Pack Your Bags | Belfast (with Kids!)

If you’re looking for a fun place to get away to- and not have a ton of hassle- I’d like to suggest Belfast. It’s often forgotten, but with easy and frequent flights from London airports- it makes for a fun weekend getaway. And since the tickets are cheap and flights are short- it’s especially great to bring the kids along, too. 

Here’s my quick and easy guide for a great weekend in Northern Ireland’s famous capital city, Belfast.


WHERE TO STAY

THE FITZWILLIAM BELFAST | This hotel is gorgeous and has a great location in downtown Belfast. We’ve stayed in other places in recent years, but have made this our official favourite in the city. It’s just so nice and so well priced. Annnnnd, for any Game of Thrones fans, it’s where the cast and crew was living for a few months this fall. (And we got to share the lift with several of them!) If you’re going with kids, it’s worth it to upgrade to a larger room or suite for the extra space. You can also book an adjoining room here. Breakfast is fantastic, and staff is lovely.

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WHAT TO DO

TITANIC MUSEUM | You can’t go to Belfast and skip a visit to the Titanic Museum. Situated on the site of the original shipyard where the Titanic was built, the Titanic offers an amazing view of the history of chipmaking in Belfast, the actual building of the Titanic, and the heartbreaking single voyage of the ship. The cafes on-site are really nice and the whole experience is very kid-friendly. (And if you don’t have kids, even better. Ha! You may be able to glean more information than we can.) Either way you do it, it’s pretty much a must-do when you’re in the city.

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ST. GEORGE'S MARKET | Every town needs a great food market, and Belfast isn’t an exception. St. George’s Market is open over the weekend and offers food stalls, eats and the occasional live music performance from musicians. It’s indoors, so it’s a place you can go and not worry about it getting rained out in bad weather. Plus, it’s located in downtown, so it’s an easy walk from everything.

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THE GIANT'S CAUSEWAY | So this place isn’t exactly a playground or theme park, but it’s great for kids in the fact that they can roam/explore and you won’t be too nervous for their safety. The rocks are like little steps and easy to help them navigate by holding their hands. The coast is there, but it’s so far out that they can’t run there too quickly without you noticing. The visitor’s centre has some nice children activities and, when all else fails while you’re teaching them of the folklore surround Finn McCool, there are sheep that graze along the fences of the property. Voila. All you really need for a fun day out. 

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The Giant's Causeway is about an hour and ten minutes from Belfast. It’s an easy drive, but you will need a car. 

BUSHMILL'S INN | While you’re out at the Giants Causeway, plan to stop for lunch at the famous Bushmills Inn. With cosy nooks and hearty food, it’s a great stop. The inn may look tiny off the main road in Bushmills, but when you wander back- you’ll see how expansive the site really is. Also, if you go on a Sunday- you’ll be there for their legendary roast. It’s served on a buffet… and MASSIVE. Your plates will be piled higher than Christmas dinner. It’s insane and so, so good.

BELFAST CHRISTMAS MARKET | Each year, we end up being there at the start of the Christmas market, so for us, Belfast has a great holiday feel to it. With windy weather and dark days, the Christmas market is a great way to end the day for our little family. I mean, any time I can feed my family without going to a sit-down dinner is a win. Plus, it’s so cheap. Definitely recommend going, if you can!

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WHERE TO EAT

MADE IN BELFAST | This is our favourite place to eat in Belfast. We typically try to sneak away from the hotel (if we have our au pair) for date here, but if that’s not possible, we bring the kids for a lunch time meal. The interiors and locally-sourced menu make if too good a spot to miss. We go to the City Hall location, as it’s the closest to our hotel. Reservations needed,.

FRATELLI | This is a great Italian restaurant dishing up massive bowls of pasta and warm Italian dishes. It would work great for adults only or for the family. It’s got a big dining room, but I’d still recommend booking a table due to it’s popularity. For a rainy day in Northern Ireland, this place is not only warm and cosy… but super tasty. 

