Northern Ireland is often overlooked as a tourist destination. Partly this is because of the province’s troubled past and partly because the neighbouring Republic of Ireland attracts the lion’s share of visitors to the Emerald Isle. But Northern Ireland has a lot to offer the traveller, including some of the best coastal scenery in the UK. My wife and daughter and I spent a week there in October 2018. It was barely enough time to scratch the surface but we gained a favourable impression. Here are some of the highlights:
Dunluce Castle was one of the grandest castles in the region and in the early 1600s it included a fine Jacobean manor house, now all in ruins. The castle occupied an almost impregnable headland location with steep cliffs on all sides.
The popular Game of Thrones HBO series was filmed in various locations across Northern Ireland and the local tourism authorities are making the most of the connection to attract visitors. The rugged coastline at Ballintoy Beach featured in a couple of episodes.
The tiny harbour at Ballintoy is protected from churning seas by a seawall. Burned limestone and sett stones used to be exported from here to the British Isles.
Nearby is the small island of Carrick-a-Rede which is joined to the mainland by a rope bridge suspended 30 metres above a chasm.
Northern Ireland’s most famous natural wonder is the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a landscape made up of an estimated 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, mostly hexagonal in shape.
It is difficult to imagine that nature could have formed these regular-shaped 12 metre high columns.
There are a number of clifftop trails from which to enjoy the stunning scenery around Giant’s Causeway.
The sun fading over the dramatic coastline at Fairhead, Ballycastle, another Game of Thrones filming location (Dragonstone Cliffs) in the northeastern corner of Ireland.
The landscaped estate called Downhill Demesne was the creation of the Earl Bishop of Derry, Fredrick Hervey, in the 18th century. One of its best features is the circular Mussenden Temple, built as a library for the Bishop and modelled on the Roman Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Italy.
Built on a clifftop, Mussenden Temple has fantastic views of the beach and railway below.
There are excellent beaches all along the coast of Northern Ireland such as this blue flag award-winning Whiterocks Beach at Portrush. Pity about the gale force wind and grey skies!
Away from the coastal scenery, other places we managed to visit while in Northern Ireland included:
The Old Bushmills Distillery where they have been making Irish whiskey since 1608.
Belfast City Hall contains an interesting permanent exhibition on the history of the city.
Construction of the new (Anglican) Belfast Cathedral began in 1899 and continued for nearly 80 years. A stainless steel spire was added as recently as 2007.
The Palm House at the Belfast Botanic Gardens opened in 1840 and was one of the first curvilinear cast iron glasshouses in the world. It is filled with gorgeous tropical blooms and temperate plants.
The Big Fish is a 10 metre long statue on Donegall Quay, Belfast. It is clad in printed ceramic tiles.
The people of Northern Ireland that we met were very friendly although the accent takes a bit of getting used to. They certainly seem to have a good sense of humour.