Leaving the competition far behind, Ireland’s Belfast has long since exchanged bombs for bucks and vendettas for Euros to bring their war-torn city firmly into the 21st century.
Belfast boasts Titanic-themed restaurants, Titanic tours, Titanic memorabilia and even a quarter of the city is devoted to Titanic memorabilia, punctuated by a £90m waterfront architectural accomplishment in the form of the Titanic museum, paid for by public funds.
Belfast’s regeneration, the consequence of hundreds of millions of pounds and Euro funding, as well as masses of private investment – is particularly evident on the waterfront where run-down wharves and dilapidated buildings have been transformed into bright public spaces, attractive bars and restaurants and displays of public art.
Belfast’s next area to be developed is the Titanic Quarter itself, which is likely to finally push this city across the troubled times threshold of no return, reducing the past to just a distant memory. The famous Harland and Wolff shipyards were once the greatest in the world, sending mighty oceangoing liners down the slipways.
Today, a dramatic structure designed to resemble the three prows of the most famous sister ships of all time, the Titanic, Britannic and Olympic, ensures that onlooker first impressions are memorably stunning.
Inside, second impressions are overwhelming. The huge entrance lobby with its massive plated walls prepares visitors for the sheer scale of the exhibits inside.
The special effects are stunning; the sinking of the great liner just a part of an amazing attraction telling the story of Belfast’s rise as a shipbuilding giant, its decline and present plans to rise again. The highlight though, has to be the ride through a mock-up of a giant liner being built.
Belfast without doubt is benefiting from huge sums pumped into its infrastructure from both the UK and EU governments. But there is a sense of ‘can do’ that is ensuring what was once Ireland’s largest and richest city is forging ahead to embrace a new era.