What a fun city! We are already planning a return visit in April, and I’m excited to see the city in springtime. Maybe next time, we won’t have to be so bundled up.

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(These coats are all Boden - one of the best British brands out there. Our family is perpetually wearing Boden because everything looks great, can stand up to the crazy weather and stands the test of time between kids.)

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ONE | TWO | THREE | FOUR | FIVE | SIX | SEVEN | EIGHT | NINE | TEN | ELEVEN


Looking for things to do in the rest of Ireland? Check out my guides to Dublin and Ireland.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on February 19, 2018 and filed under pack your bags, , ireland.

My Reykjavík | Barber

Harrison’s hair is perfectly suited for him: gorgeous and, yet, totally crazy. Ha! While we were in Reykjavik, it seemed to hit an all time-low with being constantly in his eyes, so I googled places to get it cut nearby.

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There were options that looked like regular hair salons and then I found the most dapper looking place with some tatted-up men cutting hair and figured that this was the place to go. For no other reason than it seemed fun and I figured it’d probably look about the same irregardless of where I went.

When we arrived, things were running a bit behind. The kind barber offered me a coffee but I declined. As Harrison grew restless, I tried to entertain him. I went with a weird story about a dragon who ate to many fish bones who met a frog with herbal tea... about the time I got to the herbal tea’s secret ingredient (flowers), his eyes shut and he was out for the count. (We just cut out his nap and he’s still adjusting!)

The barber came over, asked me if I was sure I didn’t want some coffee. I looked down at the passed out kid in my arms, decided to go with the moment of calm, and ordered a maccchiato.

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Ahhh. So nice.

Then a few minutes passed and it was time for Harrison to get his hair cut.

Except he was still asleep.

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Like realllly asleep.

Eventually, I whispered the magic words (“Do you want to play with my phone?”) and his eyes opened, he said ”yeah,” and sat straight up.

He is so funny and serious during haircuts. I love it so much and I was giggling at him staring at himself, making faces and watching the man cut his hair. He’s such a champ.

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When it was done, he got to pick some candy from a Darth Vader helmet and it was all done. 

And the best news was... he kinda looked the exact same after it was finished. Just without hair hanging all in his face. Mission accomplished.

Next time, I’m bringing in Tyler because they do men’s hair so well there and the whole experience was just really fun. If you’re looking for the best men’s haircut in Reykjavik, well- Barber may just be it. And with it’s easy location on Laugavegur, it’s definitely one of the more convenient ones!


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Barber | Laugavegur 66, 101 Reykjavík


Find more of my favourite places in Iceland and Reykjavik here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on February 13, 2018 and filed under iceland, travel.

Islington | A Local's Neighbourhood Guide

Today, we get to continue on with my guide to various neighbourhoods… but not written from my perspective! These area guides are written by people who live and love these little pockets of London. Today, we are headed Northeast to the hip area of Islington. You’ll get a good perspective of what makes this place unique from a former New Yorker-turned-Londoner. Erin Moore shares a bit of her life in London’s beloved neighbourhood of Islington.


1. TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD.

Our neighbourhood is a good mix of the practical and the frivolous. It’s very friendly and a little gritty, in a way that a former New Yorker can appreciate.

We live on Pentonville Road near Angel. On our side of Pentonville Road is Amwell Street, a lively and charming street of small shops where we run into our neighbors. Across Pentonville Road, we have Chapel Market, which is an old-fashioned street market with everything from produce and home goods 6 days/week to an organic farmers’ market on Sunday mornings. You can buy a school uniform, a wedding dress, the Sunday paper or a 10-foot ladder, no problem.

Around the corner, Upper Street has every chain store and restaurant you could wish for, including a huge Waterstone’s, along with some really wonderful independent businesses. For example, behind Angel lies Camden Passage, a tiny street lined with antique shops and an outdoor antique market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. There are some enticing little cafes (Austrian coffee house Kipferl and the Coffee Works Project); Paul A. Young, a first-rate chocolate shop; and the Camden Head (check out their beer garden).

