“ Address: Tour Services / The Technology Suite / Townsend / Enterprise Park / Townsend Street / Belfast / Ireland / BT13 2ES „
Although the red sightseeing buses are very familiar in many towns and cities in the UK and Ireland, I don't often make the use of them, particularly as if I think I can get around on foot or on regular buses, then this can often be a far cheaper option. We did take a tour option around Dublin many years ago now, and as we had barely 24 hours in Belfast recently, we decided this might be the easiest option to see the many sights in the city, and give us a real flavour of the place.
We arranged our tickets with our hotel concierge, on the morning of our tour, which was on Easter Saturday. We were picked up a mere 10 minutes later from the hotel, on a small shuttle type bus, which took us to the first pick up point, on High Street. Any hotel with concierge facilities will be able to organise this for you, or alternatively you can visit the ticket point on High street or around the city, or approach the many ticket officers in the city, e.g. around City Hall.
Our ticket price was £12.50 each, which we felt was reasonable for this particular tour. There are 20 stop off points along the tour, which typically takes 90 minutes to go around. We decided we would go and complete one full circuit and then decide if we wanted to get off anywhere on a second loop around, as time was at a premium for us - we only had 3 hours in the city before we had to leave for the coast.
Thankfully it was a dry day, and we duly sat upstairs at the back. The upper deck is part open air and part enclosed. We did stay in the open air for the full duration, but it was very windy up there, and I was a little cold - definitely take a warm jacket with you unless the street temperature is particularly high. I think it was about 15-18 degrees that day - so a little cooler than it has been recently. We were able to get plenty of pictures on our tour - although sometimes this might be a little difficult, if the bus is on the move.
The tour of course has a tour guide who was very friendly and informative and clearly had 90 minutes of Irish jokes lined up together with historical facts. For me the highlights of the trip were to be able to spend some considerable time in the Falls Rd/Shanklin Rd areas of the city, and witness the many tens of murals that adorn the gable end walls, and to see for myself some of the divided areas of the community. Stormont was also another good stop off point - the bus is allowed into the grounds, although a security officer does do a quick search at the entrance point.
Belfast is also the city which built the ill fated Titanic (She was ok when She left Belfast...), and the tour stops at the dock area where you can see HMS Caroline, and disembark for dock walks, the mighty Samson and Goliath yellow cranes on the H&W site are visible from some distance away. There were plenty of interesting buildings around the tour, including the Crumlin Road jail and courthouse, and several churches/St Anne's Cathedral and the Grand Opera House. The architecture in some of the many beautiful buildings suggest that this was a wealthy city. The Opera House is close to the Europa Hotel and the famous Crown Bar, and all have suffered bomb damage in the past, with the Europa Hotel having the unfortunate claim of being the most bombed hotel in Europe. George Best was one of the cities more famous residents and the tour goes past his first football club, as well as out past the George Best Airport and he also has a mural in his honour.
Tickets for the bus are valid for 48 hours, so are well worth it if you can afford to take a more leisurely approach than we did. They can also be combined with the Titanic walking tour, and children receive a complimentary colouring pack.
Overall an enjoyable way to get a taste of Belfast - we will be back!