Jonny Blair from Don’t Stop Living is a wandering Northern Irishman who has spent a decade traveling the world, visiting all seven continents and over 70 countries in the process. His passion for travel, people and culture is clear to see on his extensive travel blog . We caught up with Jonny to find out what he would recommend tourists or visitors as The Best Things to do in Northern Ireland. His homeland, Northern Ireland, is not always a must see place for travelers, but Jonny believes it should be. Read on to find out why…
Northern Ireland is the neglected, forgotten and undermined part of Ireland. There’s a fair amount of history to take in if you’re new to it, but the gist of it is that a 6 county province called Northern Ireland was formed in 1921 and the island of Ireland has been split ever since. Northern Ireland uses the British pound and is officially part of the United Kingdom, governed by Westminster. The Republic of Ireland use the Euro and is a separate republic, having previously been part of the British Empire and a separate nation before that. Politics and history aside, Northern Ireland is a spectacular place to visit. You’ll also be happy to know that it’s a tad off the beaten track – most visitors to Ireland will focus on Dublin, Galway, Cork etc. But those who make the trip north of the border come away raving about it. Here’s my top 5 tips, the best of Northern Ireland…
The Giant’s Causeway
As Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is a beautiful place to go. Natural, hexagonal shaped rocks meet the Atlantic Ocean’s waves as they crash onto the shore. The formation of these rocks is volcanic, though get to meet the locals and they’ll tell you a story of how mythical Irish Giant Finn McCool made these rocks and built them as a pathway to Scotland to fight a Scottish Giant. Whatever story you believe, this is a wonderful place to relax. Don’t leave this one off your itinerary!
Ireland’s Oldest Pub
Head to the small town of Donaghadee in County Down and you’ll find a hidden gem of a pub. On the main street sits a quiet, black and white old style pub. This place is Grace Neill’s and it holds the title of Ireland’s Oldest Pub, meaning it’s actually the oldest Irish Pub on the planet!! It hasn’t changed in years. They have a hearty food menu and serve great Guinness.
Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge
I love this place as it’s also got a bit of history to it. Off the north coast of Northern Ireland there are a few islands. Years ago local fisherman realised they could catch really decent salmon from one of the islands, Carrick A Rede Island. However it’s a steep island, uninhabited and getting there isn’t easy. So they built a rope bridge linking it to the mainland. The rope bridge is now used primarily for tourism and it’s a shaky bridge to cross. The views you get are just a little epic, probably not for those with a fear of heights though.
Belfast’s Wall Murals
Northern Ireland has had a dramatic political history. It’s fair to say the capital city of Belfast has had its share of negative publicity over the years. However since the 1998 Good Friday agreement, Belfast has gone through a few “boom” periods of tourism. While Catholics and Protestants both live and work together in Belfast, there’s a fierce divide which remains to this day and it’s worth seeing. You will be able to tell which “side” you’re in depending on the wall murals you see. The Falls Road is a Catholic area and has mostly Irish flags, symbols and messages. This area of Belfast leans its support to Sinn Fein, a party affiliated to the IRA. Cross the peace line however and the Protestant parts of Belfast are proudly British. Wall Murals of King Billy, The Queen and the British Union Flag are coupled with lamposts flying pro-British flags. The main Protestant stronghold is the Shankill Road and these areas are best accessed on a “black taxi tour”. A really, really insightful tour to get onto.
The Titanic Centre
Opened in 2012 to ‘celebrate’ 100 years of the Titanic launch, this centre is housed in Belfast’s dockyard area, where the famous Titanic was built. The Irish have a sense of humour that’s for sure, you can buy t-shirts that read something like “The Titanic, made by Irishmen and sunk by an Englishman” and “It was alright when she left Belfast”. The museum is part of a new tourist initiative in the city of Belfast, which has recently attracted the MTV Europe Music Awards. Something which would have been unthinkable two decades ago.
These are just 5 travel tips, a best of Northern Ireland to wet your appetite. Northern Ireland also hosts the UK’s largest lake called Lough Neagh, a divided and walled city (Londonderry/Derry), Ireland’s Oldest Whiskey Distillery, a charming Victorian Bar called The Crown and castles with infinitely more charm and history than your average European town. For hiking, the Mourne Mountains offer incredible views and rewarding ascents. Northern Ireland is also the home country to many a famous sporting celebrity, including professional golfers Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, former football star George Best, snooker world champion Dennis Taylor and racing Driver Eddie Irvine. The locals will remind you of this as you chat away in the amazing local pubs. Another little known fact is that the national football team remain the smallest ever nation to qualify for the World Cup quarter finals. A feat they managed in 1958 and 1982.
So forget about Dublin and kissing the Blarney Stone, head to Northern Ireland and you’ll be surprised at what this small province has to offer.
What do you think are the best things to do in Northern Ireland?