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What to See and Do in Belfast - Big Ships, Historic Tours, and Fairytale Landscapes

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Belfast is booming. Its ongoing regeneration keeps adding new attractions to the waterfront and Victoria Square, with other faded corners springing back to life. But many fascinating sights are still based around Belfast's past. Steamships in the port, folk songs in the pubs, and colourful murals in the streets all help tell the story. Plus you've got the mythic countryside to explore.

Cathedrals, churches, and civic buildings

 

To get your bearings in Belfast, you could start right in the middle, with free tours of Belfast City Hall and St. Anne's Cathedral. Those grand Victorian landmarks, both filled with art and artefacts, give you a feel for the city's civic pride and spirit. In West Belfast you can also admire the French Gothic facade of Clonard Monastery, and descend into the crypt that was used as an air raid shelter for local residents during bombing raids in World War II.

 

  • Belfast City Hall, Donegall Square, Belfast BT1 5GS; Tel: +44 289 032 0202; Website: Belfast City Hall
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  • Clonard Monastery, 1a Clonard Gardens, Belfast BT13 2RL; Tel: +44 289 044 5950; Website: Clonard Monastery

Titanic and the Belfast shipyards

 

The RMS Titanic was built in Belfast, and the story of that doomed ocean liner has literally become a part of the city. The Titanic Quarter is a cluster of waterfront attractions centreed on Titanic Belfast, a high-tech museum that tells you everything about the ship and its sinking. At nearby Hamilton Dock you can climb aboard the SS Nomadic, which ferried the first passengers out to Titanic and is sometimes known as its "little sister." This last surviving vessel of the famous White Star Line is a well-preserved memorial to the mighty craftsmanship of bygone Belfast shipbuilders.

 

  • Titanic Belfast, 1 Olympic Way, Belfast BT3 9EP; Tel: +44 289 076 6386; Website: Titanic Belfast
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  • SS Nomadic, Hamilton Dock, Queens Road, Belfast BT3 9DT; Tel: +44 289 073 7860; Website: SS Nomadic

 

Land of myth and fantasy

 

The green hills, shady glens, and spectacular cliffs surrounding Belfast formed the backdrop for ancient Irish myths and legends. There's a geological reason for the strange, dramatic rock formations of the Giant's Causeway, but the fairy stories give a different explanation - you'll hear both at the visitor centre. The smash-hit fantasy TV series "Game Of Thrones" is also shot in and around Belfast, and fans can take a Stones & Thrones guided tour of the real-life locations for imaginary places like Winterfell and Riverrun. Even if you don't follow the show, you'll be knocked out by the scenery.

 

  • Giant's Causeway, 44 Causeway Rd, Bushmills, Antrim BT57 8SU; Tel: +44 282 073 1855; Website: Giant's Causeway
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  • Stones & Thrones, 143 Northumberland Street, Belfast BT13 2JF; Tel: +44 289 032 1912; Website: Stones & Thrones

 

Understanding the Troubles

 

Peaceful, safe, and friendly as Belfast is today, there's no avoiding the legacy of the so-called Troubles. Vivid wall murals painted all over the east and west of the city tell different sides of a complicated story. This may seem a little daunting or confusing, but sensitive and well-informed local operators can help you understand. For colour and context, take a taxi tour with Ray Harper up the Falls Road and down the Shankill. If you'd rather explore on foot, A History of Terror is a fascinating guided tour that walks and talks you through the recent, painful past.

 

 

Fine food tours and distillery visits

 

For those who think the best way to get to know a place is by eating and drinking its homegrown goods, Belfast Food Tours provides an ideal introduction to the city. Native guide and gourmand Caroline Wilson will lead you to her favorite shops, markets, and eateries where you'll meet local producers and sample their freshest wares. The peaty soil and water of County Antrim makes for high-quality Irish whiskey. You can visit the Old Bushmills Distillery near Belfast to learn how their stuff is made, how it's different from Scotch, and of course how good it tastes.