Since opening its doors in 2012 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s fateful maiden voyage, Titanic Belfast has rocketed to the top of Northern Ireland’s tourist attractions, drawing over a million visitors in its first year. It seems fitting that the city should host the world’s largest Titanic visitor experience; after all, this was the city where the world’s most luxurious ship was built and first launched. Today, the area of Belfast Harbor that once housed the RMS Titanic has been renamed the Titanic Quarter and is dominated by the towering silver façade of the Titanic Belfast, a remarkable building fashioned from four ship-hull-shaped wings. The futuristic building is home to the state-of-the-art Titanic Belfast exhibition, which spreads over 6 floors and includes interactive discovery zones, full-scale reconstructions, real-life accounts and mind-blowing special effects.
Belfast Castle sits high above the city on Cave Hill, looking the very picture of baronial splendor (it's built in the Scottish Baronial style, like the Queen's house Balmoral).
There's been a castle on this site since the 12th century, but this one dates from the 1860s. It was built by the 3rd Marquis of Donegall. It went wildly over budget and, as the Marquis' fortunes had changed, nearly didn't get finished at all.
Today it's a working castle, earning its keep with wedding receptions, conferences, an antique store and an adventure playground. At the visitors center you can find out all about the history of the Castle Hill site.
Noticed a cat motif around the place? It's all down to a legend that says all will be well with the castle's residents as long as there is a white cat in situ.
The Albert Memorial Clock Tower is yet another symbol of the love Queen Victoria bore her consort. At 30 metres (100 feet) tall, and with a statue of Albert in ceremonial robes, it's a grandiose love letter to her departed husband.
Unfortunately, as the tower was built in marshy ground, it's developed something of a lean, leading the waggish of Belfast (and there are plenty of them) to make it the butt of their jokes.
A recent renovation cleaned the tower back to its original whiteness and restored its verticality somewhat by fortifying its wooden foundations.
Wet and cold? Spend an afternoon in Belfast Botanical Gardens and be transported to a friendlier climate. Established in 1828, the Gardens are probably most famous for their Palm House, which was built soon after. The Palm House, designed by Charles Lanyon, is of gracefully curved steel and glass with a birdcage dome and filled with seasonal displays and, in the 'stove wing', a mini-jungle.
The gardens also have a Tropical Ravine - a building with a bridge overlooking tropical varieties like banana, cinammon and orchids - an alpine garden, sculptures and rose beds.
Belfast’s mix of a turbulent political past, maritime history and modern-day urban regeneration make it one of Europe’s most interesting cities to visit now. From Titanic sites to the famous murals of the Troubles to the lively waterfront district, Belfast will both entertain and enlighten you.
You’ll dock in Belfast Harbour, a couple of miles north of the city center. There’s not much around the port, so take one of the free shuttles into downtown. If you want to visit the Titanic Quarter, note that while it’s located in the port area, it’s not walkable, so your best bet is to take a cab.
Start in the Titanic Quarter, a waterfront historical and entertainment district dedicated to Belfast’s role in the Titanic’s tragic story. Your main destination here is the striking Titanic Belfast building and it’s Titanic Experience, an interactive museum where exhibits explain the ship’s entire history, from its creation to the aftermath of the sinking.