Head north of Dublin and find yourself at the border of Northern Ireland. The time of “the troubles” is past. For Americans, this is great news—many of your relatives came from here. For people from the UK, more great news—you’re on the same monetary system and just a hop away. It’s time to discover this hidden gem.
1. Giant’s Causeway
A UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the Paleogene period, Antrim was subject to intense volcanic activity, when highly fluid molten basalt intruded through chalk beds to form an extensive lava plateau. As the lava cooled rapidly, contraction occurred, creating an extensive fracture network that produced the distinctive hexagonal columns seen today. An arguanbly more interesting and legendary explanation, has it that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Fionn McCool) built the causeway to walk to Scotland to fight his Scottish counterpart Benandonner. One version of the legend tells that Fionn fell asleep before he got to Scotland. When he did not arrive, the much larger Benandonner crossed the bridge looking for him. To protect Fionn, his wife Oonagh laid a blanket over him so he could pretend that he was actually their baby son. In a variation, Fionn fled after seeing Benandonner’s great bulk, and asked his wife to disguise him as the baby. In both versions, when Benandonner saw the size of the ‘infant’, he assumed the alleged father, Fionn, must be gigantic indeed. Therefore, Benandonner fled home in terror, ripping up the Causeway in case he was followed by Fionn.
Approximately one third of the population of Northern Ireland – about half a million people – live in Belfast. It’s setting is very attractive, nestling in a semicircle of hills, where the River Langan enters Belfast Lough. The city got it’s name from Beile Feirst “the mouth of the sandy ford” – and was founded in 1177 when the Anglo-Normans built a castle here. It began to really expand in the 17th century with the development of the local linen and shipbuilding industries (the Titanic was built here). Sights to see in Belfast City, the Belfast City Hall, built of Portland stone in Classical Renaissance style, dominates the city center. The Linen Hall Library, founded in 1788 is an absolute delight, a cultural centre with exhibitions, a Theater & Performing Arts Archive and a Genealogy and Heraldry collection. Away from the city center you have the Ulster Museum in the Botanic Gardens, near Queens University which has miles of galleries and exhibitions. This lively and friendly city, with historic buildings standing side-by-side with modern creations is a delight not to be missed.
3. The Titanic Belfast
Opened on March 31, 2012, Titanic Belfast is a very impressive, state-of-the-art facility that covers more than 130,000 square feet. The striking building took more than 4 years to construct at a cost of GB 77 million pounds. It stands at 126 feet high – the exact same height as the hull of the famous, doomed ship. Titanic Belfast extends over nine galleries, with multiple dimensions to the exhibition, drawing together special effects, dark rides, full-scale reconstructions and innovative interactive features to explore the Titanic story in a fresh and insightful way; from her conception in Belfast in the early 1900s, through her construction and launch, to her infamous maiden voyage and catastrophic demise. The journey goes beyond the aftermath of the sinking, to the discovery of the wreck and continues into the present day with a live undersea exploration centre.
4. Derry and its Ancient City Walls
The story of Derry is a long and tumultuous one. Set on a hill on the banks of the Foyle estuary, strategically close to the open sea, it came under siege and attack for over a thousand years. You can walk along the great 17th-century walls, about a mile round and 18 feet thick, which withstood several sieges and even today are unbroken and complete, with old cannon still pointing their black noses over the ramparts. The great siege lasted for 105 days. Today, there’s an atmosphere of optimism in Derry and the city buzzes with life. It’s an artistic city, with theatres, galleries and other cultural centres and a number of annual festivals. Its people, with their gentle accent, are very welcoming.
5. Glens of Antrim
The Glens of Antrim (there are 9) are beautifully unique and a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Within twenty square miles you can enjoy natural landscape that covers glacial valleys, sandy beaches, vertical cliffs, tundra plateau, boglands, wooded decidious glens, coniferous forests, waterfalls and picturesque villages! Antrim’s coast, from the busy port of Larne to the resorts of Portrush and Portstewart, is dotted with beaches and rocky inlets. Ancient sites and places of intrigue abound too. In addition to wonderful scenery, the landscape is dominated by spectacular ruins of fortresses built by Gaelic chieftains and Norman invaders. Ireland’s first inhabitants, nomadic boatmen from Scotland, are believed to have landed in this area around 7000 BC.
Bushmills is the gateway to the Giant’s Causeway, a unique rock formation formed 55 million years ago by cooling lava flows, although according to local legend the symmetrical columns were part of a bridge to Scotland built and then destroyed by the famous Irish giant, Finn McCool. Similar rock formations can be found on the Scottish coast. The Causeway visible today is all that remains of the bridge. If visiting the Causeway be sure to take the cliff walk route so that you descend to the water’s edge and approach the Causeway itself from the east. The views across to Scotland and west along the coast to the mountains of Donegal are magnificient. Bushmills is also famous as the home of the world’s oldest whiskey distillery. The license to produce the famous malt whiskey was granted by King James I in 1608. Visitors can take a one hour guided tour which includes a tasting. Just west of Bushmills, the ruins of Dunluce Castle dramatically straddle sheer cliffs that plunge hundreds of feet into the sea. And of course you cannot leave County Antrim without testing your nerves on the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge which can be found just 6 miles east of Bushmills near the village of Ballintoy. It may look easy .
Interested in Traveling to Northern Ireland? We Recommend:
- Northern Exposure Self-Drive Vacation
- 14-Night All Ireland Vacation
- Irish Classic All Inclusive Vacation