like to check out the ‘Glass of Thrones’ trail with six giant stained glass windows.
Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter is full of life, and for lunch, I grabbed a salad bowl in the courtyard of the dog-friendly Bullitt Hotel on Church Lane. Dogs are welcome in their Taylor & Clay Grill, indoors and outside.
The famous Belfast landmark, the St George’s Market, is open from Friday to Sunday and is also dog-friendly. I’d heard lots about dog-friendly bars like The Reporter on Union Street, the Dirty Onion on Hill Street, Pug Uglys on Bedford Street and also the C.S. Lewis-inspired Lamppost Café on the Upper Newtownards Road. But tired and foot sore after all our walking, we opted to dine that night at the 2 Taps Wine Bar on Waring Street, near our hotel.
Arriving with no booking, we got a table on their heated terrace. And here was what I loved most! Before I even saw a menu, staff brought Romy her own dog bed, treat and bowl of water. I liked how canines received priority treatment, and the spicy meat balls and red wine for me were terrific, too.
Back at our hotel, Malmaison Belfast on Victoria Street (malmaison.com; B&B from £104, dogs £20), the canine love just kept coming. None of this ‘dogs in a kennel out the back in the garage’ kind of thing that typified holidays in the past. Rather, would Romy like her have photograph taken for Malmaison’s montage of visiting canine guests?
“Just say the word chicken,” I advised the receptionist and sure enough, Romy pricked up her ears on hearing her favourite food being mentioned and looked straight at the camera. Snap! And with that, up she went on their ‘pet frame of fame’.
Upstairs, our pet-friendly bedroom was really large and comfy with a pet bed and treats for Romy. Next morning, I didn’t have full breakfast on my own and was offered coffee with fruit/yoghurt and croissant with Romy on the leather couch beside me. The staff were incredibly friendly and there was time to pore over the map and travel directions while Romy got tummy rubs from passing staff.
Next stop, the Causeway Coast. We lucked out on the weather that weekend and the north Antrim coast looked phenomenal, blue sky meeting the ocean. The dog-friendly Fullerton Arms in Ballintoy had been recommended, and I met a friend and we sat inside and devoured local seafood chowder and arancini for lunch.
We spent four fascinating hours visiting the dog-friendly Giant’s Causeway Visitor Experience. You can walk to the Causeway for free but get so much more from going to the Visitor Experience — the audio headset explains so much as you walk down to the 40,000 basalt stone columns formed by volcanic eruptions over 60 million years ago.
There’s a seriously impressive list of pet-friendly accommodation on discovernorthernireland.com — from self-catering cottages to five-star hotels and dining options. The Inn On The Coast, for example, is located on the scenic seaside road between Portrush and Portstewart. I arrived early enough to enjoy those amazing sea views, with County Donegal off to the far left.
For dinner, we took ourselves off to Portrush, a five-minute drive away, and dined on the outdoor terrace at 55 Degrees North. Here, I polished off delicious tempura king prawns before watching the sunset in a pretty seaside town which is full of ice cream and bucket and spade shops.
The dog-friendly bedrooms at the Inn on the Coast (innonthecoastportrush.com; B&B from £129, pets £30) are a generous size. Breakfast next day was a treat, served in a designated pet-friendly section of the Inn’s bistro pub. This section has its own entrance, and looking around, there was a dog accompanying guests at nearly every table. With every size and breed of four-legged friend, it was canine cute on overload. That might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I will admit, but they were all very well-behaved wee dogs on the morning we were there.
And yes, as if by osmosis, after two-and-a-half days in Northern Ireland, the word ‘wee’ had crept into my vocabulary. Romy and I had a fab time. The comprehensive lists of dog-friendly hotels and services from Tourism NI are impressive, and really helped our planning.
Our coastal journey took us all the way west to Mussenden Temple on Downhill Demesne. The scenery is spectacular, but we ran out of time to try the ferry between Magilligan Point and Greencastle in Co Donegal. That’s for the next holiday – which is being planned already.
Arrive early or off-peak for popular stops like the Giant’s Causeway. Cared for by the National Trust, if you use the Visitor Experience car park, you’ll need to buy tickets — £13.50pp or £33.75 for a family of five. See nationaltrust.org.
Driving is the easiest mode of transport for pets and their owners on the Causeway Coast.
Small dogs can be carried for free on the Dublin to Belfast train after 9.30am, but must be kept on a leash or in a container (T&Cs apply). See translink.co.uk
Rail and bus links also go from Belfast to Coleraine, where you can transfer. Only service animals can be carried by bus, however.
Bairbre and Romy were guests of Tourism NI. See discovernorthernireland.com