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Northern Ireland, the site of overwhelming political struggle over the last fifty years (and still quite unsettled, despite positive moves toward peace), shares many common elements with the Republic of Ireland. Pubs are still a great way to be enveloped with Irish culture, as there is mostly a genuine warmth among the people. In Londonderry (or Derry) the worst of Northern Ireland's problems are plain to see, as the area of Bogside bears the signs of an angry lower-class desperately trying to have its voice heard. Interestingly, Londonderry has become a popular attraction for visitors over the years, providing some hope that change may be on its way as it will become the UK's city for culture in 2013.
Northern Ireland is now having a huge economic boom which is seeing new houses, apartments, offices and entertainment centres spring up across the city. With peace has come investment and Belfast is changing forever and also attracting tourists. The City is well on its way to becoming hip and cool while the rest of the country is jumping on the bandwagon of success as the country enters a new era.
The area that is now Northern Ireland has had a diverse history. From serving as the bedrock of Irish resistance in the era of the plantations of Queen Elizabeth and James I in other parts of Ireland, it became the subject of major planting of Scottish and English settlers after the Flight of the Earls in 1607 (when the Gaelic aristocracy fled to Catholic Europe).
The all-island Kingdom of Ireland (1541-1801) merged into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801 under the terms of the Act of Union, under which the kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain merged under a government and parliament based in London.
The island of Ireland was partitioned in 1921 under the terms of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Six of the nine Ulster counties (four with a unionist majority, two with a nationalist majority) in the north-east formed Northern Ireland and the remaining three counties (including County Donegal, which had a large Protestant minority and was the most northern county in all of Ireland) joined those of Leinster, Munster and Connacht to form Southern Ireland. Whilst Southern Ireland had only a brief existence between 1921 and 1922, a period dominated by the Anglo-Irish War and its aftermath, Northern Ireland was to continue on.
Northern Ireland provisionally became an autonomous part of the Irish Free State on 6 December 1922. However, as expected, the Parliament of Northern Ireland chose, under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, to opt out of the Irish Free State the following day.
The Ireland Act of 1949 gave the first legal guarantee to the Parliament and Government that Northern Ireland would not cease to be part of the United Kingdom without consent of the majority of its citizens. The Troubles, starting in the late 1960s, consisted of about thirty years of recurring acts of intense violence between elements of Northern Ireland's nationalist community (principally Roman Catholic) and unionist community (principally Protestant) during which 3,254 people were killed.
The Troubles were brought to an uneasy end by a peace process which included the declaration of ceasefires by most paramilitary organisations and the complete decommissioning of their weapons, the reform of the police, and the corresponding withdrawal of army troops from the streets and from sensitive border areas. On 28 July 2005, the Provisional IRA declared an end to its campaign and has since decommissioned what is thought to be all of its arsenal. This final act of decommissioning was performed in accordance with the Belfast Agreement of 1998, and under the watch of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and two external church witnesses. Many unionists, however, remain sceptical.
Northern Ireland was covered by an ice sheet for most of the last ice age and on numerous previous occasions, the legacy of which can be seen in the extensive coverage of drumlins in Counties Fermanagh, Armagh, Antrim and particularly Down. The centrepiece of Northern Ireland's geography is Lough Neagh, at 391 km2 the largest freshwater lake both on the island of Ireland and in the British Isles. A second extensive lake system is centred on Lower and Upper Lough Erne in Fermanagh. The largest island of Northern Ireland is Rathlin, off the north Antrim coast. Strangford Lough is the largest inlet in the British Isles, covering 150 km2. There are substantial uplands in the Sperrin Mountains with extensive gold deposits, granite Mourne Mountains and basalt Antrim Plateau, as well as smaller ranges in South Armagh and along the Fermanagh-Tyrone border. None of the hills are especially high, with Slieve Donard in the dramatic Mournes reaching 849 metres, Northern Ireland's highest point. Belfast's most prominent peak is Cavehill. The volcanic activity which created the Antrim Plateau also formed the eerily geometric pillars of the Giant's Causeway on the north Antrim coast. Also in north Antrim are the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Mussenden Temple and the Glens of Antrim.
The Lower and Upper River Bann, River Foyle and River Blackwater form extensive fertile lowlands, with excellent arable land also found in North and East Down, although much of the hill country is marginal and suitable largely for animal husbandry. The valley of the River Lagan is dominated by Belfast, whose metropolitan area includes over a third of the population of Northern Ireland, with heavy urbanisation and industrialisation along the Lagan Valley and both shores of Belfast Lough.