Photo courtesy of Kipferl

Photo courtesy of Kipferl

Photo courtesy of Pan Pan

Photo courtesy of Pan Pan

Photo courtesy of Angela Coomey

Photo courtesy of Angela Coomey

2. ON A SCALE FROM 1-10, HOW CONNECTED WOULD YOU SAY WHERE YOU LIVE IS? WHAT ARE THE MAJOR LINES THAT RUN TO/FROM YOU?

I’d say Islington is a 9. At one end of Upper Street, Angel Station is on the Bank branch of the Northern Line. 19 bus lines connect through that one busy corner.

At the other end of Upper Street, Highbury & Islington Station has the Overground as well as the Victoria Line. Seven minutes to Oxford Circus from the furthest end of this neighbourhood is not bad!

But the real reason I give Islington such a high score is its proximity to King’s Cross/St. Pancras. Just half a mile or a couple of bus stops away, you have access to the Circle, Hammersmith and City, Northern and Metropolitan Underground lines, not to mention the Eurostar, Thameslink, East Midlands Trains and Southeastern.

If you don’t mind walking, you’ll find Islington surprisingly central. In about half an hour on foot, you can be at the South Bank, or the West End, or Shoreditch.

3. IN A DREAM WORLD, WHAT WOULD BE THE PERFECT STREET OR AREA TO LIVE IN WITHIN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD? WHY?

I enjoy living on the Pentonville Road because there’s never a dull moment. The downside, of course, is noise and pollution. There are a couple of streets, out of the fray and yet still close to Angel, that are appealing. Colebrooke Row has some of the loveliest Georgian houses around. Duncan Terrace has a ribbon of garden running through it. Noel Road is just as pretty and its gardens back onto the Regent’s Canal.

4. ON A SCALE FROM 1-10, HOW WOULD YOU SAY THE VALUE FOR SQUARE FOOTAGE IS? DO YOU PAY A PREMIUM FOR WHERE YOU LIVE OR WOULD YOU SAY IT IS A BETTER VALUE THAN OTHER AREAS IN LONDON?

Anyone living in London is paying a premium, but Islington is definitely in the mid-range of crazy. It is about 1,000 pounds per square foot, which makes it better value than West London (Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Camden and Hammersmith and Fulham are all more expensive), but worse value than East London (Hackney, Tower Hamlets) and most places south of the Thames (Wandsworth, Southwark, Richmond). Islington is more expensive than it was a few years ago, but with Google and other tech companies moving to King’s Cross and Old Street, and London’s centre of gravity shifting east over the past decade, it still seems like a good location/investment. 

5. WHAT IS THE GENERAL VIBE OF THE NEIGHBOURHOOD? GIVE US THREE TYPES OF PEOPLE WE MIGHT SEE ON YOUR HIGH STREET.

On Upper Street you’ll see mums with prams, young City types on their way to work, and many chuggers and buskers: all ages, all races, all income levels. Many people living here are the second or third generation (or more) of their families to live in the neighbourhood, so there’s a community feeling.

Although Islington is a magnet for nightlife with clubs (like O2 Academy), pubs (the Castle and the Albion are two favorites for outdoor drinking), the Almeida Theatre and Sadler’s Wells, it is also casual enough to enjoy this place as a local and be spontaneous. You don’t have need reservations to get into most of the restaurants. 

6. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO GET COFFEE IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD?

There are countless great coffee shops—so many that it’s hard to keep up with the rate they open. I really like Saint Espresso. They happen to have the best brownies: sea salt caramel (gluten free but you would not guess if they didn’t tell you). Another favorite is Ground Control on Amwell Street. Further afield, Sunday is a beloved coffee/brunch spot. It’s been discovered, though--don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Photo courtesy of Saint Espresso

Photo courtesy of Saint Espresso

Photo courtesy of Saint Espresso

Photo courtesy of Saint Espresso

7. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO GET DINNER IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD?

