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An Insider's Guide
Belfast in General
Member Name: kfingleton
Belfast in General
Date: 01/02/02, updated on 01/02/02 (384 review reads)
Advantages: Prosperity is slowly creeping in
Disadvantages: Ignorant locals
Like every city everywhere, Belfast has some ugly areas. The Falls Road (Catholic area) and the Shankill Road (Protestant) are working class areas of political hostility and violence. Nowadays the violence is largely concentrated on specific targets in 'punishment beatings' and revenge attacks. Bombs do not go off as readily as fireworks on New Years Eve.
The last major bomb was the tragedy of Omagh, a city in the North West of Ireland (Belfast is in the North East). And while this tragedy remains all too fresh in the memory, the threat of something similar is extremely small. North Belfast has been in the news of late for all those mad antics at the Holy Cross school, but we need to put all of this into context. No tourist ever visits working class residentail areas anyway and the rest of the city is pretty calm. I wouldn't suggest going to the area to gawk at the pea brainers who live there, just stay away, 'cause tension doesn't really filer through to the city centre.
Another myth about Belfast is that since the cease-fires declared in the Mid 1990s the place has been bound with prosperity. While tourism is on the up since then, prosperity was beginning sooner than that. The people of N. Ireland don't stand around watching their backs all day, they get on with their jobs.
Perhaps I am being a little harsh, but a city that's most prominent landmarks are two massive yellow cranes and an orange hospital tower block, does not seem particularly cultured. Harland & Wolfe may once have been the greatest ship-builders in the world at a time (I'll ignore the sectarianism within the company), building the most famous of all ships RMS Titanic, but it i
s now a business shambles set in an ugly harbour.
Their are scenic areas though. Belfast castle is a fine building, albeit not a real castle and the view from Divis Mountain is panoramic. There is the seat of contentious politics at Stormont too. Up the river Lagan we find signs of new prosperity in the new flats and the renovated St. George's Market which is back in use. You can catch a performance at the beautiful modern construction of the Waterfront Hall, that sits beside the nicer part of the river. Botanic Gardens looks beautiful on a sunny day and the City Hall is a fine example of turn-of-the-century architecture. (That's the building pictured on this site, by the way).
As far as warm Irish welcomes go, Belfast is a breed apart, in that it doesn't deliver any sort of welcome to anyone. In fact there is no city in the world where people will bash into you in the street without taking any notice of your existence as much as in Belfast. The university area is an exception, because a lot of students are not from Belfast and that dilutes the ignorance factor, but be warned! I might add that Queens University main building is a lovely site too.
If you want culture their is plenty of it. In October the Belfast Festival at Queens is a cultural event second only to Edinburgh in Europe. The Empire lends itself to both music and comedy, their are a plenty of Theatres for plays like the Arts. Live music and concerts can be seen at the Ulster Hall, Kings Hall or get more intimate at the excellent Limelight. Their are the pretentious trendy bars for those who like that sort of thing. Orpheos being one. Their are the restaurants like Roscoffs and Morrisons. And any tourist must have a drink in The Crown Bar where the Guinness is the best in the North.
Shopping is something that many (although not I) enjoy and Belfast is the best at this in the North, at least. It has all the usual big name stores and trendy stores but i
t's the small secluded ones I like. Hector's Houss is the best record store in the city and has hundreds of rarities. Matchetts music supplies me with all I need for instruments. I doubt if a tourist will come home with a £300 fiddle, but it's the window shopping that is most satisfactory (and inexpensive). Prices in Belfast are a lot cheaper in general than its more snobby but cosmopolitan neighbour Dublin.
So that's Belfast in a nutshell. Not the finest city in the world but not the ugliest (ever been to Birmingham, England?). I prefer Derry myself, but Belfast is not without its charms. I hope I've dispelled a few myths.