Fascinating Northern Ireland Northern Ireland combines the beauty of raw nature with emerging modern cities and fascinating history. Northern Ireland’s history has been dominated by conflict for centuries. Tales abound of ancient Irish chieftans, English and Scottish invasions, and hundreds of years of Protestant-Catholic conflicts dating almost to the present day. The last decade of peaceful government, however, has encouraged many curious travelers to rediscover the vast shoreline and sparkling urban sophistication that now makes Northern Ireland a compelling destination.
Northern Ireland is one of four countries making up the United Kingdom, the others being England, Scotland, and Wales. The country occupies about 5,400 square miles (about the size of the state of Connecticut) on the northeast side of Ireland. Belfast, the capital and home of the ill-fated Titanic, is now a friendly city opening its arms to visitors after years of tension, with pubs, hotels, and restaurants cropping up all over. Historic buildings, bustling marketplaces, and cultural activities are easily accessed by car, bus, or cab. Not far from Belfast is one of the most spectacular coastlines in the United Kingdom. The Antrim Coast features dramatic cliffs and long sandy beaches. The amazing Giant's Causeway, the world's oldest whiskey distillery, and haunting castle ruins are just some of the sites to be found. Small historic cities like Londonderry and Lisburn can easily be reached by train along the way.
Sports enthusiasts find much to do in Northern Ireland. Traditional activities like golf, fishing (called angling in Northern Ireland), biking, and hiking are easily organized. More adventurous visitors will find boating, scuba diving, and kayaking along the coast. Surprising to many, surfers will find challenging waves rivaling those in California, and visitors will never be far from rugby or soccer of cours
Northern Ireland has an oceanic climate with mild winters and cool summers. Rain is more common in this country than is normally found in the other UK countries so visitors are advised to bring rain gear. The population of Northern Ireland, estimated at 1.75 million in 2008, is increasing about 1 percent a year, making it the fastest growing country in the UK. Actors Liam Neeson and Kenneth Branagh where born in Northern Ireland, as were noted writers Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, and C.S. Lewis. Musicians born here range from Van Morrison to James Galway to Phil Coulter to Stiff Little Fingers to Snow Patrol.
Northern Ireland is easily accessible with three airports hosting frequent, low-cost flights from UK and beyond. A great place to find cheap rentals is in the free classifieds Belfast. Ferries from England and Scotland run quickly and efficiently, and Northern Ireland roads and railways are excellent. Visitors will need a passport and driver’s license (if renting a car), but not a visa if coming from the United States or Canada. The currency in Northern Ireland is the British Pound Sterling, and Master Card and Visa are accepted almost everywhere.