Top 10 Things to Do in Northern Ireland

Hit the road on the Causeway Coastal Route, get down with Belfast's best musicians, and soak up the otherworldly scenery featured in Game of Thrones.

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Northern Ireland blends centuries of history with an engaging modern vibe that shows time definitely hasn’t stood still. Mix in welcoming smiles and jaw-dropping vistas, and it all adds up to ten travel experiences that simply can’t be had anywhere else.

 

ROCK OUT IN BELFAST

Belfast boasts a proud musical history and the beat shows no signs of slowing down. Modern bands that more than do their elders justice are on tap nightly at clubs and pubs all across town. The Oh Yeah Music Centre’s Belfast Music Exhibition proudly showcases memories and memorabilia of artists from Van Morrison to Snow Patrol. Take to the streets for a guided bus tour of musical Belfast including Ulster Hall, where Led Zeppelin first performed “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Van the Man’s” childhood home. Then dance the night away with an array of talented local musicians that you may not know yet, but will never forget. Culture Northern Ireland has the skinny on performers and shows from folk, rock, and reggae to techno and classical recitals.

 

TAKE A PASSAGE ON THE TITANIC

Arguably the world’s most famous ship was born right here in the Belfast shipyards. (“She was fine when she left here,” some locals like to say.) Titanic Belfast is an engaging exhibition of reconstructions, special effects, and interactive features that help you experience the Titanic journey from the docks, to the decks, and even to the bottom of the Atlantic. Continue the adventure on a boat tour around Belfast harbor for a different perspective on Titanic history and the entire port of Belfast. During summer months, the city’s large breeding seal colony, often appear over the bow.

 

TOUR THE CAUSEWAY COAST

The Causeway Coastal Route is world-renowned. There’s a good reason—those who soak in this road’s dramatic seaside vistas and emerald glens can’t stop singing their praises. Stop at the ruined Dunluce Castle, perched on an ocean cliff so precipitous that the castle’s kitchens dropped into the sea one night in 1639. Test your head for heights by walking the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge above the waves from clifftop to island and back. And marvel at the Giant’s Causeway, a 50-60-million-year-old pile of basalt columns, stretching into the sea, that has inspired awe and legends in equal measure throughout the long centuries of Irish history. When the day is done wet your whistle at another famed attraction. Take a tour of the Old Bushmills Distillery, the oldest working distillery in Ireland, to get a behind the scenes look at small-batch whiskey production and sample a smooth dram for yourself.

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WALK THE WALLS OF LONDONDERRY (DERRY)

Northern Ireland’s second city is vibrant, modern urban center with one of Europe’s youngest populations. But its heart is cloaked in 17th-century stone, an enduring engineering marvel of the age. Nearly a mile of stone walls, built between 1613-1618, encircle inner Londonderry (Derry) and provide a pleasant stroll around one of Europe’s very finest surviving walled cities. The ramparts are studded with seven gates and one of the continent’s greatest collection of cannons including Roaring Meg—famed for the terrifying sound she unleashed during the 1689 Siege. (The city never fell.) Learn more about the city’s fascinating history at the Tower Museum. Displays here include items salvaged from La Trinidad Valencera, which was one of the biggest ships in the ill-fated 1588 Spanish Armada before it came to grief just offshore.

 

TOUR THE SEVEN KINGDOMS

The real world Westeros features landscapes every bit as striking and unforgettable as those seen in Game of Thrones—and you can enjoy them without fear of being beheaded. Visit spectacular sites from the show scattered around Northern Ireland on your own, or on specialized tours catering to fans of the Starks and Lannisters—some including choose-your-own costumes, bonfires, and feasts fit for a king. Visit the Winterfell film set at Castle Ward and try your hand at archery or meet the Direwolves Odin and Thor. Stroll the Dark Hedges, an avenue of 18th century beech trees more familiar to fans as the King’s Road. If you dare, head north of the Wall into the Haunted Forest itself with a visit to Tollymore Forest Park. Tourism Ireland has painstakingly mapped the Seven Kingdoms to help fans plan their own quasi-medieval fantasy trips.

