As the capital city of Northern Ireland, Belfast is a cultural hub of history, music, art, food and more. It’s a place dedicated to exploring new ideas and is full of people pushing the envelope in a variety of different disciplines. It plays host to Queen’s University, one of the top 200 universities in the world and part of the prestigious Russell Group for research institutions. It’s also full to bursting with art galleries, museums and tributes to the city’s important economic history. Belfast is a place to be inspired whether you’re an artist, scientist, historian or horticulturist. Here we’ll explore some of the city’s most inspirational sites and how best to visit them.
The Botanic Gardens are located next to Queen’s University in the south of the city. They are easy to reach on public transport and are just a 10 minute walk away from the Botanic Train Station. Initially established early in the 19th century, interest in this collection of exotic plants and trees has remained constant throughout the past 200 years. Although the Gardens are now also a venue for concerts, festivals and events, it is the plants themselves that remain the central focus.
The Gardens attract all manner of people, from artists searching for sketch-worthy subjects to horticulturists interested in the unusual species and some of the oldest seed plants in the country that are growing there. The Palm House contains tropical plants and trees from around the world, protected by a building made from curved iron and glass. The building itself provides inspiration for architects, glaziers and metal workers whereas the plants inside provide interesting examples collected from across the globe. It’s even home to a number of Birds of Paradise!
Perhaps Belfast’s most significant industrial effort in recent history has been in shipbuilding. The famous Harland and Wolff shipbuilders dominated the market during the Golden Age of the mid to late 1800s, making transoceanic liners similar to, and including, the infamous Titanic. Guests of the city can now visit the Titanic Belfast, a museum dedicated to the history of the ill-fated ocean voyager and to the industry surrounding it. Built down by the River Lagan, the museum is easily reached on foot from the city centre.
The ship’s tender for the Titanic, named the SS Nomadic, has been lovingly restored to its former glory and is open for visitors to explore nearby to the museum. On board you can wander through the different levels of the ship, wondering at the passengers she held and her career on the high seas. Liners similar to the Titanic wouldn’t have had the on-board entertainment that cruise ship customers enjoy now. Rather than visit the casino like on the modern Queen Mary 2 or Norwegian Escape, passengers on the White Star Line would have played cards casually or games like chess. You can recreate the lively atmosphere during your visit using your smartphone, where you can double down, practice your endgame or simply smarten up your strategy as you tour the four decks of the SS Nomadic. Whereas the design and production of passenger-focused ocean liners has now moved elsewhere, this is a fun way to marvel at the bygone days of the White Star Line.
St George’s Market
The Market is open three days a week – Friday, Saturday and Sunday – and is the perfect place to sample the city’s freshest produce. Hailing from the end of the Victorian era, this fantastic indoor market has won awards for its variety and quality and is well worth a visit. The Variety Market hosted on a Friday amazingly dates back to the year 1604 and includes a variety of fresh fish, vegetables and fruit alongside antiques, books and clothes. If you’re after a bite to eat however, it’s best to wait until the Saturday City Food and Craft Market, where you can sample everything from tapas to cured meats to batch roasted coffee.
Sunday sees a combination of the previous two days’ markets but with a heavy focus on the arts and crafts stalls rather than food. If you’re looking for souvenirs to take home after your visit to Belfast, this could be the perfect place to pick up something handmade, special and unique. You never know what you might find down at this award-winning market where the constant hustle and bustle is full of skilled artisans.
Belfast is proud of its Victorian heritage, a time period that brought with it much innovation, investment and inspiration. The places detailed above are great examples of the legacy left by those 19th century pioneers in science, industry and economy. So make sure to take time out of touring the city’s more obvious landmarks – like the Cathedral Quarter, City Hall and the Zoo – to investigate these less obvious but equally inspiring places that will hopefully encourage you to pick up the pen, paintbrush or book for your own interpretation of the city.