Travelers have many reasons to visit Northern Ireland: the stunning coastline of the Causeway, extraordinary castles and the filming locations of the legendary TV series Game of Thrones are just a few of its advantages. This is an amazing region that occupies part of the island and shares its history with it.
Until the 13th century the native Irish lived quietly on their island, but everything changed with the invasion of the British, who began to establish their own rules. The confrontation of nations reached its climax in the 17th century, when the selection of land from the indigenous population began in favor of British officials. The Irish rebelled, and Cromwell responded to the protest with unprecedented cruelty. Until 1919, passions subsided, but then the locals again got involved in a war with the colonialists. Two years later, England agreed to recognize the sovereignty of Ireland, but during the referendum it turned out that six northern counties wished to remain with the British. So in 1920 a new state appeared — the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The southern part of the island remained independent, became known as the Republic of Ireland, but did not forgive the northerners for their «betrayal». Throughout the 20th century both Northern Ireland and England have been subject to terrorist attacks by the IRA, but they have ceased in the last 25 years. Today, Northern Ireland, with a population of almost 2 million people, lives quite peacefully and even, in contrast to the UK, does not want to leave the European Union.
Currently, Northern Ireland uses the flag of Great Britain, but at the same time has its own, which was in use only in 1953-1972. This is the «banner of Ulster»: a white background, a red cross, a six-pointed star and a «red hand», symbolizing the connection between the modern country and its historical past. This symbol can also be seen on the state emblem of Northern Ireland, where it is supported by a red lion in a gold collar and an Irish elk. The division of the island is surprisingly visible even in small things: in the south, road signs indicate the distance in meters, and in the north — in miles, southerners pay in euros, and the currency of Northern Ireland is the pound sterling.
Northern Ireland on the map
The northeastern part of the island is separated from Scotland by the North Strait, only 20-30 km wide. Not surprisingly, few people can tell the difference between a photo of the Irish coast and the Scottish one. The country occupies almost a quarter of the island, and its territory is just under 14 thousand square meters. km. The historical name of Northern Ireland is Ulster, but this is geographically not entirely correct. Ulster is a vast historical region, consisting of nine counties, of which, when the island was divided, only six remained with the northerners, the remaining three joined the southerners.
Counties of Northern Ireland
The country is easy to navigate as it is divided into six districts called counties:
- Antrim. The capital Belfast is located here, as is the stunning Giant’s Causeway, a natural gem on the north coast.
- arma. The most turbulent territory since the division of Ireland and, at the same time, its ecclesiastical capital.
- Derry. Also called Londonderry, but not everyone likes this name as too English, and therefore both names are written with a slash.
- Down. Famous for the Morne Mountains, an area of outstanding natural beauty.
- Fermanagh. Mostly rural area adjacent to the Irish border and famous for its many lakes.
- Tyrone. Luxurious moorlands of the Sperrin Mountains.
Major cities in Northern Ireland
The most noteworthy cities of the country from a tourist point of view:
- Belfast is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland. Devastated by three decades of wars, it has been reborn in recent years and is now a dynamic, modern city.
- Ohma. The home of a folklore park that tells the story of emigration from Ulster to America in the 18th-19th centuries.
- City of Derry/Londonderry famous for the only well-preserved stone city walls of the 16th century in Northern Ireland.
- Coleraine. The main starting point for traveling along the coast of the Causeway.
- Bangor — the best coastal resort in Northern Ireland, where the largest marina and good shops are located.
- Enniskillen. A picturesque town, ideal for exploring the lakes around Lough Erne.
- Lisburn — the birthplace of the linen industry in Northern Ireland.
- Newry — the best place for shopping in the country after Belfast.
Climate in Northern Ireland
The weather in this part of the island is unpredictable and it is not uncommon for residents to experience the full range of meteorological conditions within an hour. The area is especially prone to rain, and this is an occasion for endless jokes. The climate is temperate maritime, much more humid in the west than in the east. In summer, the temperature in Belfast reaches +18 °C, and in winter it remains at about +6 °C.
Nature of Northern Ireland
There are natural attractions in every county, and it is simply impossible to miss them. The real pride of Northern Ireland is its rivers, mountains and lakes:
- Morne mountains — a paradise for walkers, where the old mountain trails pass by lakes, rivers, forests to beautiful peaks. It offers stunning views towards England and Scotland.
- Ratlin is the only inhabited offshore island in Northern Ireland. Diving flourishes in sea caves and among sunken ships.
- Coast Causeway — one of the best landscapes in Europe. This is a place where sea waves merge into a romantic landscape with deep ravines, lush forest parks, powerful waterfalls and mysterious ruins.
- loch neagh is the largest freshwater lake in Northern Ireland. Peerless wild beauty, surrounded by hills and moorlands, beckons travelers to walk along its banks. Swimming in the lake will not work, the water is too cold, but taking a boat ride or fishing is easy.
