Northern Ireland Travel Guide
Long known for the bad, old days of The Troubles, today’s Northern Ireland is largely about leaving the past where it belongs, and striving towards a brighter, more prosperous future. While you might be curious about those times, don’t let it dominate your itinerary while here, as there are wonders of nature, mighty castles and a world class museum all waiting to be discovered by you.
While you should be careful to avoid bringing up sensitive political topics with locals (many have lost family and friends in terror attacks and raids during The Troubles), the charming nature of this nation’s people will change any prior negative connotations that you might have had regarding this beautiful country.
Currency: British Pound
Languages: English, Irish
What To Do
In order to get an understanding of what Northern Ireland has been through over in its history, head over to the Ulster Museum in the heart of Belfast, as it contains exhibits on this nation’s natural and cultural treasures. Fossils, animal and plant specimens, and dinosaur remains from around Northern Ireland and the world are all on display here, as are anthropological displays such as samurai armour from Japan and a war canoe from the Solomon Islands.
Those that wish to take a peek at Northern Ireland’s fractious political history can do so by booking a tour of the Shankill and Falls Road political murals. Many of these works document the many painful moments that occurred during The Troubles, including Bloody Sunday and the hunger strike by IRA prisoners in 1981.
As well, there are numerous others commemorating the fallen on both sides, or of political viewpoints that extend beyond Northern Ireland’s boundaries (commentary on American and European/Middle Eastern politics abound).
Regardless of your views on this matter, the amount of detail in these murals will allow you to understand past and present tensions better than reading any history book.
Once you get out into the countryside, make sure check out Carrickfergus Castle in the town of the same name. Located only 18 kilometres away from Belfast, this 800 year old castle is an easy and worthwhile day trip from the capital, as it has been the site of numerous sieges over its history from Scots, Irish, English and French forces. Even the Americans led by John Paul Jones engaged the British in the waters off Carrickfergus during the American Revolutionary War, taking on and defeating a British ship on their own turf.
Today, the castle has been restored to what it would have looked like during medieval times, with the banquet hall being one of its greatest highlights.
Another remnant of the medieval period that is worth seeing in Northern Ireland are the City Walls of Derry, which are considered by many experts to be the finest fortification of its type left standing in Europe today. While these stone walls saw several sieges over its history, they are one of the few over the past millennium that were never breached, which has given Derry its moniker, The Maiden City. Measuring a kilometre and a half in circumference, these stone fortifications also give visitors a unique perch from which to view the Old Town portion of Northern Ireland’s second largest city.
While the descendants of this nation’s current population have built mighty monuments like the defensive structures mentioned previously, they have nothing on what Mother Nature have built over the eons.
One of these creations is the Giant’s Causeway, a lengthy series of basalt columns that can be found along the northern coast of Northern Ireland near Bushmills.
Carved into polygonal shapes by the forces of erosion, this miracle of geology will astound those unaccustomed to this sort of phenomena, making it a must-see for lovers of natural beauty.
Finally, those that enjoy exploring sublime attractions of the subterranean variety ought to explore the Marble Arch Caves before departing Northern Ireland. Located in County Fermanagh close by to the village of Florencecourt, this limestone cave is one of the largest in the UK, and with walkways and extensive electric lighting installed in the show cave, it is accessible to those that are unwilling to spelunk into lesser developed cave systems.
What To Eat
While food in Northern Ireland typically tracks what one usually finds through the rest of Ireland and the United Kingdom, there are a few treats that are unique to this corner of the British Isles. One of these is the Ulster Fry which will you likely consume for breakfast on more than a few occasions during your time in this country.
While it is similar to an English Breakfast, it is distinguished by the presence of soda bread and/or potato farls, which is often fried or grilled before being put on the plate with the eggs, beans, bacon, sausage, and other items that compose your morning meal.
Once a dish made and consumed by the working classes, Boxty is enjoying a resurgence in popularity among Northern Irish of all walks of life. Eaten as either a dumpling or as a pancake, this potato-based dish is made by combining mashed potato and raw, grated potato with flour, baking soda and buttermilk. Eaten on its own or wrapped around a meat dish at dinner, it is a food that you’ll definitely want to try.
If you find yourself at a fair in Northern Ireland, be sure to buy some Yellowman from a confectioner. Despite looking like raw sulphur in appearance, its composition of golden syrup, brown sugar and butter will lend truth to the saying that looks can be deceptive, as its heavenly flavor will lead you to come back for a second serving.