Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Belfast
Belfast, capital since 1920 of the six counties of Northern Ireland (reorganized into 26 districts in 1973), is an important industrial city and port. It lies beautifully situated on Belfast Lough in the northeast of Ireland, at the mouth of the River Lagan, the county boundary between Down and Antrim. Belfast's shipyards are among the most modern in Europe and for many years Harland and Wolff's dry dock was the largest in the world. Here as elsewhere however, the worldwide crisis in shipbuilding has left its mark.
The city has numerous fine buildings and about 170 churches and small chapels. The central pedestrianized area on the west bank of the River Lagan makes a pleasant place to stroll, with several department stores, shopping arcades, pubs and restaurants. In November each year the city plays host for three weeks to one of the biggest cultural festivals in the British Isles (second only to the Edinburgh Festival). There is excellent access to the coast, the surrounding countryside and Lough Neagh, Ireland's largest lake, all of which are very attractive.
In addition to the Stranraer and Cairnryan (Scotland) car ferry services, which leave from Larne (rail connection from York Road station), there are ferries (from Donegal Quay) to the Isle of Man and to Liverpool. Rail services from the Central Station are good.
Belfast ("Beal feirste" = "Sandy Ford") already possessed a fort in the early Middle Ages, but this was destroyed in 1177. Thereafter a castle was built, the possession of which was often disputed between the native Irish and the English conquerors. In 1613 the town which had grown up around the castle was granted a charter by James I. The manufacture of linen had long been an important industry in Belfast, and it received additional impetus in the latter part of the 17th century when Huguenots fleeing from France introduced improved industrial methods. The newcomers gave the life of the town a French stamp and contributed to the development of its intellectual life. Following the 1800 Act of Union and Ireland's formal integration with Great Britain, Belfast grew rapidly into the most important industrial city in Ireland. Its prosperity was founded on rope manufacture, shipbuilding and tobacco as well as linen. The magnificence of its 19th century buildings earned the city the soubriquet "Athens of the North".
Since 1968-69 when an eruption of civil strife prompted the British government to send troops to the province, Belfast has suffered repeatedly from terrorist violence associated with the Northern Ireland conflict. The "troubles", as the bloody sectarian dispute over Ulster's future is known, have decisively shaped the everyday life and economic fortunes of the city. Under the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, Britain undertook to facilitate Northern Ireland's union with the Republic as and when a majority of the people of Northern Ireland favored it. Although in theory this represents an important step forward, the reality is that a solution to the province's troubles remains as distant as ever.
Outside the city center the boundaries between Catholic and Protestant districts are not always as obvious as they are in mainly Catholic West Belfast, where barbed wire and walls separate the two communities. Segregation extends to schools, pubs and other areas of social life. Decades of high unemployment are another manifestation of the blight brought about by the "troubles".
Tourists should take care to avoid the "control zones" where parking is in any case prohibited; unattended vehicles may be treated as suspicious and dealt with accordingly. Drivers should be prepared for the occasional vehicle check and pedestrians, whether local people or visitors, may be asked for proof of identity.Tucked into the northeast corner of the Emerald Isle, this part of the United Kingdom has calmed down in recent years and is becoming an important tourist destination. One clue to how things are evolving is that Northern Ireland has joint tourism promotions more with Ireland than it does with the UK. It is thus posititioning itself as an extra destination for those who visit the Republic of Ireland.
Donegall Square (City Hall)
Garden of Remembrance
Linen Hall Library
St Anne's Cathedral
St Patrick's Pro-Cathedral
St Malachy's Church
Sinclair Seamen's Presbyterian Church
Grand Opera House
Albert Memorial Clock Tower
Lagan Weir Lookout
Sir Thomas & Lady Dixon Park-International Rose Garden
Arts Council Sculpture Park
Belfast City Airport
Royal Ulster Rifles Museum