Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Titanic Belfast

Fri Apr 20, 2012 9:26am EDT
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By Philip Baillie

BELFAST (Reuters) - Belfast in the 21st century is developing into a chic capital of culture, character and chatter built on a proud industrial heritage which includes the world's most famous luxury liner.

A century after the sinking of the "unsinkable" Titanic - considered a marvel of engineering when it was built in Belfast's Harland and Wolff shipyards - the modern city has experienced a seismic cultural shift since a peace deal in 1998 consigned "the troubles" of the 1960s-1990s to a footnote of European history.

Although there are still some rough neighborhoods that remain segregated and aren't tourist-friendly around July 12 (A public holiday when historic tensions can reignite), most of the main streets in central Belfast where warring paramilitary groups once used violence and preached intolerance are bustling with cultural hotspots, cafes and friendly faces.

Local correspondents help you to spend 48 hours enjoying some of the best places to visit - on the centenary of the Titanic.

FRIDAY 7 p.m. - Check into The Merchant Hotel, the New Chapter wing is ideal for business travelers with a bit of cash, who can try out a drink in the Jazz bar, consider buying the world's most expensive cocktail or take a lift to the hotel's hot-tub with a view over the city at night, overlooking Belfast's answer to the leaning tower of Pisa, the Albert clock.

8 p.m. - Take a short walk down the road to the city's newest shopping centre, Victoria Square, which is home to some of the most exclusive department stores in Northern Ireland. Climb the centre's spiral staircase to the lookout dome, with a 360-degree panoramic view across the city, taking in the slopes of cavehill to Samson and Goliath - two monolithic cranes that can be seen from most parts of the city. Or if you're lucky, you might be able to catch a rugby match at Ravenhill to watch Ulster take on a rival in the Heineken cup.

10:30 p.m. - Alternatively, visit the atmospheric bars dotted around the Cathedral quarter, with the John Hewitt bar as a local favorite, named after the late poet and nestled in Belfast's answer to Fleet Street - down the road from the Belfast Telegraph and Irish News offices (Let's not forget to mention the oldest continuous English newspaper - the News Letter is located behind the City Hall)

SATURDAY 10 a.m. - Start the day with a dose of history and take a red tour bus from outside Dixons electronic store on Castle Place, or catch a Back Taxi tour - visit a more bespoke experience -- but both promise a rundown of the recent political history that helps explain the current state of affairs -- spiced up with some dry Ulster humor.   Continued...

The Titanic centre in Belfast is illuminated by digital projections and pyrotechnics as part of the city's festival of events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Titanic's fateful maiden voyage April 7, 2012. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton