Troubles tours help Belfast to top four spot on tourism list
Belfast has been named one of the top places to visit in Europe, with the city's troubled history now part of the attraction.
The city is fourth in a new list compiled by leading review site TripAdvisor.
Visitors have ranked Troubles walks and taxi tours, which offer a glimpse into the city's dark past, among the best travel experiences in the world.
Belfast beat Edinburgh, which was ranked ninth, and Dublin, which came in at number 10 on the list.
It recognises the top places in the world for travellers to do local tours and activities based on the combined average destination ratings and reviews on TripAdvisor.
The top-ranked city was Tromso in Norway, with St Petersburg in Russia second and Santorini in Greece third. Belfast came next, with Funchal in Portugal ranked fifth for travel experiences.
Hayley Coleman from TripAdvisor said it reveals travellers' growing appetite and appreciation for experiences beyond Europe's bigger cities.
"With places like Tromso, Belfast and Funchal all ranking amongst Europe's top destinations for experiences, it's clear travellers are breaking away from the big cities and thoroughly enjoying it," she added.
But tour operators said more could be done to boost Belfast's modern-day appeal.
Dead Centre Tours founder Mark Wylie (50) said he is not surprised that Belfast ranks highly on the TripAdvisor list.
However, he also slammed politicians for squandering the opportunity to establish Northern Ireland as a world leader in peace and reconciliation studies.
"People are interested in our past and I think this sector will continue to grow," he said.
"It's not morbid. Everybody in the world has had some exposure to the conflict which took place here and they want to understand it better, but they also want to celebrate with us and share in our hope for the future.
"It's a great pity that our politicians have failed to seize this real opportunity."
His History of Terror tour, which has been voted number one on TripAdvisor, attracted 10,000 tourists in the last year in addition to the large groups of university students who come from the US and all over Europe to learn about peace and reconciliation.
"We have seen massive growth since we started five years ago and I think that's because we deliberately set out to provide a non-biased account of the Troubles," Mr Wylie added. "We also seek to show people how far the city has come since 1998."
The dark history tour, provided by former lecturer and peace-builder Paul Donnelly, is unique because it is subject to Belfast City Council and Tourism NI regulations.
"We did that voluntarily, which means we get 'secret shopped'. I think more tours need to be regulated because tourists deserve to know that they are getting a non-political account of what happened here."
The two hour and 15 minute walking tour takes in the sites of some of the most chilling atrocities which occurred within a 1.5 mile radius of the city during the Troubles.
It ends at the Beacon of Hope monument on Oxford Street where two soldiers and four civilians were blown up in one of 23 Provisional IRA bombs planted around the city on July 21, 1972.
Another three people were killed and 130 were injured when 19 of the bombs exploded on what became known as Bloody Friday.
"That location perfectly contrasts two cities - the Belfast of the 1970s and the Belfast of today," Mr Wylie added.