Northern Ireland

Travel Guide Europe United Kingdom Northern Ireland

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Introduction

Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Hall

© eTRAVEL

Northern Ireland is part of the island of Ireland and is one of the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom. Despite its former reputation as being violent and dangerous the political situation has stabilised and the country is as safe to visit as any other part of the UK.
Northern Ireland has world heritage sites such as the Giant's Causeway, stunning landscapes, unique scenery, vibrant cities and welcoming locals interested in your own stories. Pubs are still a great way to be enveloped with Irish culture, as there is mostly a genuine warmth among the people.

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.

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Brief History

The population of Northern Ireland is largely made up of two groups. Although there had always been population movements between the west of Scotland and the north-east of Ireland, during the 16th and 17th centuries there was an organised settlement of people from Scotland known as the Ulster Plantation. Most came to work on new plantations which had been established in the area (by the forced removal of the indigenous Irish population). The indigenous Irish population was predominantly Roman Catholic (at a time when this was the only Western Christian religion), whilst Scottish settlers after the Reformation were predominantly Protestant.

The religious difference turned into a political split: most Protestants are Unionists or (more extreme) Loyalists, supporting continued union with Great Britain, while most Catholics are Nationalists or (more extreme) Republicans. Nationalists and Republicans both want a united Ireland, but Nationalists (politically affiliated with SDLP political party) use peaceful political means; whereas the Republican movement (politically affiliated with Sinn Féin political party) sought violence as a means to a united Ireland up until 2004. Although segregation always existed, the situation reached boiling point in 1969 when the campaign for Civil Rights for Catholics turned violent when protesters were attacked by Loyalist supporters. That was the start of the period known euphemistically as "The Troubles." In 1972, British Forces fired live rounds rather than plastic bullets at unarmed peaceful civilian protesters. 14 were laid to rest, on a day that has become known worldwide as "Bloody Sunday". The British Government gave reparations to the families of the victims. This was a major turning point in the support for the Republican movement as the civilian population felt they had nowhere left to turn. This also effectively re-polarised segregation along religious lines. Previously inactive paramilitary groups became re-established in the province, which sat precariously on the brink of civil war for many years.

In 1998, after years of sporadic negotiations between the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and the paramilitary groups and local political parties, The Agreement was signed, signalling the end of violence in the province. This is often referred to as the Belfast Agreement or the Good Friday Agreement after the place or day on which it was signed. Although there was an almost immediate drop in the level of terrorist acts and rioting, it took several years for stability to settle on the region and for agreement to be reached concerning the devolved government. As part of the agreement, Northern Ireland was granted a separate legislature from Westminster, known as the Northern Ireland Assembly, as well as limited autonomy to legislate for its internal affairs.

The 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union ("Brexit") resulted in an overall majority in the United Kingdom of just under 52% of those voting being in favour of leaving, while 56% of Northern Ireland voters were in favour of the UK staying inside the EU. However, the "leave" vote was much more prevalent in mainly Protestant areas and several Unionist parties have expressed euro-skeptic positions. Irish Republicans, including Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams meanwhile have taken the vote as grounds for renewed calls for a vote on Northern Ireland joining the Republic of Ireland. The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has been open since the Good Friday Agreement, but part of the Brexit negotiations will be dealing with this then external border of the EU. Thus far a political consensus in Ireland and the United Kingdom as well as Northern Ireland itself is in favour of keeping the border open or at least "frictionless" if at all possible.

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Geography

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.

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Counties

Northern Ireland consists of six counties:

  • County Antrim - Belfast is situated in County Antrim, as is the stunning North Coast and Giant's Causeway.
  • County Armagh - Formerly the most militarised territory in Western Europe and home of the Navan Fort.
  • County Down - The beautiful coastal resort of Bangor is found here, as well as the Mourne Mountains - an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
  • County Fermanagh - Largely rural county adjacent to the Irish border, famed for its numerous lakes.
  • County Londonderry - The city of Londonderry (the "Maiden City") is located here.
  • County Tyrone - A rural county, home to the Sperrin Mountains.

