BELFAST DAY 2: Lagan Boat Tour, W5 Interactive Discovery Center and Botanic Gardens
Belfast owes much of its prosperity to what were once the largest shipyards in the world, Harland and Wolff. Two large yellow cranes, "Samson and Goliath" dominate the skyline, used in the construction of ships like the Olympic and Britannic, as well as the most famous ocean-going liner in the world, the Titanic. The 'Titanic Quarter' is the most recently developed area, with a stunning new £76 million Titanic Belfast visitor experience housed in an architecturally daring building. Opened in March 2012 to commemorate the doomed maiden voyage of the ship, the new attraction takes you through nine galleries with interactive exhibits revealing the history of Belfast, what it was like to be in the shipyard at the time through to the voyage itself and its fatal collision. There's also footage of the ship lying on the ocean bed. For a different view of the docks where the ship was designed, fitted and launched, take a Lagan Boat Tour from Donegall Quay. In the Titanic Quarter, you'll also find the Odyssey complex, the huge entertainment area which houses the science and discovery attraction called the W5 Interactive Discovery Centre with several hands-on activities and ideal for family. The Odyssey arena stages concerts, as well as tennis, indoor athletics and ice hockey games featuring the local heroes, the Belfast Giants.
There are restaurants galore in the Odyssey complex. Alternatively head back to the center for traditional Irish lunch at the Kitchen Bar, which still serves up the local brew and where the atmosphere is as friendly as ever. The all-day Made in Belfast offers a gutsy menu using organic ingredients in a fun, industrial-style venue decorated with mismatched tables and chairs.
In the afternoon, go south to Queen's Quarter via Lisburn Road, which is full of small boutiques stocking Ireland's top designer names like Louise Kennedy. If you're after books, this is the area to target with shops like Bookfinders Café selling secondhand books. Then wander around the Tudor-style nineteenth century Queen's University buildings, where Seamus Heaney was one of the many literati who studied then lectured here. A two-minute stroll brings you to the delightful Botanic Gardens where you can take in the handsome, glass-domed Palm House before dropping into nearby Café Renoir for afternoon tea and cakes. The nearby Ulster Museum, re-opened after a huge refurbishment, takes you on a world-wide cultural journey from Egyptian mummies to the South Pacific and is ideal for families.
If you want to stay and eat in the area, try Deanes at Queens, a favorite with locals and university staff and (well-heeled) students and their parents. Owned by Michael Deane, who is one of Belfast's restaurant movers and shakers, there's a lovely terrace for summer dining off dishes like duck breast with mushroom puree and crispy French fries. Or try Nick's Warehouse, a popular, bustling center-of-town eatery in a former Bushmills whiskey warehouse which offers a wide menu of modern Irish dishes. For a nightcap, make your way to Bittles Bar near Victoria Square. Founded in 1868 in a flatiron-shaped red brick buiding, it's known for its extensive range of whiskies (and pretty wide selection of beers as well).
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