Belfast Introduction Walking Tour, Belfast

Belfast Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Belfast

For over a century, the political situation of Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, has been the source of strife, first between the Crown-loyal Protestants and Irish Catholics, and more recently between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Sitting on the banks of the River Lagan where it meets the Irish Sea, the city owes its name to this coastal condition, with "Belfast" derived from the Irish phrase “Beal Feirste” which means “Mouth of the Sand-bank Ford.”

Belfast was established as a town in 1613 and was mainly settled by the English and Manx Anglicans. Later, they were joined by Scottish Presbyterians and French Huguenot refugees, who introduced the production of linen, an industry that carried Belfast trade to the Americas.

In the 19th century Belfast rapidly evolved from a market town to a major industrial port, and was eventually granted a city status by Queen Victoria in 1888. The plentiful supply of cheap Catholic labor from outlying rural districts helped attract the English and Scottish settlers to the city. While the investment they brought was welcomed, the rich newcomers were Protestants, which was also the cause of insecurity and had helped trigger deadly sectarian riots between the Catholic and Protestant populations in 1864 and 1886.

In 1920–21, as the two parts of Ireland drew apart, Belfast suffered greatly during the violence accompanied that partition, as well as during the more recent conflict, known as the Troubles, from the late 1960s to 1998. Although heavily bombed during World War II and despite various episodes of sectarian conflict, Belfast has retained much of its historical heritage: 19th- & 20th-century architecture, beautiful landscapes, and more. There are plenty of spots in the city for tourists to marvel at, including:

Belfast City Hall – finished in 1906 in the Edwardian style which later influenced the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta, India, and Durban City Hall in South Africa.

Crown Liquor Saloon – internationally famous as the setting for the classic film, Odd Man Out, starring James Mason. The restaurant panels in the Crown Bar were originally made for Britannic, the sister ship of Titanic, built in Belfast.

Grand Opera House – completed in 1895 and bombed several times during the Troubles; now restored to its former glory and oriental theme.

Belfast Cathedral – aka St Anne's Cathedral, unusual in serving two separate dioceses.

For a closer acquaintance with these and other grand attractions of Belfast, take this self-guided introductory tour.
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Belfast Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Belfast Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Ireland » Belfast (See other walking tours in Belfast)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: Caroline
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Belfast City Hall
  • Ulster Hall
  • Crown Liquor Saloon
  • Grand Opera House
  • St. Mary's Church
  • Belfast Cathedral
  • Albert Memorial Clock
  • Victoria Square Shopping Centre
  • St George's Market
Belfast City Hall

1) Belfast City Hall (must see)

Belfast City Hall is the civic building of the Belfast City Council. Located in Donegall Square, it faces north and effectively divides the commercial and business areas of the city centre.

The site now occupied by Belfast City Hall was once the home of the White Linen Hall, an important international Linen Exchange. The Street that runs from the back door of Belfast City Hall through the middle of Linen Quarter is Linen Hall Street. Plans for the City Hall began in 1888 when Belfast was awarded city status by Queen Victoria. This was in recognition of Belfast's rapid expansion and thriving linen, rope-making, shipbuildingand engineering industries. During this period Belfast briefly overtook Dublin as the most populous city on the island of Ireland. Construction began in 1898 under the supervision of architect Sir Alfred Brumwell Thomas and was completed in 1906.

The exterior is built mainly from Portland stone and is in the Baroque Revival style. It covers an area of one and a half acres and has an enclosed courtyard. Featuring towers at each of the four corners, with a lantern-crowned 173 ft (53 m) copper dome in the centre, the City Hall dominates the city centre skyline. As with other Victorian buildings in the city centre, the City Hall's copper-coated domes are a distinctive green. The pediment sculpture is by F. W. Pomeroy, assisted by local carver J. Edgar Winter, and features on the reverse side of the current series of £10, £20, £50 and £100 sterling banknotesissued by the Northern Bank.

