When I first visited Sothern Ireland I was curious about the North. A small country with a rich and turbulent history all I knew was glimpses of the place, mostly from mutterings of old drunk Irishmen in the pubs around Dublin. I knew enough however to know I wanted to see the city for myself so with a new friend, a Dublin local I took the trip to Belfast for a day. I saw the city simultaneously through my own eyes and those of my Irish companion.
This self-guided walking tour starts at the botanic gardens. I realise that there are likely a few other places that are worth seeing however, this is how I saw Belfast and what I loved about it and is as much my guide for you as my showing you the things I loved about a place as your trusted travel companion
Botanic Gardens (starting point, between College Park and Stranmillis Road) were laid out in the mid-19th century and are very pretty. There are exotic plants to be found at Palm House and Tropical Ravine and there is also the Ulster Museum for those among us who’re interested in the biological, geological and industrial history of Northern Ireland.
Exit the gardens by the Strandmillis Road exit and walk along University Road. On your right you will see Queen’s University which has over 100 listed buildings, if you want to visit the university there is a welcome centre that organises free tours around the university.
Leave university road via university square and admire the Victorian terraces as you walk. You’ll arrive at College Park which leads to the student-filled Botanic Avenue where you can do some people watching, rest your feet or just keep walking on.
At the top of Botanic Avenue you’ll find Belfast’s “Golden Mile” which was developed during the Troubles to boost tourism in the city. You’ll be following Dublin toad to your right however which leads into town.
No. 30 Dublin Road is Ulster Hall, one of the city’s oldest buildings. It was built in 1862 as a music hall and now hosts sporting events and beer festivals in addition to its traditional use as a music hall.
100m north of Ulster Hall is Donnegall Square, which of course is home to what most visitors look for in the Belfast Welcome Centre where you can get free tourism info on the city. There’s free internet both here and at the Linen Hall Library which is in the same square and is also Belfast’s oldest library. You’ll also find the City Hall and its famous gardens that are used for the “Titanic – Made in Belfast” festival each April.
When you’ve had your fun moseying around the square it’s time to leave in the direction of waterfront along May Street. About 250m along you’ll see the neoclassical Royal Courts of Justice and facing them on the right hand side, George’s Market a good little spot to stop for lunch or a snack as it’s cheaper than a pub lunch in town.
When you exit the market turn left onto Oxford Street and continue until you’re riverside. Along the riverside there is the Queens Bridge, the 1999 Big Fish which was placed here to commemorate the areas rebirth with tiles depicting Belfast history. There is also the old Custom House which was in operation in the 19th century. This is also where you’ll find Belfast’s “leaning tower” the Albert Memorial Clock Tower. While you walk around try to keep the titanic in mind: this is where it was built. Imagine what it was like back then. It’s interesting to walk in those footsteps, no?
I will admit that I stopped my tour here. We made a trip to two more landmarks: The Europa Hotel (Great Victoria St. Belfast BT2 7AP T), which was what my travel companion said to be “the most bombed hotel in Europe” being continually bombed in the Troubles by the old IRA. We also made a side trip to the Opera House (Also on Victoria Street) before grabbing some cider in a city bar and having a craic with some locals. It’s a great city for that after all!
Now it’s your turn! Please comment below with any info you’d like to give Belfast visitors who may be reading this. If you have not been yet, let us know what you’re looking forward to seeing or doing most.