 

TEE IT UP LIKE RORY

With four major championships and counting, Rory McIlroy has raised Northern Ireland’s game in the golf world. You might not be able to play like Rory, but at least you can enjoy a round on the same courses he loves. Northern Ireland is home to some of the world’s best links courses and you’re welcome to play them even if your game isn’t quite world class. Royal County Down is a private club, but visitors are welcome to play the Championship Links (if reserved well in advance) several days a week. Royal Portrush Golf Club, which will be home to the 148th Open in 2019, also welcomes advance reservations from members of other recognized golf clubs. Although these two institutions enjoy global fame, don’t overlook a local favorite and Rory’s home club. Holywood Golf Club offers even duffers a scenic round set in the hills just a few miles outside of Belfast.

 

TAKE A HIKE TO HARE’S GAP

Some of the most rugged and inspiring scenery in the Mourne Mountains is found on the hike through Hare’s Gap, a moderately taxing jaunt of about 2 miles each way. As you climb to the pass imagine the ice sheets that once helped shape this range, and glimpse the inspiration for Belfast-native C.S. Lewis’s land of Narnia. Spare a thought for the smugglers as well. The gap was once a gateway for smuggled spices, coffee and other goods that were carried here from the coast along the Brandy Pad route for distribution into the Trassey River valley below.

For a more leisurely loop try the circular ridge trail around the top of Divis and the Black Mountain just outside Belfast. The moderate trail takes around three hours, and, on a clear day, it delivers incredible views of Scotland and the Isle of Man.

 

EXPLORE THE FERMANAGH UNDERGROUND

Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark is a celebrated UNESCO site that shows off 895 million years of Earth’s history both above ground and below. Today the landscape surrounding Cuilcagh Mountain is an appealing one of uplands, lakes and forests. But over the eons it has seen mountains rise and fall, deserts, and even tropical oceans. You can read these ancient stories in the enduring rock, thanks to surprises like the coral fossils found on the slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain. Below the surface an entirely different world awaits. Vast caverns, running rivers, waterfalls, and fascinating geological features are on display in Marble Arch Caves, one of the finest European caves open to the public. From March to October, take a 75-minute tour through this subterranean wonderland by boarding an underground boat ride that leads to a mile-long guided walk through and out of the cave.

 

EXILE YOURSELF ON RATHLIN ISLAND

Robert the Bruce is said to have been exiled on Northern Ireland’s northernmost speck of land in 1306. Once you visit Rathlin Island you’ll be tempted to linger voluntarily. So get away from it all. Take the local ferry from Ballycastle, which takes 25 to 45 minutes. Some 150 friendly locals call the island home, and their quaint port village soon gives way to quiet country best explored by walking or by bicycle, which can be rented on the island. Stunning vistas blend land, sea and sky. Many interesting birds call the island home, at least seasonally, including a colony of puffins. The experts at the RSPB seabird center are a terrific help to experts and would-be birders alike. Whether you stay a few hours or a few days, don’t forget to take in the view from the unique “upside-down” lighthouse before you head back to the mainland.

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LIVE THE LAKE LIFE IN COUNTY FERMANAGH

County Fermanagh may be landlocked, but the way to its heart is by water. Lough Erne, actually two connected lakes, is dotted with intriguing islands to explore. Devenish Island’s monastic site dates to the 6th century and its famed round tower was built in the 12th century. Curious ancient figures are found on White Island and on Boa Island where the two-faced Janus figure was carved by Celts circa 400 to 800 AD.

The local waters provide plenty of live action as well. The Erne system is famed for fine fishing of two distinct flavors; brown trout on Lower Lough Erne and pike on the Upper Lough. The lake’s scenic shorelines are home to a number of National Trust castle and great house properties. Celebrated inns, hotels, and restaurants serve up the culinary delights that are increasingly earning rave reviews in Fermanagh and across Northern Ireland.

