After decades in the wilderness, Belfast is finally emerging from the dark days of the past and is rapidly realising its tourist potential.
Belfast is vying with the likes of Dublin, London and other European city destinations, while the administrative centre of Northern Ireland is surrounded by lush green countryside and outstanding coastline that is as serene, dramatic and beautiful as anywhere you'll find in the Emerald Isle.
For three decades, Belfast was often cast alongside scenes of violence and bloodshed of the Troubles. But peace in the province has brought a change of fortunes for Belfast as the city begins to capitalise on the peace dividend and challenge preconceptions.
Today the city is in the process of rebuilding and transformation, but while Belfast is reinventing itself as a cosmopolitan urban city, it still proudly remembers and retains much of its defining character.
Events in April see the Titanic Made in Belfast Festival with modern interactive exhibitions, music and storytelling in celebration of the city's rich maritime history.
Belfast's Haarland & Wolf Shipyards were at one time among the greatest ship builders in the world and it was here that the Titanic was built. Billed as unsinkable, the Titanic was the largest ship of its day and was the pride of Belfast when it was built. The Titanic was of course to sink on its maiden voyage, but the locals, with typical dry humor will tell you, ‘it was fine when it left here'.
The Titanic Made in Belfast festival runs from April 7th to April 14th with an extensive programme of events commencing with a grand opening at Belfast City Hall held by the Lord Mayor of Belfast along with the President of the Belfast Titanic Society and the President of the French Society. Exhibitions explore the construction of the Titanic, the people who helped build the ship and artifacts relating to the Titanic's fateful voyage. There are also walking tours, bus tours and boat tours of the Laganside and storytelling from two of Irelands' best raconteurs; Pat Speight and Niall deBurca.
Along with much of Belfast City, these old ship yards are set for further big things in the future with a huge development project set to transform the ‘Titanic Quarter' into a new, vibrant and cosmopolitan maritime quarter.
Huge amounts of investment in Belfast have resulted in a burgeoning sense of self-confidence. House prices in Belfast are rising faster than most other UK cities, the city's bar culture is once again thriving and Belfast is home to two of the most celebrated chefs in the British Isles: Paul Rankin and Michael Deane, whose restaurants including the Roscoff, Café Paul Rankin and Restaurant Michael Deane head up a varied selection of superb Belfast eateries.
For its vibrancy and energy, Belfast's nightlife rival's Dublin and offers a similar cocktail of historic and character filled pubs, traditional music and chic modern bars. The historic pub tour run by the Belfast Welcome Centre is one of the best tours in Ireland, taking you around some of the city's most iconic places.
The tour stops at the famous Crown Liquor Saloon, this National Trust owned property is a a real throw back to its Victorian heyday with tiled exterior, a Crown mosaic over the door and stain class windows. Inside, the pub is lined with secluded wooden snugs with bell pulls so that back in the late 1800s you could get the next round in without struggling at the bar. The place is still lit only by gas lamps giving it a real Victorian drinking den atmosphere. Also on route is Belfast's oldest pub: Kelly's Cellars, established in 1720 and used as a meeting place for 18th century revolutionaries and McHughs Bar, built in the 1700s, it is situated in the oldest surviving building in Belfast. It has since been much renovated but still maintains its character and serves excellent food.
Belfast also boasts a great collection of hotels, the Europa in the heart of the city centre is a landmark building and something of a Belfast institution that has played host to Presidents, Royalty, celebrities and discerning travelers for decades. Just four miles from the centre, the Stormont Hotel is situated in leafy suburbs overlooking the landscaped gardens of Stormont Castle, where the Northern Ireland Assembly sits. While the Culloden Hotel is a 5 star haven, set within acres of manicured gardens overlooking Belfast Lough and the hills of the Antrim Coast.
Getting to Belfast has never been easier, Belfast International Airport 20 miles north of the city, has trans-Atlantic flights with scheduled flights to New York and Vancouver as well as flights to many major European cities.
The city of Belfast provides a gateway to some of Ireland's most fascinating and important sites including the world famous Giant's Causeway, the burial place of Saint Patrick in Downpatrick, St Patrick's first church in Armagh and Derry one of Ireland's oldest inhabited sites.
Belfast and the province of Northern Ireland offers a vacation that is in many ways unique in Ireland, while still being an authentically Irish experience. The currency is different (British Sterling), the accents are distinct but the charm and hospitality are still warmly Irish. Green is the color, it is just a slightly different shade.