Covering less than one sixth of the island of Eire, Northern Ireland packs in a tempting array of history, natural and cultural attractions for discerning visitors. Separated from Southern Ireland (Eire) by an unmarked border, Northern Ireland consists of just six counties: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone.
This island has a past filled with mystery and heroism, embracing Irish clans, Gaelic kings, pillaging Vikings and even the causeway-building giant, Finn McCool!
Ancient monasteries, walled cities, grand cathedrals, historic forts, prehistoric ruins, world-class museums and some of the most scenic coastline in the UK are sure to fill your days. Evenings will be spent in local pubs and bars, dining well and downing pints of Guinness with newfound friends, for the Irish are a friendly and gregarious lot. Toe-tapping music, spontaneous fiddle-playing and plenty of lively singing and dancing are just par for the course in Irish bars on any night of the week!
Belfast and Beyond
Most visitors make their base in Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland, which is no more than 100 miles from the furthermost corners of this pint-sized province. This once famous port and shipyard launched many ships in the past including the Royal Naval HMS Belfast and the infamous RMS Titanic, now remembered in the huge Titanic Museum which stands on the old slipway.
As well as a modern shopping center, Belfast has some impressive architecture reflecting its prosperous days of manufacturing, linen weaving and corn mills during the 19th century. Attractions include Belfast Castle, the Grand Opera House, Botanical Gardens, City Hall and the Parliament Buildings. What makes Belfast particularly appealing are the green hills, lakes, mountains and charming villages that are never far away.
The southeast corner of Northern Ireland has some of the loveliest landscapes anywhere and has been officially designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Fishing villages, loughs (pronounced locks), forests, seaside resorts, Inch Abbey and Ballynoe Stone Circle and the Mountains of Mourne are the main highlights to see. Rural lanes offer leisurely drives as you explore this scenic country and its charming villages at your own pace.
Head north into County Antrim which has soaring cliffs edging pristine sandy beaches. The nine glacier-carved Glens of Antrim to the north of Larne are beautiful areas for walking, cycling and enjoying scenic drives. Visit small coastal communities such as Ballygally, Carnlough and Glenarm, where the Glenarm estate is certainly worth a visit.
Nearby is Slemish Mountain where the young St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, once tended sheep as a slave. Cushendall, a preserved National Trust village with quaint cottages, is a great place to find music, dancing and Irish craic (fun). Brace yourself for white-knuckle rides around Fair Head on the clifftop road or learn the mystery of the “vanishing lake” in Ballycastle. These are just some of the experiences that you will take home with you as long-lasting memories of your Northern Ireland adventure.
Just north of Bushmills, with its famous whiskey distillery and tours, is Northern Ireland’s most visited attraction – the Giant’s Causeway. This surreal area is made up of over 40,000 polygon-shaped basalt columns reaching up to 39 feet in height. Said to be the highway to the Hebrides (Scottish islands) built by giant Finn McCool, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is amazing to see or walk over.
Londonderry and Lough Neagh
The historic walled city of Londonderry, usually referred to as “Derry,” is the gateway to the northwest. Located on the scenic Foyle River, it has a pleasant blend of quaintness and modernity with two beautiful cathedrals and a neo-Gothic Guildhall.
Londonderry has a long association with poets, storytellers and music; it frequently hosts art and cultural festivals. Those coming to Ireland to trace their ancestry will be interested in the Genealogy Centre while the Fifth Province attraction focuses on Celtic culture and history. Just across the river, the Amelia Earhart Centre celebrates her landing in Derry after becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.
In the middle of Northern Ireland, Lough Neagh is the largest freshwater lake by area in the UK. It is popular for eel fishing, birdwatching, boating and walking. With plenty of excellent golf courses, fine seafood and plenty to see and do, Northern Ireland continues to attract international travelers looking for a quiet but interesting escape on the Emerald Isle.