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As a city, we've heard more about its bombings than its bars. But Belfast is emerging as a cultural force to be reckoned with. Werds: Louisa Pearson

It‘s l()..‘~()pm on a Saturday night and I‘m standing in Belfast city centre. I'm beginning to feel slightly trnsettled as I realise the roads arotrnd me are completely deserted. There really isn't another person in sight. Belfast‘s trendiest new night—club. .‘ylilk. can't he more than a few streets away. but for some reason everyone else seems to have taken a taxi. Ten rnimrtes later. after a hurried walk casting suspicious glances at parked cars. dark alleyways and almost everything else in sight. I'm in the qtreue. surrounded by lively clubbers. and this could he any city in the l'ls'.

In a city with a reputation for terrorism. visitors may feel a little apprehensive. ;\s the peace process continues

along its difficult path. the political situation is a fact of

everyday life. You might be worried about treading on toes in a Basil l5awlty-esque ‘don't mention the war" sense. but most of the people I met on my visit were incredibly open. ()ne of the best ways to get yourself acclimatised is on a Bailey‘s llistorical Pub Tour (028 9268 3665). While

Dublin has gone almost irreversibly down the road of

'()irishness‘. embellished with shamrocks and stag and hen nights. Belfast boasts about its ‘craic' without laying it on too thick. .-\s soon as you meet your guide you realise that this isn't just another pub crawl. The ladies and gents who lead the tour are determined to share the history and future of their city. and you get an overwhelming sense that while the politicians are stumbling. the people of Belfast are forging ahead. giving the city back its confidence. It transpires that the city‘s eerie quietness at night is a throwlmck to several years ago when curfews were in place. Locals got used to heading out to the strhtrrhs for their night out and it's proving to he a long process to encourage them back. But as drinking dens go there are sortie gems to he found. The (‘rown Liquor Saloon is Belfast‘s best known hostelry. Owned by the National Trust. this perfectly preserved Victorian bar with its gas lighting and stained glass. sticks in the memory. as does the tale of how the founding puhlicans. a Roman (‘atholic and Protestant man and wife team. compromised by using the name '(‘rown'

110 THELISTS- l8 Jar“ 2001

but having a mosaic of that same item in front of the door so you could wipe your feet on it on the way in. As you wind your way round Belfast‘s traditional pubs you'll learn more in a couple of hours than through reading any amount of background material.

.-\t the opposite end of the spectrum. ask someone who last visited Belfast five years ago about what's changed. and they'll point you towards the modern bars and restaurants cropping tip everywhere. Wherever you look you‘ll see curved chrome and bleached pine styling. satisfying the demand of a young population for style bars and clubs to he seen in. Bob‘s. and accompanying club Storm. is one of the most popular (38 Lisbur'n Road. 028 9033 2520. www.bobsbelfast.com) and it even puts on a mini-hus running between linked bars. The lily Bar (5—6 Lower Crescent. 028 9023 5666) is famed for its cocktails and has l)Js from local station (‘ool l".\l. while the (iaudi-inspired Madisons (59-63 Botanic Avenue. 028 9033 00-10) incorporates a nightclub and hotel if you want everything in one place. If you want to get dressed up for a weekend's clubbing. Belfast has become a viable destination.

lf pubs and clubs really aren‘t your thing you can do river trips. museums. galleries or alternatively hire a car and head up the coast. It only takes a few hours to reach the (iiant's (‘atrseway and the craggy scenery is impressive. Having spent at least an hour arguing over it. I can confirm that the coastline clearly viewed from l‘air Head is bonnie Scotland. and not some previously uncharted island. In fact. looking across the water and seeing how close the two countries are. it‘ll make you wonder why you haven‘t visited Northern Ireland before. it's a place determined to move on and you can have a great time being part of that process.

The List travelled to Belfast as a guest of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB). For general information about holidays to Belfast and Northern Ireland, call the NITB information line on 08701 555 250 or visit the website at www.discovernorthernireland.com


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