1. Belfast: Heritage and Culture
You could write an entire book on things to do and see in Belfast—and many have. We only have space for a couple of the edited highlights.
Did you know? Speaking of editing, The Belfast News Letter, first printed in 1737, is the oldest English-language general daily newspaper still in circulation anywhere in the world.
3. Home to Game of Thrones
The HBO television series Game of Thrones is filmed at Belfast’s Paint Hall Studios, one of the largest and most sophisticated television studios in Europe, and on location in the rolling hills and roaring coastlines of Northern Ireland. You can visit many filming locations of Game of Thrones, including Ballintoy Harbour, Fairhead, and Murlough Bay. In other words, if you visit Northern Ireland you might find yourself discovering parts of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. But be careful—winter is coming.
4. Om Nom Nom: Food in Northern Ireland
Food in Northern Ireland is noted for its use of local ingredients—fresh meat and vegetables from nearby farms are staples in Northern Irish diets. You can find some of these in what is considered the most iconic Northern Irish dish, the Ulster Fry, a seriously hearty breakfast. For something a little less heart-attack-inducing, try dulse, a salty, dried seaweed taken from the shores of Northern Ireland that has 34 times the potassium of a banana.
5. Making Whiskey since 1608
In the small village of Bushmills in County Antrim, you can visit the oldest licensed distillery in the world. The Old Bushmills Distillery has been making whiskey in Northern Ireland since 1608, when King James I granted Sir Thomas Phillips a licence to distil. Today the distillery sees over 120,000 visitors a year. Daily guided tours show how Bushmills Irish Whiskey is made and bottled.
6. Derry~Londonderry: City of Culture
Northern Ireland has one of the youngest demographics in Europe: around 55% of the population is under 40. Partly because it is such a young and vibrant place, Northern Ireland is attracting the arts like never before. In 2013, Northern Ireland’s second-largest city, Derry~Londonderry, became the first UK City of Culture.
When you’re in Derry~Londonderry, be sure to go up the town and walk the walls. Derry~Londonderry is the only remaining fully-walled city in Ireland as well as the last walled city to be built in Europe.
And if you fancy a little retail therapy, visit Austins, the world’s oldest independent department store, founded 25 years before Macy’s in New York City.
7. Twinning: Sister Cities
Northern Ireland is home to seven cities with ‘sisters’ in the United States. For example, we bet you didn’t know that Nashville, Tennessee is twinned with Belfast. Like its American sister, Belfast is celebrated for its musical talents. Every year, the city holds the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival. Artists come from around the world to celebrate the art of song-writing in a five-day music festival.
8. Crazy Love for Northern Ireland’s Music Scene
Belfast has been home to music festivals for centuries, from the 1792 Belfast Harp Festival to this year’s Fourth Annual Belfast Music Week. Northern Irish natives have long been producing their own personal interpretations of traditional folk music. One of the most famous groups to emerge from Northern Ireland in recent years is the platinum-selling, prom-theme-song-producing rock mega-band Snow Patrol. Award-winning Indie band Two-Door Cinema Club also hail from Northern Ireland.
One of the most famous Northern Irish Musicians, Van ‘The Man’ Morrison, is being honoured at this year’s Belfast Music Week, where will receive one of Belfast’s highest civic honours, the Freedom of the City. This music festival brought over 41,000 visitors to Belfast last year, generating a cool $3.4 million for the local economy.
9. Writing and Acting
Northern Ireland has produced more than its share of famous writers, including poets like Seamus Heaney and Louis MacNeice and novelists like Bernard MacLaverty and Chronicles of Narnia writer C.S. Lewis.
Sir Kenneth Branagh (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Wallander), Liam Neeson (Taken, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace), Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark in Game of Thrones), James Nesbitt (The Hobbit, Cold Feet), Stephen Rea (V for Vendetta, The Crying Game) and Paula Malcomson (The Hunger Games) are all among the talented actors and actresses born in Northern Ireland.
With names like that you can definitely see why the film industry is flocking to Northern Ireland.
10. The GREAT Outdoors
Are you into majestic scenery, water sports and/or world-class golf? Are you looking for an attraction off the beaten path? Check out Lough Erne! The Lough Erne Resort, set on a 600-acre peninsula amid the rugged hills of County Fermanagh, includes two Championship 18-hole courses, and was the setting for this year’s UK-chaired G8 Summit.
11. The Antrim Coast
The Giant’s Causeway: Legend holds that Irish giant Fin McCool carved the Causeway as a bridge to Scotland he could use to challenge his rival, Benandonner. The polygonal basalt columns, set against the churning Irish Sea, have captivated the imaginations of travellers for centuries. Today, the Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also the setting for Led Zeppelin’s famous (and super-creepy) album cover Houses of the Holy.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge: This rope bridge connecting the mainland to Carrick-a-Rede Island was originally constructed by salmon fishermen and consisted of just two ropes: one to walk on and one for a hand guide. Today, brave visitors to this area can cross a safer rope bridge—albeit still 100 feet high and 65 feet across—to explore the cliffs and spectacular views of this tiny island. This excursion is not for the faint of heart—or the acrophobic.
The blokart (originally from New Zealand) is a three-wheeled, low-riding kart that is powered by the wind, via a sail. They are popular both on racing tracks and along Northern Ireland’s beaches, where the bold blokarter can reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.
16. Kitesurfing and Windsurfing
While neither of these sports is indigenous to Northern Ireland, the constant wind and wild coastlines make for a truly spectacular backdrop for wind-catching aficionados. It’s no picnic, however. Extreme temperature swings and unpredictable weather make kitesurfing and windsurfing in Northern Ireland a challenge, even for experts.
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