Belfast, Northern Ireland
Fun ideas for a visit to the capital city
She was the largest man-made moving object on earth when created here. And since last May’s launch anniversary, held on the very slipway where dockworkers assembled her, the city of Belfast has been commemorating the centennial of the sinking of the Titanic. Dry dock and pump-house walking tours follow the construction of the ship, and harbor excursions take visitors past the sites where the ship was launched and outfitted.
A new six-story interactive visitors center, Titanic Belfast, depicts the boat’s construction, exhibits artifacts recovered from the wreck, and through a transparent floor, projects an image of the boat in its resting place today. At Rayanne House, diners can sample the last first-class meal served on board—a nine-course dinner that includes salmon poached in mousselline sauce and rose water, and mint sorbet. At the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, children following the Titanica Kids Trail can try their hands at hammering rivets.
photograph of titanic belfast courtesy of Donal McCann
But the Titanic experience is only one of many reasons to visit Belfast, one of National Geographic Traveler’s top 20 travel destinations for 2012. Although updated with urban malls, trendy shops, and restaurants, Northern Ireland’s capital city still exhibits the charm of its Victorian heyday, when picturesque public buildings and merchant homes reflected the prestige of a city thriving on shipbuilding and linen processing. The fanciful white marble “wedding cake” city hall is the centerpiece of a square featuring the red sandstone Pearl Assurance Building and the Robinson & Cleaver Building adorned with more than 50 busts of prominent figures, from Queen Victoria to the Maharaja of Cooch Behar.
Newly restored, elegant red brick St. George’s Market hosts weekend food and crafts markets. And a few blocks away, honoring Victoria’s dear departed husband, the Albert Memorial Clock Tower, erected on unstable landfill, has tilted off the vertical, prompting locals to note that Prince Albert has both “the time and the inclination.”
South of the center, Queen’s Quarter is crowded with the students of Queen’s University, bookshops, the Botanic Gardens and the country’s preeminent Ulster Museum.
Guided black-taxi tours drive visitors through remnants of the city’s past era of political “troubles.” Giant wall murals and a long painted fence depict both Protestant and NRA martyrs, but these days Falls and Shankill Roads are lively shopping streets lined with art galleries and shops selling music and crafts.
Scattered all over town are cozy pubs: the narrow, crowded Spaniard, Crown Liquor Saloon facing the Grand Opera House, John Hewitt’s (where television and games are banned), and hidden down an alley is the great classic journalist hangout, the Duke of York.
Hotel choices range from elegant rooms in the Merchant Hotel (converted from the old Ulster Bank head office) and floor-to-ceiling water views in the Hilton Belfast to comfortable accommodations in the Radisson Blu. And just a short drive away on the grounds of Castle Upton, the Hilton Templepatrick offers a spa and golf course option convenient to town. For more, go online to www.gotobelfast.com.