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Cities

  • Armagh - ecclesiastical capital of Ireland; containing the headquarters of both the (Anglican) Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.
  • Belfast - the capital of Northern Ireland and largest city of Northern Ireland. It is also the second largest city on the island of Ireland (after Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland), and the fifteenth largest in the United Kingdom. Shattered by more than three decades of paramilitary conflict, Belfast has undergone a renaissance in recent years and is now a vibrant, modern city and has been voted the fourth best city in the UK for a city break in the Guardian/Observer travel awards.
  • Bangor - a beautiful coastal resort in North Down, home to the island's largest marina and good shopping.
  • Coleraine - situated on the River Bann in County Derry, 5 km from the sea and with an impressive history dating back to Ireland’s earliest known settlers, Coleraine today is a major gateway to the popular Causeway Coast area. Coleraine is an excellent shopping town and also has a major performance theatre located at the University of Ulster in the town.
  • Londonderry - On the banks of the Foyle River is the second city of Northern Ireland and fourth city of Ireland is well worth a visit for its famous stone city walls (which date from the 16th century and are the only complete city walls in Ireland).
  • Enniskillen - picturesque main town of County Fermanagh, perfect for exploring the lakes around Lough Erne.
  • Lisburn - became a city as part of the Queen's Jubilee celebrations in 2002.
  • Newry - became a city as part of the Queen's Jubilee celebrations in 2002.
  • Omagh - the Ulster American Folk Park is located here. This is an outdoor museum which tells the story of emigration from Ulster to America in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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Sights and Activities

Enniskillen

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.

Giant's Causeway

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.

Mourne Mountains

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.

Titanic Belfast

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.

Other sights and activities

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Events and Festivals

  • Tennent's Vital - this "festival" has become an annual event in the Belfast events calendar - held over 2 days in August in the Botanic Gardens area of the city (close to Queens University) over the past few years acts such as Scissor Sisters, Kaiser Chiefs, Maroon 5, and Snow Patrol - to name a few have head lined the stage. More about this in the Belfast article.
  • Orangemans Day - Every 12th of July, the Battle of the Boyne is commemorated of King William III's victory over King James II. Every Orangemans day there are major parades through the streets with bands to remember the battle (called Orange Walks). Traditionally on the 11th of July, bonfires are lit throughout the streets to remember those who lit bonfires to guide King William's army.
  • St Patrick’s Day - An excuse for a good, old fashioned booze fest, St Patrick’s Day appears to be celebrated in almost every establishment throughout the country. Guinness sales go through the roof, live bands belt out Irish folk classics, and everyone sports a green garment of some sort to get in on the fun.

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Weather

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.

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Getting There

By Plane

The two main airports in Northern Ireland are Belfast International Airport (BFS) and Belfast City Airport (BHD). Destinations from both airports are mainly regional and European, while BFS also serves North America Orlando and Mexico Cancun. Major airlines in flying into Northern Ireland include Aer Lingus, easyJet, Flybe, Jet2.com, Ryanair and Jet2.

Londonderry Airport (LDY) is served by a handful of destinations from Scotland and England.

By Train

The cross-border intercity train service between Belfast and Dublin is called the Enterprise. The journey takes just over two hours and is jointly operated by the Irish Rail and NI Railways.

By Car

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.

By Bus

Translink operates an hourly service direct from Dublin Airport (IATA: DUB, ICAO: EIDW) and Dublin city centre as well as bus links from both NI airports to Belfast city centre.

By Boat

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Getting Around

By Plane

There are no scheduled domestic flights in Northern Ireland.

By Train

Northern Ireland Railways has a few domestic train links. Destinations from Belfast include Bangor, Portadown, Larne, Coleraine, Londonderry and Portrush.

By Car

If you are able to rent a car then driving around Northern Ireland is a very pleasant experience. Most drivers follow the rules of the road (except for speeding) and are quite polite towards other drivers. In some areas it is a pleasant gesture to wave at a passing car even if you do not know the person. Many of the roads on the North Coast are quite twisty but offer some beautiful scenery and there are many places to stop along the way and take in the natural beauty.

