Belfast has had a long and colourful history, but forget about it’s troubled past, it’s now one of Europe’s top city break destinations. There’s plenty to see and so here. One such attraction is the Grand Opera House. So when in Belfast why not take in a performance at one of the city’s best known landmarks?
A little bit of history…
Located on Victoria Street, beside the Europa Hotel, in Belfast city centre, the Grand Opera House has had a long and illustrious history. Designed by renowned architect Frank Matcham, it was originally opened in December 1895. The venue was renamed the Palace of Varieities in 1904, but its name was reverted to the original in 1909.
In the years after World War I, the Grand Opera House played host to a number of popular variety acts such as Sarah Bernhardt, Gracie Fields, Laurence Olivier and the National Theatre Company. During the Second World War, the Opera House amazingly escaped major bombing, and as one of the celebrations at the end of the war in 1945, the US President Eisenhower and General Montgomery of the British War Council both attended gala performances here.
In 1949 the Opera House was sold to the Rank Organisation, a British Entertainment organisation, and it was reopened as a cinema. This led to many lean years for the theatre, due to the popularity of TV and of course due to “The Troubles”.
In 1969, the Grand Opera House was damaged through paramilitary bombing campaigns, due to its proximity to the Europa Hotel. In fact in 1972 it was facing a bleak future of closure and demolition. However, it was given a ‘listed building’ status in 1976 and became one of the first properties in Belfast to be listed as being of historical and architectural significance. Control of the Opera House was entrusted to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 1976 and it was secured a bright future.
A significant restoration project was carried out on the venue in 1980, and it’s worth noting that this project was probably the catalyst to the redevelopment of Belfast city centre. Since then it has played host to many of the ballet and singing stars of the time. In 1991 and again in 1993, the Opera House was unfortunately bombed, but nevertheless it continued as normal and played host to musicals, plays, pantomimes and live music.
1994 saw the administration of the Grand Opera House handed to the Grand Opera House Trust. 2006 saw major re-development and refurbishments initiated. Improvements to the theatre included increased stage space, accommodation for performing acts, better customer facilties and acess for disabled guests. The Baby Grand was the name of a smaller events centre created under the redevelopment project, and Luciano’s café bar and restaurant.
Not everyone was pleased with the exterior apperance of the Opera House, some felt that it took away from the original design, but the improved patron facilties have been warmly welcomed. The Grand Opera House re-opened with a Gala Event in October 2006.
Location, how to get here and facilities…
The Grand Opera House is located beside the Europa Hotel and the city’s main bus and train station, Europa Station, on Great Victoria Street. From here it’s only about a 2 minute walk to the Grand Opera House.
If you’re driving there’s easy access from both the M1 and M2 motorways. From the M1 exit at the Boucher Road Junction. Continue along Donegall Road, and then take either Sandy Row or Shaftesbury Square. From the M2, go onto the Westlink and take the Divis Street exit. Take a right at the traffic lights onto College Avenue, and continue straight ahead onto Great Victoria Street.
Just behind the Europa Hotel, is a multi-storey car park. There’s also some limited street parking available on Glengall Street, close to the venue.
Luciano’s Restaurant, Café and Bar, cater for guests and party groups to the theatre. You can arrange for pre-event group meals and snacks through prior contact with the Opera House.
Bars are located on most levels of the Grand Opera House. However it is recommended that drinks are pre-ordered before show interval breaks. Post show drinks can be enjoyed in Luciano’s.
There are no ATM Machines at the venue, though all major credit and debit cards are accepted at the premises. There is an ATM machine at the Europa Station. Confectionery and merchandise can be purchased at a confectionery stand located in the Theatre Foyer. Show merchandise can be purchased at locations throughout the building during shows.
There are excellent facilities for disabled people, and for those who are visually impaired.
Major events at the Grand Opera House…
Some major international artists, musicals, plays and pantomimes have been held at the venue. Music legends such as Van Morrison, Christy Moore, Oscar Winner from the Film “Once” Glen Hansard and Martha Wainwright have in the past performed here, and will perform here later in 2008 as well. Popular musicals such as Jungle Book, West Side Story and High School Musical are to be performed here later this year. Plays such as Juno and the Paycock, and Christmas Events such as “Cinderella on Ice” will take place also later this year.
Find out more about the Grand Opera House Belfast.
So, if you are planning a trip to Belfast and want to take in a show at the Grand Opera House, you might need somewhere to stay. Take a look at our Belfast hotels page.