Welcome to this Nomad Ideal Northern Ireland travel guide! Northern Ireland is one of the most beautiful and interesting places in the world, and I never discovered that until I lived abroad for close to 10 years and returned.
I may be biased because this is my home, but despite its political troubles and sad history, this is a land of exceptional beauty and fascinating history. It’s funny how sometimes we can’t see something for what it is until we’ve been outside for a while, but now that I’ve returned to Northern Ireland, I feel lucky to have grown up here.
If you plan to visit Northern Ireland any time in the future, I hope this Northern Ireland travel guide will be of use to you. Just make sure you come in the spring summer to get the best of it, because one thing that isn’t attractive about it is the miserable winter weather!
Northern Ireland – A Snapshot Guide
Northern Ireland is a country which baffles many outsiders, in part because it is three places at once. Despite being on the island of Ireland, Northern Ireland is actually a part of the United Kingdom, but despite that, it isn’t really the UK proper, neither is it Ireland proper, and has a culture, identity, and atmosphere that’s completely unique on its own.
If that isn’t confusing enough, Northern Ireland is also a place where the population is divided close to 50/50 on the issue of whether Ireland should be united, with the small majority currently favouring remaining in the UK. This issue is the central driving force of all political life in Northern Ireland, and has played a central role in the unfolding of the long and complex history of the country.
Politics and history aside, Northern Ireland is a 6 county country composed of Antrim, Down, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Armagh, and Londonderry (although many resent the London part and simply refer to it as Derry). Each of these counties is staggeringly beautiful in its own right, and well worth exploring, at least when the weather is good.
The Northern Irish people are notoriously friendly and hospitable, and have a quick-witted, even offensive, sense of humour which takes outsiders a little while to get used to. It’s not uncommon to hear friends and family members exchange stinging barbs, all in the name of ‘having a bit of craic’, which is local slang for having a good time.
Add in the common fondness for a drink, which I can testify is not a stereotype, and you have all the makings for a very fun trip indeed. Bring your sense of humour, an open mind as to the country’s history, and a good camera to snap some staggering shots, and a trip to Northern Ireland could be one of the best you ever take.
5 Things You Must Do in Northern Ireland
There’s a lot to do in such a small little country, and in truth to really get a feel for the place would take several weeks. Since most people don’t plan to stay that long, we’ve created this quick guide to Northern Ireland’s highlights. If you manage to squeeze these in, you will have seen the best of the place at least.
1. Visit Belfast and Take a Troubles Tour
Belfast is Northern Ireland’s de facto capital, and is the centre of commerce, politics, and just about everything happening in the country.
This is a city steeped in history, sporting gorgeous architecture and a lively, friendly vibe. It’s small by international standards, and many visitor comment on the ‘big town’ feel of Belfast.
The best way to see the historical sites in Belfast is to either jump on the big red bus (there will be ticket salespeople all over the city centre), or to take a ‘black taxi tour’ for your own personal guide.
Belfast is full of murals, murder sites, and places of historical renown, at least in relation to the history of Northern Ireland. There’s no better way to see them than with the assistance of trained professionals who can tell the stories from both sides.
In the other hand, Belfast is jam-packed with trendy cafes, clubs, and bars. It’s a place where the old and the new sit side by side with total comfort. Don’t miss it, because it’s changing fast.
2. See the Giant’s Causeway
It’s difficult to explain exactly what the Giant’s Causeway is. It’s a natural wonder which according to local legend,’was the site of a fight between two giants in ancient times.
This place is like no other on earth, with thousands of stone pillars rising up from the earth to create one of the most unique sights to be found anywhere.
It’s best understood by looking at the picture above. The drive up to the Giant’s Causeway is worth taking in and of itself, along the Antrim coast, one of Northern Ireland’s most beautiful places.
3. Visit the Kingdom of Mourne
It’s not actually a kingdom anymore, but the Kingdom of Mourne is a place of unbelievable beauty, home to one of Northern Ireland’s most famous mountain ranges – the Mournes.
The main town in this area is called Newcastle, where you can have a cup of coffee by the sea and use as a jump off point to explore the Mournes. These aren’t huge mountains and could easily be explored over the course of a few days, but the views are gorgeous and on a sunny day, it’s the type of place you would expect to see a leprechaun running under a rainbow.
The Mournes are the Ireland of your dreams – green rolling hills, peaceful valleys, and powerful Atlantic waves crashing onto the shore.
4. Visit at Least One Castle
Northern Ireland is littered with ancient castles, some which are little more than preserved ruins, while others are fully-functional hotels and tourist sites.
If you want to understand the history of Northern Ireland going far back, you need to see her castles. These are the places where ancient kings kept watch for invading enemies, and given the tools they had at the time, some of them are truly feats of wonder.
We recommend either Narrow Water Castle in Warren Point (not far from the Mournes) or Belfast Castle, two examples of the very finest architecture in the country.
5. Hit the Pubs
Northern Irish people are very friendly and open to outsiders – it’s just eachother they dont like!
You can pick from any number of pubs in the country or Belfast itself (we recommend the Crown Bar in Belfast), and get a feel for what it’s like to drink pints of Guinness by an open fire while talking to the people who know the country best – the people who live there!
There are numerous pubs in every town in the country, meaning wherever you find yourself, you can always pop in for a pint and a chat.
Northern Ireland Summary
It’s no secret that Northern Ireland has a troubled past, but when you visit you will find out that this very tragic past is part of what makes the country what it is. It’s fundamental to virtually every aspect of life, and at least for now, there are still many people who remember the bad times first hand and can tell you endless stories about it.
While it is important to understand the history, Northern Ireland is also moving on and provided the Good Friday Agreement is kept, has a bright and prosperous future ahead.
More and more tourists visit every year, and as they discover the delights of Northern Ireland and tell their friends, more will continue to come.
If you have any questions, drop me a comment and I’ll do my best to answer. It sure is good to be home, and I hope to see you here soon!