As someone who went to university on the North Coast, I not only missed out on those crazy student nights in Belfast, but also the chilled out lifestyle that comes with living in Belfast. Instead of spending Saturdays on the Lisburn Road or strolling around Stranmillis, I was walking on the beach and treating myself to Morelli’s ice cream – which might have something to do with why I’m on a diet, but that’s another story altogether.
So, as someone totally unfamiliar with the streets of Stranmillis Village, I was absolutely thrilled to be approached with the idea of joining a fellow blogger and good friend, Louise Vance (aka The Real Elle Woods) on a girly day out in the village, complete with lunch and a trip to the Lyric Theatre. It all sounded like the makings of a perfect catch-up for myself and Louise, so we jumped at the opportunity. Now, having experienced Stranmillis for myself, here are four very diverse and fun ways to enjoy some much-needed girl-time in this bustling part of Belfast.
1. The Age of Liberty @ Ulster Museum
If you live in Belfast, chances are that you have been here before. It’s free, it’s interesting and it’s a pretty good place to shelter from the rain if your Botanic Gardens picnic goes pear-shaped. But what you might not have known (I had NO idea) is that the museum is also home to a pretty amazing fashion exhibit too, perfect for a girls’ trip with a difference.
Let me set the scene with a fun fact that stuck with me on the day. Did you know that the term ‘loose woman’ originated from the corset? Me either. It turns out that women who wore their corsets tight, as was the tradition in the 1900s, were restricted in movement and therefore appeared dignified and ladylike. As time went by, a number of women wore their corsets looser, which not only gave them freedom of movement, but also had moral implications, hence the term we use today. Interested? There are tons of historical tidbits just like this at ‘The Age of Liberty’.
We were told by our fantastic tour guide that Elise Taylor, the costume curator at the museum, had created a work of living history with their fashion archive, adding one iconic couture garment and one high-street garment to their collection from each calendar year, creating a representative history of the big fashion movements that we see today. What’s more, this gorgeous exhibit’, changes every few months, both to keep things fresh for visitors and to keep the clothing in its exceptional condition; so this visit is certainly not a one-time thing.
I was absolutely fascinated by The Age of Liberty, which portrays the liberation of women according to fashion, beginning with the stiff and ladylike corset of the 1900s and moving towards more fluid and flowing shapes. In fact, I loved it so much that I could have spent an entire day in that section alone, and dedicated an entire blog post to it. But to keep things short and sweet, I will simply say that I could not recommend a visit to The Age of Liberty enough. It brought history alive for the first time since I’d studied my A-Levels, and our tour guide Charlotte was as much responsible for that as the exhibition itself. She was absolutely brilliant.
2. Gotto Sports
Now, I know what you’re thinking – how does a sports shop fit into a girls’ day out? I only have two words for you sceptics – BIKINI SEASON. With just three weeks to go until my Greek Island Hopping adventure, my healthy regime has been in full swing for almost two months now, but it’s not too late to get those summer bodies ready – and nothing says ‘fitspiration’ quite like a brightly coloured, Pinterest-worthy pair of trainers.
As a Zumba instructor, our trainers tend to be all about bright colours and very little tread but, surprise, surprise… it turns out that choosing your trainers based on which pair have the prettiest colour combo is NOT the way to go for other exercise. Luckily for us, Gotto Sports offer what is known at ‘Gait Analysis’ to help you find the perfect trainers. How does it work? Basically, you don a pair of neutral trainers (trainers with no support), run on a treadmill for around one minute, and then allow the experts at Gotto Sports to analyse your running style. It turns out that my feet need only light support, which is definitely not what I would have thought beforehand – every day is a school day! You should definitely try it if you’re preparing for a fitness frenzy.
Just FYI – Gotto Sports is also the oldest resident in Stranmillis Village, so worth a visit for the historical factor too.
3. Sinnamon Coffee
Usually lunch time with The Real Elle Woods (who also moonlights as Confessions of a Cocktail Girl, she’s one busy lady), consists of a main course and dessert in the city centre, washed down with our favourite cocktails and a lot of laughs, but sadly my diet doesn’t count Cosmopolitans as a food group. Luckily, we had lunch planned at Sinnamon, a cosy and yummy coffee shop in Stranmillis.
Right here, I think we should take a moment to appreciate my self-control, as I didn’t so much as glance at the cakes and traybakes. However, what I did have was an absolutely delicious toasted wrap, and the chance to relax and enjoy a serious gossip session with Louise, which is a must on any girly day out.
4. The Lyric Theatre
Our girls’ day out encompassed fashion, history, fitness and food, so it’s about time that we added some culture into the mix with a trip to the Lyric Theatre. This is one spot that I have been dying to get to for years, but never quite had the chance, but that all changed at the weekend. After a long stroll through the Stranmillis – well, I say long, but it would probably have been a lot shorter had we not chosen to wear heels – we arrived at The Lyric and I was immediately struck by its gorgeous views of the Lagan. But that was nothing to the main event – the matinee performance of ‘The Shadow Of A Gunman’ by Sean O’Casey.
Prior to seeing the play, my only memories of Sean O’Casey were from GCSE English Literature, and those were foggy to say the least, but The Shadow Of A Gunman tells the tale of the residents of a tenement building in Ireland during the troubles, particularly a poet who was mistakenly believed to be an IRA gunman.
As a whole, the play was spectacularly acted. The lead, played by Mark O’Halloran had exceptional stage presence, and a naturally humorous disposition; and Dan Gordon from Give My Head Peace offered some light relief from the hard hitting subjects tackled in this comedy.
Finally, what really struck me were the moments of silence in the play, where haunting music took over, and each step was so carefully considered that they could be compared to a meticulously choreographed dance. But, then again, maybe that’s just the dance enthusiast inside me.
All in all it was a jam-packed girls’ day, brimming with fun, laughs and some of the best things that Belfast has to offer. I would totally recommend a day spent in Stranmillis, and there’s so much more that I’d like to explore.
Thank you to Chris Love at Love PR for kindly setting up our day out in Stranmillis, we had a wonderful afternoon.