While in Belfast earlier this year, I noticed that only a small minority of tourists in the region were British. It’s easy to understand why – growing up in the 1990s I have vague childhood memories of ‘The Troubles’ on the news, of the bombings by the IRA and its fractions in England, and Gerry Adams’ pre-hipster beard – none of which screamed travel hotspot. But it’s actually this rich, if complicated, political history that makes Northern Ireland such a surprisingly fascinating destination. This is most apparent when exploring West Belfast, an area divided by Protestant and Catholic quite literally by the ‘Peace lines’ walls. Up to 25 feet in places and collectively miles long, since The Good Friday Agreement these have been used as a place for artists to express local and international political discourse and human rights.
Cunning black cab drivers have realised that these giant and unusual pieces of street art are a great draw for visitors and offer guided tours around the highlights. Along with the walls of the peace lines themselves whole houses have been covered with murals commemorating events from ‘The Troubles’ and Northern Ireland’s history. Stepping down Shankill Road (the most notorious street in Belfast) you’ll start to see these popping up on the horizon – from the innocent “Gold Rush 1969” to the menacing “Lone Gunman”, each with intriguing local stories and characters your guide will tell you all about.