For a city once racked with bomb blasts and sectarian strife, you’re unlikely to find more welcoming and down-to-earth people than the proud but unassuming citizens of Belfast.
After years of ‘Troubles’ (political-religious fighting that lasted from 1969 to 1998), the Northern Ireland capital is shrugging off its violent past and encouraging tourists from far and wide to visit their picturesque city.
Yet they’re still humble about their achievements – this city was the birthplace of the first air-conditioning system (surprising, considering the average maximum daily temperature in summer is 19C!), and one very big – and famous for all the wrong reasons – ship: the RMS Titanic. And, as some cheeky T-shirts found around the city point out: ‘She was alright when she left here...’
The iconic liner was designed, built and launched in Belfast, once the world leader in the shipbuilding industry. So it seems fitting to commemorate next year’s 100th anniversary of the vessel’s first – and last – voyage with a new feat of modern engineering: the 100 million pound Titanic Belfast museum (www.titanicbelfast.com).
Its design resembles the hull of four ships – and is built on the actual slipway where the ‘practically unsinkable’ vessel was first launched into Belfast’s River Lagan on May 31, 1911.
Along with TITANICa: The Exhibition, which features more than 500 original artefacts, Belfast is guaranteed to make any true Titanorak’s heart sing on forever.
TO GO The grand Europa Hotel (www.hastingshotels.com/europa-belfast) has played host to a variety of celebrities and politicians including Julia Roberts and Bill and Hilary Clinton. The landmark was also once known as ‘the most bombed hotel in Europe’ after suffering 28 attacks during the Troubles. Visit Tourism Ireland at www.discoverireland.com.au.OTHER THINGS TO DO
For an alternative look at the world’s second safest city for tourists, you can’t beat a cab tour with Belfast born and bred Billy Scott (above, firstname.lastname@example.org). And for a great feed, don’t go past celebrity chef Paul Rankin’s Cayenne restaurant (www.cayenne-restaurant.co.uk). Its signature dish, salt ’n’ chilli squid, has been a favourite for more than 10 years.