Ireland: Pt 2 – Belfast, Northern Ireland

We arrived in Belfast 6:30 am the following morning, and got a taxi from the ferry port to our hotel, a Premier Inn opposite St Malachy’s Church in the centre of Belfast. The adventure had begun, and we started to explore the capital city of Northern Ireland…

Belfast:

Status: Belfast District, City, Northern Ireland

Date: 23-25/06/2013

Travel: Stena Line (Birkenhead – Belfast), Enterprise Trains (Belfast Central – Dublin Connolly)

Eating & Sleeping: Premier Inn Restaurant, Costa Coffee

Attractions: Harland & Wolff, Belfast Castle, Stormont, City Hall, Big Fish Sculpture, Titanic Museum, River Lagan, Flood Barrier, St Anne’s Cathedral, St Malachy’s Church, St Peter’s Cathedral, Victoria Square Shopping Centre Viewing Dome, SS Nomadic, Albert Memorial Church, Harland and Wolff Cranes, The Crown Bar, Europa Hotel, Spires Shopping Centre etc

Belfast 1

Directly opposite our Premier Inn hotel was the above St Malachy’s Church. The foundation stone was laid in 1841, and completed by 1844. Although it doesn’t look like a traditional church with a tower or a spire, its a fantastic building and the sun really lights it up nicely.

Belfast 2

Just a few short minutes from the hotel is one of the most impressive buildings in the city, Belfast City Hall, guarded by a statue of Queen Victoria outside the main entrance. Constructed started in 1898 to mark Belfast having been granted City Status 10 years earlier, when the idea for the hall was first put forwards. By 1906 it was complete, the design even inspiring Stanley G Hudson in Durban, South Africa, who built a near exact copy of Belfast City Hall there in 1910.

It stands in the middle of Donegall Square, facing down one of the shopping streets and is very close to the main shopping centre and the main Cathedral.

Belfast 3

From the outside this building looks like a Town Hall or a fancy church, but it is actually the Spires Shopping Centre. There is an extensive shopping complex in the building, and the main entrance is down the side. The building was indeed a church at one time, but it was de-consecrated, and the shopping centre opened in 1992.

It is a fabulous building, and we have seen similar tops on King’s College in Aberdeen and St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

Belfast 6

One of the most famous bars in Belfast is “The Crown Bar”. Having been previously opened as “The Railway Tavern”, it was renamed and renovated in 1885. It is a beautiful example of Victorian Architecture, and has been owned by the National Trust since 1978. Mosaics are widely used in the design, including in the entrance and inside. The detailing on the whole building is spectacular and the restoration must have been a painstaking process. This is just down from the Spires Shopping Centre, and a further landmark on the street is the Europa Hotel, which has the unfortunate distinction of being the most bombed hotel in the world after 28 separate attacks during Northern Ireland’s troubled period.

It only opened in 1971 and suffered extensive damage over the next 30 years, and by 1993 it was nearly blown up. It was extensively refurbished in 1994 and today is still used as a hotel, with an extension added in 2008.

Belfast 4

The main cathedral in the city centre is St Anne’s Cathedral, shown above. It is a relatively modern cathedral, built between 1899 and 1904. The newest addition to the structure is the tower metal spire protruding from the middle of the roof. It was installed in 2004, standing 40 metres tall. The other end of the spire is visible sticking down through the ceiling inside the cathedral itself.

We did have chance to have a good look around inside, and we were very impressed. The decoration is immaculate and the stained glass windows are full of detail and finely realised, and the building is only a few minutes from the major parts of Belfast.

Belfast 5

Looking at this picture you may think that the Clock Tower is on a slant. You’d be correct. The Albert Memorial Clock was built in 1869 as a memorial to Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, as he had died in 1861 aged only 42. A competition was held to find the best design for the memorial, and the contract went to William Joseph Barre (1830 – 1867).

The clock was constructed on wooden piles on reclaimed marshy land, and as a result it has sunk slightly and leans four feet off centre. There is a statue of Albert himself half way up on one side. It is one of the most famous landmarks of the City and can be seen from a large portion of the area.

Belfast 7

One of my favourite modern developments in the city is the main shopping centre, Victoria Square, but its not just for being a shopping centre that I like it. In the centre of the building you can get a glass lift up to the roof, where there is a large glass dome that you can walk around. It provides a full 360 view of the city, with landmarks such as the Harland and Wolff cranes, the docks, Albert Memorial Clock, City Hall and even Stormont (see below) being visible. It was interesting to see the city all together and we spent a lot of time up there and it made for some good photo opportunities. If you visit the city I would recommend that you visit the dome, it’s free and will really enhance your visit to the city.

Belfast 8

The bus system in Belfast is very cheap, and we got an unlimited day travel ticket for less than a fiver, and took the bus out to the Stormont area of the city.

