Belfast – I am genuinely amazed when I hear that people have come as tourists to visit Belfast. Not as day trippers from the Republic, but as full-blown Gee-whizz-George-take-a-picture tourists from the US of A or some other foreign part. I am not talking either about the revolutionary tourists who sometimes wash up to talk conflict resolution.
No, I am talking about the honest to goodness tourist who passes through, takes a few pics and turns up in the news saying what a wonderful time they had in Belfast and how friendly everyone was – except, of course, the ones who stole my camera or hit me over the head with a baseball bat and robbed me.
What surprises me the most is how anyone could get excited about visiting Belfast. There is nothing in Belfast. In fact, there is even less in Belfast than there used to be – and that is saying a lot. The Ulster Museum and the Lyric Theatre are shut and the only interesting things culturally in the city centre are the Linenhall and Central libraries. Libraries, mind you. I am as much a culture vulture on holidays as the next person, but I don’t visit local libraries while abroad. Cathedral Quarter? Please, spare me. A couple of ‘bohemian’ haunts but nothing of substance. Blink and you will have missed it. The Big Wheel? Nice attraction, but its popularity is as much about the paltry choice of activities available in the city centre as anything else. Something to do is admittedly better than nothing to do – but not by much.
And as for the shopping, Belfast city centre is one of the most unfriendly shopping environments for pedestrians who are all jammed on to footpaths that are too narrow and who must regularly navigate busy roads to get to the shops on the other side. (Why did the chicken cross the road? Because he was shopping in Belfast!). Added to that, is the varying nature of footpaths that greets shopper and tourist in Belfast. Will the path be tarmac or paved or cobbled or just full of holes? Pushing a buggy around the city centre is like undertaking a Top Gear challenge.
And tourists come to see this place; even at this time of the year; especially at this time of year? Why? Seriously, why?