Belfast has long been famous as the site of Europe’s longest-running conflict since 1945. Visitors arriving in the city today can avail of plenty of opportunities to witness the scenes and symbols of this conflict first hand. Black taxis and buses ferry tourists round the political murals, the painted kerbstones and the ghastly corrugated iron walls dividing the two communities. These trips are fascinating, if rather macabre, and are recommended.
However, there’s more to this city than masked men and infamous intolerance: Belfast has undergone a dramatic rejuvenation since the ceasefires in the mid 90s and this vibrant regional capital now plays host to a rich variety of entertainment. From theatre, opera, ballet, classical recitals and art galleries, to traditional music sessions, leisure centres and zoos, there’s always plenty to keep you occupied.
Arts and Entertainment
The Grand Opera House, which opened in 1894, remains the pinnacle of Belfast theatre. It’s a lavish Victorian edifice and the signature building of the Golden Mile. The Opera House is a vibrant arts venue, attracting reputable companies from England touring with ex-West-end productions, musicals, ballet companies from around the world and our own opera companies. A pantomime every Christmas is a highlight of the season.
The Opera House, however, is now outshone by the magnificent Waterfront Hall, Belfast’s modern arts emporium. One of the first of several dazzling buildings to spring up around the area of the old Belfast docks, the Waterfront Hall is dazzling at night. Like the Opera House, the Waterfront’s splendid auditorium hosts a variety of performances, from classical concerts and Shakespearean drama to ballet, pantomime, art and photographic exhibitions, children’s concerts and stand-up comedy.
Belfast is a strong theatre city. The Lyric Theatre hosts our local professional theatre group. Classical, Irish and contemporary drama fills an exciting season. This was the company where Liam Neeson began his career in the late 70s. The Lyric has consistently supported Irish dramatists and its particular strength is the staging of classic Irish drama.
Particular venues to note are the Empire, the Rotterdam, (great traditional Irish music here), and the Limelight, where it is possible to catch acts such as Nils Lofgren, Bert Jansch and other new groups just before they hit the big-time. Oasis were on stage at the Limelight on the night of their first UK number one and it is this venue in particular that continues to attract some of the best up and coming names on the British music scene. Clubs such as Thompson’s Garage cater everything from 70s disco to house and hip-hop.
High quality arts festivals are frequently in and around Belfast. Three notable ones are the West Belfast Festival in August, which celebrates Irish and nationalist culture; the Belfast Festival at Queen’s, a truly international festival of the arts attracting performers from around the globe and ranking second only to Edinburgh as the largest festival in the United Kingdom; and its younger rival, the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, a celebration of all things avant garde, going from strength to strength.
Visit the home of Titanic
Titanic Belfast is the world’s largest Titanic visitor experience, exploring the Titanic story in a fresh and insightful way.
Make your way through the 9 interactive galleries of the Titanic Experience, explore the symbolism of our iconic building with The Discovery Tour, dine in Bistro 401 or browse for an exclusive gift in our Titanic Store. Walk the decks of the last remaining White Star vessel – SS Nomadic or immerse yourself in the historic Slipways as you uncover the true legend of Titanic, in the city where it all began.
Home of the Hit TV series GAME OF THRONES
Titanic Studios is one of Europe’s largest film studios, attracting producers such as HBO, Universal and Playtone.
With a combined set area of 106,000 sq.ft., Titanic Studios has been the main studio and post-production facility for all eight series of HBO’s fantasy series Game of Thrones, establishing Northern Ireland as a world-class location for film and TV production.
If modern Irish art interests you, there are also plenty of small art galleries dotted around the university district, such as the Fenderesky Gallery and the Bell Gallery, but the most significant modern art gallery is unquestionably the Ormeau Baths Gallery. Converted from an old public baths building, this gallery has attracted exhibitions by such weighty artists as Gilbert and George and Yoko Ono.
Ten minutes out of the city center will bring you to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, home to Ireland’s largest transport collection and to a reconstructed rural Ulster townland from the 19th century.
If you’ve traveled to Belfast with children and the museum trail is driving them crazy, there are plenty of activities around the city that will keeps the kids smiling. Our home, the SSE Arena, Belfast, is situated within Odyssey – Ireland’s largest entertainment complex, and inside you’ll find a cinema, ten pin bowling, various food outlets and an exciting interactive learning center for kids called W5 that will delight them and leave you completely exhausted! The Odyssey ‘Pavilion’ complex is about to undergo major renovations bringing exciting new outlets.
Belfast Zoo is huge, entertaining and lots of fun. If the tigers, lions, elephants and giraffes are leaving your toddler cold, there’s a mini-farmyard and an excellent playground, with plenty of ice-cream vendors to keep pace with the fun.
Ice skating is a popular choice with children of all ages and the Dundonald International Ice Bowl in the east of the city is Ireland’s largest covered skating rink. If you were thinking more in lines of a simple swim, there are many publicly funded, reasonably-priced leisure centers throughout the city, including the Valley Leisure Centre in the north and Avoniel Leisure Centre in the east. The Valley Leisure Centre has a water slide and a smaller pool for babies and toddlers, and hosts a vast range of activities for children of all ages, from its “Tumble Tots” club to judo.