On my way from Dublin to the north coast of Northern Ireland during my Irish dream adventure, I made an overnight stopover in Belfast. In the morning I spent a couple of hours exploring the center city area before continuing to Ballycastle by bus. My hotel was very close to the Europa Bus Centre and Great Victoria Train Station, so it was very convenient for my intercity travels on public transportation. My short sightseeing walk began at the hotel, at the bottom end of the blue GPS track.
My plan was to walk north to St Anne’s Cathedral, then explore the riverfront area, and stop in at the Tourist Information Centre to change money. Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, uses pound sterling currency, while I’d been using Euros in Dublin. My route to St Anne’s took me along Queen St, Castle St, and Royal Ave. At a cross street I noticed that the buildings along Royal Ave seemed to be almost facades, they were so skinny from front to back. I’d never seen anything quite like this building style before.
Continuing roughly north, after less than a 20-minute walk I arrived at St Anne’s Cathedral, which is also Belfast Cathedral. The current building is relatively new, having been built between 1899 and 1981. The end of the North Transept has an outer layer consisting of a large Celtic cross. The spire is a modern, unadorned spire. In the park across the street there is an exhibit of three actual navigational buoys, presented by the Commissioner of Irish Lights to highlight the city’s tradition as a seaport and shipbuilding city.
Before entering I walked around the block outside the cathedral (see the almost complete loop in the GPS track). On one side there is an open plaza called Writer’s Square. Quotations about Belfast by well-known local writers are carved into paving stones scattered throughout the plaza.
Here is a view of the nave inside the cathedral. There are also several pretty stained glass windows and special areas (small chapels, etc).
As I left the Cathedral Square area to make my way to the riverfront, I noticed an archway that led to an alley. The entrance to the alley surprised me, because it seemed to be basically a hole in the buildings lining the street.
Several blocks later I passed the Merchant Hotel, a luxury hotel located in the former headquarters of the Ulster Bank – it really looks like a business building rather than a hotel! – and the Customs House, located on the bank of the River Lagan, which runs through the city. Along the riverfront there is a kind of plaza with another buoy,
as well as distinctive sculptures like some playful seal heads and the appropriately-named Big Fish. There is also a distinctive tall building with a profile resembling the prow of a boat, with the exterior adorned with colored picture-frame-like decorations.
There are four bridges across the river, rather close together. One is a pedestrian bridge, and I walked across to the east bank and back. Looking to the south, toward Queen Elizabeth Bridge, the bridge and clouds were nicely reflected in the water.
Just a block from Queen Elizabeth Bridge is Queen’s Bridge. At the west end of the bridge, next to Thanksgiving Square, is a sculpture called Beacon of Hope. According to its designer, “I hope that the figure is adopted by the people of Belfast as a symbol of peace and reconciliation, and as a shining beacon of modernity and progress”.
As I left the riverfront area I made a slight detour to walk past the Albert Memorial Clock, built in 1865. The land on which it is built was reclaimed from the River Lagan, and apparently the clock tower began to lean. A recent renovation has corrected the issue.
As I continued back toward the city center, I passed St George’s Church, which is built on the site of the original settlement of Beal Feirste (“the sandy ford at the mouth of the Farset”) nearly 1000 years ago. Belfast’s history is quite old!
In contrast, I also passed a store with a sign in its front window advertising how you can stay dry in the summer rain with a “kit you can trust for weather you can’t”. (Kit is like an outfit or uniform.) Although I hadn’t experienced much Irish rain yet, I hoped that the rain gear I’d brought with me would be adequate.
For many years Belfast was well-known as a shipbuilding city. Along the sidewalk next to Donegall Pl there is a series of exhibits commemorating some of the most famous ships built by Harland & Wolff for White Star Lines between about 1899 and 1920. Each of the eight exhibits consists of a plaque in the sidewalk and a mast-like structure with a fabric sail. The most famous of the ships is the Titanic.
The Titanic mast is basically across the street from City Hall, which occupies Donegall Square.
As planned, I went into the Tourist Information Centre, around the corner from the masts, to change money. While inside I turned off my GPS unit, so the track does not return all the way to the hotel. I had just the right amount of time to retrieve my luggage and make my way to the Europa Bus Center to continue my journey north.
My time in Belfast was very limited, so I had to skip some popular and well-known tourist spots, such as the Titanic Belfast exhibit and the famous murals. Perhaps I’ll have an opportunity to return to Belfast another time.