There's more to Belfast than just political murals
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Think of Belfast, Northern Ireland and what springs to mind are the political murals. Although the murals are a tourist attraction – they serve as a reminder of the troubled past. I would like to show there is more to see in Belfast for those not interested in Northern Ireland politics or who might be offended by the murals. If you want to explore the city independently here's what I recommend.
For those interested in contemporary art – the Ormeau baths gallery run frequent exhibitions at no charge.
If you like visiting shopping centres, there are two in Belfast City Centre – Castle Court and the Victoria Centre.
The Lagan River has transformed itself over the years to become a more modern part of the city. Indoor concerts are frequently held at the Waterfront. The Lagan towpath further out in the suburbs is worth exploring .
The Crown Saloon with its Victorian architecture and private booths is situated opposite the Europa Hotel.
In South Belfast (a mile from the city centre) are Queens University and the nearby Botanic Gardens. The Botanic Gardens and the Palm House are at present, open 7 days a week. The tropical Ravine is opened only at weekends. The renovated Ulster Museum is home to local and ancient history. An Egyptian mummy is permanently on display.
For those keen to venture further into the suburbs then I would recommend a visit to the Belfast Castle. The castle situated in its own grounds at the base of the Cavehill makes a picturesque setting. Tourists are welcome to explore the castle – visiting the wine cellar in the basement and the exhibition gallery on the top floor. A stroll around the garden is a must if you want to take good photos of the castle and the cat mosaic and topiary. Public buses run frequently along the Antrim Road were you should get off. A pleasant walk up through the residential roads will lead you to the Castle. Follow the signs but take a map!
The Cavehill itself is worth exploring during the warm summer months. Visitors should follow one of the paths up to the top of the hill to 'Napoleons nose’ At the top you will be treated to views over Belfast and Belfast Lough – get the camera ready!
The Belfast Zoo beneath the Cavehill is the home to species from all over the world. The animals live in spacious enclosures and have places to hide if they want some peace and quiet! If you have patience and time, you should see most animals. I visited the zoo in October and saw more animals than I did during the summer months; - of course fewer people were around. Public buses run along the Antrim road frequently 7 days a week and from the main road it’s a walk up to the entrance.
You don’t have to be interested in politics to visit Stormont - the parliament of Northern Ireland’s devolved government. The building, about one mile from the main road sits atop a hill. During European Heritage weekend the building is open for public tours.
Another place worth visiting is Belfast Central Library with its ancient Roman architecture of pillars and a dome on the first floor.