Belfast is a city that’s had a rich, complex and, at times, challenging history. Around every corner of the Northern Irish capital you’ll find buildings, memorials and artefacts that tell a story of the city’s past.
For history lovers, the wealth of historical interest makes the city a great place to visit. We’ve complied a list of the 12 best places to explore if you’re a bit of a history buff in Belfast…
One of Belfast’s best museums and the shining crown of the Titanic Quarter of the city is housed within this mammoth building on the edge of Belfast’s Harbour.
An architectural monument the three great ocean liners built in the city, the building is designed to look like the keels of RMS Titanic, and her two sister-ships, RMS Olympic and HMHS Britannic. All three were constructed in Belfast docks.
Inside Titanic Belfast, you’ll find nine fascinating and interactive galleries telling the story of the infamous ocean liner, from her design and construction in the early 1900s through to her launch, and then tragic sinking.
1 Olympic Way, Queen’s Road BT3 9EP titanicbelfast.com
St Anne’s Cathedral sits at the heart of Belfast and is famous for being the seat of not one, but two serving bishops – the Bishop of Connor and the Bishop of Down and Dromore.
The historic building was, until 2007, noticably different to most European cathedrals because it had no spire.
Thanks to the notorious Belfast ‘sleech’ – the soft, grey mud on which much of the city is built – a traditional tower or spire couldn’t be built as the ground wouldn’t hold the weight.
The solution, in 2004, was to run a competition inviting architects to design a light-weight alternative. In 2007, a £1 million new tower was installed, named the ‘Spire of Hope’. You can spot it illuminated at night above the cathedral.
Other attractions in the vast building include the only tomb in the cathedral, that of Lord Carson of Duncarin, a hand-crafted funeral pall (a heavy cloth often draped over a coffin) in memory of the 1,517 lives lost during the sinking of the Titanic and the largest Celtic cross in Ireland.
Donegall Street BT1 2HB belfastcathedral.org
The Albert Memorial Clock
Belfast’s very own leaning tower of Pisa, the Albert Memorial Clock in Donegall Square tilts at an alarming angle because it was build on reclaimed land from the River Farset. Weighing over 2,000 tonnes, the Gothic style clock was built between 1865 and 1869 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert.
You can’t enter the clock, but Donegall Square is well worth a visit to take a look at this incredible feat of engineering and enjoy the other historic buildings situated around the square.
Donegall Square BT1 5GS
Belfast City Hall
On the same square as the Albert Memorial Clock, sits Belfast’s City Council building. First opening it’s doors in August 1906, the City Hall represented the newly found prosperity and industrial might of the city at that time.
The incredible Baroque Revival-style property cost £369,000 to complete – the equivalent of around £128 million pounds today.
During the Belfast blitz, some of the building was extensively damaged and had to be rebuilt.
You can explore the opulent interiors of Belfast City Hall, which were fitted by the same workmen who completed the Titanic’s furnishings, with the free public tours that run daily.
Donegall Square BT1 5GS belfastcity.gov.uk
The recently refurbished Ulster Museum doesn’t shy away from exploring Belfast’s troubled past. With collections including artefacts from the Troubles, the era of Home Rule and from the period between 1923-1968 entitled ‘Living on a Divided Island’, you can come face to face with the difficult history of Northern Ireland through the years.
Exhibits also include a 2,500-year-old Egyptian Mummy (called Princess Takabuti) and a number of incredible, old maps of the British Isles (which look decidedly different to how we know the islands look today).
Botanic Gardens BT9 5AB nmni.com
The wall-painted murals that are scattered across Belfast are a visual narrative of Belfast’s troubled past. Many of the estimated 300 currently visible installations are shaped by political allegiances and historical grievances and map out the still-present divides in the city. But there’s also a number which focus on lighter aspects of Northern Irish culture and history.
Head to Pansy Street in West Belfast to spot a mural of Aslan the lion from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. C.S.Lewis, the author, was born in east Belfast and is a much-loved cultural icon.
On Sandy Row, you can spot a mural dedicated to Belfast’s very own hero George Best and his time at Manchester United.
And there’s also one dedicated to RMS Titanic victims, which has recently been restored by a local artist. You can see it in East Belfast on the corner of Newtownards Road and Dee Street.
The Peace Wall
One of the most famous stretches of wall murals, known as the ‘Peace Wall’, divides the Falls and Shankill area in the west of Belfast.