The interior has a number of notable features, including The Porte-Cochère and Grand Entrance, The Grand Staircase, The Reception Room and The Great Hall. The latter was destroyed during the Belfast Blitz during WW2 and subsequently rebuilt. Various memorials are located in the building, including ones to Frederick Robert Chichester, Earl of Belfast, Sir Crawford and Lady McCullagh and the 36th (Ulster) Division.

The gardens surrounding the City Hall are a popular with office workers taking their lunch in the summer months, as well as tourists and teenagers gathering in their dozens to enjoy the green. Various statues stand on the grounds, including one of Queen Victoria by Sir Thomas Brock. There is also a granite column dedicated to the American Expeditionary Force. The grounds also house Northern Ireland's main war memorial, The Garden of Remembrance and Cenotaph, at which wreaths are laid on Remembrance Day.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Ulster Hall

2) Ulster Hall

The Ulster Hall is a concert hall and historical building in Belfast. Situated on Bedford Street in Belfast city center, the hall hosts concerts, classical recitals, craft fairs and political party conferences. Despite the opening of larger concert halls in the city, such as the Waterfront Hall and the Odyssey, the Ulster Hall has remained a very popular venue, and is considered to evoke much more atmosphere than the newer venues.

Built in 1859 and opened in 1862, the hall's purpose was to provide the expanding city of Belfast with a multi-purpose venue of sufficient size. The Ulster Hall features one of the oldest examples of a functioning classic English pipe organ. The Mulholland Grand Organ is named in honor of former Lord Mayor of Belfast, Andrew Mulholland, who donated it to the hall in the 1860s. It was built by William Hill & Son and donated after the hall was officially opened. In the late 1970s, the organ was extensively restored to Hill's own original design. Mullholland's great-great-grandson, Henry Mulholland, 4th Baron Dunleath, oversaw the restoration.

In 1902, Belfast City Council commissioned the local artist Joseph W. Carey to produce thirteen scenes from Belfast history on canvas, to be mounted within the Ulster Hall. The scenes depict the city and the surrounding area, incorporating historical and mythological influences.

In 2007, a major refurbishment plan was done to restore the venue back to its original condition, while also modernizing the building's facilities and providing better disabled access.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Crown Liquor Saloon

3) Crown Liquor Saloon

The Crown Liquor Saloon is a public house located on Great Victoria Street. Refurbished to a high standard in 1885, it is an outstanding example of a Victorian gin palace, and is one of Northern Ireland's best-known pubs.

Originally opened by Felix O'Hanlon and known as The Railway Tavern, the pub was then bought by Michael Flanagan. Flanagan's son Patrick renamed and renovated the pub in 1885. The Crown owes its elaborate tiling, stained glass and woodwork to the Italian craftsmen whom Flanagan persuaded to work on the pub after hours. These craftsmen were brought to Ireland to work on the many new churches being built in Belfast at the time. It was this high standard of work that gave the Crown the reputation of being one of the finest Victorian Gin Palaces of its time.

In 1978 the National Trust purchased the property and three years later completed the renovation to restore the bar to its original Victorian state. Further restoration by the National Trust was done in 2007. This work is the subject of a BBC Northern Ireland documentary entitled Jewel in the Crown, first screened early 2008.

A recognizable landmark of Belfast, the pub has featured as a location in numerous film and television productions, such as David Caffrey's Divorcing Jack in 1998 and as far back as Carol Reed's 1947 film Odd Man Out. The Crown has been given a Grade A Listed Building status by the Environment and Heritage Service.

The building exterior is decorated in polychromatic tiles. This includes a mosaic of a Crown on the floor of the entrance. The interior is also decorated with complex mosaics of tiles. The red granite topped bar is of an altar style, with a heated footrest underneath and is lit by gas lamps on the highly decorative carved ceilings.

