Once a thriving merchant city, Belfast’s colourful past makes it a thrilling destination for a historical tour, encompassing art collections, the ship that will never sink and an eerie gaol.
Take a trip into the Titanic
Immerse yourself in the history of the world’s most famous ship at the Titanic Belfast. Located in Belfast’s historic shipbuilding quarter, the museum's distinctive architecture has given it the local nickname The Iceberg, and its soaring walls loom over the city.
Inside, it documents the RMS Titanic’s construction in Belfast, its doomed first and final journey, and the ship’s history since, including detailed high-definition footage of the wreck. There are some incredible artefacts on display, like the 33ft wide original plans of the liner and, more sentimentally, the last ever luncheon menu.
Belfast is also home to the last surviving White Star Line ship in the world; the Titanic’s ‘little sister’ SS Nomadic. Built in 1911, the old girl has some incredible stories to tell, having served in both World Wars, acted as a restaurant next to the Eiffel Tower, and carried passengers as diverse as Charlie Chaplin and Marie Curie.
Continuing the tour of the waterfront, stroll along the winding banks of the River Lagan and hop across the bridge to visit the gothic Albert Memorial Clock in Victoria Street. Built in 1865, the ornately carved 113ft tower was the ideal vantage point from which to witness the Titanic’s launch in 1911, and is still an iconic part of the Belfast skyline.
Centre of history
Its displays include some impressive natural history exhibits, including an 800-pound stuffed polar bear and a near complete dinosaur skeleton. The museum also has a huge permanent collection of Irish artefacts and is home to over 12,000 works of art, with pieces by Reynolds, Gainsborough and Thomas Bate.
The museum is located in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens (above). A great destination for balmy summer evenings, the grounds regularly plays host to operas and band recitals. Stroll through charming rose gardens to reach The Palm House, a majestic curved glass structure which was hailed as something of an architectural miracle when it was constructed in 1839. The architect, Charles Lanyon, was also responsible for much of the original red brick design of Queen’s University.
Do time at Belfast’s Victorian prison
Also designed by Charles Lanyon, Crumlin Road Gaol (below) first opened in 1846 as one of the most sophisticated prisons of its time. ‘The Crum’ only closed its doors as a working prison in 1996, and its list of past inmates includes the Reverend Ian Paisley, suffragette Dorothy Evans and notorious murderer the ‘Shankhill Butcher’ Lenny Murphy.
After extensive restoration, it opened to the public as a tourist attraction in 2012, and guided tours take visitors round the gaol's cramped cells, tunnels, flogging room and chilling execution chamber for a vivid picture of life behind bars. Those seeking an even more terrifying experience can join one of the museum's Paranormal Tours.
To shake off the sinister feeling tours are certain to evoke, stay for some live music, comedy or an exhibition at the gaol, which also acts as an innovative entertainment venue.