Northern Ireland consists of six counties:
Enniskillen is a nice town in the County Fermanagh and makes for a good base exploring the nearby lakes around Lough Erne, which is probably the best known attraction around the town. One of the other highlights in town is the Enniskillen Castle and Museum. Florence Court, Marble Arch Caves, Crom Estate and the Belleek Pottery Factory are other destinations to keep you busy for a day or so.
The scenery around the Giant's Causeway and on the North Antrim coast can indeed be classed as some of the most majestic that you are likely to find anywhere in the world. There are not just awe inspiring cliffs sweeping down to coves and bays but also the relics of ruins such as that of Dunluce Castle (which is indeed another sight to be visited in its own right). Tiny harbour and fishing villages show that the area was indeed reliant on the coast as a form of income and food - Port Ballintray and Ballintoy being two fine examples. The Causeway and the Causeway Coast are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Mourne Mountains are one of the natural highlights of the country and great for walking and exploring things on foot. There are lakes, rivers and woodland to explore and the Mourne Wall is great as well. Rock climbing is a more adventurous activity to undertake. Slieve Donnard is the highest mountain in the Mournes range and Northern Irelandin fact at 852 metres above sea level and offers spectacular views from the summit towards England and even Scotland.
The Titanic Belfast is a new museum that opened early April 2012, exactly 100 years after the famous Titanic made here first voyage and ran into an iceberg and sank, killing hundreds of people. The Titanic Belfast museum is a monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage on the site of the former Harland and Wolff shipyard in the city's Titanic Quarter. It also tells the stories of the Titanic's sister ship RMS Olympic and HMHS Britannic. The building contains more than 12,000 square metres of floor space, most of which is occupied by a series of galleries, plus private function rooms and community facilities. There are tours as well and safe at least 1 to 2 hours for a visit to this fabulous museum. Full prices for adults are GBP 13.50, but seniors, children and students can visit with discounts. The museum is open all year round, except 24-26 December, from 9:00am to 7:00pm April to September, and 10:00am to 5:00pm October to March.
Northern Ireland has a typical maritime climate with cool summers and mild winters. June to September is summer season with temperatures between 16 °C and 20 °C and nights around 10 °C. Winters are still above zero, even at night. The highest and lowest temperatures possible are just above 30 °C and just below -10 °C. The southeast is a bit warmer in summer, a bit colder in winter. Precipitation is evenly distributed throughout the year, with autumn and winter being the wettest time and spring being the driest month. The west is the wettest part of the country. May is the driest and most sunny month of the year.
The two main airports in Northern Ireland are Belfast International Airport (BFS) and Belfast City Airport (BHD). Destinations from this airport are mainly regional and European, while BFS also serves North America, including New York, Toronto and Orlando. Major airlines in flying into Northern Ireland include Aer Lingus, Continental Airlines, easyJet, Flybe, Jet2.com, Ryanair, Flyglobespan and Air Transat.
The drive from Ireland to Northern Ireland usually starts from Dublin city centre at Ireland's M1 motorway toward Belfast. There is neither border control nor signpost in between the journey to tell you that you have crossed the border. However, one may noticed that the road signs in Northern Ireland are only in English unlike Ireland's bilingual signs (English and Irish).
When driving from Ireland into Northern Ireland, it is important to know that the United Kingdom has not changed their traffic laws to the metric system. All speed limits are in miles per hour while distances are measured in miles or yards.
There are no scheduled domestic flights in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland Railways has a few domestic train links. Destinations from Belfast include Bangor, Portadown, Larne, Coleraine, Londonderry and Portrush.
The road network in Northern Ireland is mostly paved and of good quality. There are many international and local (like Northern Ireland Carhire firms offering rental cars at the airports in Belfast or downtown and in some other cities. Traffic drives on the left. Be sure to have your national driving licence with you an sufficient insurance when you bring your own car.
The main companies include Hertz, Sixt, Avis, Budget, Europcar, Thrifty and Enterprise.
Translink operates the public transport system in Northern Ireland. They operate Metro and Ulsterbus services throughout the Belfast area and the rest of Northern Ireland.
Caledonian MacBrayne operates ferries between Ballycastle and the island of Rathlin.
For visa-related information, refer to the United Kingdom article.
There is no border control if you are travelling between Ireland and the United Kingdom. However, it is your responsibility to ensure that you are permitted to enter the UK and to leave before the permissible stay period is up.
Being part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland uses the pound sterling as its currency with the international currency code GBP (Great Britain Pound). The currency sign for pound is £ (the symbol is derived from the letter L). It is also known to the locals as quid (both singular and plural), which a slang term, so you might hear people say "two quid" instead of two pounds. One pound is divided into 100 pence (singular: penny).
