By Lisa Johnston, Tour Guide, Belfast City Sightseeing
Mac Belfast – well worth hopping off the tour at stop #20
The people of Belfast are well-known for their love of theatre and the arts. Venues like the Waterfront Hall, the Lyric Theatre, the Grand Opera House and the Empire are all familiar names. And even if you add on the names of theatres which are now long gone like the Royal Hippodrome and the Colosseum, that list is still only the tip of the theatrical iceberg.
And to that list you can now add the Metropolitan Arts Centre, which, believe it or not, only opened three years’ ago in April 2012. The MAC, as it’s known locally, is Belfast’s newest and most progressive arts and theatre complex and it’s situated right in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter in the rather elegant surroundings of St Anne’s Square.
Since it opened the MAC has welcomed a staggering 700,000 visitors – and that includes myself on too many occasions to mention! The building itself is exceptional with its huge black glass tower and it was designed by a local Belfast company so that you can enjoy music, art, theatre, dance and everything in between under one roof.
By the way, the MAC is only a few minutes’ walk from Stop No 20 on Belfast City Sightseeing’s hop-on hop-off open-top bus tour. So do all, or even part, of our tour and hop-off here if you’d like to have a look around the MAC.
There are two theatres at the MAC. There’s a 350-seater, which is known as Downstairs at the MAC, and there’s a 120-seater on the floor above which is known, quite obviously, as Upstairs at the MAC. There are also three art galleries which are completely free of charge.
Arts wise, last year was a really exciting year for the MAC because it offered its first-ever open arts prize called the MAC International which gave professional artists from all around the world the opportunity to exhibit in the MAC’s galleries.
Incidentally, the MAC International is the largest arts prize on the island of Ireland and one of the few major arts prizes in the UK. And how fitting that the inaugural prize was won by a local film-maker called Mairead McClean from Co Tyrone with her 15-minute film called “No More”.
The MAC is also open for lunch and dinner which is served in the Canteen on the ground floor. It offers a pre-theatre menu although you can just pop in for a coffee and a scone if you don’t fancy a full meal. There’s also a bar which is open all day and for pre-theatre and interval drinks.
It’s worth noting that the MAC is open seven days a week which on a cold, wet and windy Sunday morning in Belfast is a godsend for tour guides like me who’re anxious to keep visitors to our city entertained while at the same time keeping them warm and dry!
The Cathedral Quarter is rapidly developing as the cultural heartland of Belfast – and the MAC is a world-class venue that acts as its flagship and is, most definitely, the jewel in its crown.
So make sure to take advantage of Belfast City Sightseeing’s 48-hour hop-on hop-off open-top bus ticket and hop-off at Stop No 20 to see for yourself just what the magnificent MAC has to offer!
10 Exchange Street West
Saint Anne’s Square
The MAC is open seven days a week from 10am-7pm, or later on performance nights. The Canteen at the MAC is open from 10am-8pm, or later on performance nights. The Box Office and Art Galleries are open from 10am-7pm.