The city of Belfast was a great Victorian success story, an industrial boomtown whose prosperity was built on trade—especially linen and shipbuilding. Famously (or infamously), the Titanic was built here, giving Belfast, for a time, the nickname "Titanic Town."
For many years it wasn’t talked about, but in 2012 the city commemorated the 100th anniversary of the liner's sinking on April 15, 1912,
by opening a dazzling Titanic Belfast exhibition center. With nine galleries spread over six floors, the enormous multi-prow-shaped building—about the same height as Titanic and twice the size of City Hall—the center certainly has the wow factor. It has generated international interest, bringing in much-needed revenue and creating jobs at a difficult economic time.
Tourist numbers have increased as never before and this dramatically transformed city is enjoying an unparalleled renaissance. The record-breaking number of visitors speaks for itself: Titanic Belfast exceeded all expectations, welcoming more than 1.3 million people in its first year; the Metropolitan Arts Centre, which opened in 2012, doubled its attendance expectations in the first 12 months; and the Ulster Museum, which was revamped in 2011, has enjoyed record numbers through its doors.
This is all a welcome change from the period when news about Belfast meant reports about "the Troubles." Since the 1994 ceasefire, Northern Ireland's capital city has benefited from major hotel investment, gentrified quaysides (or strands), a sophisticated new performing arts center, and major initiatives to boost tourism. Although the 1996 bombing of offices at Canary Wharf in London disrupted the 1994 peace agreement, the ceasefire was officially reestablished on July 20, 1997, and this embattled city began its quest for a newfound identity.
Since 2008, the city has restored all its major public buildings such as museums, churches, theaters, City Hall, Ulster Hall—and even the glorious Crown Bar—spending millions of pounds on its built heritage. A gaol that at the height of the Troubles held some of the most notorious murderers involved in paramilitary violence is now a major visitor attraction.
Belfast's city center is made up of three roughly contiguous areas that are easy to navigate on foot. From the south end to the north it's about an hour's leisurely walk.
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