The Crown has ten booths, or snugs. Built to accommodate the pub's more reserved customers during the austere Victorian period, the snugs feature the original gun metal plates for striking matches and an antique bell system for alerting staff. Extra privacy was then afforded by the pub's etched and stained glass windows which feature painted shells, fairies, pineapples, fleurs-de-lis and clowns.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Grand Opera House

4) Grand Opera House (must see)

The Grand Opera House is a historical theatre designed by the most prolific theatre architect of the period, Frank Matcham. It opened on 23 December 1895. According to The Theatres Trust the "magnificent auditorium is probably the best surviving example in the United Kingdom of the oriental style applied to theatre architecture".

It was renamed the Palace of Varieties in 1904, although it reverted to its original name in 1909. Variety programmes dominated in the 1920s and 1930s and the theatre saw performances by famous British performers such as Gracie Fields, Will Fyffe and Harry Lauder. It became a repertory theatre during World War II and at the celebrations to mark the end of the war, Eisenhower, Montgomery and Alanbrooke attended gala performances at the theatre.

The Grand Opera House was used as a cinema between 1949 and 1972, after which it was almost demolished, only to open again in 1980. The theatre was added to the list of national historical buildings in the 1970s and has been restored extensively since.

The building had been damaged by bombs on several occasions usually when the nearby Europa Hotel had been targeted. It was very badly damaged by bomb blasts in 1991 and 1993. The theatre continued to thrive, however, hosting musicals, plays, pantomimes and live music.

In 1995 the running of the theatre was taken over by the Grand Opera House Trust and an extensive renovation was undertaken in 2006. The theatre now also has a restaurant on the third floor called "The Hippodrome", on the ground floor a daytime bistro called "Luciano's" as well as space for corporate meetings and functions.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
St. Mary's Church

5) St. Mary's Church

Saint Mary's Church is a Roman Catholic church located in Chapel Lane and Smithfield area of Belfast. It is mother church for the city and a mensal parish. It was opened on this site in 1784. At the time, it was the only Roman Catholic church in the then town of Belfast after the relaxation of some of the Penal Laws. The church grounds contain an undistinguished grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes.

In the census of 1782, there were only 365 Catholics recorded living in Belfast. Following a collection from the local Church of Ireland and Presbyterian congregations, funds were donated to the building of Saint Mary's Church.

In 1813, the church's pulpit was donated by the Anglican Vicar of Belfast, Canon Turner, continuing the positive relationship between the Roman Catholic church and the local Protestant congregations. Later, in 1815, Saint Patrick's Church was built to accommodate the growing Catholic population of the city.

As Belfast's Catholic population grew after the famine, the church was deemed too small and thus architect John O'Neill was contracted to design a church big enough for the burgeoning congregation. In 1868 the church was enlarged and renovated into a new Romanesque style building.

The church holds two masses a day from Sunday - Monday, and three a day on Friday and Saturday. The 6pm Mass on both Friday and Saturday are held in the Irish language.
Belfast Cathedral

6) Belfast Cathedral (must see)

Belfast Cathedral, also known as Saint Anne's Cathedral, was built on the same grounds as the parish church of Saint Anne. The original church, built in 1776, was encased by Belfast Cathedral upon its construction in 1899. The only remnant of the first church is the Good Samaritan window, located in the sanctuary.

Belfast Cathedral was designed by architect Sir Thomas Drew. It was completed in 1904. The church was expanded in 1924 and again in 1932. Tragically, the cathedral was nearly destroyed during World War II. Due to The Troubles and staggering finance issues, reconstruction wasn't completed until 1981.

Today, church-goers and visitors to Belfast will see the beauty of the mosaics, stone sculptures and gothic-influenced arches. The feature that arguably stands out the most is the Spire of Hope, a 131-foot (40 meter) steel spire. The Spire of Hope was added in 2007.

Another feature that visitors should note is the Belfast Cathedral organ. It was built in 1907 by Harrison and Harrison, and then rebuilt in 1975. It is the second-largest pipe organ in Northern Ireland.

