Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland, which is one of the four countries that combined to form a different country called The United Kingdom. It’s something of a confusing system, but we love the whole darned mish-mash.
Not surprisingly Northern Ireland is located on the northern part of Ireland. It was created by the British when they divided the island into a part that would become the Republic of Ireland, and another where the majority of the population wanted to remain with Great Britain. Unfortunately this division contributed to 30 years of horror called “The Troubles” in which the name Belfast was synonymous with violence. Finally in 1998 a ceasefire was agreed to and the killing came to a stop.
Now almost 20 years later the citizens of Belfast still seem shocked to be getting tourists. They are very polite, friendly and accommodating, but seem completely unaware of the attraction of their own city. They shouldn’t be.
People have lived in the area since at least 5000 BC and its not hard to understand why. Like all of Ireland it is incredibly green, plus is located between the eastern coast and a series of amazing hills to the west. Walking trails run all through the hills and come in various level of difficulty. We recommend against dress shoes and heels on some of the steeper routes.
To the eyes of some, including Jonathan Swift, the series of rocky hills resemble the face of a sleeping giant and it is believed that it may have inspired the famous novel Gulliver’s Travels. The hills are filled with shallow caves which are fun to find and explore.
At the base of the hills is the stunning Belfast Castle, which was built in it’s current form in the 1800s. It was given to the city by the Earl of Shaftesbury and is now filled with shops, a restaurant and conference centre.
Belfast has many wonderful parks including the Botanical Gardens which is home to the Palm House, a beautiful cast iron greenhouse.
It is also home to the Ulster Museum, a public lawn bowling green, and beautiful flower gardens. All told the park provides 28 acres of green space.
Because the city has enjoyed peace for the past twenty years the economy has grown and Belfast has been able to expand an improve itself. It has spent a billion pounds over the past few years to make itself appealing to visitors and to maximise the enjoyment of its own people. An area that has gotten special attention is the Victoria Square shopping area and it’s famous dome.
The dome is impressive from the outside, and on the inside it provides fantastic 360 degree views of the city.
Most people don’t realise the city is also the home to Harland & Wolff shipyard which built a number of massive ships including one called the RMS Titanic. Yes, Belfast was the birthplace of the Titanic (as well as a number of other boats that did not sink on their first trip). The former site of the shipyard is now home to the Titanic Belfast, a visitor attraction completed in 2012.
The Titanic Belfast is 130,000 square feet of exhibition space and features many high tech and interactive experiences. There are a number of sections including displays showing what the city was like at the turn of the century, how impressive the interior of the ship was, and a ride taking guests through the ship yards. A highly recommended attraction.
So we’ve established that Belfast is a fantastic place to visit, but it doesn’t end there. A few hours in any direction are amazing things to see and do, like a tour of the Bushmills Irish Whiskey Distillery which has had a royal license to distil whiskey since 1608. Northern Ireland is also home to most of the locations featured in the Game of Thrones and they look every bit as impressive in real life.
Finally there is the highlight of the trip for us, the Giant’s Causeway. This is one of those places where nature has to be seen to be believed. In fact, historically people did not believe it was natural, they believed the causeway was built instead of formed.
The legend is that the causeway was made by the Irish giant Finn MacCool in order fight Scottish giant Benandonner. On a clear day you can see the shoreline of Scotland which has similar columns, leading to the assumption that it was part of the same massive construction project.
The almost as unbelievable truth is that these 6 sided basalt columns were caused by volcanic eruptions in the very distant past. They reach an amazing 40 feet high and must be seen to be believed!