The lake is friendly to paddlers with plenty of canoe and kayak rentals and a designated trail complete with camping. Non-paddlers can hop on a day cruise, or hire a boat and chart a course wherever they wish. If the lough only whets your appetite for more, consider moving on to the Shannon Erne Waterway. Thirty-nine miles of scenic canal, river and lake connect the lough with Ireland’s famed River Shannon—and hundreds more miles of adventure.

 

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Is this the most beautiful walk in Ireland?

One of the joys of an Irish summer is the 17 hours of light every day and how easy it is to get around this relatively small island. One taxi and two trains later I went from an office worker in Dublin city to following the Kerry Camino in the footsteps of Saint Brendan the Navigator.

Over two days we took on the challenge of walking from Tralee to Dingle (39 km / 22.4 miles) taking in some of the most wonderful countryside and sights.

The Kerry Camino route, from Tralee to Dingle, is believed to have been taken by pilgrims and monks on their way to St. James Church, in Dingle, and onward further afield to Santiago, Spain.

It’s also the route followed by St. Brendan, one of Ireland’s most famous saints, in 512AD. According to the text “The Voyage of St. Brendan” it was this traveling preacher who first reached the shores of America.

Not only is this area steeped in history it’s also one of “the most beautiful places on earth,” officially, according to National Geographic. For a personal added bonus the sun shone upon us for our whole trip. Absolutely magic.

Day 1

Our first port of call was Tralee, the county town of Kerry, and a lively spot with bars, cafes, shops, and restaurants lining the streets. We stayed at the Grand Hotel and enjoyed a really delicious meal in the bar (mussels served with brown bread and plaice served with a seafood bisque).

What’s great about walking 39 kilometers (22.4 miles) in two days is that you have free rein to eat whatever you desire and sleep like the dead. What could be better?

Day 2

The next morning we were driven to the small village of Camp to start our walk. We were instructed by our driver to stick to our walking notes and keep our eyes peeled for the clear signs along the trail. Of course, we managed to get lost almost immediately, but after getting ourselves back on track the walk went without a hitch.

The walk from Camp to Annascaul is 17 km (10.2 miles) and takes you through the wonderfully lush and empty valleys below the Caherconree Mountain.

What was breathtaking was that during our four-hour walk (we were very pleased with that time, by the way) we saw only two other people. We were surrounded by the rolling hills, exposed rocks, with quick glimpses of the sea in the distance, and thankfully the blissful sun.

We had lunch at Inch Beach, the longest beach in Ireland and a favorite among water sports fanatics. Even in though the winds are almost too strong to stand on the beach there were kite surfers and brave swimmers heading out into the break.

Far more sensibly we took refuge in Sam’s Cafe for coffee and cake.

We arrived in Annascaul, the birthplace and home of the much admired Antarctic survivor and hero Tom Crean. Our first stop, almost the centerpiece of the town, was the South Pole Inn, the bar that Crean opened after he retired from the British Navy in 1920.

The walls of the pub are filled with the most amazing photos of hardy Polar heroes that really put your last 17-kilometer walk into perspective. The heroes’ bar is a lively spot with great food (we tried the fish and chips and braised lamb and mash), their own lager named after the man himself, and live music.

That evening we also ventured to Hannafin’s bar to sip wine, play board games and listen to the chat around the bar. The bar run by John (a retired teacher, turned farmer, and bar owner) played Bowie and the atmosphere was perfect for folks bewildered by too much fresh air and walking.

By the end our one-day stay in Annascaul we were already calling Noel and Moira, our hosts who run the Annascaul Bed & Breakfast, our Fear and Bean an Tí (Man and Woman of the House). They made us feel instantly at home and most importantly provided a hearty Irish breakfast the next day.

Day 3

Feeling like pros after one day of walking we set out from Annascaul and headed towards Dingle, a 22 kilometer (14 miles) walk.

