Northern Ireland is a country in the United Kingdom located on the island of Ireland. Filled with rich and complex history, there is so much to learn at every turn. Ireland and the United Kingdom have had a long and complicated history together. So much so, that many visitors do not know which parts belong to which country. Northern Ireland is technically not Ireland. It is part of the United Kingdom but is located on the island of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland both call the island of Ireland home. This means that when you are in Northern Ireland you pay with pounds, not euros, and speed limit signs are in miles, not kilometers. For the average traveler, there are no other differences to worry about. Despite the borders that still exist today, travel between the two is seamless- so much so that you may not notice you’ve transitioned from the Republic to the North!
Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland and is the second largest city on the island of Ireland. Belfast is a vibrant city that offers visitors several options for unique attractions. One must-see attraction is Titanic Belfast. This is more than a museum, it’s an experience. Since the famous Titanic ship was built in Belfast, this shows the whole story, from the insane pipe dream to the unbelievable tragedy that inevitably turned into a billion-dollar Hollywood blockbuster.
St. George’s Market is another great place to get an authentic taste of Belfast. Occupied by more than 150 traders ranging from antiques, metalwork, and most notably, food. Experience traditional, local food and crafts like a true Belfastian!
Black Taxi Tours are another great way to not only see the city but learn about its extensive and complex history. Offering multiple tour options ranging from information about the Troubles to murals, these tours will be sure to leave you with a deeper understanding of the immense weight of history that envelopes the city and the lengths it has come in recent years.
Derry, alternatively named Londonderry, is the second-largest city in Northern Ireland. Located on the west bank of the River Foyle, it is best known for its 17th-century walls. Derry is the only entirely walled city in Ireland. These walls are almost 20 feet high and just as wide. They come complete with gates, watchtowers, battlements, bastions and huge cannon. The impressive walls have never been breached and have led to the city being nicknamed ‘The Maiden’.
The Peace Bridge symbolizes a handshake of peace across the River Foyle. Built in 2011, this modern bridge connects Ebrington Square with the rest of the city. It is strictly a cycle and footbridge so take a stroll along the bridge and enjoy the breathtaking views. Hand in hand with the Peace Bridge, the Derry murals tell the story of the city’s past. Located in the Bogside of Derry, these beautiful murals really encapsulate the long, hard past that the people of Northern Ireland have endured. Visitors can get a glimpse of history through the artist’s eyes.
The best – but by no means shortest – way to get from Belfast to Derry, or vice versa, is the Causeway Coastal Route. Hugging the Atlantic coast the entire way, this route is filled with sandy beaches, tiny fishing villages, castles, and steep cliff edges (sometimes both together!)
There is so much to do, it seems a waste to simply use this road to get from point A to B. Stop by Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge for an exciting adventure. Suspended at almost 100ft above the sea, this rope bridge allows visitors to be rewarded with some of the best views on the Causeway Coastal Route. Ballintoy Harbour is another great stop along this scenic drive. Known as the ‘raised beach’ this small fishing harbour is truly picturesque. Game of Thrones fans may recognize this as the Iron Islands. The wonderful Giant’s Causeway is where the route gets its name and we talk much more about it here.
Fun fact: Irish legend has it that a giant named Fionn McCool created a causeway to get across the Irish Sea to face his rival, the Scottish giant Benandonner. Following their fearsome meeting, Benandonner ripped up the causeway as he fled back to Scotland, leaving behind the “Giants Causeway” as it appears today!
Although Fermanagh is a country without a coastline, there is no shortage of things to do for water lovers here. Fermanagh offers an abundance of lakes, river, inlets, and waterways. Visitors have the option to island hop by kayak or canoe, take a relaxing cruise, or cycle along the water. Fermanagh’s Lough Erne, which is a home to many little islands, is especially interesting. White Island is famous for its peculiar stone figures that are believed to be almost 2,000 years old. Boa Island’s Janus figure dates back to around 400-800AD. This figure is equally haunting as it is mysterious.
Game of Thrones
A lot of the renowned Game of Thrones shots were actually filmed in Northern Ireland. Step into the action for yourself and make this show a reality. From Winterfell to Tollymore Forest Park to Downhill Strand, there are so many places to relive your favorite Game of Thrones scenes. Learn more about Game of Thrones locations here.
Whether you are a history buff or not, Northern Ireland offers something different for everyone. It’s scenic views combined with lively cities and a rich past make for a perfect vacation destination.