I’m far from an expert on East Belfast since I left Northern Ireland back in 2011, when the “Titanic Quarter” didn’t yet exist, and East Belfast was kind of a neglected no-go area for me in the centre of Belfast. At least it wasn’t an area I’d ever consider going to, but there was no real reason for me to be there anyway. However this has undoubtedly changed since this time, partly, I’m guessing, due to the new Visit Eastside tourist initiative. But also because of the progressing peacetimes and accessibility of tourism in Belfast and Northern Ireland. So I was surprised on my first time to CS Lewis Square Belfast on a night at the Freight Restaurant when I found a completely revamped and somewhat trendy new face of East Belfast. And while you do still get the Paramilitary murals and flags in East Belfast, they do feel more a sign of local culture these days, and even add to tourist interest. Because it is otherwise a safe and colourful area to explore. And, in many ways, CS Lewis Square has been central to it all.
CS Lewis Square Belfast
CS Lewis Square Belfast is really not a large space, and most of the park is in fact taken up by a massive flat square area where kids play on skateboards and bikes and whatnot. Otherwise the main feature of the space is the 7 statues inspired by C.S Lewis and his Chronicles of Narnia which include Mr Tumnus, Mr and Mrs Beaver, Maugrim, the Robin, the White Witch, the Stone Table and, of course, Aslan. Not to forget the initial lifesize statue of the author himself opening his wardrobe (a sculpture known as The Searcher). So it will take no longer than 10-minutes to explore and find each sculpture, where the bird would be the trickier to track down. So I do recommend pairing a visit with at least a snack at “JACK Coffee Bar”, or, more so, some proper decent grub at Freight Restaurant (opens 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM). Then there are other local tourist interests shared at the adjoining EastSide Visitor Centre.
The EastSide Visitor Centre
Our 2nd visit to CS Lewis Square was during a wee dander in near-ish Victoria Park. An attraction in itself next to the iconic Harland and Wolff Cranes of Belfast’s Titanic Quarter. So we were searching for nearby cafes at the time, only to find the nearest notable option was at The Eastside Visitor Centre around 1km away. So we followed a walk past some formerly sketchy parts of East Belfast, however, they have also undergone a complete facelift in recent years, and the purpose of The Eastside Visitor Centre is to promote these areas (Connswater and Comber Greenways). So the route follows a greenway past the back of the Oval (Glentoran’s Football Pitch), before crossing the James Ellis Bridge, and finally arriving at CS Lewis Square. Where the Visitor Centre (website here) is a bit like a cafe (JACK Coffee Bar) which also shares local information boards, and free maps, to help better explore the surrounding area. The venue is quite big as well, with upstairs seating overlooking CS Lewis Square, and the Stone Table, from above.
Freight Belfast: Restaurant
My first time at CS Lewis Square was unintentional, at least I was solely there for a family dinner at the Freight Belfast Restaurant (which had just been rebranded from Pot Kettle Black). Anyway, I can’t remember the exacts of our eats (although it does get a thumbs up from any proper food groups in Belfast). But I do remember being completely surprised at how the food scene has evolved in Belfast since the cliches of exposed walls, metro tiles, Edison light bulbs, and just their obscene dislike for plates. And the ideas and design are at least far more refined, which is kind of obvious at Freight, considering the restaurant is literally located in a shipping container (The Containers). They also have “Bring Your Own Bottle” so it’s a good venue to get drunk for cheap. Anyway, here’s their Facebook.
How to Get to CS Lewis Square?
I’m still quite surprised at just how amiable East Belfast is, and it would now be half-and-half with murals between paramilitary propaganda, and East Belfast’s newfound love for CS Lewis and Narnia. So I wouldn’t be too worried about walking in the area, and the simplest starting point would be from the Titanic Quarter Train Station where a map (below) shows the directions to all the local “Visit Eastside” tourist attractions.
By Train: Following the Belfast to Bangor line. The closest station is Belfast Titanic Quarter where it’s about a 1km (10-minute) walk to CS Lewis Square along either the main Newtownards Road (recommended) or Island Street.
CS Lewis in Northern Ireland
CS Lewis was born in East Belfast, but his love and inspirations come more from the wider region of County Down, where he once described heaven as being “Oxford lifted and placed in the middle of County Down”. And he has too shared his love for County Down in other nearby areas which include Bangor (further down on the Belfast – Bangor train line) where he would always sit on what is now dubbed CS Lewis’ Chair to look out over Belfast Lough. And a plaque now commemorates his times on the chair which sits directly opposite the train station at Bangor Town Hall. Another favourite spot nearby is the village of Crawfordsburn where CS Lewis Honeymooned with his wife (Joy Davidman) in 1958. And then there is the inspiration he found in the Mourne Mountains where he would feel “that at any moment a giant might raise its head over the next ridge”.