The predominantly pedestrianized streets north from Donegall Square lead you into downtown Belfast. The main shopping street, Donegall Place, continues into Royal Avenue and houses familiar chain-store names. Castle Place, off Donegall Place, was once the hub of Victorian Belfast, and the grand old department stores here, in creams, pinks and browns, have been transformed into a plethora of voguish shops, though happily only the ground-floor frontages have been converted, leaving the lofty grandeur of the storeys above undisturbed.
East along Castle Lane or Castle Place leads to Ann Street and the High Street, interlinked by the narrow alleyways known as the Entries. You’ll stumble across some great old saloon bars down here, like The Morning Star in Pottinger’s Entry, with its large frosted windows and Parisian-café-like counter, and White’s Tavern in Winecellar Entry, which dates from the seventeenth century. Crown Entry was where the Society of United Irishmen was born, led by the Protestant triumvirate of Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken and Samuel Nielson. Nielson also printed his own newspaper in this area, the Northern Star; heavily influenced by the French revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, the newspaper’s inflammatory material led to his being hounded out of town.
From the High Street, a similar set of Entries used to run through to Waring Street to the north, but was destroyed by bombing in World War II. Still, this end of the High Street, with the River Farset running underground, is the oldest part of the city, its atmosphere in places redolent of the eighteenth century.