Belfast has well and truly bounced back

Crane your neck skywards under the stunning hull-shaped entrace to the Titanic Experience, and you'll see just one example of Belfast's ability to turn disaster into triumph.

Sunday, 4th June 2017, 4:27 pm
Updated Sunday, 4th June 2017, 9:35 pm
Titanic Experience

The mighty liner sank in 1912 largely because of human error - and not as a result of the huge shipbuilding operation that had seen her launched weeks earlier at the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard.

Today, the award-winning centre, with its host of artefacts and chair ride through a recreation of the hot and noisy conditions in which thousands of men laboured, is a huge draw for tourists.

Just a few decades ago, no-one would have built the striking edifice because no-one would have come to see it.

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The black stuff

But Belfast has turned that disaster to triumph too.

It does not bury The Troubles - city bus tours still take you along the Falls Road and the Shankhill Road, with their vastly-different wall murals and along a section of the Peace Wall, now decorated with messages of love but still a massive blockade between the Protestants and Catholics (Unionists and nationalists, says the bus guide, are the contemporary and more accurate names for the city's largely-divided communities).

Belfast's achievement is that despite that recent and bloody past, it is now in its new era of peace and reconciliation attracting visitors in unprecedented numbers thanks to innovations such as the Titanic Experience, and a renewed celebration of its rich history.

That resonates in must-see destinations from City Hall to the Crumlin Road Jail, in which were packed hundreds of Unionist and nationalist prisoners during the dark days of internment.

The black stuff

Visitors also get to walk, as a bookcase is swept aside to reveal a hidden door, straight into the hanging cell, still equipped with its noose and trapdoor.

That traverse of just a few short steps makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. And, in Belfast itself, there is plenty to awaken the senses with, in the historic city centre, Shanks's Pony proving a great way to travel. Public transport systems are fine, but Belfast is a compact city and one that is easy to get around on foot.

City Hall offers free tours during the day and, to the north, the burgeoning Cathedral district around St Anne's - a mother church resplendent with the largest Celtic cross in all Ireland - is awash with pubs and eateries.

Ah, those pubs - such welcoming and entrancing stopping-off points for the weary wanderer. Most are bedecked just about as they always have been, not least the snug-lined Crown Liquor Saloon in Great Victoria Street - a hostelry so historic that it is run by the National Trust. And here, as in all the city's inns, a pint of Guinness is a mouth-watering must. It is no urban myth - the black stuff really does taste even better in Ireland.

Prise yourself though from the city, though, for there is more to be seen in Ulster. The most well-worn road for travellers skirts along the stunningly-beautiful Antrim coast past Game of Thrones locations up to the Giant's Causeway. McComb's is one of the coach firms that offer day-long excursions to the UNESCO World Heritage site, withe drivers like Troy entertaining passengers en route with tales of Finn McColl et all, together with some brilliantly-bad Irishjokes.

The causeway itself is a unique and memorable natural wonder, made all the more enjoyable by its accessibility. Care is needed on this wind-and-wave-swept tip of the province, but visitors are free to clamber on the 40,000 interlocking basalt columns,left by an ancient volcanic eruption.

It's an exhilarating experience that can quite simply take the breath away.

Time to hop back on the bus to return to Belfast for a well-earned drop of the black stuff!