Want to know what to see and what to shoot in Northern Ireland’s capital? David Cleland guides you through Belfast
Northern Ireland has become a popular tourist destination for visitors from all over the world. Especially popular is its capital city of Belfast.
History, film, food, sport and music have all played a role in making Belfast attractive, but it’s the culture and aesthetics that make Northern Ireland something special.
In terms of size, Belfast city centre has a reasonably small geographic footprint, and it is amazing to see large cruise ships docking at the port and hundreds of visitors disembarking to take the short walk to the centre.
The following photographic guide to Belfast barely scratches the surface of what the city has to offer and if you take the city in on foot you will discover a wealth of photographic opportunities along the way. I have approached the guide as a walking route from the famous Titanic Exhibition through to the leafy University area of south Belfast but it can obviously be approached in any order. If you want to get around the city a little quicker Belfast also offers an on-street bike hire system akin to other major cities.
1. The Titanic Buildings & Exhibition
This exhibition is well worth a visit, while the stunning Titanic building situated on the edge of Belfast Lough will instantly have you reaching for the camera. Look out for the original Titanic drawing rooms and the Titanic Film Studios that are both in the immediate area. Titanic Studios is the source of a number of feature films that were shot in the Belfast as well as the now very famous HBO series Game of Thrones.
2. Harland and Wolff
It makes sense that the Titanic exhibition resides where the famous Titanic ship was first built. The famous yellow Samson and Goliath cranes of Harland and Wolff are easily seen across the city, and if you are at the Titanic exhibition it is worth taking the short walk toward the Titanic Studios to view their current project.
The long-exposure image above was captured a few hundred meters from the Titanic building and shows the company working through the night on an oil rig refurbishment.
3. Cathedral Quarter
Walking from Titanic building towards the city centre will involve crossing the award-winning Lagan Weir footbridge and passing John Kindness’s iconic Big Fish mosaic sculpture. Both the bridge and sculpture offer great photographic opportunities, and the Belfast cityscape is also exceptionally photogenic from the footbridge.
The Cathedral Quarter, a short walk from the bridge, is home to St Anne’s Cathedral, the Mac Theatre and the famous University of Ulster Art College. The area is packed with restaurants and coffee shops, and if you are a connoisseur of fine coffee then Established Coffee is a great place to refuel after photographing St Anne’s. I have taken more than a few coffee and food photos in there!
If you are spending a few days in Belfast it is worth noting that the Cathedral Quarter really comes alive at night, with lots to see and lots to photograph.
4. City Hall
It’s a short walk from the Cathedral Quarter to City Hall. The city centre offers even more places to eat (Mourne Seafood being a firm favourite) and lots of shopping, including the iconic Victoria Square shopping complex.
The city’s architecture offers a range of photographic opportunities, and my advice would be look up above the shop fronts and capture the beauty of some of the historic buildings.
City Hall itself is a remarkable building and the grounds are generally open to the public, hosting a Christmas market in December (the best time of year for a Christmas Market) that offers some great street photography opportunities.
The image below is of the famous Albert Clock that leans slightly to one side, which can be seen as you cross the Lagan Weir footbridge and is a short walk from the city centre.
5. St George’s Market
Although the market runs during the week, it is best experienced (in my opinion) at the weekend. The busy cultural market on a Saturday morning offers a vast array of stalls selling everything from fine food to craft.
It’s a photography haven with the smoke and aroma from the various cooking stalls filling this 1800s building. The market has won many awards and you can easily fill a couple of hours soaking up the culture.
Also, keep your eyes open – I have bumped into more than one famous American actor whilst stocking up on my SD Bell’s Coffee.
6. Great Victoria Street
The next stop has to be Great Victoria Street, a short walk from St George’s Market back past the City Hall. The buildings in this area are stunning, from Church House to the Grand Opera House there is a wealth of architecture to photograph.
It isn’t something to celebrate but the Europa Hotel on Great Victoria Street was famously the most bombed hotel in Europe. Now, thankfully, it’s famous for fine food and excellent service.
The hotel offers a public bar and restaurant that looks out over the famous Crown Bar (owned by the National Trust). The Crown Bar, or to give it its proper title The Crown Liquor Saloon, is also popular with tourists (and celebrities) and is an essential location to visit. It’s a stunning building both inside and out.
7. The Queen’s University of Belfast
QUB has to be one of the must be beautiful buildings in the world. Only a one mile from the Crown bar, the main Lanyon Building is set back from the road. Take a wide-angle lens to capture the building, but do take time for a closer look around the grounds and entrance doors; there is a lot to photograph.
If you have time, the Elmwood Hall, Botanical Gardens and the Ulster Museum are all a few meters from the front of the Lanyon Building. It would be easy to spend a day photographing this area alone.
8. Lagan River Towpath
Keen walkers, runners and cyclists may also be interested in taking in the Lagan River Towpath. It’s possible to join the Lagan path close to the Titanic building and take the 20km trip to the city of Lisburn. It’s a popular, scenic route and offers a few photographic opportunities along the way, if you don’t fancy a run or cycle, Lisburn is a short train journey from Botanic Station (beside QUB) or Great Victoria Street Station (Beside the Europa) and is famous for its Linen Industry and features a popular museum in the centre. The Wallace Park and Castle Gardens offer stacks to photograph, especially the famous Wallace Fountains.
This whistle-stop photo route genuinely, barely scratches the surface of what Belfast has to offer. No matter how many photos you take, you will always long for a second visit.
Photographing Belfast isn’t just about architecture – try and capture the essence of the city and sample the culture. The food and drinks industry is booming. As well as the famous Bushmills whiskey, the country has an abundance of micro distilleries and breweries, so there are plenty of drinks to sample, from Whitewater’s Belfast Ale and Maggie’s Leap through to Shortcross Gin and of course a Guinness in the Crown.
Belfast has something to offer every photographer and every photographer’s family.
About the Author
David is a documentary and landscape photographer covering everything from dramatic long-exposure landscape photography through to live music. David is also an official Fujifilm X photographer. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Twitter