How could part of such a small country have so much to offer? Crowning our country at the very top is the unrivalled Northern Ireland. A previously undiscovered holiday location for many, when you scratch the surface you will instantly begin to see why Northern Ireland is becoming more popular and accordingly wonder why you have never explored such a gem before.
It is a region that has it all- from quaint, unassuming rural towns and country-side to cities bustling with activity.
Exploring Northern Ireland is most certainly not for the faint hearted. You must be prepared for jaw-dropping tales, heart-stopping scenery and mind-blowing city experiences.
Londonderry/ Derry, home to the oldest city walls in Europe (1450 years young) and also claiming the title of UK city of Culture for 2013, it is a city packed with museums, historic houses, cafes, shops and a great nightlife.
The 17th Century City Walls tour and the Tower Museum are two highlights that are definitely not to be missed. During a tour of the impressive city walls, the guide will help you to travel back in time and understand the events that took place during the infamous 105 day siege of Londonderry and the euphoric celebration after the Apprentice Boys closed the city gates thus starting the Relief of the City.
The award winning Tower Museum located at Union Hall Place has two exhibitions that are guaranteed to captivate you. The first of which is the Armada Shipwreck which tells the story of La Trinidad Valencera, one of the largest ships in the Armada Fleet, which sank off the Donegal Coast in 1588. Later, in 1971 the City of Derry Sub-Aqua club uncovered the sunken ship. The second exhibition is the Story of Londonderry which recounts the history of the city from its birth to today.
If the city scene doesn’t appeal to you then why not venture out to the Londonderry country side and tackle one of several walking/cycling trials and survey the views that come to meet across the magnificent River Foyle or on top of the Sperrin Mountains which stand tall between Co. Londonderry and Co. Tyrone. The Sperrins also play host to the Glasgowbury Music Festival which takes place in July of every year. The festival showcases an array of independent musicians from across the country and is one that promises not to disappoint. If you find yourself in Northern Ireland during September make sure you cross the Sperrin Mountains from Londonderry to Tyrone and experience the world famous Appalachian and Bluegrass open-air music festival.
If sight-seeing is more your cup of tea then the magnificent Giant’s Causeway and the challenging Carrick-a-rede rope bridge share the Antrim coast with the 16th century ruins of Dunluce Castle. The Castle itself is perched upon a limestone crag on the coast of Co. Antrim. In the 1600’s a portion of the castle fell into the sea. Legend has it that it was the kitchen that fell into the sea and only a kitchen boy survived as he was sitting in a stool in the only corner of the kitchen that didn’t collapse.
Irish legends also prompt us to believe that the Giant’s Causeway was created by Irish warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill who built the causeway to walk to Scotland to fight his Scottish counterpart Benandonner.
Geologists, on the other hand, maintain that the causeway was created after a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago. Whichever story you choose to believe make sure to include a visit to the UNESCO heritage site and watch the sun go down over the majestic setting.
Approximately seventeen kilometres down the road is the equally magnificent Carrick-a-rede rope bridge dangling a ‘meagre’ 30 metres above a 20 metre wide chasm. If you are daring, and if weather conditions allow, then make sure to cross the bridge. Those who do never fail to be rewarded as the views that greet you on the other side are simply breath-taking.
Belfast city, recognised as a ‘city on the rise’ by Lonely Planet in 2007, is a city that is alive and overflowing with culture, history and vibrancy. The Harland and Wolff shipyard was home to the ill-fated HMS Titanic between 1909 and 1912 - just the tip of the iceberg for such a fascinating city.
Now approaching the 100 year anniversary of the launch of the world famous ship, the city is busy getting ready to commemorate this occasion. The SS Nomadic, sister ship to the Titanic has returned to Belfast harbour and is being restored as well as the dock and pumphouses where the ship was built. The Titanic Visitor Centre will also be opening in April of next year. A plethora of tours take you through the Belfast streets to all the main locations which lent a hand in the making of the ship. Listen to a tour guide share with you interesting trivia and tales about the ship or, alternatively, the Titanic Trail invites you to embark on an audio tour around the city exploring all things Titanic.
Another great way to see all that Belfast has to offer is by taking an infamous Black Taxi Cab tour of the city. No two tours are the same when you decide on a Black Taxi Cab experience. Each tour guide offers personal accounts and stories of Belfast past and present that will captivate you from the moment you fasten your seat belt! Make sure you are armed with a camera on this tour as along the way you will see sights such as the University Quarter, the City centre, the shipyards where the Titanic was built as well as museums and the iconic murals peppered along the streets of Belfast that illustrate Belfast’s troubled past.
After a day of sight-seeing or picking up a bargain in many of the high street shops in Castle Court or Victoria Square, why not soak up the sophistication of the city when sipping on one of the world’s best cocktails at the merchant hotel in the very heart of Belfast.
Last but by no means least any visit to Northern Ireland would be incomplete without visiting St. Patrick’s Country. Take the St. Patrick’s Trail through counties Armagh and Down where in Downpatrick you’ll find the final resting place of our patron saint, St. Patrick outside Down Cathedral. Or visit the St. Patrick Centre and be captivated by the story of St. Patrick.
Article and photos courtesy Discover Ireland.