The Bank of England (BoE), the central bank of the UK, issues pound sterling banknotes and coins for the whole of the United Kingdom. At the same time, four private banks in Northern Ireland (Bank of Ireland, First Trust Bank, Northern Bank, Ulster Bank) also issue sterling banknotes of their own designs. These banknotes have the same value as the ones issued by BoE and are usually found only in Scotland. The notes can also be used outside Northern Ireland within the UK although some merchants may be reluctant to accept them. Outside the UK, usually only BoE-issued sterling banknotes are recognised as the country's legal tender.
English is spoken everywhere, although the distinctive Ulster accent can be more difficult to understand than other Irish dialects. Ulster Scots and Irish are used in some small communities. Do be aware though that the Northern Irish tend to speak quite rapidly compared to most English speakers, and have a huge arsenal of local words that are frequently dropped into conversation by speakers of all ages and groups.
The cuisine in Northern Ireland is similar to that in the United Kingdom as a whole, with dishes such as Fish and Chips a popular fast food choice. Local dishes such as various types of stew and potato-based foods are also very popular. 'Champ' is a local speciality consisting of creamed potatoes with spring onions ('scallions') mixed in.
You will find a wide ranch of accommodations within the United Kingdom. From simple and cheap hostels and B&B's to the 5 star hotels in the big cities. For a list of accommocations, please check the city or town pages in this guide or go to the accommodation section.
Bushmills whiskey is made in the town of the same name on the north coast, and distillery tours are interesting and enjoyable. Belfast produces its own range of ales.
Hillden Breweries is a local producer of ales and stouts based near Lisburn, County Down. It's products can be found in most supermarkets and some pubs and bars.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Northern Ireland.
See also: Travel Safety
In case of emergency, dial 999 or 112 for Police, Ambulance, Fire Brigade and Coast Guard. It's free of charge.
Most visits to Northern Ireland are trouble free and visitors are unlikely to frequent the areas that are usually affected by violence. Northern Ireland has a significantly lower crime rate than the rest of the United Kingdom, with tourists being less likely to encounter criminality in Belfast than any other UK capital.
Internet cafés can be found in many cities and towns. All UK public libraries provide access, often branded as "People's Network", usually at no or little charge, though there is usually a time limit. Some hotels/hostels also offer internet access, including wifi, but most times at a cost. Using the internet on your personal phone can become expensive very quickly, with carriers charging 100's of times the local rate for data. To avoid these expensive roaming charges, you can hunt for wifi at a local cafe or hotel, or rent a mobile hotspot via several providers including DATAPiXY, and XCOM Global.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to the United Kingdom is: 44. To make an international call from the United Kingdom, the code is: 00
In case of emergency, call 999 or 112 from any phone. Such calls are free and will be answered by an emergency services operator who will ask you for your location, and the service(s) you need (police, fire, ambulance, coastguard or mountain rescue). You can call this number from any mobile telephone as well, even if you do not have roaming.
Although the number is declining, you can still find payphones in many public areas, especially stations, airports etc. You can usually pay with cash and sometimes by creditcard or, for international calls, special phonecards are still available.
Mobile phones are heavily used. The main networks are T-Mobile, Vodafone, Orange and O2. 3G data services are available, usually priced per megabyte and coverage is usually very good in the UK, however it may lack in rural areas. Roaming on your personal phone plan can be expensive. To manage costs, consider purchasing a local UK SIM card for your phone. Several companies offer local SIM cards including Telestial, and CellularAbroad.
The Royal Mail provides postal services in the United Kingdom. The Royal Mail's store fronts are called Post Office and offer services ranging from sending letters and packages to foreign currency exchange. Use the branch locator to find the nearest Post Office branch. There will be at least one post office in any town/city and there are quite often post offices in larger villages. It's common for a post office to be incorporated into a grocery store, where there will be a small counter located at the back of the store for dealing with post related matters. All post offices are marked with signs that say 'post office' in red lettering. Post boxes can be found at any post office and standalone large red post boxes on the streets or red boxes in the sides of public buildings.
For sending packages overseas, it might be a good idea to check prices and services with international companies like TNT, UPS or DHL.
Ask planxty a question about Northern Ireland
I was born there and lived the first 28 years of my life in the Province. My remaining family all live there.
Ask Purdy a question about Northern Ireland
Im from NI so give me a shout if you want any info
Ask robinpeake a question about Northern Ireland
I love this country of mine and enjoy seeing travellers really have a great time here. If I can help make you r travel more enjoyabel, then i would love to.
Ask Luke_NI a question about Northern Ireland
I have lived in Northern Ireland my whole life and with a family who come from all over the province I'm a real source of information on not just the well known parts of the country but on some of its' hidden Gems as well. I can give help to anybody on anything they need to know.
Ask ihache a question about Northern Ireland
Travel within Northern Ireland
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