Belfast has always had plenty of historic attractions, with the relatively recent development of the Titanic Quarter adding a particularly impressive string to the northern city’s bow.
And a bow and a stern are, for many of us, what we immediately think of when we think of the Titanic Quarter – no prizes for guessing why – with a certain White Star Line ship drawing visitors up to Northern Ireland to the superb Titanic Museum.
However, although ‘just’ the museum itself is reason enough to hit up the road, there are other attractions to draw readers north – and with some urgency, too, thanks to a time-limited Game of Thrones attraction to take in.
But first things first – and the Titanic Museum itself should be the first port of call for any visitor to the quarter, which is a bustling hub of activity.
By now, there can be few people across the island who don’t know of the striking museum, which has proved a huge success since its 2012 opening.
Visitors are advised to book a slot (typically £19 per adult, children £0-8.50; see website), but once inside, there’s everything you could want to know about the RMS Titanic’s past, and even her present.
Indeed, the museum has an exhaustive amount of attractively presented information to delight any Titanic buff – from the smallest of rivets to the luxury of her state rooms, everything you could possibly want to know about the ship is found right here.
Just a rope’s throw away lies the SS Nomadic in dry dock (admission included in museum ticket), which captures an echo of her famous sister ship’s lost majesty.
As the last remaining ship of the once mighty White Star Line, the Nomadic (launched 1911) keeps a watchful eye over the museum that’s dedicated to her more famous sister vessel.
Restored in a similar livery as the Titanic, you can stroll her wooden decks and get a feeling for what passengers may have thought aboard her back in 1912 when the Nomadic ferried many First- and Second-Class passengers out to the now infamous ocean liner.
The Nomadic also makes similar impressive use of technology as the Titanic Museum to help bring the past to life, with some cleverly projected ‘holographic’ characters helping to flesh out her past.
The hours that you could spend in the Titanic Museum, followed by a stroll aboard the Nomadic, will certainly whet the appetite – making the Titanic Hotel the perfect spot to drop anchor for an hour or two, or for the night.
Set literally within a few feet of the museum, the smart and stylish hotel is fast becoming something of an attraction in its own right, thanks to its imaginatively presented links to the Titanic found throughout the building.
For example, it incorporates the Drawing Rooms in which the Titanic was born – you can wander through the rooms where, once upon a time, the ship’s very first rivets, beams and lines were sketched out by master engineers and shipbuilders, giving birth to the ship with every stroke of their pens and pencils.
The hotel also incorporates many other unique and fascinating features for the eye to alight on and the mind to take in – but hungry landlubbers may first want to decide on the hotel’s varied wining and dining options before diving into its features and history.
My travelling companion and I plumped for a window seat in the riveting hotel’s new restaurant, The Wolff Grill, with a view of the museum to our side, where an immediate decision was made to order a classic bite to eat.
And what else could you have at the Titanic’s birthplace, near the sea, besides some good old fish and chips?
That was possibly an undemanding order for the hotel’s award-winning chefs to conjure up, but my goodness, even this simple fare proved quite a treat, with the attentive (but not intrusive) staff creating a welcoming mood – always an appreciated touch.
Last but not least – and the reason why I’d urge going north sooner rather than later – was the time-limited Game of Thrones exhibition.
With its run extended until September 8, this exhibition (admission £17.50; see website for prices) set not even five minutes’ walk away from the Titanic Museum has a terrific range of key costumes and props from the smash-hit television show.
If you ever wanted to stand a foot or two away from intricate weapons, ponder doomed Ned Stark’s crypt statue, stare a White Walker in the blue eyes – or even take a dorky photo of yourself sitting on The Iron Throne – this is an absolute must-see exhibition for any fan.
And, as an added bonus, eagle-eyed visitors can even spot a little bit of King’s Landing itself – part of a still-standing set featuring ruined, dragon-scarred streets and greenscreens can be spotted behind the side of the exhibition’s car park.
Whether or not anything to do with dragons or thrones is enough to get you to fly up to Belfast in the next couple of weeks, you should definitely make the time to visit the Titanic Quarter.
If nothing else, Belfast has shown that it’s very much looking to the future, with the help of some superbly presented, respectful and researched tributes to her most famous ghost from the past.