From Belfast to the world: Visiting Europe’s leading tourist attraction
Growing up in a small coastal town in Northern Ireland, the capital Belfast – just 14 miles away – was always the main social hub for any sort of culture the country offered at the time. It was where I saw my first gig – Green Day – in 1998; where I went to university; and where I played countless gigs with the multitude of punk bands I was involved in. Belfast, in the late 90s and early 00s, was a good place for a bit of excitement away from my hometown. But it was very much a local city. The faces you saw around the streets were those who lived there, and not many tourists passed through. Even with its beautiful coastlines and historic sites, Northern Ireland was still trying to rebuild its image after the Troubles – a period from the 60s to 90s where Belfast was seemingly never off the news, and not for good reasons.
Fast forward to today, and Belfast is buzzing. Hundreds of thousands of pounds has been pumped into promoting the city to the world (I should know – I worked on the advertising account), and the city is now competing with the rest of Europe on an equal level. As if to reinforce this fact, Lonely Planet named Belfast as one of its places to visit in 2018. And Titanic Belfast – a flagship building dedicated to the entire history of the world’s most famous ship – was recently awarded the best tourist attraction in Europe. And so, on my most recent visit back to Belfast, I felt I had to check it out for myself.
Titanic: Built in Belfast
Located in the shadow of Samson & Goliath, the two enormous yellow cranes that are a symbol of the city’s proud industrial past, Titanic Belfast is, in its own right, an architectural achievement of its own. The building sits smack-bang in the middle of where the Titanic was actually built, and it’s profile has carefully been designed to resemble the stern of the ship. Standing at the entrance and looking up, it’s hard to believe that the Titanic was that tall, but it was – and it was clearly worthy of its name. The story of the Titanic’s construction, sailing, and eventual demise has captured the imagination of people around the world for decades. Movies have been made about it, songs have been sung and tales of sunken treasure imagined – but only until now has a fully dedicated museum been built in its honour.
It is clear to see that a great deal of time, money and passion has gone into creating this permanent exhibition. Things have not been done by half. Starting with a thorough explanation of what Belfast was like at the time of the ship’s construction, the exhibition then goes on to showcase the ship’s history, including a number of original artifacts and recreations of the ship’s cabins. At one point there is a theme-park style attraction that travels up and down the building’s three stories, as well as an immersive 3D tour of the ship. For me, however, the highlights of the exhibition were those that were also the most simple. Seeing an actual original invitation ticket for the launch, for example, as well as a menu from the ship’s restaurant. These little things, combined with the lavish nature of the exhibition as a whole, make Titanic Belfast one to bookmark on your next trip to the city.