Belfast Telegraph

Video: Walking tour of Belfast's dark days beats Harry Potter in top travel website awards

Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

A Belfast Troubles walking tour is proving more popular than Harry Potter after making it into the top five experiences in a leading travel website's awards.

The two-hour-and-15-minute stroll through city centre past and present, operated by DC Tours, ranks fourth in the UK visitor experience list of TripAdvisor's Traveller's Choice Awards - making it the best-rated attraction outside London.

Belfast Troubles City Centre Walking Tour, started six years ago by Mark Wylie and Paul Donnelly, also proved more popular than the Royal Mile Guided Walking Tour in Edinburgh and beat London's Harry Potter Walking Tour for Muggles in the list.

Also among the most popular was the Game Of Thrones and Giant's Causeway Tour hosted by McComb's Coach Travel, which ranked as number 10 in the top UK travel experiences.

The list is compiled according to reviews, opinions and popularity on TripAdvisor, and Mark Wylie from DC Tours said he's delighted at the response.

"We were at the NI Tourism Awards a few weeks ago and were delighted to come away highly commended in the 'authentic Northern Ireland Experience' category. That was awesome, a big one for us, but this is wonderful," he added.

"It's fantastic to get such positive feedback for what we're been trying to do.

"I started this six years ago with my friend Paul Donnelly, who had been a political and Irish history lecturer.

"Paul and I were both born in 1968 and lived through the Troubles. We grew up here and wanted to show visitors what that was like and show just how far Belfast has grown as a city.

"We didn't want this tour to come from one perspective or another. The city centre was a neutral zone and we thought we had to tell the story of Belfast from the civilian point of view.

Mark Wylie beside the Beacon of Hope sculpture in Belfast
Mark Wylie beside the Beacon of Hope sculpture in Belfast
Murals in Commercial Court
The murals on the walls beside the Black Box in Hill Street
Hill Street

"We were delighted when it gained in popularity. We told the story factually, like it was, and a lot of that is down to Paul and our other guide Gabe Nelson. We still take the tours ourselves and it's the story of the city centre, the dark days.

"We use a photo file showing how things looked in the early 1970s (and) how much things have changed, from City Hall through to the Cathedral Quarter, which has evolved and been reborn as a hub for the nightlife in the centre."

Mark couldn't be happier about the response to the tours.

"We were only doing this part-time for the first few years, but two years ago the numbers started to increase and a lot of that was down to exposure online," he explained.

"Up until then we'd mainly attracted foreign visitors, but when we were involved in a live podcast with 'Blindboy Boatclub', or Dave Chambers, who's the number one podcaster in Ireland - he has millions of followers - virtually overnight the numbers interested in taking the tour exploded.

"We started getting people from all over Ireland and the sheer volume meant we decided to do this full-time. That's how great online coverage can be.

"It's educational and fact-based. It's a direct retelling of the events that shaped the city in the 1970s, an insight into how the conflict of the 1970s set the patterns for the following 30 years, the bomb attacks, the development of the 'ring of steel' and the effects that had on the lives of the normal people living here.

"I think the fact that it's truthful and honest is what attracts people. It's an insight into the reality of what it was like to live here, but the optimism shines through. It's a complete journey from conflict to peace."

The tours take in City Hall, the Cathedral Quarter and finish off beside the Beacon of Hope by the Lagan.

"When you look at that skyline from there, you realise that all the infrastructure, all those buildings, have only gone up in the last 30 years," Mark said.

"Ours is a story of resurgence and people like to hear an unbiased and accurate historical account from the civilian perspective. People want to celebrate the hard work that has gone in to turning Belfast into the city it is today (and) enjoy how far we have come.

"I hope our tour has helped visitors from all over Ireland and across the world fall in love with this city. We're delighted that what we set out to achieve in those early days is working."

The tour has already racked up 514 'excellent' reviews' on the travel website.

Tours leave from Belfast City Hall and cost £18. See deadcentretours.com for details

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