The ill-fated ocean liner Titanic has been the subject of countless articles, books and of course the award-winning James Cameron movie with Kate and Leonardo clutching each other as the ship approaches its doom. The music is also engraved in our collective memory with that memorable track by Celine Dion. Certainly, the sinking of the Titanic is regarded as one of the greatest peacetime tragedies of the 20th century.
Now, in the place of its birth in the Belfast docks, the Titanic lives again in a stunning new six floor building, an architectural triumph within the Titanic Quarter close to where the ship was launched in 1912. This is more than a museum or exhibition…it’s an interactive experience which chronicles the entire history of the ship’s design and construction together with a fascinating glimpse of Northern Ireland society at the time. No wonder it was named the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction in 2016.
If that isn’t reason enough to include Belfast in your travel plans, there’s so much more to the city which in recent years has undergone a complete renaissance. There’s an energy, a youthful vibe that shouts “freedom” and “let’s have fun”. The Irish definitely know how to do that…restaurants and bars around the Cathedral Quarter offer traditional live music venues, local theatre, jazz joints and cuisine ranging from gourmet to street food. Belfast is generally regarded as one of Europe’s top places for entertainment.
However there is also the more serious side of recent history which is unavoidable for the visitor. The period known as “the troubles” ended twenty years ago, with reconciliation and peace now the focus. You can still find an extensive presence of politically-charged street art or murals now regarded as tourist attractions, and a tour of these is highly recommended. In fact, most taxi drivers are keen to take you around Falls Road and provide commentary on the murals. Hint: agree a fixed price before you get in the taxi, as waiting time can mount up while you take photographs.
Here are some other highlights of a visit to Bella Belfast:
- Ulster Museum and Botanic Gardens where you’ll learn the unique human story of this part of Ireland; and see the 77 metre long Game of Thrones tapestry
- The Linen Hall Library dating back to 1788, now Ireland’s last subscribing library
- If museums and libraries make you thirsty, head for the Crown Liquor Bar, a priceless gem of Victoriana with a colourful history as a gin palace
- Belfast City Hall, the centre point of the city with the Titanic Memorial Garden and free tours of the iconic building
- Victoria Square Shopping Centre with a glass-domed viewing gallery across the city skyline
- St George’s Market on Fridays and Saturdays for everything foodie including local cheeses and chocolate
These are just a few of the many attractions that persuaded us to linger longer in Belfast, a genuine surprise packet. It’s also a great starting point for the Causeway Coastal Route, one of the world’s most spectacular drives.
The best location is the Cathedral Quarter and top-rated accommodation is at the 5 star Merchant Hotel, a harmonious blend of Victorian grandeur and Art Deco. The façade of the original bank building has been preserved and is truly impressive. Excellent cuisine, great breakfast in the Great Room, and Berts Bar for cool jazz. Hint: avoid the expensive valet parking, and self-park nearby at the parking station.
Main picture: Belfast Murals