The Best of Visiting Belfast: Part Two

by Caroline Ryan / Nov 06, 2013 /

In The Best of Visiting Belfast: Part One, we covered Belfast attractions such as the Titanic Quarter, the Cathedral Quarter, Queen’s University area, some hot clubs and some lovely wee pubs. Now let’s hit some of the theatres and shops, and the historical murals Belfast is famous for.

 

The Best of Visiting Belfast

Photo: Wikimedia Commons: Ardfern. Adapted by Wandering Educators

 

A Night out at the Theatre

Among the many things Belfast gets right in a big way, theatre is right at the top of the list. The city is the birthplace of numerous renowned actors such as Sir Kenneth Branagh, Stephen Rea, and Paula Malcomson. Northern Ireland has also given the world talent such as Liam Neeson, Ciaran Hinds, Gerard McSorley, James Nesbitt, Geraldine Hughes, Hollywood heartthrob Jamie Dornan (Once Upon a Time), and many others. Famous playwrights include Marie Jones, Brian Friel, and Martin Lynch.

If you’re at all a fan of theatre, music, or comedy, be sure to find out what’s playing at the North’s premier national repertory theatre, the Lyric, now enjoying a brand new venue that houses a café and bar, actors’ workshops and occasional festivals. The Lyric is not only the theatre where Liam Neeson got his start. It’s also the place of numerous premiers of plays by some of Ireland’s finest playwrights, and features some of its most talented actors, both name-brand and up and coming. To find out what’s on while you’re there, visit http://www.lyrictheatre.co.uk/.

For something splashier (like a Broadway or West End musical), try the Grand Opera House on Great Victoria Street near the city centre. This majestic and ornate old building has hosted shows since 1895, and is still wowing crowds with high-caliber performances.

 

Grand Opera House, Belfast

Belfast Grand Opera House. Photo: Wikimedia Commons: Agadant

 

Belfast’s Waterfront Hall is a huge modern concert hall/theatre/gallery space located on the banks of the Lagan River. Its many performance spaces offer a wide array of film festivals, classical concerts, opera and comedy. Go to www.waterfront.co.uk for more info.

 

Belfast's Waterfront Hall

Belfast's Waterfront Hall. Photo: Wikimedia Commons: Albert Bridge

 

Other famous venues include the Ulster Hall, which as I write this, is announcing upcoming concerts by The Three Tenors, homegrown Northern band The Boomtown Rats, and local-singer-gone-international Cara Dillon.

 

Ulster Hall, Belfast

Ulster Hall, Belfast. Photo: Wikimedia Commons: Kenneth Allen

 

The Odyssey Arena is another well-known, very large and modern venue for sports (such as professional ice hockey), dance (such as Riverdance’s 20th anniversary tour), major comedy acts, and the bigger music acts, ranging from Black Sabbath to Thirty Seconds to Mars to Miss Dolly Parton.
Tinderbox Theatre at 72 High Street was founded to bring new work to the stage, and is known for the quality of its performances. Likewise, The Black Box Theatre at 18 Hill Street, describes itself as “a home for live music, theatre, literature, comedy, film, visual art, live art, circus, cabaret and all points in between,” and is also known for its excellent, edgy work.

 

Shop Till You Drop in for a Wee Pint

Next to downing a pint of Guinness and getting taken in by a local’s (good-natured) tall tale, shopping is the easiest thing to do in Belfast. Shops of all kinds—from traditional department stores to trendy boutiques, local favorites and chain stores—are in abundance, and require very little searching to find.

The main shopping drag is found in the city centre, on and around Donegall Place and Royal Avenue near City Hall. Here you’ll find the UK usuals of Marks & Spencer, Next, Primark, and WH Smith. Nearby Cornmarket and the surrounding streets also offer well-known shops, such as River Island, Habitat, Garbage and French Connection. Ann Street is great for über-cheap places and charity (thrift) shops.

CastleCourt is a large and colorful mall on Royal Avenue. Offering both large department stores such as John Lewis and the smaller chain stores, this is a cheery, bustling place with fast food, shops and salons. For better jewelry, try the nearby Queen's Arcade.

Trendier shops await on Botanic Avenue, near Queen’s University. This street offers fun secondhand clothes shops, some retro trendy and others just cheap and cheerful. The Cathedral Quarter also offers shops for the young and/or trendy.

For a posher take on things, whether you’re after furniture, crafts, art, clothes or jewelry, take the bus or a taxi to the wealthier side of town, the Lisburn Road. Be aware that the denizens, the shops and the price tags will be a tad upper crust, but for posh surroundings with fine designer goods, either the Lisburn Road or Victoria Square in the city centre is the place to be.

Victoria Square is a huge new open-air mall of impressive design, offering numerous shops, most of them pricier and posher than those elsewhere in the city centre. Also on offer are several restaurants, a movie multiplex offering the latest in Hollywood and UK releases, and a great view of the city from the glass-domed viewing gallery.

 

Victoria Square, Belfast

Victoria Square, Belfast. Photo: Wikimedia Commons: Ardfern

 

For antiques, the street known as Donegall Pass is your best bet. Start with the Oakland Antiques at 135 Donegall Pass near the Ormeau Road, and the nearby Archives Antiques Centre, and branch out from there.

The large and historic St. George’s Market is just outside the city centre on East Bridge Street near Cromac Street. Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings and afternoons, more than 200 market stalls are housed in a late Victorian building that offer a panoply of locally grown foods, crafts, antiques, jewelry and souvenirs.

Different days offer different markets, as well as different kinds of live music. Check the listings at the “Visit Belfast” website, or just visit and enjoy what treasures you find on a particular day.

 

Take a Historic Cab Ride

Not to muddy things up with politics, but Northern Irish history can be fascinating. Even in peacetime, it’s still a politically charged place. If you’re at all inclined to hear about the Troubles (long may they rest) that ended with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, then go on a mural tour.

West Belfast Mural Tours (www.westbelfastmuraltours.com) has a great reputation for informative cab tours, with a guide who will point out the most famous and illustrious of the many wall murals that still stand throughout West Belfast, a string of neighborhoods that were a hotbed of political action and unrest for three decades.

 

Bobby Sands mural, Belfast

Bobby Sands Mural. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

Be aware that most people in Belfast will usually present either the Catholic (generally Irish nationalist) or Protestant (generally pro-British unionist) viewpoint when explaining the North’s history. You may already have a strong opinion about who was right or wrong during the Troubles. If so, there’s much to be gained from holding those comments and listening well to those who actually lived the events.

 

So there you have it! A plethora of fun and interesting things to do in one of Europe’s liveliest, friendliest, most interesting cities. And all of it less than an hour’s bus or train ride to one of the most scenic coastlines in the world.

 

    
Caroline Oceana Ryan is the Northern Ireland Editor for Wandering Educators, and author of AN OLD CASTLE STANDING ON A FORD: One Yank’s Life in an Almost Peaceful Belfast (Eloquent Books, 2010), available on Amazon, to be re-released as an e-book in 2013 under the new title ADVENTURES IN BELFAST: Northern Irish Life After the Peace Agreement. Ryan blogs about peace issues, including bullying prevention, at www.carolineoceanaryan.com.

 

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