The Cultural Hotspot of Belfast: Cathedral Quarter
Taking its name from St. Anne’s Cathedral, the Cathedral Quarter is home to a bustling culture and arts scene, cosy pubs, underground music venues and a host of contemporary restaurants.
The Cathedral Quarter in Belfast is a developing area of the city. It also contains the former “Little Italy” area. The Cathedral Quarter extends out to the old merchant quarter of the city.
St Anne’s Cathedral lies right in the centre of the Cathedral Quarter. St. Anne’s or Belfast Cathedral is a Church of Ireland cathedral.
The History of the Cathedral Quarter
It was the centre of Belfast’s trade and warehousing district, where the linen and shipbuilding industries were based. The quarter features some of Belfast’s oldest buildings and thoroughfares.
Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter: A Cultural Hub
Although the area fell into a state of disrepair in the twentieth century. It has recently re-emerged as a ‘cultural quarter’. Because of the recent growth in arts – and culture-based organizations that are located there, including Northern Visions TV, The Safehouse Arts Gallery, Print Workshop and Belfast’s small Zen Meditation community.
The area also boasts a rich literary heritage as The Northern Whig. A popular newspaper that was circulated from 1824 until 1963, was based there. Today, its building has been transformed into a popular pub and restaurant. The Irish News, another well-known newspaper, still has its head office on Donegall Street.
Another well-known pub in the area is named after Belfast poet John Hewitt. The pub showcases noteworthy artwork and photographs for sale.
Attractions inside the Cathedral Quarter
St Anne’s Cathedral
Built-in 1899 on the site of Belfast’s first Church of Ireland Episcopal parish, St. Anne’s is a neo-Romanesque building. The Cathedral was designed by Sir Thomas Drew and the foundation stone was laid on 6 September 1899 by the Countess of Shaftesbury. It was initially constructed around the old parish church of St Anne until 31 December 1903 when the old church was demolished.
In 1925, the west front of the cathedral was built as a memorial to commemorate the Ulstermen and women who served and died in WWI.
Writer’s Square, which is located directly opposite the Cathedral, celebrates Belfast’s literary past with quotations from famous local writers carved into the stone underfoot.
St. Anne’s Square is equivalent to the European Plaza. Throughout the year, the square hosts a wide variety of outdoor performances as part of numerous arts festivals in the city.
The MAC Theatre
Opened in 2012, the MAC is a contemporary multi-arts venue comprising several galleries and performance spaces.
The Black Box
A cultural venue where local musicians, performers and poets hone their craft and visitors are able to experience the underground cultural scene of Northern Ireland’s capital.
The Albert Memorial Clock
Known as Belfast’s ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’, the Albert Memorial Clock was erected in 1853 as a memorial to Prince Albert.
Belfast’s Custom House
A popular site for public speakers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was also located within the Quarter. The location hosted numerous lively and spontaneous debates on many subjects. Nowadays, Custom House Square hosts activities, performances that are mainly family-oriented. (more on this below!)
Here is a 360 Degree Video on The Custom House –
University of Ulster
North Street is home to many of most well-known bars and venues.
Northern Visions Television (NVTV)
NVTV is now the only local community station in Northern Ireland and is operated by the Northern Visions media and art project. Its current headquarters are located in the Belfast Cathedral Quarter.
Belfast Exposed Photography
It is Northern Ireland’s principal gallery of contemporary photography, commissioning, publishing and showing work by local and international photographers.
The Belfast Print Workshop
Established in 1977, BPW offers an extensive programme of practical courses, alongside open studios and demonstrations, designed to enhance public knowledge of printmaking.
Belfast Community Circus School
The Community Circus School produces a number of shows featuring young people each year.
Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival
The Arts Festival is an annual festival of music, comedy, theatre, art and literature. The festival takes place in the first weeks of May in the Cathedral Quarter, featuring many local and international performers.
Belfast Film Festival
Founded in 1995, the Belfast Film Festival promotes film education and practical filmmaking skills and showcases local talent alongside the best in new international cinema.
Northern Ireland War Memorial
A recently established commemorative museum and exhibition space in Talbot Street adjacent to the Cathedral Quarter.
The Big Fish
Also known as Bigfish is a sculpture by Irish artist John Kindness which was made in 1999 and placed in Donegall Quay in Belfast. It is made of ceramic tiles which have a unique design or print on each one. It is a very popular stop-off point for tourists or locals in Belfast and it overlooks the River Lagan.
Our favourite – The Big Fish in a 360 Degrees Video
The giant salmon is made up of images from Belfast past and present. Everything is covered – from people who travelled on the Titanic to whiskey to an Ulster Fry!
To go into more detail on the Custom House Square ( a favourite spot of ours for events! )
Custom House Square
Inaugurated in 2004, the Custom House Square is a public open space located to the west of the Custom House in Belfast. The area dates back to the 1700s when it was utilized as the Salthouse Dock and later on as the Lime Kiln Dock.
The docks were backfilled in 1846 to create Albert Square and Queen’s Square and the Custom House was built from 1854 to 1857, followed by the Albert Memorial Clock between 1865 and 1870. By the late 20th century the region had become dominated by car parking areas, road infrastructure and bus traffic.
