The North: To Go or Not to Go?
The North is not for everyone. It's not a peaceful place, but it is a beautiful and fascinating one. This is not a war zone -- even with the changing political landscape and the sporadic outbreaks of violence Ulster is generally safe for travelers.
Because of that, our advice is: go. But go cautiously. And follow these basic rules:
- Don't discuss the political situation or religion with anyone you don't know well.
- Don't get involved in political arguments. Ever.
- Don't travel deep into West Belfast.
- Consider touring the Shankill and Falls roads with an organized tour, rather than on your own.
- If you think a neighborhood looks unsafe, turn around and walk away.
Most of Northern Ireland is perfectly safe for visitors, and you're very unlikely to see any violence at all. But remain alert and aware just the same.
The Belfast Visitor Welcome Center is at 47 Donegall Place, Belfast (tel. 028/9024-6609; www.discovernorthernireland.com or www.gotobelfast.com). In addition, there are more than 30 tourist information centers (TICs) scattered around the province, most of which are open year-round. The obliging personnel will make sure you see the highlights. Local accommodations may be booked in any TIC, and most are hooked up to online reservations systems that can secure reservations throughout all of Ireland and the United Kingdom. To make your own reservations anywhere in Ireland using a credit card, you can call the toll-free number (tel. 0800/6686-6866).
Keeping Your Irish Up -- If you want to brush up on your knowledge of Northern Ireland, Newshound (www.nuzhound.com) is an indispensable resource. Run by American expat John Fay, this is an extremely well-organized catalog of news articles culled from Irish newspapers, covering everything from the Troubles to dining and shopping in Belfast. A vast array of articles about the Republic (click "NewsoftheIrish") includes culture, travel, and even dining reviews from Dublin to Donegal. The site is intelligent, user-friendly, and searchable.
Visiting Northern Ireland: A Checklist
- There is no marked land border. You don't need a separate visa or your passport when visiting from the Republic.
- Road signs are in miles, not kilometers. Signs around the border usually show both, but the switchover can be confusing.
- The currency is the British pound, although the euro is accepted unofficially in some border areas. The easiest and cheapest way to get the local currency is to stop at an ATM.
- Your cellphone company will treat Northern Ireland as the U.K., so if possible let them know in advance that you'll be going. They can help you save money on international roaming charges.
- Don't forget to check that your travel insurance and any car-rental agreements are equally valid in Northern Ireland.
- Not every difference is an inconvenience; unlike in the Republic (where there are no postal codes), Northern Irish hotels, restaurants, and attractions almost always list postal codes on their websites, which are extremely useful if your rental car has a GPS navigation system. You might want to make note of a few before you go.
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.