Our first stop was definitely the most memorable stop of our trip. The natural storm beach next to Minard Castle is such a beautiful spot it borders on being surreal. Sitting on the black boulders of the storm beach next to the remains of a 16th-century castle we looked out at the Dingle Bay and the Iveragh Peninsula stretching into the distance.

Did I mention it was still sunny? Truly, there’s nowhere in the world better than being in Ireland in the sun.

Onward we headed to Conor’s Pass and this is where the walk got a little more difficult. However, the payoff was the amazing views. The route took us up through farmland, over streams and on through gorgeous sparsely inhabited roads dotted with beautiful houses.

The road into Dingle did seem to go on for an eternity and when the village eventually appeared it was like an oasis. Dingle is just like a postcard. Having seen so many photos of the beautifully colored houses and shopfronts and the harbor and the fishing boats going out to sea, the town felt almost familiar.

After checking in at the Lantern B & B we headed to the wonderful Dick Macks, a beautiful, family-owned traditional pub built around the remnants of the old family shoe shop.

For dinner, we went to the Out of the Blue for what was definitely one of the best meals I’ve had in some time. We tried the gambas al aglio, monkfish with gambas, followed by a hot dark chocolate brownie. Truly delicious.

Day 4

A little achy we checked out and wandered the beautiful boutiques that have becomes synonymous with villages like Dingle, selling Irish-made products like pottery, jewelry, and clothes. We then popped into the neatly designed and strangely urban Bean in Dingle for a serious cuppa Joe and on to the now famous Murphy’s Ice Cream where I tried their sea-salt ice cream before we jumped on the bus to get the train back to Dublin.

Regrettably, I come from the Ryanair generation and while growing up at every opportunity I was on a plane to Europe instead of enjoying our own gorgeous island. This trip has given me a stern lesson…get out and see what’s in store in Ireland.

Only one word describes it…Magic.

For more information on the various tours and vacations available like this visit Camino Ways here.

 

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Why traveling to London is cheaper than you think

If you’ve never been to London — or if it’s been a while since your last visit — now’s the time to go. The dollar is strong, airfare is cheap and, because it’s winter, the city isn’t filled with tourists.

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“Airfares are down as a result of lower fuel prices, uncertainty surrounding Brexit and increased competition from a new generation of low-cost carriers across the Atlantic,” said Gary Leff, who writes the popular travel blog View From the Wing. “Combined with a strong dollar and more choices with accommodations like Airbnb, leisure travel to London is more accessible than it’s been in years.”

Ed Pizzarello, founder of the travel blog Pizza in Motion, recalls that the first time he and his wife visited London, the pound was trading at almost $2. But now it’s “at a rate I haven’t seen in my adult lifetime,” he said. “When you combine that with all the low-cost carriers driving down the price of airline tickets, London is close enough for a weekend trip or much longer.”

And don’t let the winter chill keep you away. “I enjoy visiting in the winter especially, as there’s a certain charm and coziness to London that not all cities can manage in gloomy weather,” said Tiffany Funk, who helps run the travel consulting company PointsPros and writes for the popular blog One Mile at A Time.

British Airways just announced a round-trip flight to London, with five nights in a hotel, beginning at $689 per person from several American cities in February.

“It’s now possible to snag a ticket from the U.S. to London for under $500, so it’s more accessible than ever before,” said One Mile at A Time’s founder, Ben Schlappig. And the devalued pound “takes some of the sting out of pricey hotels and restaurants,” Funk said, adding that “many of the best attractions and museums in London are free to begin with.”

(…)

Of course, there are lots of hotels in London in the middle and lower ranges, too. (…).

And once you’re there, there’s no place in the world like London for cultural and historical sightseeing.

In Central London, the Houses of Parliament tour costs about $23 if you book ahead of time, and you can walk around inside the iconic building and see the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

The town of Windsor in Berkshire County is just a short train ride away. Windsor Castle is a favorite of Queen Elizabeth II. When she’s there, the Royal Standard flag flies over the castle. When she’s away, the British flag flies.

