When the “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy came out in 2001, its shooting location of New Zealand ran with the publicity and started bidding tourists welcome to “Middle-Earth”. When HBO began its TV series adaptation of the “Song of Ice and Fire” book series by writer George R.R. Martin in 2010, and did its principal photography in a movie studio in Belfast, the city and parts of Northern Ireland now suddenly have something new to showcase. “Welcome to Westeros”, perhaps?
Meet the Dark Hedges!
Having been at the center of a long and turbulent history, few people in the late 20th century would have been willing to bet that the city of Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom, could somehow turn its situation around from an urban war zone to becoming one of the world’s top travel destinations as of 2012. There’s a lot to check out here from shopping to recreation. The places of interest you can come across in Belfast tell a vivid picture of its history.
Located at Belfast city center, Belfast Castle has stood on the same site where castles of the same name were built by the Normans in the late 12th century and by Sir Arthur Chichester, Baron of Belfast in 1611. The present structure, built from 1811 to 1870 by the architectural firm of Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon for the 3rd Marquis of Donegall and later the 8 th Earl of Shaftesbury, was presented to the city in 1934. Following a ten-year refurbishment period from 1978 to 1988, Belfast Castle remains to this day a popular venue for weddings and receptions, conferences, private dining, and other special events.
St. Anne’s Cathedral
Also known as Belfast Cathedral, this church of the Anglican Church of Ireland has a most unusual quirk in that, while titled as a cathedral, it’s really not as no bishop makes his seat there. To elaborate, St. Anne’s serves two separate dioceses but is the seat to neither one. The cathedral was built in 1899 around the original Church of St. Anne from 1776, which it would be replacing. Of the old church, only the Good Samaritan window was retained in the new cathedral while the rest was demolished to complete the construction. Nearly destroyed by German bombing in 1941, it has since been rebuilt. The west front of the cathedral also serves as a military memorial dedicated to the men and women of Ulster (now Northern Ireland) who served and died in World War I.
Meet the Giant's Causeway
Meet the Giant's Causeway
Originally the Royal Belfast Botanical Gardens, this private park for royalty and the aristocracy was opened to the public in 1895. Maintained by the Belfast City Council, its boasts a wide variety of flowers, especially Lilies and Xanthorrhoea, as well as graceful Victorian architecture, making it a favored venue for concerts and music festivals.
A monument to Belfast’s maritime legacy as well as one of the city’s greatest contributions to world history, the Titanic Belfast visitor attraction is a massive hall housing nine galleries featuring both interpretative and interactive exhibits that showcase Belfast during the early 20th century, but mostly telling the complete story of the “unsinkable” but ill-fated ocean liner RMS Titanic. The presentation chronicles the Titanic’s construction at the old Harland & Wolff shipyards (where Titanic Belfast now stands), its launch and outfitting, its maiden voyage and final doom to the iceberg, its icy resting place under the sea, and finally the pop culture mythologies that have sprung from its tragic legend (that last exhibit being set to the tune of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”). Greatly awe-inspiring all throughout, it is sure to take your Titanic experience far and beyond that of James Cameron’s movie.
Paint Hall Studios
Another attraction in what is termed the “Titanic Quarter”, this large structure originally served as a painting hall for the ships built by Harland and Wolff. With its immense indoor space, it was converted by British film producer Jo Gilbert into a film studio, now licensed to Northern Island Screen which offers its services to filmmakers. Movies shot in the studio include “Spike Milligan’s Puckoon” (2000) and “City of Ember” (2008). But nowadays it’s best known as the principal shooting location of HBO’s hit TV series “Game of Thrones”; such has been the upsurge in its popularity that in 2014 Queen Elizabeth II herself visited the production set here and even examined the “Iron Throne of Westeros” set prop. You might catch a glimpse of it too.
Belfast can be reached by air from major points in Great Britain and regularly from the US in Newark, NY. From Manila, you can take Philippine Airlines going to London, then via Easyjet going to Belfast Airport. There really is something see for everyone in Belfast, whether you like Irish castles, shipyards, ocean liners, fictional throne made out of melted swords or real Irish men with stunning blue eyes.
Special thanks to Hechanova Family for taking care of me when I was there and for making my short trip memorable!