Northern Ireland travel guide
Belfast makes up for its lack of major sights in form of character and rich recent history. It is infamous for the unrest in the 1970's and 1980's when terrorizing factions of loyalist Protestants and republican Catholics turned Belfast into a war zone. To separate the two parties, West Belfast was then split like another Berlin with a peace line formed by tall fences and barbwire, which still stands today. Political and memorial murals have sprung up in neighbourhoods on both side of the peace line. The republican murals tend to be more political, while the loyalists' can be quite militaristic. Though a mural-tour is a fascinating history lesson, there is more to Belfast than post-war sightseeing. It has its fair share of gorgeous buildings like city hall and Queens University - and then you can't go to Belfast without being reminded of the fact that the Titanic was built here. We know, civil war and a sunken boat might not sound very impressive, but Belfast has edge and attitude.
Presented as one of the biggest tourist attractions in Northern Ireland, is this rope bridge. It's 20 m long, spans the chasm between the mainland and the small island of Carrick-a-Rede, and hangs 30 m over the crashing waves. It was originally used for salmon fishing, when the salmons returned to the coast for breeding in their home rivers. Today, the rope has been replaced by steel wires, making the bridge perfectly safe to walk on, no matter how dangerous the local tourist board might want to make you think it is (you can buy an I-survived-the-bridge certificate). Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge could have been a fine little feature on the otherwise beautiful walk along the coast from the carpark, but instead it has turned into an over-hyped tourist attraction.
The Causeway Coastal Route winds along the northern coast of Ireland and passes through what is regarded as Ireland's prettiest stretch of coast. Green hills dotted with white sheeps are roughly cut off by the Atlantic Ocean leaving amazing cliffs and odd geological features, like the Giant's Causeway. Cute Irish villages lie hidden in bends and glens (valleys) while ruins of old castles are perched on outcrops with views to Scotland. There is an abundance of side trips and photo stops to do, which will prolong any journey through this beautiful part of Ireland. The route is partly along the A2 road and includes the Antrim Coast Road (Larne to Cushendal), which is considered particularly scenic.
The Giant's Causeway is a surreal area of packed naturally-made hexagonal rock columns. There are more than 40,000 of them, formed some 60 million years ago when lava from an ancient volcano cooled off. They are stacked together in such a way that they stick right into the air, making a natural giant stepping stone pathway stretching out to the sea, hence the name. It has of course led to myth and legends involving giants. The same rock formations can also be seen at the island of Staffa in Scotland (Fingal's Cave) across the sea. You are welcome to walk on the columns, but be careful not to get too close to the crashing Atlantic waves. It's fascinating to see how well-defined the geometrical shaped columns are from the rest of the otherwise ordinary rocky shore. If you can take your eyes off the wonder, the view of the Northern Ireland coastline is almost equally spectacular. The Giant's Causeway is well-deserved an UNESCO World Heritage Site - and Northern Ireland's only.
Northern Ireland has some fantastic atmopheric pubs, and it's no more evident than in Belfast. Some of these traditional drinking holes go back to the 18th century with a crowd that almost seems equally old. Here you can get a well poured Guinness with a top foam so thick you can leave bite marks in it. It's also here you will find some great live Irish folk music. Not on a stage, but sitting at one of the tables fiddling and playing between the beer drinking. It hardly becomes more Irish than this.