Start at the Linen Hall Library to travel in time from the Enlightenment’s United Irishmen to today’s award winning poet Sinead Morrissey; travel in place from Louis McNeice’s drawing room on the Malone Road to C S Lewis’s East Belfast (wardrobe optional) via Van the Man’s Cyprus Avenue. Poets and writers abound, stories still being told and written.
Ask any taxi driver to take you on a tour around, it should cost about £20 for the hour. They will show you the cemetery and the murals as well as other historic sights, giving you a real flavour of the city and a strong sense of it's very recent history. Was the best £20 that I've spent in ages. Some drivers are willing to do it, others not. Just ask!
Best to get a taxi outside the city hall, but anywhere will do.
I downloaded a guide to Belfast off the website www.mytourtalk.com onto my MP3 player. The website does walking and driving audio guides for Belfast and Northern Ireland. You get a map as well. I wasn't sure what to expect as we hadn't done an audio tour on our own before - but we spent a couple of hours listening to the player and following the map all around the centre of Belfast. We got to see the Titanic Quarter and Waterfront Hall before we had a beer in the Crown Bar and headed up towards the University of Queens and back along Dublin Road into the back of the City Hall. Would do this again as we got to see all the main areas in our own time and came away feeling we hadn't missed anything.
The Belfast taxi tour takes in the history of the troubles, the murals, the peace wall and the areas of significance. As an Englishman visiting Belfast for the first time this was by far the most striking, memorable and humbling part of our trip. All driver-guides have been involved in the troubles from a political or paramilitary standpoint in some way. Hearing from them firsthand, in an unbiased and even-handed manner, the rich detail of such recent struggles and resolutions is worth every penny.
Taxi tours are easily bookable through the tourist office.
Vibrant is the only word I can use to describe my two-day visit to Belfast. The place simply buzzed with activity and on an afternoon when an autumn sun shone over a reborn city - it made me feel like I'd been missing out on life since the last time I had been there.
There are many ways to get around the city but I chose to take a bus - the bus guide displaying ample amounts of Belfast humour as we made our way down roads which once had been the subject of so much news footage (Shankill and Falls) - her jokes taking the sting out of sensitive issues and thereby sentencing them, we hoped, to history forever. Surely nobody could joke about 'the troubles' unless they felt certain they were well behind them.
She really didn't have any cause to emphasise the fact though as it was apparent to all who rode the bright red double decker that this was indeed the case - every street it turned down packed with well-dressed pedestrians availing of every possible facility - and no doubt looking forward to those soon to open up all around them.
I stayed at the Belfast International Hostel, 22-23 Donegall Road, Belfast BT12 5JN. Double en suite room cost 28 sterling. Bookable through www.hostelworld.com
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