It wasn't so long ago that Belfast was classed as one of the four 'Bs' alongside Bosnia, Baghdad and Beirut as one of the must-avoid destinations. It has all changed now however with Belfast in all repects becoming almost a brand-new city. Belfast is one of the most visited cities in the UK, and the second most visited on the island of Ireland.
Belfast is a centre for industry, as well as the arts, higher education, business, and law and is the economic engine of Northern Ireland. The city suffered greatly during the conflict called "the Troubles", but latterly has undergone a sustained period of calm, free from the intense political violence of former years, and substantial economic and commercial growth. Additionally, Belfast city centre has undergone considerable expansion and regeneration in recent years, notably around Victoria Square. This remarkable transformation includes the luxury apartments of the Titanic Quarter where the old shipyards on the Lagan used to exist.
Image: City Hall, Belfast
A visit to Belfast will be rewarded by a glimpse of a unique city that has finally begun to celebrate, rather than fight over, its place as a cultural meeting-point of Britain and Ireland. Belfast is certainly exhibiting an air of determined optimism, with new hotels, bars, restaurants, clubs and shops opening at an incredible rate. It is a city that is proud of its Victorian and Edwardian heritage and efforts to restore historic buildings are proving successful. Tourism is on the increase in Northern Ireland, especially among those seeking a weekend away or short break in Ireland as Belfast can offer a significantly cheaper and more rewarding alternative to the bigger, busier, more expensive and more tourist-driven Dublin.
Airports & Ports
Belfast is served by two airports: George Best Belfast City Airport in the city, and Belfast International Airport 15 miles (24 km) west of the city. Belfast is a major port, with commercial and industrial docks dominating the Belfast Lough shoreline, including the Harland and Wolff shipyard.
The city's number one tourist draw is the Titanic quarter whose centrepiece is a stunning, star-shaped edifice housing the Titanic Belfast centre, covering the ill-fated liner's construction in Belfast. In recent years, new venues such as the historic Crumlin Road Gaol and SS Nomadic have opened to the public. Add to that beautifully restored Victorian architecture, a glittering waterfront lined with modern art, a fantastic foodie scene and music-filled pubs and you have all the ingredients for an enjoyable and interesting trip to the city. To make the most of your time in the city your first point of contact should be the centrally located Belfast Welcome Centre (Tourist Office) at Donegall Square North, just opposite City Hall. The staff can provide maps, book accommodation and tours, recommend itineraries and places of interest and sell you overpriced and tacky souvenirs. There is also a useful left luggage facility.
Belfast remains a great place to explore, as it is still relatively undiscovered compared with its neighbour in Dublin and is ideal for the tourist who enjoys a city with character, yet still has a raw, unspoilt energy. A visit to the capital of Northern Ireland will provide a more stimulating trip as, once you scratch the surface, it is easy to see beyond the ethno-political conflict of past years. It is a city which has changed dramatically in a decade due to this peace and prosperity and you will be greeted with warmth from locals who feel a new-found sense of pride in their city. Indeed, the old cliche that you will be welcomed like an old friend by the patrons of Belfast's many pubs and bars is actually true, as the locals love to find out what draws you to their little part of the world and, of course, they like the chance to share a little bit of their history with you! Ask any local and they will tell you that a trip to Belfast will mean that you learn far more about the Irish and British psyche than a trip to a cheesy Irish pub in Dublin or on a tourist-orientated tour in London.