Some cities are decorated with geometric designs spiraling up skyscrapers, but the murals in Belfast usually have a deeper meaning. The street art that covers the sides of buildings in the capital of Northern Ireland has traditionally been related back to the times of the Troubles.
The political meanings behind Belfast’s many murals are important, and some of the feelings about those politics are still a little raw, which is why exploring this unique street art with a local guide may be the best way to discover (and understand) the stories behind the colored walls. Guides can bring you into neighborhoods where residents still value their privacy and show off the most poignant memorials.
Though a central theme in many of Belfast’s murals is conflict, the street art scene has evolved in recent years thanks to an annual festival that takes place in the city’s Cathedral district. The area is full of bright walls and fantasy-fueled images created by international artists and there is always new work to discover.
From portraits to rainbow-hued dreamscapes, here is where to find the coolest murals in Belfast.
The Duel of Belfast
Irish artist Conor Harrington’s gray, black and white mural titled “The Duel of Belfast, Dance by Candlelight” was created as part of the Cathedral Quarter’s Arts Festival and quickly became the talk of the town. Given the current political situation, many see the now iconic piece at High Street Court as highlighting a waning empire that will do anything to hold on to its last bit of power. The artist himself has said that the piece is less about Britain and more about the Colonial West as a whole.
South East by Emic
This mural by Eion McGinn, better known as Emic, was created as part of Seehead Arts’ Hit the North festival. The two hands pointing South and East are surrounded by colored bricks, but there is a retro surprise hidden in the mural if you have the right accessories. The artist left a pair of 3-D glasses at the Sunflower Pub across Union Street so pop inside to ask to use them in order to see how the hands actually hover off the wall in three dimensions.
Andy Council's Phoenix
North Street is a part of Belfast's Cathedral District that sits in general disrepair. The abandoned buildings have become canvases for street artists like Andy Council from Bristol, England. His colorful phoenix is made out of a cityscape and is a symbol of rising from the ashes, which is probably commentary on the fact that this street was gutted by a fire in 2004.
MTO's Son of Protagoras
French street artist MTO created this poignant mural titled “Son of Protagoras” as part of the Hit the North festival in the Cathedral District in 2014. The crouching figure holds a dove of peace who has been pierced by two red arrows, each with a symbol that alludes to the Protestant and Catholic churches — and thus has ties to the time of the Troubles. You can see the mythical figure at 21 Talbot Street, strategically placed outside the Northern Ireland War Memorial.
Pang on Hill Street
Close to the iconic Duel of Belfast on Hill Street is of Pang’s works that are part of a series titled “Miniature Asshole.” The fun mural by the London-based artist offers a break from the usual political themes and features her cheeky character hard at work covering up a portrait by Rembrandt.
Dank on Talbot Street
Dan Kitchener, sometimes better known as Dank, created this captivating mural called "Blurry Eyed" on Talbot Street. Many think that rainy cityscape has a bit of a Blade Runner feel, with lights that run off the wall and seem to pull the viewer in. The metropolitan scene fits perfectly with the buzz of busy Talbot Street, where you can find it next to another piece by Spanish artist Sabek.
David Bowie by VisualWaste
The local artist known as Visual Waste created this striking memorial dedicated to the late David Bowie. The beloved performer seems to be floating through the galaxy in this fun portrait outside The Hudson Bar on Gresham Street. Visual Waste (real name Dean Kane) is a part of the scene that has been pushing street art past the usual political themes that have traditionally been found in Belfast murals.
Bobby Sands on Falls Road
One of the most famous political murals in Belfast immortalizes Bobby Sands, a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army who was jailed and died in prison after a hunger strike which lasted 66 days. The tribute to Sands can be seen on the side Sinn Fein headquarters at 49 Falls Road.
George Best on Blythe Street
Sports fans can't miss the mural of hometown hero George Best. The international soccer star came from Belfast and can now be seen on Blythe Street, kicking a ball alongside the statistics that defined his amazing career.
Kent Street's Golden Lion Monkey
The Golden Lion Monkey on Kent Street by artist Louis is another striking mural in Belfast. The spray-painted lines that make up his tussled mane seem simultaneously free and carefully planned. The wild colors and thoughtful eyes pop against the black background, but don’t be afraid to get in close to admire the details of each colorful slash of fur.