Belfast – So Many Things to See! – Part 1

I would recommend that you take the Hop-on Hop-Off Tour in Belfast. The attractions below are part of the route –(they are not necessarily the same order as per the the route).

You can easily spend a few hours here. I took the self-guided tour with the audio guide, which was excellent. You learn about Belfast’s past, how Titanic was built, the day of the launch, what happened on that fateful day of 14 Apr 1912, when the ship hit the iceberg, the stories shared by survivors and the view of the wreck today 12k ft below the surface. This is not an ordinary museum – they have a mini car ride around a replica of Titanic’s rudder, and a 360-degree computer-generated visual that takes you through the different level of the ships from the engine room to the bridge which I thought was very cool. The museum is next to the Titatic launch site.

Titanic launch site in the background
Titanic menu on 14 Apr 1912
Titanic launch ticket
First Class Cabin
Third Class Cabin

Everyone should at least go to one of these ship museums once in their life. You get to visit the engine room, the mess, sickbay and so on – see what it’s like to live on a ship – or I should say warship!

HMS Caroline was launched and commissioned in 1914 and decommissioned in 2011. She is one of three surviving Royal Navy warships from World War 1. 

I came here on Saturday morning – really enjoyed it. At St George’s market, you can get fresh produce, seafood, cooked food (a lot of people were having breakfast here when I was there), scarves/hats, arts & crafts and souvenirs. All sorts of stuff. More stalls are opened during the weekend – especially the ones selling arts & crafts. The building itself was built between 1890 to 1896, but there has always been an open market at the site going back to the 17th century.

The Parliament Buildings, in the Stormont Estate, opened on 16 November 1932 and is the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly. You can join the daily free tour – check out the website for tour times.

Northern Ireland has been without a government since 2017 due to the dispute between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein. This building is not in active use for parliamentary debates etc. at the moment.

Stormont Castle

Stormont Castle is used as the main meeting place for the Northern Ireland Executive (the devolved government of Northern Ireland). It is not really a castle – it was a mansion that was redesigned to the Scottish baronial style.
The building is opened to the public annually on European Heritage Open Day weekend.

Originally opened on 23 December 1895. This building is over 100 years old! You can join a tour where you can learn more about its rich history and learn what happens backstage during a show etc. Check out the link to see what’s on if you are in town in the next few months. Note there are plans to close the theatre for a few months in 2020 for renovation.Famous people who have performed here include Pavarotti and Van Morrison.

The City Hall was opened on 1 August 1906. There are daily free tours provided if you are interested in a guided tour of the City Hall and its grounds. If you plan to be in City Hall in Nov – look out for the date when the Christmas lights will be switched on. There may be some live performances, and of course, there is the Christmas market.

The prison dates back to 1845 – it was closed as a prison in 1996. The building is now opened to the public – there do live shows, have an in-house restaurant and of course offer daily tours. You can even combine all three as a package. They also have ghosts and paranormal tours if you are interested! I would have gone for it if I had a travel companion. It’s no fun getting spooked out without a friend!

The Courthouse is opposite the prison, and there is an underground tunnel that connects it. There is an execution chamber – that was constructed later on in the early 1900s.

C.S. Lewis

Most people will know CS Lewis as the writer of the Narnia series. He was born here in Belfast. The hop on hop off tour will bring you to the C.S. Lewis Square. If you are a C.S. Lewis fan, you can probably drop by for 30 mins or so to snap some photos with the sculptures of key characters from his book and maybe have snacks at the cafe at the Visitors Centre. 

Note that it is a very small setup at the Square. If you want to do a proper C.S. Lewis trail – there are copies of the C.S. Lewis Trail Guide that you can get from the Visitors Centre (or get an electronic copy from the Connswater Community Greenway website). The trail guide will show you – where he once lived, where he was baptised etc. His work is displayed in an exhibition in Belmont Tower which you would have passed by before reaching the Square. There are two murals that are dedicated to C.S. Lewis’s work, mentioned in the Trail guide – one on East Belfast’s Dee St., the other on Ballymacarrett Rd.

There is one newer mural close to the Square (as per picture), but that is not one of the two mentioned in the official guide. It features Jadis, the White Witch in the Narnia series. On the adjacent wall (not in the picture), you will see Maugrim and Vardan, Jadis’s “secret police” wolves.

Belfast Murals

The Falls and Shankill Roads

It is better to go with one of the specialised cab tours to visit the murals so that you get a good description from the locals of Belfast’s difficult past – basically the Northern Ireland conflict, which some refer to as The Troubles.
When you walk around this area, you get some sense of how divided people were and how dangerous it was for the communities here. As you pass through the Falls Road and the Shankill Road, you will see murals on the buildings depicting the opposing political stands of the people within the communities.

The Peace Walls

The first Peace Lines or Peace Walls of the Northern Ireland conflict era was built in 1969, separating the two communities – the Republicans/Nationalist Catholics and the Loyalist/Unionist Protestants. The neighbourhood violence at the time was escalating; therefore, the Peace Line was proposed to help keep the peace so that the communities can safely in some ways go about their daily activities. They were first meant to be temporary structures however they became permanent (and was also expanded). The Belfast Good Friday Agreement of 1998 marked the official end of the “Troubles” era, but the walls remained. The most prominent walls are the ones that separate the Falls Road area is/was predominantly Nationalists from the Shankill Road area is/was predominantly Loyalists/Unionist.

The above is a side view picture. St Anne’s is also known as Belfast Cathedral. The Cathedral was completed in 1904.
See that spire at the top – that’s called the Spire of Hope. The soft foundation of the church would not allow for the weight of a tower etc., so they added a lightweight spire instead in 2007. Some refer to it as the “Rod to God”. The name Spire of Hope was given to reflect the redevelopment activities of Belfast at the time.

Shopping

Belfast is an amazing place to shop. There is the beautiful Victoria Square Shopping Centre – and all around it you can find retail outlets like Marks and Spencer, River Island, Zara and my favourite Disney (there is no Disney store in Malaysia). I spent a bit of time also at Castle Court buying toys for the kiddos. You can spend hours going from store to store in this beautiful city!

Every city I visit – I make it a point to get a Pandora travel charm – below is my four-leaf clover charm!

Victoria Square - Beautiful mall with many high end stores
Lush - I love their soaps!
Love my charm...

A wonderful close to Day 1

I had a blast exploring the city. Time to get ready for my day trip out to the Giants Causeway!

Checkout Belfast – so many things to see! – Part 2

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