Black taxi tours of Belfast
Go to Paris, climb the Eiffel Tower. Go to Spain, enjoy some tapas. Go to Belfast, get driven around the sites of decades of armed conflict in the back of a black taxi. In some destinations there are things you just have to do, and I'd take Belfast's offering over tiny plates of food any day.
Belfast's regal Victorian city centre fans out from the grand white-stoned behemoth of Belfast City Hall and the many shopping streets are definitely pleasant. To really get the most out of the city though, you should try to get underneath the place's skin and the best way to do that is the black taxi tour.
The idea is that a local taxi driver/tour guide who lived through the period euphemistically referred to as the The Troubles will take you around the sites linked to events that shut Belfast off from the world for decades. The major sites on a tour usually include the Peace Wall, which is a brick and steal divider running between Catholic and Protestant estates, remembrance gardens to the victims of the conflict and the many storytelling murals jazzing up walls around the city. The tours take in the estates around the Catholic Falls Road and the Protestant Shankhill Road that you almost certainly wouldn't voluntarily find yourself in.
A word of warning, these tours are very sobering experiences. The modern episode of the struggle between the mainly Catholic Republicans, Protestant Loyalists and the British Armed Forces was a time of great violence and brutality. Your 90-minute or so tour will be almost unrelenting in its bleak portrayal of deeds and events that seem almost unreal to those who weren't there. One of the real selling points of this kind of sightseeing activity though is that the guides lighten up a heavy story with black humour, witty sarcasm and optimism about the current climate in the city and the city's bright future..
Do a little bit of research before booking to find a recommended company and make sure you pre-book and arrange a pick up at one of the city centre's hotels. Since the boom of these tours, there has been increase of any old cabbie calling themselves a tour guide. .We recommend Cab Tours NI for a great experience. Even then the two tours we've done have been fantastic but they are still a little one-sided as most of the time is spent on the Republican story with just a cursory visit given to the Loyalist areas. However, you can - and should to get the most out of it - ask as many questions as you want as the guides are always happy to chat.
If you come to Belfast and ignore it's history, you'll leave the city wondering what all the fuss is about so one of these tours is, in our opinion, essential.