City Guide: Belfast

Taking a break (and having a Kit Kat) from my old journal excerpts (from way back in historic March of this year) I thought it was perfect timing to drop in my Belfast City Guide. Really I’m just annoyed because I can’t play Assassin’s Creed 3 online because my Gold subscription has run out and I need things to do.

So what should you get up to in you happen to have a day in Belfast? Here are some of the city’s highlights for you to mix and match into eonder, adventurous forms.

A quality day trip to Belfast should include most, if not all, of these sights:

Titanic ExperienceLet’s start at the top. The Titanic Experience is the new toy, the favoured child of Belfast tourism. Alongside other attractions which have had a 2012 reboot (notably the Giant’s Causeway). I talked about my experience a week ago, which you can read if you feel like, but in a paragraph the experience is a wordy, though worth it, museum about the Titanic. You will get a really good understanding of the life of ship builders in Belfast at the beginning of the twentieth century when twelve hour work days, clambering over scaffolding with no protective gear, and only half an hour for lunch was standard. I recommend about an hour here to read the snippets that draw your fancy and watch a couple of videos. I would recommend the Titanic Experience not for its Titanic history, but for its local history. Seems like a good starting point for a very historical day.

Belfast Castle sends us back even further in Belfast’s history. The original Norman castle was built in the 13th Century in the centre of Belfast city centre. It no longer exists, but the masterpiece we see on the slopes of Cavehill Country Park today was constructed in the 1860s. A lovely Georgian-Victorian cusp castle, it is open to the public and is mostly used for events and weddings. The manicured gardens are sweet and there was a cat topiary when I was there. The top level hosts a museum with some more local history, but the best part is the view back down over Belfast. You can compare this to the 360 panorama you get from Victoria Square (see below).

Belfast peace wall taxi tourI have also spoken before about the Black Taxi tours. Lasting anywhere from 45 minutes to 1hr you can order a taxi through your accommodation or pick one up in town. Local drivers will take you and talk you through the murals of the Protestant and Catholic factions and the Peace Wall. This is a tour of living history and is fraught with chance as to what kind of experience you will have, but at between €12 and €20 per person (or a flat cab fee that you can split amongst yourselves) there is no better way to immerse yourself in modern Belfast.

Since your tour will probably bring you back to town it seems like a good time to explore the inner city. Belfast City Hall, opened 1 August 1906, offers first-come-first-served tours at 11am, 2pm and 3pm Monday – Friday, 2pm and 3pm on Saturdays. The grounds host local events and festivals such as the Christmas Market over, obviously, Christmas. During the Olympics a live stream was broadcast over a large screen. It’s right at the start of Donegall Place, which brings me to my next suggestion.

Donegall Place Belfast

Perhaps you feel like some shopping. Donegall Place is the main shopping street of Belfast and has all the major stores. Just off it is the glass domed Victoria Square shopping centre. If you take the lift or stairs to the top you can see 360 degrees of Belfast from inside the great, glass dome. Finally, George’s Market provides variety for every day of the week hosting both craft and farmers markets. I was there on a Saturday and there were oh so many cupcakes! In the market centre there was one determined performer doing a country-western equivalent of ‘heads shoulders knees and toes’ although everyone in the audience was staunchly not joining in; making for a humuours sight.Leaning tower belfast

Walking on from Victoria’s Square you will find the Albert Memorial Clock – Belfast’s very own leaning tower. The tower was built in 1865 using publicly raised funds. The great scandal is in the ‘X-Factor style’ contest for its design. First place winning designer W. J. Barre was shunned in favour of second place Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon, until public outcry led to Barre being, eventually, given his award. Once completed the tower stood 113 feet tall on reclaimed land, which is what now gives the structure its characteristic lean.

My final suggestion takes you a bit outside of the city centre. The Belfast Botanic Gardens are another Georgian relic worth seeing! It is only guaranteed to be open from 17 April -14 August. There is still much to stroll in its dormant state including a Tropical Ravine. In the surrounding area is Queens University, with gorgeous architecture, and the Ulster Museum.

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