Ireland's best-loved destinations
...and best-kept secrets

Belfast, Derry and the Antrim Coast

Ireland Travel Companion

In peace, Northern Ireland has staked its rightful claim as one of the most beautiful, memorable and cultural regions to be found anywhere on the island of Ireland. Nowhere is Ireland's recent history more strongly felt than in the North, and a tour of Belfast in particular would perhaps be incomplete without taking this into account.

But visitors will deprive themselves if they don't look beyond The Troubles and see the North for what it really is - one of most exciting and dynamic places you will visit on any western European holiday. Northern Ireland Tours are a treasure that have to be experienced to be believed.

Belfast is a wonderful, vibrant city - full of life and increasingly popular as a destination for city breaks. It draws 8 million visitors annually. Equally vaunted as UK City of Culture 2013, Derry should feature no less prominently on the must-see list of attractions which make up your Ireland Vacation 2016.

Scneic View of Antrim, Northern Ireland

While the transformation may be less striking than in Belfast, Ulster's second city has benefited from significant regeneration in the past few years. While the average tourist visit to Derry, at three nights, is perhaps more than most visitors really need, a one-day stop over will be very rewarding, especially for students of recent Northern Irish history.

For those who prefer the great outdoors, Ulster has scenic beauty to rival not only the Republic to the south, but almost anywhere in the world. Heading for the Giant's Causeway and the Antrim coast, prepare to be amazed: here you will find some of the greatest coastal views any Irish photographer could hope to capture.

Titanic Belfast

The angular edifice which houses The Titanic Experience is so evocative of the transformation which Belfast has undergone in recent years that it has become almost as iconic as the ill-fated ship to whose short history this attraction is dedicated.

Titanic Experience, Belfast, Northern Ireland

An extensive multimedia tribute to the world's most famous ocean liner, The Titanic Experience is located at the top of the slipway from which the ship made its first and only descent into the Belfast Lough and the waters of the Irish Sea beyond. Opened in 2012 for the centenary of the ship's launch and tragic demise, the museum has rapidly become Ulster's most visited tourist destination, outstripping even The Giant's Causeway.

Cleverly put together, the attraction encapsulates more than simply the scale of the ship, more even than the scale of the disaster which befell it; drawing on all the sights, sounds and smells of the age, the museum recreates all facets of this most fascinating period of history, bringing to life the experiences not only of the passengers, but also of the ship workers who realized this vision of early twentieth-century engineering.

Murals of Belfast

Although their history spans over a century, and although they began as a unionist motif, it was in the early 1980s that Belfast's iconic murals would gain the prominence that now draws tourists, when Republican depictions of the infamous hunger strike of Bobby Sands and his follow prisoners began to spread across Republican districts of the city.

Political and Sectarian Murals in Belfast, as seen on a bus trip of the city

For two decades, murals on both sides of the city voiced the deep divisions between communities whose differences seemed insurmountable. On the Unionist side, imagery was chiefly militaristic, with slogans like "No Surrender" a near-constant refrain. In Republican communities, depictions drew on a more diverse palette of cultural and historical symbolism, but their message was no less clear and no less divisive.

Vacation Planning Ideas

It seems almost miraculous, then, that Belfast has found the peace which prevails here today. And it is entirely fitting that this peace should once again find colourful and artful expression on the walls of Belfast's end-terraces. The figures who appear in these images today are not masked paramilitaries, but local legends such as George Best and CS Lewis.

The many black-cab guides and bus tours, often seen as integral to a visit to Belfast, will guide you through the layers of meaning which make up the city's historic murals. A good Driver-Guide is a must to get the most out of them.

Taste of Northern Ireland

Enjoy some of the great flavors and delicacies of Ulster and Northern Ireland at Hillstown Farm Shop. Located on Glebe Road, Randalstown, County Antrim.

Hillstown Farm Shop. County Antrim.

Belfast Tourist Centre

Londonderry / Derry - City of Culture 2013

Although Derry's recently transformation is perhaps less dramatic than that of Belfast, visitors who come to Derry expecting a city still darkened by the long shadows of The Troubles will almost certainly be pleasantly surprised. In anticipation of the city's status as UK City of Culture 2013, Derry received considerable investment and underwent a rejuvenating makeover.

Musicians perform at Fleadh Cheoil traditional music festival in Derry

Visitors and locals alike can look to the Peace Bridge, Ebrington Square, the redeveloped waterfront and the Guildhall area as examples of a city which has shaken off its outdated stereotype, under whose weight Derry had unfairly served as a metaphor for Ulster's violent past. In the city which greets tourists so warmly today, visitors will find plenty of enjoyable diversion.

Walled City

Ireland's first attempt at town planning, modelled in 1545 on the French town of Vitry-le-François. Visit www.derrywalls.com for further information. Those interested in architecture should allow time to visit St Columb's Cathedral, situated within the city walls.

