Belfast, A City Reinventing Itself
The roads of Belfast, so recently patrolled by army vehicles, are now witness to a new phenomenon, tourist buses. Until the relatively recent end to the conflict known broadly as the ‘troubles’ few people would have considered Belfast as a tourist destination. Now, with the terrorist threat mostly 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 will have to
work to satisfy their curiosity as Belfast, surprisingly, lacks a focal point for what seems an obvious attraction. The old Pump House and dry dock where the ship was built is accessible to visitors and the former has an informative audio visual presentation but has limited opening times. Other parts of the story can be read from informational signs in the area and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, outside Belfast, has a small exhibition.
history of the conflict has more to offer and 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. A popular tourist destination is the ‘Peace Wall’, 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