Belfast, Northern Ireland: Where to stay, where to eat, what to do and more
For my wife and me, the nautical stuff was secondary. We hoped that the new Titanic Belfast space might have someplace for us to make like Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, the stars of James Cameron’s 1997 disaster epic, “Titanic.” We wanted to replicate the “flying scene,” where Leo and Kate, hopelessly in love, stand with their arms outstretched on the bow of the liner as it plows the Atlantic. We’re suckers for romance like that, and I don’t think we’re alone.
Belfast knows this all too well. The city will spend millions throughout the year on more than 120 events commemorating the new Titanic facility, including an open-air MTV concert at the site, as well as newly commissioned plays, concerts, street performances, art competitions, even a new serialized television show by creators of “Downton Abbey.” Church services will be held citywide to remember the more than 1,500 victims of the ship’s shocking wreck.
“There was a period of time after the sinking of Titanic that Belfast kept its head low and pushed away any associations,” said Mayor Niall O’Donnghaile at a mid-March news conference. “But at last we have woken up to the fact that this city has nothing to be ashamed of.”
Arriving in Belfast for our four-day Titanic safari, my wife and I were greeted by distant cousins, opinionated and helpful, who pushed us to do some digging before we set foot in the new building.
That led first across town to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, a sprawling collection of exhibits in a wooded preserve about seven miles east of central Belfast. Its Titanic exhibit is set in Quonset hut-like domed buildings, with a snack bar, a bookstore, seating for weary feet and a welcoming pace that allows you to slowly absorb the complex story behind the ship and its demise.
Huge blowups of historical photos hang on the curved walls and ceiling, and visitors walk over gantries and trusses as if they were schlepping around the 200-acre Harland and Wolff shipbuilding site where the Titanic — the largest ocean liner of its day — was built.
But it wasn’t just size that set the Titanic apart. Belfast was a provincial powerhouse of invention, and the Titanic was the first ocean liner with on-board refrigeration. First-class passengers enjoyed fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses and savories, chilled strawberries and champagne throughout what was to be a week-long crossing to New York.