Belfast Botanic Gardens & Palm House
Dating from 1828, these gardens were established by the Belfast Botanic and Horticultural Society. Ten years later they gained a glass house, or conservatory, designed by noted Belfast architect Charles Lanyon. Now known as the Palm House, this unique building is one of the earliest examples of curvilinear cast-iron glass-house construction. It contains a good variety of tropical plants, including sugar cane, coffee, cinnamon, banana, aloe, ivory nut, rubber, bamboo, guava, and spindly birds-of-paradise. If the weather’s fine, stroll in the outdoor rose gardens, first established in 1927.
In a picturesque mountain park on the slopes of Cave Hill overlooking the city, this zoo was founded in 1920 as Bellevue Gardens, and modernized completely in recent years. It emphasizes conservation, education, and breeding rare species, including Hawaiian geese, Indian lions, red lechwe, and golden lion tamarinds.
Fernhill House: The People’s Museum
An educational little museum (if not an unbiased one) on Glencairn Road, beyond the end of Shankill Road, is a re-creation of Protestant Belfast house as it would have been in the 1930s. Its exhibitions trace the history of the area through Home Rule, war and the continuing tensions, and thus may answer many questions you might have.
Lagan Weir & Visitors Center
By the 1980s, decades of pollution had left the River Lagan, once the center of Belfast life, a filthy mess. In the 1990s, a clean-up program and the addition of the Lagan Weir gradually brought the river back to life, and today it holds eels, salmon, and sea trout. The change is commemorated in the ceramic statue Bigfish, a giant salmon covered in tiles that tell the history of the city and its river. The Lagan Lookout Visitor Center offers an up-close and entertaining look at how the weir works. The hands-on center has computers and interactive activities to tell the tale.
Built in the grand Classical Renaissance style, with an Italian marble interior, this excellent museum crams in 9,000 years of Irish history with exhibits on art, furniture, ceramics, costume, industrial heritage, and a permanent display of products “Made in Belfast.” One of the best-known exhibits is the collection of gold and silver jewelry recovered by divers in 1968 off the Antrim coast from the 1588 wreckage of the Armada treasure ship Girona. Check out the “Early Ireland” gallery, which has an extensive, cleverly displayed collection of prehistoric artifacts of stone and bronze from Northern Ireland’s many ancient archaeological sites.