Undiscovered Ulster: Belfast
Nigel’s Life in Northern Ireland
Having lived in Northern Ireland all my life and grown up through what became known around the world as ‘The Troubles’, I am still getting used to seeing Belfast, the city where I grew up and went to school and worked, as a tourist destination with visitors literally from all over the world. In 2014 over 60 cruise ships visited Belfast and the province has also hosted major events in recent years such as a G8 conference, MTV European Music Awards and the World Police & Fire Games. This is certainly something, which was never seen during my early life as literally nobody would have considered visiting Northern Ireland and especially Belfast for a holiday, concert or sporting event.
We now live about 10 miles from the city close to beaches and forest parks and sometimes when we are out for a run or a walk we see huge cruise ships sailing up Belfast Lough, quite often with visitors from the US & Canada, having spent the day in Belfast. As with all cruise ships, they were met by tour buses ready to whisk the passengers off for the day to see ‘the sights’ of Belfast and Northern Ireland. This normally means the Giants Causeway & Bushmills Whiskey Distillery on our north coast or more recently The Titanic Museum in Belfast.
Some passengers choose to wander freely around Belfast, taking open top bus tours or spending a few hours researching their ancestors…every American/Canadian seems to have Irish ancestors! There is also a fascination amongst many for ‘Troubles’ related sightseeing. It saddens me slightly to think of people possibly leaving here having seen only the bad side of the city and our recent history. Whilst I’m sure they enjoy the tours it frustrates me that most visitors seem to do the same things and see the same sights so I would like to give an insiders view of my home, which includes Belfast and also the beautiful coastline of Northern Ireland. I will also be telling you about the beauty of County Donegal, which is actually part of the Republic of Ireland, but I have countless happy memories there. Donegal and Northern Ireland form part of the province of Ulster.
I’m starting off in the capital Belfast but there will also be articles on the North Coast, Mourne Mountains and County Donegal in the coming weeks.
A New Beginning for Belfast
Having visited stunning cities like Prague, London and Leipzig over recent years, Belfast isn’t what I would call a beautiful city visually but it undoubtedly has many beautiful and historic buildings and recent developments in the Cathedral and Titanic quarters has certainly seen it becoming more visually appealing. It should be remembered that it is just over 15 years since ‘peace’ returned to the province so obviously there are some scars left behind by that. The economic recession of recent years hasn’t helped either with many businesses being forced to close down but things are definitely on the ‘up’! In 2012 Titanic Belfast opened its doors to the public in time for the 100 year anniversary of the Titanics ill fated first voyage. It is built beside the slipway where the Titanic was built and has quickly become our most popular tourist attraction winning numerous awards worldwide. It really is far from a normal museum experience with rides and special effects transporting the visitors back in time to early 1900s Belfast.
Unknown Little Jewels
About a ten minute drive or train journey from Belfast is the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum at Cultra, set in over 170 acres of rolling countryside and renowned as being amongst the best of its kind in the world. Thatched cottages, houses, farms, schools and churches etc from the last 100 years have been rebuilt brick by brick on the site to form an authentic town and countryside environment. On the other side of the road from it is the huge transport museum with steam trains, trams and buses etc making it one of the world’s largest collections. There is also a small Titanic Museum with original artifacts from the Titanic.
A great way to see Belfast Lough, Belfast and much of counties Antrim & Down, depending on the weather, is to walk to the top of the Cave Hill which is a short drive or bus journey from the city. It is so good that we have a separate article on it here with lots of photos. On a clear day it is allegedly possible to see the west coast of Scotland and even the Snowdonia Mountains in Wales. It takes about an hour each way and whilst clearly it will involve a certain amount of exertion it is not like climbing a mountain by any means as there is a path the whole way. The walk begins at beautiful Belfast Castle which is worthy of a visit on its own. Belfast Zoo is also literally next door so why not do both if you’re feeling energetic! It’s a great zoo but for some reason they decided to build it on the side of a mountain so if you explore the zoo and climb Cave Hill in one day you’ll really have earned your dinner that night!
Visiting a prison is probably not something you normally do on holiday but Crumlin Road Jail in Belfast which was in operation from 1846 to 1996 is now one of Belfasts most visited attractions and having recently visited it ourselves we can recommend the tour where you get to hear the history of the jail and see its cells, secret tunnel and even the execution room. An interesting fact we learned on the day is that back in Victorian times prisoners were entitled to one 15 minute family visit PER YEAR!
You will probably be shocked to hear that it sometimes rains here in Northern Ireland so I have tried to suggest a mixture of outdoor attractions and some weatherproof indoor options. Another indoor option which also has the benefit of being free is the Ulster Museum in Botanic Gardens on the south side of the city close to the famous Queens University. It’s no exaggeration to say that it would be possible to spend a full day here as there is so much to see and the Botanic Gardens are an added attraction with rose gardens and tropical greenhouses where you will feel like you’re in a rain forest.
To get a taste of old time Belfast visit St George’s Market close to the city centre which is open every Friday, Saturday & Sunday. It’s all undercover, so weatherproof, and is housed in an historic Victorian building dating back to 1890. There are stalls of every kind from fruit to antiques as well as food and live music and plenty of ‘craic’ with the stall holders is guaranteed!
Additional Insider Tips
These are but a few of the many things to see and do around Belfast and the following is just a short list of a few more suggestions:
The Grand Opera House … Perhaps see a show in one of Europe’s most beautiful theatres dating back to 1895.
Stormont … Where the Northern Ireland Assembly sit, when they aren’t arguing like children! Beautiful building though and parkland.
Linenhall Library… A historic building housing Belfasts oldest library dating back to the 1700s. A great place to take a break from shopping at Victoria Square for a read and a cup of coffee in their cafe.
In my next article we will be exploring the coastline and glens of counties Antrim & Londonderry which contain some of the most stunning scenery you will see anywhere in the world!
(c) Originally Published in German on http://blog.bravofly.de .
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