Is Norhern Ireland safe to visit?
In short, yes. It’s been at peace for 20 years. Belfast and Derry are safer for visitors than almost any comparable American city, and the Ulster countryside is idyllic and serene. But you need to be aware of a few things. Be sensitive to the fact that there are still deep divisions here, and follow these basic rules:
- Do not discuss politics with anyone you don’t know well.
- Never get involved in political or religious arguments relating to Northern Ireland.
- Avoid venturing deep into the inner-city areas of Belfast without a guide.
- Avoid traditional Catholic or Protestant marches and parades, such as those by the Orange Order. They may look like local color but they can get very unpleasant.
- Remain informed. Follow the news to keep abreast of current events and any areas of tension.
Day 1: BelfastSpend the morning getting your bearings, something that is best done by getting out on the street and walking. You can easily see most of Belfast's central sights -- tour the grand City Hall, shop on the small medieval arcades, and stop to view the extraordinary ceiling mosaics at the Belfast Cathedral. Have lunch at White's Tavern, a 300-year-old pub where you can get traditional Irish stews, and bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes) in a historic setting. In the afternoon, take a "Black Cab" tour of the Falls and Shankill roads -- these one-on-one tours of the areas where the Troubles were the most destructive give an unforgettable chance to hear what happened from those who were there.
Day 2: Carrickfergus & the Antrim Coast
The noble Norman castle of Carrickfergus stands guard about a 15-minute drive from Belfast, and if you head there first thing in the morning, and strike out northward on the A2 road from there, you'll be amid peaceful coastal scenery in about 20 minutes -- look out for sweeping views of craggy coastline just after the town of Ballygawley. Stop in the little town of Glenarm to explore its castle walls and take in its stone buildings, then head on to Carnlough, where you can walk to a waterfall before having a traditional Irish lunch at the Londonderry Arms. Next, drive on to Cushendun, to photograph its little stone cottages and have a cup of tea. From there, if you're not afraid of heights, follow signs for the Torr Head Scenic Road to Murlough Bay for the most spectacular views of the day from the top of a rocky cliff so high that clouds swirl around your ankles. Spend the night at Whitepark House overlooking the white crescent of White Park Bay.
Day 3: Ballintoy & the Headlands
After a soul-affirming breakfast, take a brisk walk down the steep hill to White Park Bay, and explore for fossils and seashells while soaking up the sea air, then backtrack a few miles on the A2 to the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge (but cross it only if you're fine with heights). Heading northwest again, follow signs to the Giant’s Causeway, and spend an hour or so exploring its dramatic octagonal pillars. Lunch in Ballintoy (or have a picnic on the beach at White Park Bay), then either relax in the countryside or take an afternoon tour of the Old Bushmills Distillery in Bushmills. Spend another night at Whitepark House.
Day 4: Derry
Head inland along the A37 to the busy waterfront town of Derry -- about a 40-minute drive. Spend the morning wandering its 17th-century city walls, taking in the views and history, and have a pub lunch at Badger's. In the afternoon, indulge in some shopping in the old city (especially in the Derry Craft Village), and then take time to explore the Cathedral of St. Columb, where a 17th-century mortar shell still sits on the porch. In the evening, catch a traditional Irish band at a pub along Waterloo Street.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.