Northern Ireland's motorway system connects Belfast to Dungannon, Ballymena and Newtownabbey. All large towns and cities are well connected by road. The speed limits are:

Motorways and Dual Carriageways - 70 miles per hour (112 km/h)

Other roads (outside urban areas) - 60 miles per hour (96 km/h)

Urban areas (towns and cities) - 30 miles per hour (48 km/h) and occasionally 40 mph if signposted.

Many drivers constantly speed, usually 10 to 20 miles per hour above the speed limit. It is common for someone to be driving at 60 or 70 miles per hour and be overtaken by many other cars. It is no surprise then that speed traps and cameras are often quite sparse, except for in Belfast and near the border, and many drivers take this to their advantage. There have been many advertising campaigns over the years to combat the problem of speeding and drink driving ran by the Department of Environment which often include graphical adverts of the consequences of speeding and drink driving. A notorious accident blackspot in Northern Ireland is the circuit of main roads around Coleraine, Portstewart and Portrush which host the annual NorthWest 200 motorcycle road race - and as a result aggressive motorcycle riding is commonplace and the roads are heavily patrolled at most times of the year as a result.

Most main A roads are of a very good standard with many having overtaking lanes at certain points to allow you to pass slower traffic. B roads are often small country roads that are very narrow and have little, if any, road markings. Drivers must be careful on B roads when passing other traffic and may have to slow down and pull in when meeting larger traffic.

There is a comparatively high incidence of road accidents in Northern Ireland, and the province employs slightly different driving laws to the rest of the UK. One notable difference is that newly qualified drivers can be identified by 'R' plates which are displayed on the car for the first twelve months after their licence is issued. These plates are mandatory. Drivers displaying these plates are limited to 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) on all roads, including dual carriageways and motorways. As with 'L' plates in the rest of the UK, drivers displaying 'R' plates are often the target of road rage and are not accorded a great deal of patience. Many Northern Irish people feel that 'R' drivers are a hazard on the road when travelling at 45 mph as it means other drivers are more likely to overtake in risky situations.

Police security checkpoints are becoming very common once again. When approaching a checkpoint, dip your headlights and stop if indicated to do so. The police may want to check your licence and look in your boot: don't worry, it's all perfectly routine.

If you find a place selling diesel at a price too good to be true, you're probably right and it will be "scrubbed" diesel that may well wreck your engine. Gangs buy tax-free "Green" or "Red" diesel and then use a noxious and illegal chemical process to remove the dye and make big illicit profits.

You should be prepared for the difference in distance measurements when crossing the border from the Republic of Ireland (kilometres vs. miles).

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.

By Bus

Translink operate the Northern Ireland public transport system. Buses are usually the most common form of public transport due the small rail network. Depending on where you are going, you may find that parties of two or more may save money by renting a car if planning on travelling throughout the province.

Fares are reasonable, for example £12.30 from Derry/Londonderry to Belfast, after 09:30 Monday to Saturday on the train, then it's £7.00 for a "Day Tracker" ticket which enables you to travel anywhere on the NI railways network on a Sunday and jump on and off all trains (except you cannot cross the border).

By Boat

Caledonian MacBrayne operates ferries between Ballycastle and the island of Rathlin.

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Red Tape

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.

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Money

See also: Money Matters
Further information: United Kingdom

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.

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Language

English is spoken everywhere, although the distinctive Ulster accent can be more difficult to understand than other Irish dialects. Ulster Scots (Ulstèr-Scotch) and Irish (Gaeilge) are used in some small communities. These three are the officially recognized local languages. When speaking English, the Northern Irish tend to speak quite rapidly compared to most English speakers, and use a huge array of local words. Expect to hear words such as 'aye' (yes), 'wee' (little), 'hallion' (person who behaves in a deliberately careless manner), 'we'un' (literally 'wee one', meaning child), 'dander' (casual walk) and 'craic' (a good time/fun/a laugh, with no connotations of any controlled substances whatsoever). Accents and dialects differ considerably throughout the country and even foreign visitors fluent in English may find it hard to understand people with certain accents. However, most Northern Irish people will slow down and speak more clearly if they think you are having a hard time understanding them.