Built to separate Loyalist and Republican communities, the wall is filled with politically-charged artwork that remembers the past violence which has marred the city and highlights the continued struggles of Belfast’s inhabitants.
You can walk along both sides of the wall, and explore the communities on both sides. A number of companies operated walking tours, explaining the significance of the most famous murals on display.
The Crown Liquor Saloon
Undeniably the most famous pub in Belfast, the Crown Liquor Saloon is the perfect place to grab a drink and take in the historical interiors of his alcoholic gem.
Although renowned for serving an eclectic range of real ales, the real draw of this pub on Great Victoria Street is it’s Victoriana interiors. The Crown Liquor Saloon was one of the greatest gin palaces in Victorian Britain, set up in 1826 and has furnishings to match its status.
Now owned by the National Trust, the pub has been sympathetically restored back to its original glory, brimming with colour, exotic patterns and wood carvings.
Great Victoria Street BT2 7BA nicholsonspubs.co.uk
Take a Black Cab Tour
For a taste of Belfast history told by a local, there’s no better way to explore the city than by catching a Black Cab Tour.
Hop in the back of a tour cab, and the driver will give you an oral history of Belfast, with all the added anecdotes you’d never hear in a museum. A number of companies operate around Belfast, with tours of the murals, famous landmarks and even trips to the Giant’s Causeway.
Queen’s University, Belfast
One of the UK’s oldest universities, Queen’s was founded in 1810 as the Belfast Academical Institution. Its main building, the Lanyon Building, was designed by English Architect Sir Charles Lanyon, who also designed a number of other landmark properties across the city.
Famous faces to have graced the halls include Noble Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney, actor Liam Neeson and many important political figures in Northern Ireland’s history.
Take a walk around the grounds of Queen’s to appreciate its beautiful and historic architecture.
University Road BT7 1NN qub.ac.uk
Whether you’re a maritime history nerd, or just mildly interested in the shipping industry, a trip to the last remaining White Star Line ship in the world is a must-do on any trip to the Northern Irish capital.
Restored to her former glory, and housed in the original docks she was build, the SS Nomadic is a fascinating glimpse into the history of cruising.
Originally built as the tender to the mighty Titanic, the SS Nomadic is exactly one quarter of the size of the infamous ship, but was built using the same design and luxurious finishes so you can get a taste of what life was like on board a luxurious liner.
Visit the boat to explore her rich and varied history, which has included active service in both world wars, carrying passengers to trans-Atlantic liners and even a stint as a restaurant and party boat in Paris.
Hamilton Dock, Queens Road BT3 9DT nomadicbelfast.com
Crumlin Road Gaol
One of Belfast’s most important historical landmarks is now an incredible tourist attraction – perfect for any history buffs who want to find out more about the city’s past.
The Gaol dates back to 1845 and only closed its doors as a working prison in 1996. During those 150 years, the prison housed murderers, suffragettes and both loyalist and republican prisoners. The building has been the scene of executions, escapes, hunger-strikes and riots.
Today, you can take a tour of the building to experience what life behind bars would have been like for the Gaol’s inhabitants. Make sure you check out the tunnel that links the courthouse across the road to the prison, which new inmates would have been led down after sentencing, giving the world the phrase ‘going down’.
And while you’re there, head over the road to the Crumlin Road Courthouse: it’s currently being restored by the same company behind the George Best Hotel into the luxurious Crum Hotel.
53-55 Crumlin Road BT14 6ST crumlinroadgaol.com
Stay at The George Best Hotel, Belfast
If you’re planning to visit Belfast next year, why not book your stay in The George Best Hotel now?
Situated in the Grade B1 listed Scottish Mutual Building, the hotel celebrates the life of the iconic sporting legend, both on and off the pitch.
Designed by Henry Seaver and built between 1902-1904, this historic property was the home of the Scottish Temperance Assurance Company. Its design mimics the classical Baronial-style and was built with stone from Dumfries in Scotland.
Perfect for history lovers who want to stay in a building filled with period features, or for Best fans who will enjoy the exclusive museum of George Best memorabilia donated by friends and family, this luxury hotel is set to be like no other in Belfast.
For a taste of what’s to come, make sure you book your Christmas meal at the restaurant, which will be opening in autumn 2018. For just £35 per person, you can enjoy a 3-course meal and live entertainment between 7pm and 1am.
And if you’d like to book a room at the hotel from February 2019 onwards, call our team today on 0151 236 0166.
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