Visitors are welcome inside Belfast Cathedral. It is open from 10 AM to 4 PM from Tuesday through Saturday. It is also open for church services at 11 AM on Sundays.
Albert Memorial Clock

7) Albert Memorial Clock

The Albert Memorial Clock is a tall clock tower located at Queen's Square. It was completed in 1869 and is one of the best known landmarks of Belfast.

In 1865, a competition for the design of a memorial to Queen Victoria's late Prince Consort, Prince Albert, was won by W. J. Barre, who had earlier designed Belfast's Ulster Hall. Initially Barre was not awarded his prize and the contract was secretly given to Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon, who had come second. Following public outcry the contract was eventually awarded to Barre.

The sandstone memorial was constructed between 1865 and 1869 and stands 113 feet tall in a mix of French and Italian Gothic styles. The base of the tower features flying buttresses with heraldic lions. A statue of the Prince in the robes of a Knight of the Garter stands on the western side of the tower. Inside the tower there is a two tonne bell.

As a result of being built on wooden piles on marshy, reclaimed land around the River Farset, the top of the tower leans four feet off the perpendicular. Due to this movement, some ornamental work on the belfry was removed in 1924 along with a stone canopy over the statue of the Prince.

Being situated close to the docks, the tower was once infamous for being frequented by prostitutes plying their trade with visiting sailors. However, in recent years regeneration has turned the surrounding Queen's Square and Custom's House Square into attractive, modern public spaces with trees, fountains and sculptures.

In 1947, the popular British film "Odd Man Out" was filmed partly in Belfast, with the Albert Clock as a central location.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Victoria Square Shopping Centre

8) Victoria Square Shopping Centre

Victoria Square is a shopping center with nearly 100 shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. The shopping center is comprised of four floors and a glass dome with a 360 degree view of the city. There is also a residential area with more than 100 individual apartments.

Construction on the shopping center was completed in 2008. It as one of the largest and most expensive property developments in northern Ireland. The design by Building Design Partnership and T+T Design includes a rooftop covered in sedum, which is meant to lower the carbon footprint of the building.

The anchor tenant at Victoria Square is House of Fraser. Other stores in the shopping center include Guess, H&M, Hugo Boss, Kiehls, Swarovski and Urban Outfitters. Restaurants such as Frankie & Benny's, Nando's, Starbucks and TGI Friday's are also available. Those looking for entertainment at Victoria Square will find an eight-screen cinema with 3D films and premier seating.

The shops of Victoria Square are open daily. Shoppers can visit Victoria Square from 9:30 AM to 6 PM Monday through Wednesday, 9:30 AM to 9 PM on Thursday and Friday, 9 AM to 6 PM on Saturday and 1 PM to 6 PM each Sunday.
St George's Market

9) St George's Market (must see)

St George's Market is the last surviving Victorian covered market in Belfast. It was built in three phases between 1890 and 1896. Before 1890, St George's Market was an open market and most likely contained a slaughterhouse and a meat market.

The original (pre 1890) market was smaller than the new structure. It was built in red brick with sandstone dressing. Externally it features Roman styled arches with Latin and Irish inscriptions - the City’s Latin motto "what shall we give in return for so much?" and the Irish phrase "Red Hand of Ireland".

The main entrance arch displays the Belfast Coat of Arms. This newly covered market opened to the public on 20 June 1890. By the 1980s, St George’s Market had developed into a general market and it became the last of Belfast’s thriving Victorian markets.

Today St George’s Market is primarily used as a food market, however a number of other events are held at the site. These range from food festivals, art initiatives, exhibitions, charity launches, fashion shoots and live music events. The market also regularly holds music concerts. Acts including Duffy, Newton Faulkner, Deep Purple, Biffy Clyro and Mark Ronson have played the venue.

Walking Tours in Belfast, Ireland

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