23 Jun 2012
City breaks might not be the obvious getaway to spring to mind with either a bump or a baby, but having spent a long weekend in Belfast when I was five months pregnant, it’s rocketed up my list of great places to revisit once the mini traveller is born.
Although it’s played second fiddle to Dublin for years, the city is firmly back in the limelight thanks to this year’s Titanic anniversary. But there’s far more to see and do in the Northern Irish capital, with its compact walkable centre, quirky boutiques, museums and bars galore (admittedly not so great when you’re not able to drink).
I normally love a walking tour to help get my bearings and fill in some background, but with the bump, it was hard to beat the city’s black cab tours.
In fact, it’s a good job I was sitting down. In the space of three hours, my fast-talking, wise-craicing black cab driver and tour guide Billy Scott had shown me most of Belfast, given me a quick lesson in linguistics, showered me with quirky facts, filled in the background to the Troubles and generally cherry-picked all the best bits of the city before presenting them to me.
And all that while still getting me to believe (briefly) that the bronze statue in front of the old Customs House was of a grim-faced ranter who used his soap-box to preach about the evils of ping-pong. I’m planning to blame the hormones for my gullibility…
You can adapt the tour as much as you want, whether you’re looking for a bit of everything, or something a bit more in-depth on one particular aspect of the city, all with a fast-paced and hugely knowledgeable commentary, taking in everything from the site of the UK’s biggest bank robbery to the spot where Led Zeppelin first played Stairway to Heaven, plus tales of the old river and linen industry.
It’s the murals around Shankill and the Falls Road, which most visitors want to see though, and the taxi wheels down residential back-streets to point out the old propaganda, and the new collaborative paintings which are starting to replace them. I also stopped at the peace wall and added my own meaningful graffiti to the permanent quotes from the Dalai Lama and Bill Clinton.
But well over a decade since the Good Friday Agreement, the tour is a good reminder that Belfast is leaving the shadow of its past behind, not least as we drove and ambled through the revitalised Cathedral Quarter as well.
And that’s all before you get to Errol Flynn’s father…
Disclaimer: My trip to Belfast was arranged with the Northern Ireland tourist board.