Walking around Belfast is the best way to get to grips with the city’s chequered social history; all its great achievements are tainted by a darker, destructive past.
The first thing you will notice is the grand Victorian architecture which reflects Belfast’s establishment as an influential industrial centre in the late 19th century. The most striking example is St Anne’s Cathedral, open to visitors between 10am-4pm on weekdays. The building has undergone constant expansion throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century with the last work completed in 1981. The church’s west face, a war memorial completed in 1927, is a painful reminder of the devastation caused during the early twentieth century. The cities industrial repute became a great burden, as it was one of the most targeted cities in Britain during the blitz, leaving almost a quarter of its population homeless.
Belfast’s remarkable shipbuilding industry is emblazoned in public memory as being responsible for the construction of the fated Titanic. The Titanic Quarter at the waterfront is a must see attraction for all visitors to the city. The visitors centre is located at the former pump house of shipbuilders Harland and Wolff. For an insight into the history surrounding the Titanic, her sister ships and her final tragedy at sea, embark on a Titanic Walking Tour. Tours cost £12 per adult and last approximately two and a half hours.
With Belfast beginning to attract a steady tourist flow, many areas including the waterfront complex have undergone a serious revamp. The complex now houses a host of chic restaurants and boutique shops alongside the ever-present traditional Irish bar. The Ulster Museum has also undergone serious renovation and was closed to the public between 2006 and 2009. Reopened on its eightieth anniversary, the museum is testament to Belfast’s desire to preserve their cultural heritage yet become a truly modern twenty-first century city. This year, the museum will also host the Royal Ulster Academy of Arts 129th Annual Exhibition. The museum is free but is closed on Mondays.
Whilst we must remember and cherish the past, one particular aspect continues to haunt the people of Belfast. Sectarian violence ravaged the city from 1960 through to the mid-1990s and small pockets of tension can often re-surface intermittently with devastating effect, as they did in July of this year. The politically-orientated wall murals, captured by news broadcasters across the world during the height of The Troubles, can still be seen today along the Falls and Shankill Roads. For first hand experiences of life during The Troubles take a Black Taxi Tour.
For a fresh perspective of the city, get out and climb Divis or Black Mountain. Handed over to the National Trust in 2005, Divis, the larger of the two mountains, peaks at just over 1,500 feet and provides stunning views of Belfast city. On a clear day you can even make out the Isle of Skye and mainland Scotland. Access to the mountains is only a fifteen minute drive from the city centre or on bus route 106.
If you care to venture slightly further afield, The Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO world heritage site, is well worth the effort and only one and a half hours from Belfast city. This natural phenomenon, formed over 65 million years ago is the result of lava rapidly cooled by sea water, also known as rock crystallization. The result is so impressive it has become Northern Ireland’s top tourist attraction. The Causeway Coast Tour operates day trips from Belfast at £25 per person.
Written and Contributed by Rebecca Jackson
Belfast International Airport Parking