The Albert Memorial Clock – known locally as the Albert Clock was built in 1869 and cost £2,500 – it was built by Fitzpatrick brothers builders and is 113 feet tall. Since it was built on wooden piles on reclaimed land from the Farset River – the top of the tower leans around 4 feet off centre. You can see from the pictures in this article – the clock tower features flying buttresses with lions – with a statue of Prince Albert in robes of a Knight of the Garter on one side. The clock itself was made by Francis Moore of High Street Belfast.
In the 2000s, the Calder Fountain was restored and moved to a location nearer to its original position. On the historic line of the culverted Farset River, a linear water feature was installed.
More on Custom Square House
The Customs House is a Victorian building, designed by the architect Charles Lanyon (1813-1889) in the High Italian Renaissance or “Palazzo” style, established at a time when Belfast became one of the great industrial and trading centres of Victorian England.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, orators would speak to the crowds right at the steps of the Customs House and many events erupted from this place that impacted dramatically in Ireland’s legacy.
Author Anthony Trollope also worked for the General Post Office at the Customs House in Belfast for a number of years as he lived in the city. Aside from his literary career, Trollope was also the inventor of the pillar-box.
Nowadays, the Custom House hosts various activities from family-orientated performances and activities to large-scale music concerts, D.J. performances and circus-style performance events for both adults and children.
Game Of Thrones: White Walkers Pay a Visit to Custom House Square
The infamous White Walkers from the hit HBO show Game of Thrones, that is filmed in Belfast, hit Custom House Square in the city and turned the famous fountains to ice. The exhibitions and installations all part of Tourism Ireland’s latest social media campaign, created in partnership with HBO® to showcase Northern Ireland around the world.
The campaign has successfully organized a series of Game of Thrones-themed events – with fantastical props from the hit TV series appearing in surprising locations around Belfast and Northern Ireland.
Commenting on their great efforts, Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said, “We are delighted to continue our partnership with HBO in 2015, to highlight Belfast and Northern Ireland – through the exciting events of Game of Thrones – on the global stage. The campaign is building on the huge success of last year – when our campaign generated almost one million clicks, comments and shares and reached about 100 million fans across the world. We are reaching out to the show’s global fanbase.
Bringing Northern Ireland to the attention of Game of Thrones fans worldwide in a fun and innovative way. The fans will see our videos and photos, spiking their curiosity about the landscapes and locations featured in the series and inspiring them to come and explore them for themselves.”
Architecture and Design of the Custom House
Designed in the High Italian Renaissance or “Palazzo” style, visitors will find on the side of the building that faces the river statues of angels and classical deities that seem to represent Manufacture, Commerce, Industry and Peace, while the figures in the centre represent Britannia, Neptune and Mercury.
Some more photos from the area –
Nearby Attractions (we like our Quarters!)
Titanic Quarter is a large-scale waterfront project, comprising historic maritime landmarks, film studios, education facilities, residential apartments, an entertainment district, and the world’s largest Titanic-themed attraction located at Belfast Harbour, (previously known as Queen’s Island). The site is spread out over 185 acres that were previously occupied by the Harland and Wolff shipyard, which designed and built the RMS Titanic.
In September 2011, the Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education (now Belfast Metropolitan College) was moved to a new campus in Titanic Quarter, estimated at £44 million. It is also considered to be the largest education facility in Northern Ireland.
More Developments in the Titanic Quarter
The Belfast Harbour Marina opened in 2009 as part of the Tall Ships Festival. It is located in the centre of Titanic Quarter and features 40 berths. The facility was funded by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Tall Ships 2009 Ltd.
In November 2010 the first hotel, a Premier Inn with onsite restaurant, opened in Titanic Quarter. Belfast Audi, operated by the Agnew Group, opened its new headquarters in the same month.
The first residential development in the Titanic Quarter was completed in December 2010. The Arc comprises apartments and shops and is located adjacent to Abercorn Basin.
The new £30 million headquarters of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland opened at 2 Titanic Boulevard on April 2011. With £425 million of investment completed to date, 18,000 people live in Titanic Quarter today. It also includes one of Europe’s most advanced telecoms infrastructure.
Belfast newest hotel has opened its door in the heart of the Titanic Quarter, The Titanic Hotel in September 2017. This authentic and unique hotel boasts 119 bedrooms and is situated in the former headquarters of Harland and Wolff, builders of the historic RMS Titanic.
In the near future, Titanic Quarter is in line for even more redevelopments with a focus on tourism, business, leisure and education. It is expected to take upwards of 30 years for the full redevelopment of the area.
Which is your favourite area in Belfast? Is it Cathedral Quarter, Custom Square House or Titanic Quarter? Maybe somewhere we haven’t mentioned, be sure to let us know in the comments below.
Also, don’t forget to check out some of our other blogs about places and attractions in Northern Ireland and Ireland: Best Bars to visit in Belfast | Best Restaurants to visit in Belfast | Commerical Court | Culture Night | Best Tourist Attractions in Northern Ireland