- Giant Causeway or Giant Causeway in Northern Ireland — the main attraction of the region. This is an array of hexagonal basalt columns, covered with legends about the ancient Irish giants. It is so magnificent that it is hard to believe that such beauty is the work of nature, and not of a man (or a giant). Nearby is the mystical rope bridge Carrick-a-Rede.
- Caves Marble Arches, showing 895 million years of the planet’s history both above and below the earth. Spacious dungeons with running rivers, waterfalls and fascinating geological features are available from March to October.
- Dark Alley or Dark Hedges — the most mystical place in Northern Ireland. Centuries-old beeches intertwined with crowns, forming a fantastic corridor that became the backdrop for several scenes of the Game of Thrones.
Landmarks of Northern Ireland
The country combines centuries of history with an attractive modern atmosphere that shows that time has not stood still here. In addition to the stunningly beautiful nature, you should pay attention to museums, castles and architectural monuments:
- Fort Navan — an important center of the region since about 1150 BC, associated with the legends of Cuchulain, the former capital of Ulster and the residence of the legendary knights of the Red Branch.
- Dunluce Castle — one of the symbols of Northern Ireland. Its ruins on top of the basalt are blown by all the winds and it seems that they have never been a whole building, but just came into being — dilapidated mystical ruins.
- The ramparts of Derry 1.5 km long, 8 m high and 9 m thick. They have been preserved since 1619, and even seven of their gates remained intact.
- City Hall in the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast — a luxurious Renaissance building of the early 20th century, which can be visited free of charge with a guided tour.
- Ulster American Folk Park — an open-air museum, a mixture of Irish and American traditions and the obligatory mention of Gerald O’Hare. Costumed guides explain the art of fishing, weaving, blacksmithing and other crafts.
- «Titanic Belfast» — one of the most interesting new museums in Northern Ireland, built on the site of the shipyard, from where the infamous ship was launched. This is an exhibition of reconstructions and special effects that imitate the presence on the ship and even at the bottom of the Atlantic.
- Distillery «Old Bushmills» — the oldest licensed factory in the world, offers excursions to the production with a mandatory tasting.
- Castle Ward — of all the castles in Northern Ireland, it was he who best suited the role of the epic Winterfell from the Game of Thrones.
Traditions and customs of Northern Ireland
Once upon a time, religious traditions were sacredly honored in the country, but at present they remain only in its remote lands. 41% of the population identifies themselves as Protestants, the same number as Catholics, but in general, religion in Northern Ireland no longer has the same importance as it used to. However, St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 is celebrated everywhere and quite widely — with colorful processions and fun fairs. No less brightly celebrate Orange Day on July 12 — the memory of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
Other national holidays in Northern Ireland — Samhain (May 1) and Beltane (November 1) — are of Celtic origin, and on these days the mountains, plateaus and plains are illuminated by the light of thousands of bonfires to bring prosperity to homes. Of the modern cultural events, the May “Belfast Maritime Festival” is famous — a maritime holiday, when everyone can climb on the deck of a ship, watch a theatrical performance and taste fresh seafood at the fair. In the culture of Northern Ireland over the century since the partition, carefully preserved ancient traditions and new ones introduced by the British have managed to closely intertwine.
Cuisine of Northern Ireland
Fried food is very popular in the country, especially the Ulster Fry, which consists of eggs, bacon, sausages with potato or soda bread. Some versions include tomatoes, mushrooms, or baked beans. Some shops on the north coast near Ballycastle sell the local delicacy, dulse, dried red seaweed. In general, the cuisine is similar to English, in particular, you can find fish and chips everywhere. In addition, Irish people love mashed potatoes with green onions.
With the coming of the armistice and the improvement of economic conditions in the country, the number of very good restaurants has increased significantly in recent years, especially in large cities such as Belfast and Derry. Particular attention is paid to local products. Locally produced meat, cheeses and drinks can be found in any supermarket. For a real Northern Irish experience, try Tayto brand cheese and bring it back as a treat to friends.
Visa to Northern Ireland
Since it is part of the United Kingdom, it has exactly the same entry requirements as England, Scotland and Wales. Citizens of the UK and the European Union travel here without a passport, foreigners with an English visa also arrive freely in Northern Ireland. Citizens of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Korea, Taiwan, USA and Uruguay do not need a permit to stay here for less than 6 months. Most other countries require a visa, which can be obtained from the nearest British embassy.
While there is no passport control at the land border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, travelers must carry the necessary documentation to allow them to enter the UK.
How to get there?
Most often, people arrive on the island by plane. There are three airports in the country — two in Belfast and one in Derry. «George Best Belfast City Airport» and «Derry Airport» serve the UK and Ireland, «Belfast International Airport», known as «Aldergrove», receives flights from all over Europe. Ferries cross the Irish Sea from the UK to Larne or Belfast. Travel time is from 1 to 2 hours, depending on whether it is an express or a regular ship.