N. Ireland Highlights & Hidden Gems

N. Ireland Highlights & Hidden Gems
From the cosmopolitan capital of Belfast to the historic walled city of Derry, Fermanagh’s tranquil lakes to Antrim’s iconic Giant’s Causeway…  Northern Ireland’s six counties encapsulate a magnificent microcosm of memorable landscapes and legends. 

Just a seamless two hour drive or train trip from Dublin brings you into the heart of Belfast where the gleaming dome of the recently-opened Victoria Square shopping centre gives a tantalising glimpse into the city’s stylish retail scene. The House of Fraser‘s largest department store is here, as are big name outlets such as Cruise, Urban Outfitters and Ted Baker. And just down the road, near George Best City of Belfast Airport, you’ll find IKEA.

Birthplace of Titanic and home to a diverse range of dining, nightlife, entertainment and overnight options, Belfast is all about embracing the 21st Century while retaining a proud sense of its 19th Century heyday. Splendid streetscapes of Victorian architecture (Queens’ University, Belfast City Hall, Albert Clock, Botanic Gardens…) sit harmoniously alongside five star hotels (The Merchant, Europa, Hilton).

Award-winning restaurants (Deane’s, Nicks Warehouse, Mourne Seafood Bar…) and a heady plethora of traditional and contemporary pubs and clubs are designed to indulge nightowls. Live music and theatre venues range from the intimate (OMAC, Black Box, Empire Music Hall…) to the extravagant (Grand Opera House, Waterfront Hall, Odyssey Arena…). And the city’s cultural calendar always features an inspirational selection of events - from October’s Belfast Festival at Queen’s to June’s Belfast Maritime Festival and so much more in between.

Beyond Belfast, Northern Ireland’s four other cities each offers a distinct mix of attractions, tours, history and events. Derry’s magnificently preserved 17th Century Walls encircle the city centre, providing unrivalled panoramic views and housing the award-winning Tower Museum.  Bus, taxi, walking and boat tours reveal yet more of Derry’s ancient and modern story. And great hotel, restaurant, entertainment and shopping options ensure a memorable weekend or longer in a truly unique setting.  All this and the must-see Causeway Coastal Route, with its landmark Dunluce Castle, Giant’s Causeway and Old Bushmills Distillery, are all within bus, train or car reach.  

The elegant Georgian city of Armagh is Ireland’s ecclesiastical capital and home to both St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Cathedrals. Both Cathedrals boast significant links with Ireland’s patron saint who is said to be buried at Down Cathedral in the nearby town of Downpatrick. Also known as the Orchard County, Armagh is particularly pretty in spring and summer when the apple trees’ vivid blooms transform fields into lavish carpets of pink and white.  

One of NI's most unspoilt regions, the wild and rugged Sperrin Mountains stretch over 60miles from the Donegal border to the edge of the River Bann. Embracing much of Co. Tyrone, the Sperrins region offers plenty of outdoor pursuits and more than its fair share of market towns, historic houses and natural beauty. Signposted driving routes are the easiest way to explore the area, so we suggest you download these handy maps at  www.sperrinstourism.com and get motoring.

Situated on the main Dublin to Belfast road and railway line is Newry city – gateway to the historic Gap of the North and Slieve Gullion Forest Park, and a very Euro-friendly place to spend, send, spend. Newry is also a great base for exploring the Mountains of Mourne – said to have inspired Belfast-born CS LewisChronicles of Narnia. And, once in the area, don’t miss a trip to the bustling seaside town of Newcastle or strikingly scenic Silent Valley

Like Newry, Lisburn is a relatively young city, having been bestowed the status in 2001. Even before then, however, this Co. Down hub has long lured northbound visitors with its strategically-positioned Sprucefield Shopping Centre (whose anchor store is the revamped M&S) just off the M1. In the city centre itself, the Island Arts Centre and Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum head up the culture and heritage offering, while nearby Down Royal Racecourse, Hilden Brewery and the quaint villages of Hillsborough and Moira are also worthy of a detour.

Throughout the counties, grand houses and castles, high octane outdoor activities and indulgent spa retreats are ready to soothe, satisfy and stimulate even the most seasoned traveller. What Northern Ireland lacks in size it more than makes up for in history, scenery and a welcome from locals happy to share this hidden gem with a new generation of sightseers. In fact, its relative newcomer status as a global tourism destination could just make Northern Ireland one of Europe’s, if not the world’s, great undiscovered destinations.  

Easy to reach and effortless to explore, head north and see exactly what you’ve been missing. For more details on where to stay and what to see and do, visit www.discovernortherireland.com or pop into any of the extensive network of signposted Tourist Information Centres.

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