News From The North - October 2010

Noeleen McCool

Welcome to Belfast

Belfast is fast becoming established as one of the most desirable European destinations. Drawn by its warmth and charm, increasing numbers from around the world are making Belfast one of the most popular city destinations in Europe. Belfast is known for its linen, rope making, ship building and engineering industries.

Tourism in Northern Ireland is experiencing a renaissance with the highest number of visitors coming to our shores this year. The city of Belfast is built on the River Lagan and it can be truly said that the city owes much to the river and its deep basins that provided the infrastructure for one of the largest shipyards in the world at one time, Harland and Wolff. It runs 40 miles (60 km) from the Slieve Croob Mountain in County Down, to Belfast, where it enters Belfast Lough, an inlet of the Irish Sea.

Belfast is the perfect base from which to explore the surrounding areas. Take a walk, run or cycle the shoreline and experience views across Belfast Lough and Cavehill. It has a rich legacy of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian architecture in buildings such as Belfast City Hall, The Grand Opera House, Queens University and Belfast Castle. Just minutes from the city, the hills above Belfast reveal the spendour of another world. The Belfast Hills stretch from Colin Mountain and Slievenacloy Nature Reserve in the south, to Divis and Black Mountain in the west, and Carnmoney Hill extends the hills northwards.

A view from Belfast Hills looking towards Belfast Lough

A view from Belfast Hills looking towards Belfast Lough

On a visit to Cave Hill Country Park, you can experience the sights and sounds of this amazing place. Enjoy breathtaking views and stand, as it were, on the top of Belfast. The hill is also referred to as Napoleon's Nose. When seen in silhouette, the skyline resembles a gigantic profile staring upwards, with McArt's Fort forming the emperor's tricorn nose. Belfast folklore has it that Cave Hill, which rises to 368 metres, towers like a sleeping giant above the city, providing the inspiration for the giants in Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. In 1695, Jonathan Swift was ordained as a Church of Ireland minister in Kilroot, Carrickfergus, on the outskirts of Belfast.

C.S. Lewis, another famous writer born in Belfast, was the creative mind that produced The Chronicles of Narnia. Not all visitors are aware of this, however, you can spend time exploring the locations in the area of Belfast where he was born.

The beautiful City Hall stands in the centre of Belfast, and it was opened in 1908. The plans for the City Hall began in 1888 when Belfast was awarded city status by Queen Victoria. The interior has a number of notable features including the Porte-Cochere and grand entrance, the grand staircase, the reception room and the great hall. You can visit the Bobbin Coffee Shop and exhibition area, and tours of the city hall are free. There is a granite column on the grounds dedicated to the American Expeditionary Forces, many of which were based in Belfast prior to D-Day. There is also a memorial monument to the victims of the Titanic.

Belfast Castle, for over 120 years, has been a familiar landmark in the city of Belfast and is situated on a prominent site 400 feet above sea level. On the slopes of Cavehill, it offers visitors one of the most panoramic views of Belfast Lough, and the greater Belfast area. Built in 1868-1870, as the family home of the 3rd Marquis of Donegal, it was presented by a descendant, the 9th Earl of Shaftesbury, to the city of Belfast in 1934. The castle closed in 1978 and underwent a two million pound restoration and refurbishing programme - reopening to the public in 1988. It has an award winning restaurant, which caters to a wide range of functions which include dinner dances, conferences, educational trips, tours, and, of course, wedding functions. The photo below is of my daughter Colleen's wedding in January 2009. The castle is beautiful on a late winter's afternoon. There is also a Victorian Basement Shop where visitors can buy antiques, gifts and souvenirs. In a room at the top of the Castle there is a Visitor Centre, which outlines the history of the castle and features information on the surrounding estate.

Belfast Castle   Belfast Castle Wedding

Belfast has something to suit everyone. It has some of the most impressive golf courses in the country. The Royal Belfast Golf Course, founded in 1881, lays claim to the title of the oldest golf course in Ireland. Malone Golf Club, situated on the outskirts of Belfast, has one of the most picturesque inland courses set in 300 acres of wooded parkland. A 27 acre lake comes into play at a number of holes. Royal County Down and Royal Portrush courses are recognised as two of the finest links in the world, even though they are not located in Belfast.