In schools, English is taught as both a literature subject and a language subject. In most Catholic schools and some grammar schools it is normal for students to be taught Irish (although this is not widely used) and therefore certain schools have bilingual signs etc. French, Spanish and German, and sometimes Latin, are taught in most schools, or at least a few of these languages will be taught mainly at secondary school level. Unfortunately for speakers of other languages, there is often no desire for native English speakers to learn a foreign language; therefore, most Northern Irish people won't be able to speak to you in your native language but will try to make their English more understandable for a foreign visitor.

While used in various government and public organisations, Irish and Ulster Scots are rarely seen written and even less spoken. Nearly all education in the country is in English; therefore, there is no need to learn Irish, partly because most non-Catholic schools do not teach it. Many Northern Irish people have little if any knowledge of Irish or Ulster Scots. The Falls Road area of Belfast has branded itself as a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) Quarter; otherwise, Irish is spoken mainly in limited social networks. That said, the BBC broadcasts a limited number of programmes in Irish on BBC Two Northern Ireland. Scots was formerly widespread in eastern Ulster, particularly in County Antrim, but is now largely moribund except for a few rural communities, although many Scots words and turns of phrase have made their way into Ulster English.

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Eat

A popular dish is an assortment of fried food, called the "Ulster Fry". It consists of eggs, bacon, tomatoes, sausages, potato bread and soda bread. Some versions include mushrooms or baked beans. Fries are generally prepared as the name suggests, everything is fried in a pan. Traditionally lard was used, but due to health concerns, it has been replaced with oils such as rapeseed and olive. Historically, it was popular with the working class.

Some shops on the north coast close to Ballycastle sell a local delicacy called dulse. This is a certain type of seaweed, usually collected, washed and Sun-dried from the middle of Summer through to the middle of Autumn. Additionally, in August, the lamas fair is held in Ballycastle, and a traditional sweet, called "yellow man" is sold in huge quantities. As you can tell from the name, it's yellow in colour, it's also very sweet, and can get quite sticky. If you can, try to sample some yellow man, just make sure you have use of a toothbrush shortly after eating it... it'll rot your teeth!

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 mixed with scallions.

With the advent of the peace process, and until recently, the improvements in economic conditions for many people in Northern Ireland, there has been a great increase in the number of good restaurants, especially in the larger towns such as Belfast and Derry. Indeed it would be difficult for a visitor to either of those cities not to find a fine-dining establishment to suit their tastes, and wallet.

There is a strong emphasis on local produce. Locally produced meats, cheeses and drinks can be found in any supermarket. For the real Northern Irish experience, sample Tayto brand cheese and onion flavoured crisps: these are nothing short of being a local icon and are available everywhere.

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Sleep

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.

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Drink

The legal drinking age in Northern Ireland is 18. People at and above the age of 16 will be served beer and wine with meals as long as there is a consenting adult present. In general, restaurateurs are strict about this rule, while the operators of small local pubs and bars tend to be more relaxed.

Depending on their licence, most bars stop serving alcohol at either 23:00 or 01:00. Some clubs serve until later, and some bars have (illegal, but widely overlooked) "lock-ins" where the doors are locked at closing time, but people can stay and drink for longer. This only takes place at the discretion of the bar owner, and such events operate on an invitation-only basis.

In the last few years, a number of new distilleries have been opening up, including Echlinville Distillery in Kircubbin, County Down; the Belfast Distillery Company in the former Crumlin Road Gaol premises; and Niche Drinks in Derry.

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.

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Health

See also: Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Northern Ireland.

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Safety

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.

