European tourism has long been synonymous with such iconic landmarks as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Acropolis in Athens or the Prado in Madrid. But a new attraction in the unlikely tourist destination of Northern Ireland has overtaken them all, according to a recent survey.
The Titanic attraction in Belfast became Europe’s top travel destination for 2016, according to the World Travel Awards, an honor voted on and bestowed by several hundred thousand industry professionals and members of the public.
The ill-fated ship was first built in Belfast, and the attraction honors the memory of what was then the largest ship afloat, as well as a feat of human engineering. The attraction features replica cabins and art installations, as well as a walking tour of the slipways where the ship was built.
Since its inauguration in 2012, 100 years after the ship sank, some 3 million people from around the world have visited the Titanic Belfast. Queen Elizabeth II, as well as “Titanic” film director James Cameron have been among that number of visitors in the past four years.
“It’s such a huge accolade for us,” Eimear Lewis, communications manager for Titanic Belfast, told Travel + Lesiure of the recent award. “It’s really a testament to the strength of the Titanic story.”
Northern Ireland—and Belfast in particular—has long struggled to attract visitors to its museums, churches and nightlife. A 30-year civil conflict raged in the region until 1998, leaving thousands dead and scaring off many potential visitors to the area.
In the nearly 20 years of relative peace, however, tourism to the region has begun to rebound, and Northern Ireland has looked to market its striking natural beauty and cultural attractions.
With HBO smash hit “Game of Thrones” being filmed in locations near Belfast, fans of the series in particular have flocked to the region in recent years to visit some of the most famous locations for the show’s striking scenery.
“We were known for many other things, and the Titanic story was never really celebrated,” said Lewis. “It’s very much about the new Belfast.”