Guildhall

Lording it over an open expanse of fountains and marbled stone, Guildhall rises to majestic heights to take its place on the Derry skyline. A £10m renovation in 2013 has brought the very best out of what was already a magnificent structure of stone and stained glass. As well serving an important civic function for the city (it was the seat of the historic Bloody Sunday Inquiry headed by Lord Saville from 2000 to 2005), Guildhall has become a nexus for Derry tourism and a focal point for most visits here. View the Visit Derry website for more information.

Plan a Visit to Northern Ireland

Bogside

Home to many thousands of predominantly working-class catholics, The Bogside deserves to be much more than a waypoint for those charting the history of Northern Irish conflict. But those who come to Ulster to gain a greater appreciation of its troubled past will almost certainly make their way here, where The Troubles of the late Twentieth Century first began; where residents declared an independent state of their own, "Free Derry", and where 26 civil rights protesters and bystanders were shot by soldiers of the British Army in the notorious Bloody Sunday massacre.

Visitors who wish to gain the fullest appreciation of this side of Derry should make time for Free Derry Corner, the Bloody Sunday Memorial, the People's Gallery Murals and the Museum of Free Derry. View the Visit Derry website for more information.

The Giant's Causeway

The Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

Nothern Ireland's only UNESCO World Heritage site, known in Gaelic as Clochán na bhFomhórach or Clochán an Aifir, The Giant's Causeway is an area of 40,000 basalt columns, formed into a regular interlocking pattern by an ancient volcanic lava flow.

However, given the scale, the geometric regularity, and the sheer natural beauty of this feature, it is easy to understand why the ancients believed its origins to be more mystical than geologists would now have us believe.

According to Gaelic mythology, the causeway was built by the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) so that he could reach Scotland and fight with his Scottish rival, Benandonner. As with all great rivalries, the outcome varies depending on whose version is being recounted.

One legendary status which is not disputed, though, is the Causeway's immense pulling power as a tourist destination, with 750,000 visitors making the trip annually. Here, tourists can enjoy not only the geological feature itself, but also the modern and impressive Giant's Causeway Visitor Experience.

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Carick A Rede Rope Bridge, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Image by Chris Hill.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

A handy stop-off point between The Giant's Causeway and Ballycastle, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is a dizzying experience to be enjoyed or studiously avoided, depending on your head for heights. Looking like something from an Indiana Jones movie set, the rope bridge conveys locals and tourists alike across the 20-metre chasm between the sea cliffs and the island of Carrick-a-Rede.

The bridge which draws visitors today is actually a stronger and safer version of the original which was put up every spring by fishermen whose nets, cast from the island's northern cliffs, would intercept migrating salmon. Today, there is a small visitor centre, a cafe and a carpark.

Accommodation in Northern Ireland

Hotels in the North and Border Regions

B&Bs and Guesthouses in Northern Ireland and the Border Region

Skelly's B&B

B&B in Northern Ireland
Virginia, Co. Cavan

Recently opened, family-run B&B in a great location close to numerous services, activities, attractions, local landmarks and historic sites.

Teach an Cheoil

farmhouse B&B in Northern Ireland
Ballycastle, Co. Antrim

Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast in the stunning and picturesque Glens of Antrim close to Ballycastle, an easy drive from the Giant's Causeway.

J&J Guesthouse

Ballycastle , Co. Antrim

A traditional Irish family home ideal for touring nearby glens and the giants causeway. Short walk from beach, shops, pubs and restaurants.

Church View B&B

Belturbet , Co. Cavan

Church View is located in the heart of the Irish Lakelands in the heart of Cavan, and is the perfect getaway destination in Ireland.

Nutgrove House

Luxury B&B in Northern Ireland
Downpatrick, Co. Down

Historically Listed Luxury Bed and Breakfast in Downpatrick, County Down, rooms are fully en-suite with bath and shower facilities.

Arch House B&B

Arch House Bed and Breakfast in Northern Ireland
Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh

Arch House B&B offers stunning views of Belmore, Benlaughlin and Cuilcagh mountains. Book direct to get the best possible value.

Arley House B&B

Dundrum , Co. Down

Offering spectacular views of the Mourne Mountains, Arley House provides an ideal location for visitors exploring Co. Down and the North.

Hollow Stream B&B

Kingscourt , Co. Cavan

Hollow Stream is located close to Cabra Castle, an ideal location for visitors travelling to the area, whether for business or pleasure.

North Coast Country

B&B in Northern Ireland
Ballintoy, Co. Antrim

Contemporary, high quality guest house in Ballintoy. The ideal location to explore the Causeway coastal route.

Rowanville B&B

Grange, Co. Sligo

Four-star accommodation and warm, friendly Irish hospitality with hotel-style bedrooms at B&B rates. All rooms en suite, wifi throughout.

The White Hill

Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan

Just a few yards from Lough Muckno, a spacious modern country house in a spectacular setting. Half a mile from Castleblayney centre.

Number Nine

Downpatrick, Co. Down

Located within walking distance of Downpatrick. Number Nine is surrounded by the many activities and natural beauty of the area.

My Ireland Travel Guide