The castle houses Queen Mary’s Doll House, which was designed by a leading architect and built for the queen by some of the top furniture makers and craftsmen in the 1920s. It has working lights and plumbing.

Windsor Castle caught fire in 1992, but it has been completely restored, and it shines.

Also in the countryside is Hampton Court Palace, the royal residence for King Henry VIII. Built in the 1500s, it’s worth seeing for serious history buffs.

No tour of London is complete without a visit to London’s famous Tower, which was founded by William the Conqueror in 1066 and offers a great overview of British history. The crown jewels are displayed here, and it’s a perfect spot for selfies in front of Tower Bridge.

There also are many world-famous museums, including the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern, the Courtauld Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The least known of them, Courtauld Gallery, has many famous paintings, including works by Van Gogh, Renoir and Modigliani.

The Victoria and Albert Museum — “the V&A” — is massive and takes days to explore, much like the Met in New York and the Louvre in Paris. It’s a bit overwhelming, but you can get a quick overview in a few hours. It’s also free.

And you can’t leave London without seeing one of its newest tourist attractions … the London Eye. Sure, it’s a little touristy and crowded, but who cares? The views are incredible.

Splurge for an express pass ($49/adult) to cut down on the wait time, and jump onto a moving “pod” that is mostly see-through. Each pod has about 10-15 other people on it. Don’t worry about pushing to the front, because there are views from all sides. You can see Parliament and Big Ben, The Thames, Buckingham Palace, the Shard and pretty much all of central London.

As for the food … London is quickly shedding its reputation for being a foodie desert. The city’s culinary scene has come a long way in the past decade.

Want proof? Visit Massimo Restaurant, known for its impeccable service and homemade pasta, near Trafalgar Square. It’s a glamorous scene.

 

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Ireland named ‘best destination in Europe’ by US travel publication

It’s the third year in a row Ireland has picked up the award from Travel Weekly.

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TOURISM CHIEFS ARE hailing another accolade from US travel sector ‘bible’ Travel Weekly, after Ireland was named as Europe’s ‘best destination’ by the publication.
It’s the third year in a row Ireland has picked up the award.
“We are delighted that Ireland has been singled out for this award in the United States,” Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons said in a statement.

« Travellers nowadays have tremendous choice, which makes it more important than ever for us to ensure the island of Ireland stands out from other destinations. »

Figures released at the end of last month showed more tourists had visited Ireland in 2016 than ever before. The CSO stats showed an 11.6% increase in overseas visits to the country between January and October.

Despite the fact that the country is now on course for nine million tourists this year, Fáilte Ireland’s CEO Shaun Quinn urged caution and warned against complacency in the sector.

He said:
« However, unexpected events during the year – such as Brexit – serve as a warning that we can take nothing in life for granted and are a good antidote to any creeping complacency in the tourism sector. »

Gibbons said in his statement today that by the year’s end “we will have welcomed about 1.6 million American and Canadian visitors, delivering revenue of €1.4 billion for the economy throughout 2016 ».

Travel Weekly is the leading weekly paper for American travel agents, and some 15,000 of its readers voted in the various categories earlier this year.

In case you were wondering, the ‘best destination’ for Africa this year was South Africa, the best US state was Hawaii and the favourite destination for the Asia/Pacific region was Australia.

 

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10 things you didn’t know about Devon and Cornwall

From the pros (ancient bakeries) to the cons (high radioactivity), make sure you know your facts before making the journey to Devon and Cornwall

10 Things You Didn't Know About Devon and Cornwall

1. The River Tamar is a natural boundary between Devon and Cornwall. According to recent research by Oxford University there is a stark genetic division that closely matches this border, meaning that people on either side of the river have totally different DNA dating back to 600 AD.

2. Forget about leaving the country for a much-needed dose of Vitamin D. Last year, Plymouth Marine Laboratory smugly announced that Cornish seas were hotter than Santa Monica, California, so brave that bikini and top up that tan.

