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In recent years, the capital of Northern Ireland has recovered from the negative images due to 'The Troubles', the violent conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The city has blossomed and an increasing number of people are discovering the charms of Belfast. Remains of 'The Troubles' are still visible, such as murals, but they are now tourist attractions!
Many modern buildings were built in recent years in the Northern Irish capital, but the center has remained historical. In fact, the Northern Irish have thoroughly renovated many important historical buildings. For example the City Hall. This magnificent Renaissance building was built by the Brits to project their power. And so they did. The building is free to access and tours are given regularly. In front of the City Hall stands a memorial for the victims of the sunken Titanic.
St. Anne's Cathedral is another impressive building, both the exterior and interior. Particularly notable inside the church are the beautiful glass mosaics with Celtic themes. Furthermore this cathedral has the largest Celtic Cross in Ireland.
Belfast is located at the mouth of the river Lagan (the name Belfast means: 'Mouth of the River'). The promenade along the river - The Waterfront - has recently become a center of art, culture and terraces. Striking is the modern, glass facade of the Waterfront Hall, a concert hall.
You should definitely wander through Stranmillis, and see the beautiful Victorian houses. In this district in the south of Belfast you can also find the Ulster Museum, which gives a complete summary of the Northern Irish history. Archaeological excavations, industrial heritage, photographs, Northern Irish art, but the treasures from the wreck of a ship of the Spanish Armada too. Other touristic hotspots in Stranmillis are the Botanic Gardens & Palm House. The Palm House is a gigantic greenhouse made of wrought iron and glass. Other things to enjoy inside the Botanical Gardens are a tropical ravine and rose gardens. In the summer outdoor concerts are often given.
Northwest of the city are hills, including the Cavehill. You can reach this area from the center of Belfast by following Antrim Road. At Cavehill stands Belfast Castle, which is nowadays used mainly for parties and events. Next to the castle is the Adventurous Playground, fun for young kids! From the castle you can take a walk towards the 'Nose of Napoleon', a hill where in some see the profile of the French emperor. The hills where you look out on are allegedly the inspiration for Jonathan Swift for his book Gulliver's Travels.
The murals that were made at the time of 'The Troubles' on several sites in Belfast, are now a true tourist attraction. The protest painters will never have foreseen it. Many "Black Cabs" offer a special tour along these Belfast Murals, but of course you can do it on your own too, in your rental car. At the Tourist Office you can get a map with the locations of the most beautiful paintings.
Located south of Belfast is a prehistoric monument, the Giant's Ring, near Ballynahatty. It is a circular wall of 200 meters in diameter, with a large boulders in the center. The monument is about 6000 years old and scientists believe it was used for official ceremonies and funeral rites.
If you drive a little further south you enter Lisburn. This is where the oldest brewery from Ireland is, the Hilden Brewery. Aside from a tour of the brewing process you can of course enjoy a pint here too.
One of the most beautiful beaches of Northern Ireland lies just over eighty kilometers northwest of Belfast, Benone Beach. About ten kilometers of golden beach against a backdrop of steep cliffs. And if you don't like swimming in the sea: there is an excellent golf course as well.
There is a wide range of accommodation in Belfast, mostly in the categories 'hostels', 'bed & breakfast' and 'guesthouse'. Middle class and more expensive hotels are available in Belfast too, but the offer is limited.
Outside rush hours driving around in the Northern Irish capital is fine. Finding a parking space is a whole other story though. You can park your car in one of the parking garages in Belfast, but the rates are on the high side. Further note that some (parts of) streets are solely accessible for public transport. The police checks very strictly for illegally parked cars along the way!
The Northern Ireland capital has two airports: the large Belfast International and the small George Best Belfast City, which mainly maintains connections with cities in Great Britain and Ireland. Belfast International lies 21 kilometers northwest of the Northern Irish capital and is easily accessible by rental car: from Belfast follow the M2 towards the north. At exit 5 follow the A57 to the airport. Belfast City is situated only 3 kilometers from the center and is accessible by following the A2, direction Bangor.