Our guest post, A wee guide to Northern Ireland is from travel blogger, Jonny Blair, of Don’t Stop Living. Although, he travels around the world, Northern Ireland is where he calls “home.”
Northern Ireland is an often forgotten and mostly neglected travel gem. Most travellers heading to Ireland go straight for Dublin, Galway or the Blarney Stone (and in fairness most travel guides also cite these places as top places to go). However, once you cross the border into the 6 counties of Northern Ireland, there’s a whole new world to explore that you never knew about. For a start you can trade your Euros in for British Pounds – you’re now in the UK! Yes the island is divided and has a slightly scarred history. Politics aside, here are my top 5 tourist attractions in Northern Ireland.
This is a must see on any visit to Northern Ireland. A natural rock formation on the North Antrim Coast, the Giant’s Causeway is popular and still FREE. Locals and travellers alike hope that it will always remain a free attraction. There is a fee to park your car in the car park that leads down this epic place, but that’s all you’ll have to pay. Stare out at the crashing waves from the North Atlantic Ocean while standing on rocks which are all naturally hexagonal shaped. Or if you believe Irish myths, a giant called Finn McCool once built them as a pathway to Scotland to fight a Scottish Giant; hence the title of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bookmark the name “Giant’s Causeway” and don’t miss it.
Bushmills Whiskey Distillery
Also on the North Antrim Coast, this is Ireland’s Oldest Whiskey Distillery. Although not quite as global and famous as Jameson’s, all visitors to the Bushmills Distillery fall in love with this whiskey experience here. You can get a guided tour of the distillery and learn all the secrets before being allowed to sample an “exclusive tour only whiskey” at the relaxing “wee bar” at the end of the tour. The distillery and the whiskey are named after the town itself, so head to the town of Bushmills and you can’t miss this popular attraction. It’s close to the Giant’s Causeway so to save time – you can do them both on one day (and throw in a visit to Dunluce Castle and the Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge as well).
Londonderry’s (Derry’s) Walls
The UK’s City of Culture for 2013 is Northern Ireland’s second largest city, Londonderry (aka Derry). Nicknamed “Stroke City” in order to avoid the political double meaning in the city’s name, this is a place with a fair bit of history! Loyalists, Brits and Unionists call it Londonderry. Nationalists and Irish Republicans call it Derry to avoid any use of a British capital in its title. The infamous horrendous “Bloody Sunday” massacre occurred here back in 1972. But walk at leisure round Derry’s Walls, visit Free Derry Corner in the Bogside and sample the new vibrant, cultured Londonderry/Derry. Get yourself a beer and delve into the local music scene. The Undertones, D:Ream and the Divine Comedy are all bands which have escaped the city over the years to earn their livings in the music world. It’s a city of culture for sure, Catholics and Protestants work and live together in this city haunted by a torn past but, determined to have a prosperous future. The centre of the city is focused around the fantastic walls which make a great afternoon stroll, and equally pleasant for the avid photographer.
Any visit to Northern Ireland should take in the capital city of Belfast. There’s an abundance of things to see and do here in a city which has been enjoying a 15 year tourism boom since 1998’s Good Friday Agreement. Check out the views from Cavehill, visit Northern Ireland’s exquisite parliament buildings at Stormont, take a step back in time to the Victorian Crown Bar, gaze at the range of political wall murals on the Falls and Shankill Roads and head to a “wee cafe” for an Ulster Fry – Northern Ireland’s closest thing to a “national meal”. At least the Catholics and Protestants both like their food and drink. If you want a bonus, head there in July for the yearly Orange Parades, and keep your wits about you – the troubles of Belfast’s past still remain thanks to a recent “flag debate”. Forget the politics and head to a city that welcomes you with open arms.
The Titanic Quarter
It may have sunk, but Belfast is proud of The Titanic and the achievements of its world famous docks. Hundreds of ships have been built and maintained in Belfast over the years and 2012 was the one hundred year anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking. The Northern Irish are prone to the odd Titanic Joke. Slogans such as “We didn’t put the Iceberg there” and “Titanic: Built by an Irishman, sunk by an Englishman.” Maybe the restaurant will be sure to put iceberg lettuce in your sandwich. The entire area which includes the new Titanic Museum (opened in 2012 for the anniversary), the dock side and the Odyssey building, has just recently been given its own “Titanic” train station. Don’t be put off by that – yes Belfast has cold winters, but icebergs are nowhere to be seen. Intriguing.
On a final note, you should also try eating “soda bread”, “a pastie supper” and “vegetable roll” when you’re in Northern Ireland. For beer, you can’t go wrong with Harp or Guinness (stout). For tea – the local stuff, Nambarrie, makes a great cup. The warmest months are May to September and you can expect snow in the winter.
Jonny Blair runs a passionate “one man, seven continents” travel site, Don’t Stop Living. He left his hometown of Bangor in Northern Ireland 1n 2003. He has since worked, studied and travelled his way around the globe. You can read more from Jonny Blair on his website Don’t Stop Living. You can find him on both Facebook and Twitter. and keep tabs on his travels on Facebook and Twitter.