3. Kernowek, the Cornish language, has had less impact on English than Hawaiian, Swahili or Zulu, ranking 45th on the list of the languages we have borrowed the most words from. Supposedly this is down to Anglo-Saxon snobbery. After all, when was the last time you used the word fugou? That’s Cornish for a house dug into the ground, by the way.

4. As if the region’s favourite snack didn’t have enough to worry about with the pasty tax – apparently the direction you crimp your pasty depends on where you’re from. That’s to the side for a proper Cornish pasty and on the top if you’re from Devon. Every year a world pasty championship is held, this year it was won by a Chilean miner and an 88-year-old woman.

5. Westward Ho! is the only place in Britain that uses an exclamation mark. We think it makes it sound rather jolly. It is also the only place to be named after a book, Charles Kingsley’s 1855 novel, to be precise. Developers rode on the coat tails of its success, building a hotel using its name. It’s stuck ever since.

6. Can you imagine trying to buy furniture to fit a 16-sided house? That was the problem facing Jane Parminter and her cousin Mary, who designed and lived in Britain’s only Hexadecagon home in Exmouth. Mixing Byzantine motifs with Georgian country cottage vibes, they filled it with objects they collected on their ten-year grand tour.

7. Joseph Hansom was a real jack-of-all-trades. Not only did he design the handsome cathedral in Plymouth, he invented the world’s first taxi, otherwise known as a ‘hansom cab’.

8. … and while you’re there, sample some heritage hotcakes at Jackas on Southside Street. Britain’s oldest bakery has been baking buns since Sir Francis Drake’s time, originally selling ship biscuits to voyagers, it fuelled pilgrims all the way to the Americas.

9. There’s something fantastically sci-fi about the sign cautioning ‘you are now entering a radioactive area’ on the border crossing from Somerset into Devon. Devon and Cornwall are in fact the most radioactive parts of the UK, but it’s not all bad news, the high levels of radon are partially responsible for its stunning hilly landscape.

10. Who ever said you couldn’t find the answer at the bottom of a glass? Michael Morpurgo was inspired to write War Horse after meeting some veterans at his local pub, The Duke of York in Iddesleigh, Dartmoor.

 

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Titanic Belfast named King of the World!

Titanic Belfast have just been crowned the ‘World’s Leading Tourist Attraction’ at the prestigious World Travel Awards in the Maldives!

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Having already beaten the Colosseum, the Acropolis and the Eiffel Tower to become Europe’s official Leading Tourist Attraction, we’ve now sailed our way to victory, becoming the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction!! With over 1 million votes cast from over 216 countries in the awards, known as the ‘Tourism Oscars’, Titanic Belfast was awarded the title this afternoon, after beating off stiff competition from eight global finalists – including Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, the Las Vegas Strip, USA, Machu Picchu, Peru and Guinness Storehouse, Ireland. It is the first time an attraction from Ireland, North or South, has won the prestigious accolade. Tim Husbands MBE, our Chief Executive, said; “Over the past few years, we have continued to go from strength to strength but to be voted the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction by both the industry and the public for excellence and for our original product, is really the jewel in our crown. We are delighted that this award firmly shines a spotlight not only on Titanic Belfast but Belfast and Northern Ireland, and celebrates our authentic insight and connection to RMS Titanic. “The Titanic story captures hearts and minds throughout the world and at Titanic Belfast, this is no exception. Our interpretation of the story and ability to engage with visitors on many different levels has been fundamental in winning this award. With the award, we hope to attract more tourists to Northern Ireland to discover it. A huge thank you to our staff and all our supporters that voted, locally and across the world, to help us reach this iconic goal of being the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction.” –

See more at:
http://titanicbelfast.com/Blog/December-2016/Titanic-Belfast-named-King-of-the-World!.aspx?utm_source=Email&utm_medium=Link&utm_content=WTA2016&utm_campaign=Content+Marketing&utm_source=Titanic+Belfast+Customers&utm_campaign=5011521d8e-WTA_Final_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ef62fde800-5011521d8e-294256529