Sunday 15th of April by CarpediemEire
Belfast capital of Northern Ireland, has seen a gradual growth in visitors since the end of the troubles in the mid 90’s. It is now a cosmopolitan friendly city and has a unique history as the only Irish city to truly feel the industrial revolution, from there through sectarian troubles to modern times.
I have visited twice within the last year and covered the main attractions through both trips. This is our first trip where we visited the core of the city centre attractions.
Leaving on the mid-morning train from Connolly in Dublin we arrived in Belfast at midday. Book your tickets well in advance online to make some good savings. The walk from Belfast train station takes you past St George’s Market, the last surviving covered Victorian market in the city. We choose to stay at Ten Square, it ticked all the boxes; converted period building, boutique style property and a central location near City Hall. The staffs were amazingly welcoming, and as it later transpired Belfastians as people are super friendly. The receptionist tabled a superb offer for dinner that evening (3 courses for £15) so that impending conversation was solved.
The hotel was a beautiful property, and the room lush and modern. The lift was out-of-order so several flights were needed to reach our top floor room (not the first time this has happened to us). I still have ‘some’ youth on my side so this wasn’t a problem.
Day 1 – Walking Tour
We set out on foot to explore the compact city centre. Nearby our hotel the imposing City Hall with its Garden of Remembrance stood. We walked on past to see the gothic Assembly Buildings Conference Hall, while around the corner Belfast’s opera house is intriguing. Next door is the Europa Hotel, only interesting due to its reputation as the worlds most bombed hotel. During the troubles many politicians stayed here, so it became an obvious target. Opposite is the famous Crown Liquor Saloon, an 1820s pub with period stylings, which is where to go to sample the local hospitality. It was far too early in the day for us.
We made our way up Donegall Place, Beata ducking into some of the high street shops while I admired some of the architecture. I also came across a unionist march; marching is a big thing here, and the cause of much tension between the different political groups. It is best to avoid marching season which happens around July 12 each year.
Our walking/ shopping tour took us through the Castlecourt Shopping Centre and up past St Anne’s Cathedral. The cathedral is quite modern but it is aesthetic. It’s slowly sinking into the reclaimed land it was built on. We meandered on through the streets to the River Lagan. Here stands the striking Albert Memorial Clock one of Belfast’s best known landmarks. It has a chequered history, courting controversy over its building, its association with prostitutes and being the victim of an IRA bomb. Behind the nearby Customs House you will find the mosaic Big Fish sculpture. Kissing it is said to give you intelligence, but more likely to give a good laugh. We had lunch in the Victoria Square Mall before having a few pints of Guinness in the charismatic Bittles bar. The interior has cartoony satires on politicians and famed people from Northern Ireland. Oh and a good pint.
We took some time to relax back into the hotel before taking reception up on that good offer on dinner in Jospers Steakhouse.Extraordinary value considering we had steak and pork belly for dinner. The restaurant/ bar has a nice atmosphere.
Day 2 – Bus Tour
After our subdued first day we arose on day 2 with a plan. We had booked the Belfast Hop-on / Hop-off, to extend our reach. It was a toss-up with the celebrated Black Cab Tours, but we went with the bus.
After a breakfast which was freshly prepared and a credit to the hotel, we walked to Donegall Place to catch our bus. Not being a large city the tour bus was quick to get around, which is my criticism of similar tours in larger cities. The bus fare was £12.50 for an adult but it does give you reduced admission to certain Belfast attractions. One such attraction was the Titanic Belfast which was the second stop, being just over the river.
As you cross the river Lagan the imposing sight of the shipyards loom ahead. The gantry cranes bearing the H&W logo of Harland and Wolff, tower above the docks. Famed as the ship builders who brought the Titanic into existence, their legacy will always be attached to that ill-fated ship.
Alighting at the Titanic stop, we had a little snoop around the area towards the dry docks before heading to Belfast’s star attraction. Recently voted the worlds leading tourist attraction at the worlds travel awards, it certainly dazzles from outside. With our discounted entry, we saved £3 on the general admission of £18.50.
Embarking on the tour we are introduced to Belfast at the time. From here we get to the shipyards, and one of the main highlights, the shipyard ride. This is an automated ride through the elements of ship building presented in oral and aural detail. Other notable highlights are the
- 3-d tour through the decks,
- the replica of a passengers quarters
- The testimonies from the fatal night, including the first hand account of survivors
- The deep-sea exploration of the wreck of the Titanic.
The tour is immensely enjoyable and blends technology, exhibits and popular media very well.
Included also in the Titanic admission is entry to the SS Nomadic. It is the worlds last remaining White Star Line ship. The experience aboard let’s you tour the different decks, and examine the ships colourful history. There is also a chance for some silly fun, with plenty of period costumes on board to dress up in. I looked truly ridiculous as a seaman.
Catching the next passing tour bus, we were taken to Stormont for a quick glimpse of the estate from the bus. The bus takes the one mile trek up the beautiful tree-lined Prince of Wales Avenue, and pauses at the roundabout outside the Parliament Building. You can visit the Great Hall within the building. The route then leads back into the city centre, passing City Hall, Opera House and the Queens University with it’s aesthetically pleasing Lanyon Building.
Eventually it reaches the troubled areas of the Falls Road and Shankhill Road. This area was divided by the 25 foot Peace Wall which separates the Catholic inhabitants of the Falls Road from the Shankhill Roads Protestants. The peace walls are being demolished in an effort to bridge the 2 communities. Houses and walls in each area are emblazoned with political graffiti and many document incidents from Ulster’s past. It’s a harsh reminder of how things must have been like for those many years of violence. It’s worth to get off the bus and walk the streets to see the various murals. We carefully choose to get off at the Falls Road, I am from Dublin so best to be sensible. We came across a local Irish language art centre, Culturlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, and its cafe Bia where we enjoyed an excellent lunch. It was very reasonably priced also.
We completed the circuit on the tour bus, and alas time had caught up on us. Dublin beckoned once more, via the hotel and the Enterprise train. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Belfast. Its a triving modern city with a plethora of excellent facilities and sights.