Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom’s smallest region of 1.7 million people, is compact and universally welcoming, yet diverse. Nowhere is more than a 2-hour drive from anywhere else. Rural tranquility combines with the vibrant friendliness of the cities – Belfast, the capital, and Derry-Londonderry – to create an intriguing British/Irish uniqueness and cultural richness. Taste and hear it in the cuisine (an ‘Ulster fry’ breakfast or a bowl of champ mash) served to a soundtrack of pipes and fiddles amid local craic (witty banter) in pubs and cafés across the land.
Travel from Belfast along the beautiful Antrim coast to the Giant’s Causeway. There you’ll encounter the legend of the mythical giant, Finn McCool, at this world heritage site, a geological wonder of basalt columns leading down to the ocean. South of Belfast lies Downpatrick, a shrine to Ireland’s patron saint. Visit his grave then continue the coastal route to Newcastle’s world-renowned golf links and the towering mountains of Mourne.
History matters; it shouts from the walls. Discover Belfast’s backstreet murals during a colourful guided tour of its recent past. Or taste its nightlife in the lanes around the cathedral. Belfast’s Titanic Quarter and docks, where the liner was built, resurrects the 1912 disaster in an interactive visitor centre on a scale befitting the tragedy. Or visit the 2013 UK City of Culture, Derry-Londonderry, to walk its ancient walls, scene of 17th century sieges, or cross the Peace Bridge over the winding River Foyle.
Northern Ireland’s western counties – Tyrone, Fermanagh and Londonderry – spring quiet surprises. Glenelly Valley, among the lonely, unspoilt peaks of the Sperrin Mountains, brims with rare birdsong and chattering streams. Pan for gold there or head southwest to Fermanagh’s loughs to find hundreds of islands replete with a history of pre-Christian occupation, pagan rituals and Viking raids.