Belfast has had a mixed history to say the least, but this year, the whole city is geared up to commemorate one of its biggest achievements, the Titanic.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the ships maiden voyage, which at the time was the biggest and most luxurious liner in the world, and was built by the city’s famous shipbuilders, Harland and Wolff.
To pay tribute to the city’s efforts, a new £97 million tourist attraction, Titanic Belfast, opened on March 31 in time for the centenary.
The attraction has six floors and tells the story of the Titanic, from its conception in the early 1900s, through its construction and launch, to its famous maiden voyage and tragic end.
Multiple dimensions are brought together for the exhibition, from special effects, interactive features, full-scale reconstructions and even a ride.
There’s so much to see that it took us nearly four hours to go round and take everything in properly.
My only criticism is that the exhibition is home to a replica of Titanics’s first class stairway (the one Jack waits for Rose on in the 1997 film) but it isn’t open to the public, it’s only available for functions.
I think this is a real shame as it would have made a great photo opportunity for the hundreds of visitors who arrive each day.
But other than that, I really enjoyed it, every time I thought I was finished, there seemed to be another room with even more to see, and I think it’s well worth the £13.50 adult entry price.
What wasn’t worth the money though was the cafe.
We bought two soft drinks and two pieces of cake and it cost just over £12, so my tip would be to take your own snacks and enjoy them on the benches outside.
Away from Titanic Belfast, the city has so many other things to offer.
We visited St George’s Market, which reminded me of London’s Greenwich Market with its food stands, clothing stalls and unusual trinkets and gifts amongst other things.
We walked there from our hotel, the Malmaison, which is perfectly located in the city centre, near to the High Street, the Cathedral Quarter and only a 20 minute walk to the historic docklands where Titanic Belfast is located.
Anything further was easily reached by taxi, which I have to say, were really cheap, no journey seemed to cost more than £6, which for a capital city, is impressive.
The other thing we noticed was that everyone in the city was just so friendly.
When we were looking for somewhere to eat, a random man parked up in the Cathedral Quarter shouted us over and recommended places to try.
After our meal, we headed back to the Cathedral Quarter and The Merchant Hotel, a five star hotel and home to ‘The World’s Best Cocktail Menu’ and ‘The World’s Best Hotel Bar’ as voted for by the world famous Spirit Awards.
I could see why they won both awards, the cocktail menu was the size of a Lord of the Rings novel, and the surroundings were elegant and plush.
At nearly £10 for my cocktail, the drinks aren’t cheap, but, the standard of the drink, the service and the experience as a whole is worth every penny.
One of the last things we did before our return flight to Birmingham was a city tour.
Everyone knows Belfast’s history and the divide between the Unionists and the Nationalists, and while things have improved dramatically since the Good Friday Agreement, the division is still clear, particularly in the Shankill area of the city.
It’s here that you see the famous murals, the purpose of which was described by our tour guide as to ‘educate, communicate and intimidate’.
We also saw the peace wall, an 18ft high wall separating the two communities, which has been in place longer than the Berlin wall.
While these things are not the most pleasurable to see, they are an important part of the city’s legacy, and, they highlight how far the city has actually come.
The Belfast I visited is a friendly, young, cosmopolitan city, while at the same time, remembers its heritage, and if ever there was a time to visit, it’s this year.
For more information or to plan your visit to Ireland, go to: www.discoverireland.com
For more information on Titanic Belfast, see: www.titanicbelfast.com
Flights operate on a daily basis from Birmingham to Belfast, taking just under an hour. Return prices start from £40.