The Crown Bar is the most famous pub in Belfast. It was built around 1895 and remains one of the finest examples of a high-Victorian gin palace still in existence in the UK. It has brightly coloured ornate tile and glass interior, period gas lighting and cosy snugs.

The Crown Bar

Situated beside The Crown Bar is Robinson's Bar, which is one of Belfast's most renowned establishments. It was established in 1895 and houses five very different venues in one large Victorian building in the heart of Belfast.

Robinson's Saloon is a popular meeting place for a chat and a sociable drink. It has a small collection of relics from the unfortunate Titanic. The collection includes letters and postcards that were written on board the ship.

Fibber Magee's is the genuine article and it's truly a step back in time. The peat is crackling as the traditional Irish musicians entertain night after night with the uilleann pipes, fiddles and whistles.

Roxy Night Club has DJs playing dance floor anthems and retro favorites every Friday and Saturday night.

The basement is home to the intimate, quirky BT1, named after the area post code, and sporting cosy booths and stylish seating.

Robinson's Bistro is situated on the first floor, being more sophisticated in tone with gleaming wood floors, high ceilings, leather sofas and great views to the city street.

As you can see, Belfast has something for everyone.

The Titanic is known all over the world. For the most unique and exciting Titanic experience in Belfast, visit the only intact piece of the great ship's legacy at the Pump-House Cafe & Visitor Centre. Located inside the 100 year old Edwardian Pump House, the Visitor Centre includes a full audiovisual experience, featuring original footage alongside detailed computer generated imagery of the Titanic. The audiovisual experience also unlocks the history of Belfast ship building from the 1600's through the launch of the Titanic. My great uncle, Henry Allen, died on the Titanic, where he worked as a stoker in the boiler room. His body was recovered from the sea and is buried in a cemetery in Nova Scotia.

A landmark on the West Belfast skyline for over a century, Culturlann McAdam O'Fiaich, at 216 Falls Road, is today at the centre of Belfast's vibrant and fast growing Irish Language community. A matter of minutes from the city centre, Culturlann has become a melting pot of cultures where tourists and locals are welcome to hang out. Culturlann, on its three floors, contains space for the artistic and theatrical expression, a cafe, a tourist information office and the north's largest dedicated Irish language and media book and gift shop. Live traditional and contemporary music sessions, poetry reading, dance and language lessons are just some of the reason why Culturlann is recognised as the Belfast Irish Experience. All year round you see visitors from all over the world visiting the Culturlann. The tourist office is on site with information on events, tours, accommodation and wireless internet access availability.

Up and coming events in Belfast during October include Belfast Festival at Queens, which includes drama and dance, classical music and opera, talks and visual arts. Deadly Day Out will get you up close and personal with some amazing wildlife, Boston Bruins vs. Belfast Giants Selects is a NHL Premiere Challenge. Following the huge success of last year's event, Culture Night Belfast is taking place again this year, offering an exhilarating celebration of Belfast's Cultural life for free. Last year's Cultural Night attracted over 15,000 people to Belfast's Cathedral Quarter. There's something chilling in the air and some spooky goings-on as Belfast gets ready for its annual Halloween Spooktacular. There is a lot of entertainment for all the family and visitors to the city.

There are 19 hotels in Belfast

The most famous one is the Europa Hotel, which offers luxurious accommodation and is situated in the heart of Belfast.

The Merchant Hotel, also located in the heart of the city, was a bank before it became a hotel, and has long been admired for its distinctive architectural style.

The Hilton Hotel is situated next to the Waterfront Hall Convention Centre in Belfast, and the River Lagan runs behind both these venues. (picture below)

Waterfront Hall & Hilton Hotel

The Holiday Inn Express is in Belfast City and there are numerous bed and breakfast accommodations within walking distance of Belfast, and others only a short drive away.

Travel Information on how to get to Belfast;

By air - There are two main airports that serve Northern Ireland. They are Belfast International Airport which is situated about 18 miles from Belfast, and George Best, named after the famous football player. Belfast City Airport is about two miles from the city centre.

By sea - The quickest crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland is the 90 minute Stena HSS service from Stanraer to Belfast. Frequent ferries run between Cairnryan and Larne with P & P Irish Sea Ferries.

By rail - High speed trains run regularly between Belfast and Dublin. The trains also run from Belfast Central Station to Colerian/Derry and there are regular trains from Belfast, Lisburn, Larne and Bangor.

By bus - There is an express coach service from Dublin to Belfast.

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