A village in the 17th century, this robust metropolis of a quarter of a million people - a third of Northern Ireland's population - has much in common with Liverpool and Manchester, those breezy cities across the Irish Sea. Belfast was the engine-room that drove the industrial revolution in Ulster. The development of industries like linen, rope-making and shipbuilding doubled the size of the town every ten years. The world's largest dry dock is here and the shipyard's giant cranes tower over the port.
Today the city and the river front are again being transformed by new development, centred around the Waterfront Hall and the Odyssey Arena. Much of the city centre is now pleasantly pedestrianized, with benches where you can sit and listen to the street musicians.
There are many exuberant Victorian and Edwardian buildings with elaborate sculptures over doors and windows. Stone-carved heads of gods and poets, scientists, kings and queens peer down from the high ledges of banks and old linen warehouses.