City Hall Review
Built of Portland stone between 1898 and 1906 and modeled on St. Paul's Cathedral in London, this Renaissance Revival–style edifice—the cynosure of central Belfast—was designed by Brumwell Thomas (who was knighted but had to sue to get his fee). Before you enter, take a stroll around Donegall Square to see statues of Queen Victoria and a column honoring the U.S. Expeditionary Force, which landed in the city on January 26, 1942—the first contingent of the U.S. Army to arrive in Europe during World War II. A monument commemorating the Titanic stands in the grounds, and in 2012 a granite memorial was unveiled in a Titanic memorial garden opened for the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking. The memorial, on the east side of the grounds, lists the names of everyone who died in the tragedy. Enter the building under the porte cochere at the front. From the entrance hall (the base of which is a whispering gallery), the view up to the heights of the 173-foot-high Great Dome is a feast for the eyes. With its complicated series of arches and openings, stained-glass windows, Italian-marble inlays, decorative plasterwork, and paintings, this is Belfast's most ornate public space—a veritable homage to the might of the British Empire. After an £11million restoration, the modernized building has been brought into the 21st century and is now home to the Bobbin café and the "Waking a Giant" exhibition, in which historic photographs tell the story of Belfast's industrial development. Another permanent exhibition, "No Mean City," an interactive and photographic display, celebrates 68 inspirational people of the last 100 years, including Thomas Andrews (the designer of the Titanic), singer Van Morrison, and footballer George Best. In the courtyard a 60-jet fountain has been dedicated to Belfast City Council members killed during the Troubles. Free, guided one-hour tours of the building are offered. There's also a tourist information point on the ground floor.