Belfast, A City Reinventing Itself
The roads of Belfast, once patrolled by army vehicles, are now witness to a new phenomenon, tourist buses. Until the end to the conflict known broadly as the 'troubles' few people would have considered Belfast as a tourist destination. Now, with the terrorist threat gone, the city enjoys a growing number of visitors each year.
Keen to capitalise on this new interest Belfast City Council, along with private companies, has invested heavily in its tourist infrastructure.
New hotels, catering to a range of budgets, offer convenient accommodation and modern retail developments, restaurants, and clubs vie for custom. It has a university, museums, theatres, numerous parks, botanical gardens, and a rich history of industry.
At one time it could boast having the largest factories in the world across a number of industries, shipyard, linen mills, rope works, and even tobacco. The twin cranes David and Goliath, now listed as Historic Buildings to ensure their heritage, tower over the Harland & Wolff shipyard which still operates but at a fraction of the size it once was.
Sadly, little remains to mark the other industries other than street signs and named buildings.
Gone too is the Italian Quarter, the quays along what is now High Street, and the expansive daily markets alongside the Lagan, the river that flows through Belfast.
As with many cities, development and changing needs of a population have taken their toll on its history.
However, what sets Belfast aside from other destinations is that it is the birthplace of the Titanic and it has a history of sectarian conflict that kept it in the headlines for three decades.
Visitors with an interest in the ill-fated ship, can visit a world leading tourist attraction
The Belfast Titanic Attraction
Learn about the historic story of RMS Titanic. There are a lot of things to see, like the history and how it was made. It has many exhibits that let you feel like you are back in time. People can take a tour of the replica of the Titanic. They can explore its many decks. There is also a 3D recreation of the Titanic in the depths of the ocean. The attraction also has interactive displays that have information about Titanic's passengers and crew. There are also videos and audio recordings to help visitors learn more about this iconic ship's history.
The history of the conflict
Those who come with an interest in the city's troubled past will find plenty to inform, entertain and even amaze. Bus and taxi tours are available to take visitors to areas that many will have heard of through news reports, the Falls Road, the Shankill and Sandy Row. All are keen to promote their area and welcome tourists.
Visitors can stop to see the murals that designate the allegiances of a particular area and those painted in honour of terrorists or freedom fighters depending on perspective and political view.
The Peace Wall
The Peace wall was a physical barrier erected to separate ideologically divided communities. Many sections are painted with images depicting the history of the area and many political messages have been painted out but the walls still remain and no one seriously suggests taking them down.
Visitors are free to travel on their own but will benefit from an organised tour. The guides are informative and will attempt to answer any question but impartiality, like sunshine, is sparse in Belfast and visitors should bring an open mind and a mental note to never forget that there are 'two sides to every story'.
List of House Sitters available for Belfast Northern Ireland