This list is the must visit destinations you must see when you visit the Northern Irish capital – Belfast. I spent 4 nights in the city, with one of the days spent on a day trip to the Giant’s Causeway. I would recommend at least three nights to allow yourself time to fully explore Belfast.
Arguably I would say this is the most popular attraction in Belfast, if not Northern Ireland.
The Titanic Belfast is situated in her namesake quarter and is located beside the Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices and Hamilton Graving Docks. The building design is modern, and the museum tells in detail the story of the ship, right from her conception, through the construction which was right in the heart of Belfast and her maiden voyage.
The museum very cleverly tells the timeline in Belfast from the early 20th century during the boom of shipbuilding, to Titanic’s launch and how the cabins and interiors were designed and what they looked like for the different classes. It then leads on to the 6th gallery where the disaster on her maiden voyage is told.
With the background sound of Morse code SOS messages being sent to other ships and striking audio of survivors telling their stories it makes for an impactful visit. The final galleries detail the aftermath of the sinking. There is also a full-size replica of one of the lifeboats used to evacuate passengers from the ship.
Near the end of the exhibition you can visit the Ocean Exploration Centre where it mentions the discovery of the Titanic wreckage and the use of science and technology to try and retrieve precious artifacts from the bottom of the Atlantic ocean.
Tickets must be pre-booked and are available here
C.S. Lewis Gardens and Square
A public space dedicated to the Belfast born author C.S. Lewis. Throughout the park there are 7 bronze sculptures for you to discover. Walk through and re-discover the Chronicles of Narnia, from the Lion, the witch and the wardrobe to the imposing sculpture of Aslan the lion.
Situated in the east of Belfast near to the East side visitors centre, this area has a rich history and quite a few other famous faces have hailed from this side including footballer George Best and singer Van Morrison. Located on the edge of the square is a good restaurant called Freight – I can recommend their dinner menu, but they also offer an extensive brunch menu too. You can’t miss this restaurant, it is situated inside a shipping container.
Belfast City Hall
Situated in the heart of the city is the iconic Belfast city hall and gardens. The building is home to Belfast’s council and runs through the centre of the Linen district. On the east side of the building there is a small memorial garden that commemorates the 1,512 people who perished on the RMS Titanic. The memorial lists the names of the passengers, and the flowers in the garden such as magnolias, roses, forget-me-nots and rosemary, were chosen for their colours being intended to evoke those of water and ice.
During the summer months the grass areas surrounding the building are a popular hang out area with locals and at night the city hall is illuminated in a variety of colours.
There are guided tours that will take you inside the building, but it is worth checking their website for updates.
Peace Wall Tour
It’s been 20 years since the troubles officially ended in Belfast but the divisions in the capital of Northern Ireland are still clear for everyone to see and if you are visiting the city you should make an effort to learn about its past.
The main purpose of the walls was to curb the violence stemming from the outbreak of civil unrest. The riots led to a thirty-year conflict known as the “Troubles” and separated Catholic and Protestant communities.
If you take one of Belfast’s hop-on-hop-off buses you will pass through the peace lines on the tour, however if you want a dedicated tour and to gain further insight I’d recommend you take a guided tour.
A highly recommended one is the Black Cab tour, the hour long experience is educational and unbiased and you’ll see many political murals along the way. The Peace walls have also been signed by some very well known people including Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama.
For some idea of the size and scale of the peace walls, I have included a link to a virtual map of the peace lines here.
All around the city you will come across large scale murals, often painted on gable ends of buildings and in some cases, political. During my visit I stayed in East Belfast and the streets all around had murals on each corner. The majority of them were Loyalist or Unionist murals.
These colourful murals are also a reminder of peace and promote a positive future for the city. In some cases the murals were non-sectarian and include a tribute to Belfast’s linen workers, Nelson Mandela and the “Ship of Dreams” – the Titanic (East Belfast).
A very well known one is the Bobby Sands Mural. Painted in 1998, this mural depicts the smiling image of IRA leader Bobby Sands. He was the first of 10 Irish republican hunger strikers to die – on 5 May 1981 – after refusing food for 66 days in the Maze prison outside Belfast.
A month before his death Sands was elected an MP in Westminster, marking a watershed in the Troubles in Northern Ireland and paving the way for the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Féin. Sands was elected to the UK parliament during his internment, yet he never served as an MP because he died in prison from the hunger strike of 1981. The mural displays two phrases “Everyone, A Republican or Otherwise, has their Own Particular Role to Play,” and “Our Revenge Will Be The Laughter Of Our Children.”
I’ve included a useful virtual map for where to see the murals across the city here.