Northern Ireland has changed greatly in the years since the peace agreement was signed in 1998, though its troubles have not entirely ceased. There remains a high frequency of terrorist incidents in Northern Ireland, with the UK Home Office defining the current threat level as 'severe'. Tourists, however, are not the target of such terrorist incidents and therefore are highly unlikely to be affected. There is a significant risk of disruption caused by incidents of civil unrest during the contentious 'marching season' which takes place each year over the summer months. The U.S. State Department advises visitors to Northern Ireland to remain 'alert' during their visit and to keep themselves abreast of political developments.

This being said, it should be remembered that 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.

In fact, Northern Ireland has one of the lowest crime rates among industrialised countries. According to statistics from the U.N. International Crime Victimisation Survey (ICVS 2004), Northern Ireland has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, lower than the United States and the rest of the United Kingdom, and even during the Troubles, the murder rate was still lower than in most large American cities (although this does not take into account the vastly lower population figures). The latest ICVS show that Japan is the only industrialised place safer than Northern Ireland. Almost all visitors experience a trouble-free stay.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (formerly the Royal Ulster Constabulary or RUC) is the police force in Northern Ireland. Unlike the Garda Síochána in the Republic, the PSNI are routinely armed with handguns and/or long arms. The police still use heavily-armoured Land Rover vehicles; do not be concerned by this, as it doesn't mean that trouble is about to break out. There is a visible police presence in Belfast and Derry, and the police are approachable and helpful. Almost all police stations in Northern Ireland are reinforced with fencing or high, blast-proof walls. It is important to remember that there is still a necessity for this type of protection and that it is a visible reminder of the province's past.

As with most places, avoid being alone at night in urban areas. In addition, avoid wearing clothes that could identify you, correctly or not, as being from one community or the other, for example Celtic or Rangers football kits. Do not express a political viewpoint (pro-Nationalist or pro-Unionist) unless you are absolutely sure you are in company that will not become hostile towards you for doing so. Even then, you should be sure that you know what you're talking about. It would be even better to act as if you either don't know about the conflict or don't care. Avoid political gatherings where possible. Many pubs have a largely cultural and political atmosphere (such as on the Falls Road, the mostly Nationalist main road in West Belfast, and the Newtownards Roads in predominantly Unionist East Belfast), but expressing an opinion among good company, especially if you share the same view, will usually not lead to any negative consequences. People are generally more lenient on tourists if they happen to say something controversial, and most will not expect you to know much about the situation.

Traffic through many towns and cities in Northern Ireland tends to become difficult at times for at least a few days surrounding the 12th July due to the Orange Parades and some shops may close for the day or for a few hours. The parades have been known to get a bit rowdy in certain areas but have vastly improved. Additionally, the last Saturday in August is known as "Black Saturday" which is the end of the marching season. Trouble can break out without warning, though locals or Police officers will be more than happy to advise visitors on where to avoid. The Twelfth Festival in Belfast is being re-branded as a tourist-friendly family experience and efforts are being made to enforce no-alcohol rules aimed at reducing trouble.

Pickpockets and violent crime are rare so you can generally walk around the main streets of Belfast or any other city or town without fear during the day.

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Keep connected

Internet

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.

Phone

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.

Post

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.

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References

  1. 1 Mid-2010 estimate. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved on 2011–08–01.

Quick Facts

Northern Ireland flag

Map of Northern Ireland

[edit]

Local name
Tuaisceart Éireann (Irish), Norlin Airlann (Ulster Scots)
Capital
Belfast
Government
Part of the United Kingdom
Nationality
British
Population
1 799 000 [1]
Languages
English, Irish Gaelic
Religions
Christianity (Protestant, Catholic)
Currency
Pound sterling (GBP)
Calling Code
+44
Time Zone
GMT (UTC)
Daylight Saving
BST (UTC+1)

Contributors

as well as Hien (10%), Peter (4%), Purdy (1%), Luke_NI (1%), Unionist (1%), ToddP (1%), Lavafalls (<1%), IsobelSmith (<1%)

Northern Ireland Travel Helpers

This is version 79. Last edited at 16:01 on Sep 23, 19 by Utrecht. 38 articles link to this page.

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