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Rejuvenation is the name of the game in the Northern Irish capital, now free from the troubles of recent times.
1. Historic tour Take a walking tour through the city to admire Belfast's Victorian architecture. Start at City Hall, joining the free daily tour through the building. The site where City Hall stands was the central point for Belfast's 18th-century linen industry; small rural producers would bring their material
to White Linen Hall to be sold. Albert Clock, known as Belfast's leaning tower of Pisa, was built in 1867 on the spot where Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert, landed when they first visited the city. The best way to learn about Belfast's history is to hire a Blue Badge Guide from the Belfast Welcome Centre (www.gotobelfast.com).
2. Cathedral Quarter Stroll through the Cathedral Quarter's cobblestoned lanes. The cathedral in question is St Anne's and this precinct has historically been a favourite haunt of artists, revolutionaries and writers. These days, Victorian warehouses are being reinvented as hip bars, stylish restaurants and contemporary galleries. Stop at Cotton Court (30 Waring Street) to admire a mural designed in the form of a map of the district. Donegal Quay's Bigfish sculpture (below right) is one of many commissioned art pieces lending the area a creative feel. It depicts a ceramic salmon decorated with words and images that relate to Belfast's history.
3. Crown Bar (below) Slip into a snug at the historic Crown Bar (www.crownbar.com) and tuck into a bowl of Irish stew while you down a pint of Guinness. Snugs are private booths and the ones here are elaborately carved, are equipped with an antique bell system used to summon waiters and still sport the original gun-metal plates once used for striking matches. Although these nooks were built during Victorian times for people who preferred to drink in private (such as women and priests), it's easy to imagine snugs filled with plotting revolutionaries during the Troubles. The Crown is owned by the National Trust and its original mosaic tiles, ornate mirrors, decorative glass and granite-topped bar are well-preserved pieces of Belfast's history.
4. Falls and Shankill The Falls and Shankill roads are two streets a few hundred metres distant yet a world apart in ideology. Irish Republic flags flutter in the wind along the Falls Road while Union flags mark Protestant territory along the Shankill Road. This clear distinction serves as a reminder of Belfast's fragile peace. The territories are separated by a wall of concrete and steel known as the peace line. The political murals that decorate walls in both areas are worth a look. Murals along the Shankill Road depict support for Northern Ireland's existing connection with the British government while those along the Falls Road depict the struggle for independence. A black taxi tour (www.allirelandtours.com) will fill you in on more Irish political history. You need not worry about safety these days. According to the most recent International Crime Victims Survey conducted by the United Nations, Northern Ireland has the second-lowest crime rate in the developed world (second only to Japan).
5. Queen's Quarter This trendy university neighbourhood is a vibrant district with upmarket restaurants and designer boutiques. For contemporary Irish cooking, book a table at Shu restaurant (www.shu-restaurant.com), where sea bass, pigeon and chicken are prepared using concoctions of fennel, pesto and wine sauces. There are plenty of art galleries here, featuring works by local and international artists. Many of the venues - including the area's newest, the Refinery Gallery, set in a refurbished mill - are as creative as the artworks on display.
6. Europa Hotel During the Troubles, television viewers around the world were shown images of Belfast as a city in turmoil, with bombings, soldiers and balaclava-clad men holding machine guns in smoke-filled streets. One building that may be a familiar landmark to visitors is the Europa Hotel, where foreign correspondents used to set up base. The hotel holds the dubious honour of being one of the most bombed hotels in the world (almost 30 times). Restored and fully functioning as a four-star property, it is a few blocks from the luxury boutiques of Donegal Place.
7. Walk the waterfront Gleaming contemporary glass and steel architecture dominates Belfast's waterfront, which is home to a circular concert venue, Waterfront Hall and the Supreme Court. Waterfront Hall (www.waterfront.co.uk) is a conference centre and concert venue where shows, musicals and exhibitions are staged.
8. Titanic Quarter The regeneration of Belfast's waterfront continues across the Lagan River in the Titanic Quarter, where giant cranes known as Samson and Goliath are fixtures of the skyline. City leaders have plans for this former Harland and Wolff shipyard, where many of the world's great liners, including the RMS Titanic, were built. The transformation promises a complete makeover of the shipyard as a vibrant leisure precinct with hotels, cafes, bars, shops, restaurants, marinas and a GBP100 million (HK$1.53 billion) Titanic heritage centre. In the meantime, you can take a guided boat tour (www.laganboatcompany.com) along the river to the shipyard site.
9. Music pubs Join the revellers at Fibber Magees (www.robinsonsbar.co.uk), a popular music pub in the city centre. You'll have a raucous time singing along to bands such as the Brier Folk Group and Celtic rock band Finnegans Wake.
10. County Antrim Take a day trip along the north coast to the stunning County Antrim countryside, where the hexagonal-shaped rock formations of the Giant's Causeway spread from the cliffs and disappear into the sea. It's Northern Ireland's only Unesco World Heritage site. Stop at Carrick-a-Rede and walk, if you dare, across the narrow swinging rope bridge suspended over a 30-metre chasm. Another place worth visiting is the Old Bushmill's Distillery, which has been producing triple-distilled Irish whiskey since 1608. Go to www.discoverireland.com.