Belfast is a place that grew on me, upon arrival, it is similar to many other cities. When you delve into the history of Belfast however, it becomes more interesting and complex.
Similar to Derry, Belfast is located in Northern Ireland and carries many memories of past atrocities. There are many sites that have been bombed by opposing sides through the civil disagreements. One very profound moments that I experienced was seeing the peace wall, where many people had gathered to celebrate the peace and end of the conflict in the city.
Visit the Titanic Belfast Museum.
Most people know of Belfast for the famed vessel that set out from its shores. The Titanic is one of those things that literally everyone hears about, so naturally the new titanic museum was something that was a must-see. Similar to the Guinness Factory, this is one of those things that is a bit pricey, but I thought it was worth it. The museum is pretty new, and it takes you through the history of ship-building in Belfast and the logistics of the Titanic and everything that was included in the ship. The architectural design of the building was also really incredible, so it is something that you should see if you are ever in Belfast. Another cool component of the Museum that is worth exploring is the outer portion, where the Titanic was actually built. It is out on the docks and gives a pretty incredible perspective on the massive project.
Spend an afternoon at the City Hall.
It is possible to schedule a tour of the interior of City Hall, but the outside is also pretty impressive. Belfast City Hall has incredible stained glass window and breathtaking architecture.
Check out the botanical gardens and Queen's University
I am always a fan of visiting botanical gardens, as they are beautiful and free to see, and the Belfast Botanical gardens were no different. This botanical garden also had an incredible greenhouse that is worth seeing.
The Queen's University in Belfast is another beautiful site that should be explored. I am always a fan of old historical Universities, and if you haven't caught on, I am also a sucker for good architecture.
Visit the Crumlin Road Gaol Jail.
This was a victorian-style jail that we visited, which actually held prisoners during recent history. This jail was very old and generally unsanitary in modern times, but seeing it was fascinating. As a part of the tour we also saw the quarters in which prisoners were held up until it closed in 1996.
St. George's Market.
This is one of those markets that contains both food and little goods to buy. I personally had some incredible crepes at the market, but there were also different trinkets and even a little wine bar to visit. This is a little part of Belfast that is just cute!
One thing about Belfast is that the main monuments is the Parliament building, which is in the middle of a square. This building however looks very similar from all sides, so when we were lost one time, we struggled to find our way back to our hostel. This morning we went for a run and ended up going for about six miles. At one point we were completely on the other end of town where we might not have gone otherwise. Though it was a bit terrifying to be lost, we talked to several locals who were kind enough to help us out, and we found our way back. There is something about getting a little lost that helps you to better understand the city you are visiting, I would recommend doing it sometime.
Take a Day Trip to see Winterfell.
If you are a Game of Thrones fan, this is a must-see. It is pretty widely known that many of the scenes from Game of Thrones are in Northern Ireland, so for one day we went on a bike tour at Winterfell. There were quite a few different locations especially in the first season that were shot at that location, plus it was a really fun day of riding bikes through the wilderness.
Visit the Stormont Building.
My class visited this building to learn about how the Belfast government works in contemporary Northern Ireland, which was fascinating. We were able to tour through the building, which was gorgeous. We also were able to engage in a conversation with our tour guide in the issues of Northern Ireland. His perspective on how to resolve conflict is one that has fundamentally shaped the way that I think about the world. In his own way, he described the ways in which simply bringing two disagreeing sides together to reach an understanding can change the pace of history. If we are able to meet each other on the same level and truly listen to the issues that each person raises, we may actually have a shot at achieving peace.
While the Stormont Building in itself was a sight to see, it was the learning process that took place within that stuck with me. This is one of the reasons that I believe it is so important for young individuals to travel far and wide while they still have an open mind. If these impactful moments can happen early on, we may just have a chance to find some sort of understanding in the world.
In many ways, I underestimated Belfast. While it is not the prettiest of cities it is one of grit and achievement, of struggle and understanding. And for those reasons I think that Belfast should be on your itinerary should you visit Ireland.