Monday, August 24, 2015

A local's guide to the top 5 things to do in Northern Ireland

Guest blogger Lyndsay Scott shares her local knowledge.
Given Northern Ireland's turbulent recent history, this 'wee' country which straddles the north east corner of Ireland has, for many years, slipped under the tourist radar. Even now, Northern Ireland is, too often, left off the tourist agendas of visitors to the island. But times are changing and the world is finally beginning to take notice of what this rough diamond has to offer. In fact, over the past few years, Belfast has proudly hosted a wealth of international events, concerts and spectacles which really shows how much things have changed here.

Truth is, Northern Ireland is charismatic, spirited and with a rugged and varied landscape including dramatic mountain ranges sweeping right down to the sea, she is also breathtakingly beautiful.  Given the unique political situation here, it's a place of fascinating contrasts, where you'll pay for your Guinness with British currency. So if you want to discover the undiscovered, get the full picture and see Ireland from a different vantage point - make sure you head north to unearth the hidden gem of the Emerald Isle.
Here's a local's low-down on the top five things to experience in Northern Ireland:

1. Take in Belfast's street murals

The Northern Irish have a reputation for being a feisty bunch, and it has long been tradition to take to the streets to proclaim political allegiances, mark territories and vent frustrations. As a result, Belfast's troublesome history is literally etched on the walls of its grey, inner-city architecture in a fascinating display of colourful and subversive graffiti.
For an evocative experience, visit the unionist/loyalist areas and gaze up at images of masked gunman swearing allegiance to the British rule. Enter a nationalist/republican part however, and you will see heroes of the resistance movement immortalised on the concrete facades.

But it's not all politics, and recently, murals have appeared in vibrant tribute to some of Belfast's achievements, such as former Manchester United soccer player George Best and the Titanic, which was built in Belfast. To see all the best spots, take a black cab tour with commentary from a knowledgeable local.

2. Hit the coast

While you may not get the ideal beach weather - no matter which way you leave Belfast, you will, at least, be greeted with a coastline to rival the best of them. Head east into County Down and within 30 minutes, you'll get to the seaside resort town of Bangor, and the charming villages of Groomsport and Donaghadee where you can explore sandy beaches and sleepy harbour fronts lined with traditional bars, restaurants and handicraft shops. Award winning pub-restaurant Pier 36 in Donaghadee serves up some cracking seafood. Head west into County Antrim and you'll eventually hit the "North Coast", a celebrated, scenic route through many of the region's top tourist attractions.

3.Walk in the footsteps of giants at Giant's Causeway

Set against a rugged backdrop of the wild North Atlantic Ocean and imposing cliff faces, it's not surprising that this surreal spectacle of towering, hexagonal stone columns rising out of sea is the stuff of legends.  As the story goes, mythical giants carved this UNESCO World Heritage site in an attempt to bridge the gap between Northern Ireland and Scotland. The other explanation is that it was formed by an ancient volcanic eruption - but I know which story I prefer. Visiting this geological, natural wonder is free of charge, but you pay to use the car park and the Giant's Causeway Visitor Experience.

4. Discover Belfast's nautical past at Titanic Belfast

Brought back from rack and ruin, Belfast's former dilapidated industrial heartland has recently had a multi-million dollar facelift, and central to the shiny new "Titanic Quarter" is Titantic Belfast, one of Belfast's premier visitor attractions and a nod to the city's maritime and industrial heritage.
Located on the very slipway where the RMS Titanic was built in the former Harland & Wolff shipyard, the glimmering, aluminium edifice is reminiscent of the world's most famous ocean liner's main prow - or is it an iceberg!?
The world's largest Titanic visitor attraction will take you on a state-of-the-art experience with clever and lively exhibits charting the history of Belfast and the ill-fated ship, which sunk on her maiden voyage. But rather than considering it a maritime disaster, Belfast has began to take pride in the engineering triumph, and it is long running joke in Belfast that "it [the Titanic] was fine when it left us!" For tickets, opening hours and prices visit the website.

5. Grab a pint of the black stuff at a traditional bar

Just like their Southern counterparts, Northern Irish people love nothing more than a "wee drink" [read: a lot of alcohol] and "good craic" [read : good fun]. No trip to Northern Ireland is complete without a trip to the bar for a pint of Guinness - and of course, there are a lot to choose from.  The Duke of York pub is tucked down a cobbled  alleyway right in the heart of Belfast's historic and quirky cathedral quarter. Step into the warmth of the bar and feel your eyes adjust to the dark-wood interior while you gaze up a vast array of enamel signposts and antique mirrors decorating the walls. Irish traditional music makes for a fun and lively atmosphere at weekends.
For a blast from the opulent past, head to the stunning Crown Liquor Saloon on Great Victoria Street, one of Northern Ireland's best known pubs and one of the finest examples of a former Victorian Gin Palace. Grab a booth, and watch the light flood in through the stained glass windows to illuminate the entrancing mosaic of tiles adorning the grand interior.

For more information on visiting Northern Ireland, contact Discover Northern Ireland on +44 (0)28 9023 1221 or visit the website.




  1. Adding these to my explore Ireland list.

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