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A Visitors Guide To The Historic Grand Opera House Belfast

A Visitors Guide To The Historic Grand Opera House Belfast

The Grand Opera House Belfast has been an imposing city centre landmark since 1895.

Surviving WW2 and even the threat of demolition, this magnificent building now offers a full program of entertainment and fascinating behind-the-scenes tours.

In the guide below, you’ll discover everything from the Grand Opera House Belfast tour and how much it costs to what you’ll see while you’re there.

Some quick need-to-knows about the Grand Opera House Belfast

 

Although a visit to Grand Opera House Belfast is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location 

The main entrance is on on Great Victoria Street and the stage door is on Glengall Street. It’s a 5-minute walk from Belfast City Hall, a 25-minute walk from Crumlin Road Gaol and a 20-minute walk from the Botanic Gardens.

2. Opening hours

Box Office opening hours are 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday. The Opera House Box Office is also open during show times which vary according to the performance schedule.

3. The tour

Guided tours, which are limited, are led by staff provide an insight into the theatre’s history. Go backstage, admire the magnificent restored auditorium, see photos and interactive exhibits in the Heritage Exhibition (more below).

 

The History of the Grand Opera House  

Tourism Northern Ireland

Photos of Grand Opera House via Tourism Northern Ireland

The Grand Opera House is one of the most impressive buildings in Belfast, which is saying something when you consider the city is also home to the Merchant!

It was meticulously designed by English architect Frank Matcham who specialised in the design of dance halls and theatres.

Opening

The Opera House was built on the site that was previously called ‘home’ by Ginnett’s Circus and it opened in 1895.

It has a magnificent auditorium, said to be one of the best surviving examples of oriental-style theatre architecture.

Reflecting the popular variety programs it hosted, it was renamed “Palace of Varieties” in 1904 but quickly reverted to its original name.

 

WW2 and Closure

During WW2 it became a Repertory Theatre with a Gala Performance attended by Eisenhower, Montgomery and Alanbrooke to mark the end of the war.

Between 1961 and 1972 it reverted to a cinema owned by Rank Organisation but closed during The Troubles.

It was damaged on several occasions, most notably when the Europa Hotel was targeted.

Threatened with demolition, the building was purchased by the Arts Council and became a Listed Building in 1974.

 

21st century

The Grand Opera House Trust undertook renovations in 2006, adding a Baby Grand Performance Space, extending foyers and improving disabled access.

The Hippodrome Restaurant was added on the third floor along with a ground floor bistro which later closed.

Today the Grand Opera House Belfast hosts drama, musicals, comedy, opera and educational events as well as behind-the-scenes tours.

 

Things to do at the Grand Opera House

One of the reasons that a visit to Grand Opera House Belfast is well worth it is due to the wealth of history that the building boasts.

Below, you’ll find info on the theatre tours, the Heritage Exhibition and the various events that take place throughout the year.

1. The Heritage Exhibition 

Completed in 2021 with funding from the National Lottery, the Heritage Exhibition showcases the theatre’s history from construction to present day.

Learn about the architect, Frank Matcham, see photos of famous past performers, and enjoy the collection of memorabilia in the Stalls Foyer, Grand Circle Foyer and Bar.

 

2. Theatre Tours

The best way to take in this magnificent building and its history is on a guided tour. Led by knowledgeable theatre staff, tours last for 45 minutes with a further 30 minutes before the tour to browse the Heritage Exhibition.

Go behind the scenes, learn the colourful history of the restored theatre and meet past performers such as Luciano Pavarotti, Darcey Bussell and Charlie Chaplin.

3. Events 

Performances and events at Belfast’s Grand Opera House have something for every age, budget and taste.

From Broadway musicals to modern classics, each season includes a wide variety of performances. Family events include annual pantomimes.

 

Things to do nearby

the best things to do in Belfast Ireland

One of the beauties of a visit here is that it’s a short walk away from many of the best things to do in Belfast.

If you haven’t already, make sure to take a Black Cab Tour. They offer an insight into a side of the city that many miss and they take you to the main Belfast murals.

Here are some places to visit near the Opera House:

  1. Belfast City Hall (5-minute walk): One of the city’s grandest buildings. It also hosts the Belfast Christmas Markets
  2. St George’s Market (11-minute walk): A historic open market that runs Fridays through Sundays
  3. The Peace Wall (25-minute walk): Constructed during the Troubles, it divides the Falls Road and the Shankill Road 
  4. Food and drink: See my guides to the best restaurants in Belfast and the best pubs in Belfast
 

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