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 any visit would be incomplete without taking this into account.
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Find Northern Ireland's most loved destinations.
Since peace returned to Belfast in the late 1990s, Northern Ireland's capital has undergone an astonishing transformation. Once tied in with sectarian violence and, perhaps cruelly, lumped in with Bosnia, Beiruit and Baghdad on the list of places for globe-trotting tourists to avoid, the city is now a modern, thriving and cosmopolitan hub of hotels, restaurants and family-friendly attractions.
This transformation is made all the more evident in cultural representations of the region, which have at last moved beyond the all-too-predictable film and TV depictions of The Troubles with which the city become all but synonymous.
Just as Northern Ireland has garnered attention as the eye-catching backdrop to Game of Thrones, creating a sub-industry of its own comparable to "Tolkien Tourism", Belfast has gained added prominence as the location of the hit BBC drama series The Fall starring Gillian Anderson (The X Files, Hannibal) and Jamie Dornan (50 Shades of Gray).
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.
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.
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.
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 diversions.
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 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.
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.
Look beyond the top destinations of Northern Ireland and find some of it's lesser known attractions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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 car park.
Glenariff Waterfall Walk is one of a series of walks in the Glenariff Forest Park, County Antrim. The forest is laid out with pathways and steps for people to explore. It might take up to 2 hours walking to reach the payoff, the waterfall, but it is well worth the wait. The walk which leads to the waterfall is a little strenuous and is not advisable for everyone. The steps are steeper and can become slippery on approach.
Ballymacdermott Court Tomb, located on Ballymacdermott Mountain in County Armagh, is a megalith portal tomb. It dates from between 4000 and 2500 B.C. The tomb was excavated twice, in 1816 and 1962. The first excavation unearthed pulverised human bones in an urn while the second discovered human cremations. During the second excavation archaeologists found that some of the stones in the tomb had been recently disturbed, locals informed them that this was caused by an American tank during World War II.
The Stairway to Heaven, officially known as the Cuilcagh Mountain Trail, is a 4 and a half mile walkway through bog land in County Fermanagh. The walkway was constructed to protect the rare blanket bog that was being eroded by walkers in the area. The walkway ascends to over 550 metres to the Cuilcagh Mountain face.
Found between the fishing village of Carnlough and the floral village of Broughshane in the picturesque County Antrim.
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