The above building is the Stormont building, and houses the Northern Irish Assembly, and is a huge estate, with an incredibly long drive leading up to the building, as you can see on the picture. Other buildings in the estate include Stormont castle, and regular bus tours stop in the estate.

When Northern Ireland was separated from the rest of Ireland in 1920, it became clear that the new assembly would need an official building, and plans were drawn up.

The main parliament building was constructed in 1932, following previous plans for a much grander building which had to be abandoned due to the Financial Crisis of 1929. The building has been in use ever since, and during World War II it was camouflaged by covering it was a paint mixture of bitumen and cow manure, however it wasn’t easy to remove and took a full seven years to remove it.

The Northern Irish Parliament were the original tenants of the building, but the parliament was disbanded a number of time due to varying factors and home rule reinstated over the country from London. A new assembly for Northern Ireland was created in 1998, and following more suspensions it has been open for business since 2007 and controls most devolved matters in Northern Ireland.

A statue of Edward Carson (1854 – 1935, influential Irish Politician) stands in front of the main building. It was a rare example of a statue being constructed whilst the subject was still alive, being erected in 1932.

Belfast 9

The River Lagan flows through the city, and the flood barrier (similar to the much larger version on the River Thames in London) is visible on the left. The buildings on the far side of the river are new developments as the whole area has been redeveloped. There are a number of bridges over the river, including one carrying the motorway through the city. We have crossed most of the bridges either by coach or by foot and the views down the river are fantastic.

My favourite landmark in the city is a sculpture of a large fish, known as Big Fish, visible on the right side of the bridge in the picture. (Gemma will post about this later)

A large sculpture stands next to one of the bridges, and is known as the Beacon of Hope. It is in the form of a woman holding a large ring, and standing atop a globe to symbolise global peace. It has been in place since 2006.

We walked down the river around the new developments around the dock areas, past the towering cranes (Gemma will post on these later), towards one of the newest attractions in Belfast…

Belfast 10

One of the most famous ships in History, the RMS Titanic was constructed in Belfast between 1909 and 1912, and registered in Liverpool. On her maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean from Southampton, England over to New York City in 1912, she struck an iceberg and sank, with the loss of more than 1,500 passengers and crew, with only 710 survivors.

The docks where the ship was constructed no longer exist, but the new Titanic Museum was constructed on the site of the original docks. The museum is brand new, opening in 2012 in a beautiful building. We did go and have a look inside and the exhibits were amazing as well as there being a wealth of interesting artefacts to look at in the shop.

Outside the museum in a dry dock is the SS Nomadic, built in 1911 by the White Star Line, the same company that built the Titanic. The ship was used as a tender on the Titanic and her sister ship, the RMS Olympic. Today the Nomadic is the only surviving White Star Line ship.

During World War II the Nomadic saw active service, and went around the world changing hands around various owners, acting again as a tender for Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth until 1968, before finally ending up in Belfast, where she was originally built. The ship is open to the public and is a lovely little ship.

Belfast is an epic city, the capital of Northern Ireland, a county that has seen many troubles since it became it’s own country within the United Kingdom, but these are largely over and Belfast is known as a fantastic city around the world, attracting visitors from all over the globe. There are many landmarks in the city to explore, with great architecture, lovely walks and lots of history to discover.

It is well connected to the rest of Northern Ireland, the UK and the Republic of Ireland as well as internationally:

Two airports (George Best International and Belfast City) serve the city, and have destinations around Ireland, the UK and the rest of the world. The international airport is 11.5 miles away and is the main airport, whilst the smaller City airport is located in the docks and still widely used.

The train system in the area links Belfast to Dublin via the Enterprise Service, and trains to Newry, Lisburn and Londonderry using Northern Irish Rail, known as Translink.

Ferry services link the city with Cairnryan in Scotland, Heysham and Liverpool in England, and Holyhead in Wales (Via Dublin).

The main roads out of the city are the motorways, with the M3 (For the Docks) passing straight through the centre, connecting to the M2 (For Antrim) and the M5 (For Newtownabbey). Unusually, the M2 Motorway has sections that are 10 lanes overall, five going each way, to cope with the amount of traffic heading in and out of Belfast everyday, which made it the widest in the UK at the time, however this has been surpassed in Manchester, England where the M60 and M61 Motorways meet with a jaw dropping 17 lanes overall, but that’s another story.

Belfast is amazing and we thoroughly enjoyed our holiday there. We did do two other main activities while we were in the city, which will form the next few posts:

Ireland part 3: Day out to Dublin by train from Belfast

Ireland part 4: Coach trip around the Antrim Coast

Ireland part 5: The Giant’s Causeway

So keep an eye out for the rest of our Irish adventure…

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