Belfast

Belfast by CC user infomatique on FlickrIntroduction Despite being dogged by a history filled with politically motivated violence, Belfast has become the safest city in the United Kingdom since the Good Friday agreement of 1998 led to deescalation of tensions between the IRA and Unionist paramilitary units. This development has allowed travelers from near and far to discover the attractions of this city and Northern Ireland, which includes world class museums, thriving markets, and film locations of one of the hottest TV shows in recent memory. If you skip Belfast and all the attractions it contains, you will be missing an integral part of the UK during your travels there. Political Mural, Falls Road by CC user supermac on Flickr

Cultural Experiences

While locals don’t like to emphasize it, there’s no getting around Belfast’s dark past surrounding The Troubles, and the tension between Unionists and Irish Republicans.

Murals detailing the political views of both sides can be found on Shankill and Falls Road in West Belfast.

On the walls of buildings in both areas, paintings trumpeting their beliefs and honoring heroes on both sides can be found everywhere.

The security situation is much better since the IRA agreed to disarm in the early 21st century, but it is still a fluid one depending on the time of year and what has happened recently, so ask some locals about it before heading out to this area on your own. If it is a bit on the sketchy side, getting a cab to show you around might be the safer play.

Those looking to learn about the art and natural history of Northern Ireland would do well to visit the Ulster Museum.

Located amidst the lush surrounds of Belfast’s Botanical Gardens, it contains exhibits that host specimens, artifacts and works of art from Northern Ireland’s long history.

In addition to this, it contains pieces from abroad as well, with standout items including a suit of samurai armor, and a war canoe from the Solomon Islands.

Want to experience the best local food and culture that the Belfast area has to offer? St George’s Market is the best place to do this, as it is the last remaining Victoria-style farmer’s market structure in the city.

With over 300 stalls offering some of the best food products, crafts and music that can be found in Northern Ireland, spending a morning here will prove to be a worthwhile use of your time.

Dark Hedges, Game of Thrones film site by CC user horslips5 on FlickrOther Attractions With all the turmoil that Belfast was embroiled in throughout the 20th century, some of the worst criminals (along with others locked up under dubious circumstances) of that period were held at the Crumlin Road Gaol. Known locally as Ireland‘s answer to Alcatraz, a guided tour will take you through the dimly lit hallways of a maximum security facility that housed its last prisoner as recently as 1996. Another one of Belfast’s claim’s to fame is that it was home to the shipyard that produced the SS Titanic, which went on to be involved in one of the worst maritime disasters in history. Another of White Star Line’s most famous ships, the SS Nomadic, was also assembled here. It went on to have an eventful history, as it served as a minesweeper/layer and patrol vessel in two World Wars, and supplied the biggest cruise ships on the planet until 1968. After falling into disrepair after its private owner went bankrupt in 2002, it was purchased by the government of Northern Ireland in 2006, saving it from a date with a scrapyard. It has since been restored, and can be explored from stem to stern by any boat enthusiasts willing to pony up for a ticket. Finally, much of the filming for HBO’s blockbuster TV series Game of Thrones takes place within a short distance of downtown Belfast. Buses will take you out to sights such as Winterfell Castle and the Dark Hedges, and with many of these packages including lunch and other major sights like the Giant’s Causeway, it will be a day filled with action for you and fellow fans of this acclaimed TV series.

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