At the moment, I’m most into The Little Viet Kitchen, where the Vietnamese food is spicy, light, fresh and intense; Bellanger, an Alsatian/French brasserie owned by the same group at the Wolseley, the Delaunay and Fischer’s, but easier to walk into on a weekend; the Quality Chop House in Exmouth Market (try the mince on dripping toast); Moro and Berber and Q Shawarma Bar, other great places in Exmouth Market; and last but not least, for a romantic date, Trullo.

Photo courtesy of Clerkenwell Boy

Photo courtesy of Clerkenwell Boy

Photo courtesy of Bellanger

Photo courtesy of Bellanger

Photo courtesy of Bellanger

Photo courtesy of Bellanger

8. HOW WOULD YOU SPEND A SATURDAY IN ISLINGTON- AS A LOCAL?

Many Saturdays, my son and I start in Myddelton Square having a chat with our dog-walking neighbours . He plays at the playground. Then we spend the rest of the morning shopping, for family lunch or a dinner party or (usually) both. Here are some of the places we go…

We buy meat and bread from the Quality Chop House Shop and, if they have them, their addictive confit potatoes, and chicken liver pate. 

On the way back toward Angel, it is fun to stop at Made in Little France, where they have 300 different French wines, including some on tap. 

We love the charcuterie (and, weirdly, we discovered the most delicious pasta) at Coq Epicier. They also have a small selection of bread and pastries—the best at this end of Islington. The have regional French food and drink and they couldn’t be friendlier.

Fish comes from Moxon’s, just across Camden Passage, or Steve Hatt (Nigel Slater’s favourite fishmonger for a reason, but the queues can be hard for a 2-year-old to withstand). 

We buy most of our fruit and vegetables from Chapel Green Fruit and Veg on Chapel Market. It is probably the place in the neighbourhood my kids are most excited to go because of how welcome they are. Often they are offered a banana or some friendly banter here. We all love it.

We might pick up lunch from Ottolenghi. I cannot walk past their window display without stopping, at least to look.

Or we stop at Udderlicious for ice cream. They let locals vote online for the flavours they want to try at the shop in the coming month, and even nominate new flavours. My favorite is the dark chocolate sea salt sorbet—you’d never know it is dairy-free.

A real treasure in the area is Belle Epoque Patisserie — one of the best pastry shops in London, for sure, and my pick for a celebration cake or leisurely tea with a friend. It is nearer the Highbury end of Upper Street. They have éclairs to swoon for, my son’s beloved mini chocolate madeleines, and really great bread.

Islington is an amazing place to be if you like to eat. We also have two great movie theaters, useful shopping (high end, low end and everything in between) and all the entertaining people watching you could ever want. We have good locally-owned hardware and cookware shops, drycleaners, and pharmacies as well as a giant Boots, and plenty of big gyms to choose from. Parking is easy. It is by far the most practical neighbourhood we have lived in since moving to London ten years ago. 

9. HOW MUCH WOULD AN UBER TO OXFORD CIRCUS COST YOU? (APPROXIMATELY)

An Uber to Oxford Circus would cost 8-11 pounds from Angel.

10. WHAT’S THE BEST PLACE TO BE OUTDOORS IN ISLINGTON?

You can find patches of green in the form of pretty garden squares, most of them open to the public. Part of Islington skirts the edge of the Regents Canal. Its main park is Highbury Fields, about a mile (straight up Upper Street) from Angel Station. There are plenty of small playgrounds around Angel: in Myddleton Square, Barnard Park and Culpeper Park (with its sweet community garden and tadpole pond). If you head down to Granary Square, the newly developed area behind Kings Cross along the canal, there are jumping fountains, a playground, a terrific ice cream place called Ruby Violet,  and Word on the Water (a bookshop on a barge). 


