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The city home of both education and culture


Queen's University
Belfast Botanic Gardens
Lyric Theatre
Belfast Festival
This is the southern-most of Belfast's four quarters. In the early 19th century, most of it was nothing but farmland. Queen's University, from which the area takes its name, only came into being later on. The transformation began when a few rich merchants began to build large town houses here. In 1849 it was deemed an appropriate location for the Queen's College, a new centre of education in Belfast. This soon evolved into the huge facility in place today. Altogether, it educates around 25,000 students. Well-known graduates include Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prize-winning poet, and many of Northern Ireland's senior political figures.
The university's central hub is the Lanyon building. Its tall tower was based on Magdalene College in Oxford. Just inside the main entranceway is a statue of Galileo, the famous philosopher and physicist. He seems deep in thought, but some students have noticed a trick of light that makes it look a bit like he's winking. This happens just once a day, at precisely 11 minutes past 11.
The building's named after its architect, Charles Lanyon, an Englishman who had a huge effect on Northern Ireland. He helped build the Antrim Coast Road, which has since become known as the UK's best drive. Elsewhere in the Queen's Quarter, he designed a huge cast iron glasshouse called "Palm House". It was one of the first of its kind in the world. As the central attraction of the Belfast Botanic Gardens, it's crammed with all sorts of unusual plants, most notably an Australian lily that's 11 metres tall!
The garden's other glass house - the Tropical Ravine - is a more recent construction. Its unusual design recreates a real ravine, transplanted from some exotic country thousands of miles away. Visitors can gaze into its depths from a raised balcony on either side.
As a university district, the Queen's Quarter is naturally influenced by its population of smart young people. They've helped transform this into Belfast's brightest cultural district. A key part of the scene is the Lyric Theatre. After being established in 1951, it has acted as a training ground for such famous actors as Liam Neeson. A recent redevelopment, which transformed the main auditorium and added a smaller performance space, cemented the theatre's place at the centre of Belfast's acting world.
A similarly important establishment is the Queen's Film Theatre. After benefiting from a similar refurbishment, this is now the biggest cultural cinema in all of Ireland. It hosts the majority of April's annual Belfast Film Festival, which has grown from its modest beginnings in the mid-90s to a popular city-wide event. When films aren't being screened at cinemas, they're being shown in all sorts of weird places, like churches, boats and castles.
An even bigger occasion on the city's calendar is the Belfast Festival at Queen's, hosted every autumn by the university. Over its half-decade of history, it has grown into the biggest arts festival in the country. It covers all genres and styles, from literature to comedy.
Of course, students don't spend every minute of their time being creative. Another symptom of their presence is the large number of bars and clubs scattered throughout each corner of the Queen's Quarter. Restaurants and cafes are similarly omnipresent.
Shoppers, meanwhile, will be pleased to find that every street in the Quarter has its own distinct character. Botanic Avenue stocks a more unusual range of gifts and accessories, while antique hunters should head for Donegall Pass. The fanciest street of all is The Lisburn Road. Its endless selection of designers clothes will brighten up any wardrobe and put a dent in any wallet. It's known as "Belfast's Bond Street", and is arguably the busiest mile of retail space in Northern Ireland.
Visitor Information
Belfast Tourist Information Centre, 47 Donegall Place, BT1 5AD. Tel: 028 9024 6609
Belfast Botanic Gardens are open daily, April to August, until 9pm (shorter opening times at other times). Entry is FREE. College Park, Botanic Avenue, Belfast, BT7 1LP Tel: 028 9031 4762

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