The world's largest and most luxurious cruise liner sank on her maiden voyage with the loss of 1,512 lives and Belfast, where she was built, mourned. Now more than 100 years later, the city is celebrating.
I hadn't been caught up in the Titanic hype before going to Belfast but after a day being immersed in everything Titanic, I am now a convert. I am convinced that every other visitor to the site where the ship was constructed will become the same.
Most readers will remember Belfast for "the troubles" that plagued the city for 30 years. Now, Belfast is known for its outstanding Titanic Belfast visitor experience and its massive waterfront regeneration project.
We start the day with a Titanic walking tour. In 1912, Belfast was home to the world's biggest shipyard, Harland and Wolff. We follow in the footsteps of Titanic's builders on our guided walking tour of Queens Island where Titanic and her two sister ships were designed, built and launched.
We visit the soaring Harland and Wolff drawing office where plans for Titanic were prepared. We stand in the office of William Pirrie, chairman of Harland and Wolff, and walk to the Titanic's Dock & Pump-House.
Inside the pump-house, the engineering achievements of the Edwardian age are almost perfectly preserved. The massive pumps and gargantuan hydraulic accumulator were at one time the largest in the world. So too was the enormous dry dock. Nothing makes you appreciate the history of Belfast shipping more than standing at the bottom of this huge dry dock where the Titanic once stood.
The tour lasts two hours and leaves us wanting more. After a quick lunch in the pump house we visit the impressive Titanic Belfast. Billed as the world's largest Titanic visitor experience this is an unbelievable, unmissable experience.
The exhibition is housed in an iconic six-floor building and it tells the story of Titanic from her conception through her construction and launch, to her famous maiden voyage and subsequent place in history.
We are stunned by the contemporary interactive technology, special effects and thrilling shipyard ride. In some ways it out-Disneys Disneyland. We enjoy the sounds, sights and smells of riveting and molten steel as we experience what it was like to be a shipyard worker more than 100 years ago.
We get an authentic taste of Titanic from her unique engineering to superb craftsmanship in exhilarating exhibits and elaborate computer-generated images. We sail with passengers on the ship's maiden voyage and experience the urgency of the tragic last moments.
Perhaps one of the most impressive exhibits is Titanic Beneath—a dramatic presentation of Doctor Ballard's famous discovery of Titanic in 1985 and spectacular footage of the wreck lying on the floor of the ocean.
There is much more to the Titanic Quarter than this, and more than $10 billion is being invested in new pavilions, hotels, apartments and offices. Belfast was an industrial powerhouse in the early 1900s and Titanic was launched full of hope. The ship and the city have suffered much since then but today, Belfast is celebrating with the hope of a bright future ahead.
We see it at the newish Hilton Hotel where we stay. We see it too at the impressive Metropolitan Arts Centre where we enjoy world-class art and theatre in a very modern setting while surrounded by classic 19th century buildings.
It is fun to eat at the city's premier hotel—the Merchant Hotel. Not at its fabulous Great Room restaurant but at its reasonably priced Cloth Ear bar/restaurant. Here, too, is the "world's best cocktail bar in 2010," but we prefer the iconic Duke of York in the old Cathedral Quarter for a quiet drink.
Ken Harper conducts a Black Taxi Tour of Belfast's emerging, distinctive quarters. We quickly learn about the city's diverse charms, the remnants of its violent past, and its hidden secrets while in the comfort of a traditional black hack. Ken's stories and insights fascinate us.
We discover the city is packed with history, culture, exciting events, great food and excellent shopping. We also find some of the friendliest people we've ever meet. As National Geographic Traveler recently said, this is "a capital that is redefining itself in the eyes of the world."
IF YOU GO