Looking for the perfect London neighbourhood for you? Check out my other neighbourhood guides:

DULWICH HAMPSTEAD | SHEPHERDS BUSH | CHELSEA | Notting Hill



Family Time | Creating Traditions & Eating Croissants

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I think one of the things I get asked the most is how I manage to do it all. Well, the truth is- it’s not always all done. We manage with a myriad of weekly routines and organisers that keep us all moving. (Sounds so fun, right?) Ha! Our au pair makes it possible, too. 

One thing that Tyler and I recently realised is this: while we might be getting it all done, we weren’t setting aside to do things all together. Like, we could get everyone to where they needed to be each day- but very rarely were we all doing anything as a family. And we weren’t really doing anything as a couple, either. We were all ships passing in the night.

Since that realisation, we have been trying to figure out what we can do during the week to assure that we are building time with all of us together. We want our children to really have the concept and feeling of family established within them. We want them to have the security of family- it’s truly a richness of life that can’t be inherited or stolen from you. It’s something that is only earned with days and moments spent together.

And so, with that goal in mind, we are trying to build up times when we can make sure that we are all together. The idea is simply to leave Saturday mornings as our time. We toss on whatever is easy to wear, keep the kids in their pyjamas and toss on wellies (because if we had to dress them, we’d never get out the door), and hop in the car. We drive ten minutes away to a bakery. We get a little assortment of cinnamon rolls, almond croissants, French toast, coffees & babyccinos and just chill out together. 

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It’s really nothing fancy, but it’s just something we do. Just the Knights. Sorry- it’s VIP and we can’t be flexible on the plans. If we are in London, it’s happening. 

I love making little traditions and I hope that our kids really do feel valued and loved. (Because they are!) The more I’m a mom- the more I realise that things don’t need tp be grand or elaborate. They just need to happen. My kids don’t need me to be perfect. Just a present and happy version of myself does the trick.

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So that’s the goal. I thought I’d share that with you guys in case it’s something you’re needing to do, too… and in hopes that you can give more ideas to us! I love hearing from you all in the comments, so please don’t be shy or quiet. This place is so much more fun when it’s a community. I’ve had the pleasure to meet so many readers and I’m always in awe of how smart and cool you people are. Add in your voice. It makes it way better than just hearing mine. Ha!

Chip in below with the small but meaningful ways you connect as a family!

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*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on February 5, 2018 and filed under family, kids, london.

My London | Syrup of Soot

I’m sharing one of my favourite spots with you today. It’s tiny and pretty… and luckily for you, it’s just across from the British Museum and really easy to visit when you come to London. Not only is it pretty and well-located, but hey- it’s actually fantastic food and coffee, too.


SYRUP OF SOOT

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This smart little coffee shop opened up a couple of years ago on Museum Street, just out the front gates of the British Museum. While it’s small, it’s got surprising sunlight in the back room- making it a nice place to go on a dreary day. It also has a downstairs area that makes it an easy spot to go with if you’re with more than just a friend or two. (My last group pf students loved to rendezvous there after class.)

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While the coffee is good throughout the day, my favourite time of day to go is at lunch. With an always-changing menu, you can fill up a plate of the chef’s daily creations for a fresh, healthy lunch for £10. (Okay, not exactly cheap- but the quality is high and the portions are generous.)

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So when you’re near the British Museum, stop by and have a chai latte or lunch from Syrup of Soot. If you’re anything like me (or any of my friends that have been drug here at my insisting), you’re really gonna fall hard for it.

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SYRUP OF SOOT | 38 Museum St, Bloomsbury, London WC1A 1LP, UK | @syrupofsoot


Looking for other great coffee shops in London? I don’t blame you, I always am, too…. 

Find my favourites here on my London Guide

or join me for a quick cup at a local favourite, Swallow Coffee in Shepherds Bush



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on February 2, 2018 and filed under eat, drink, london, my london favourites.