I lived in Dublin, which is in the Republic, where I attended grad school. But if we’re being honest….there’s something mystical and ethereal about the north that is different from the republic. Those 6 little counties seem sad in a way; industrialized and tied to the UK in a way maybe some regret. But it’s that juxtaposition of the grey industrial with the bright green mountains of Mourn or valleys of Derry that is so mind-blowing. Equally, it’s the connectedness you feel looking over at the Scottish Isles from Giant’s Causeway or reaching out toward the North from Dunluce Castle (the mythical dwelling of Princess Isolde). So many worlds are closing in on one another at this point, you feel like you could just reach out and touch them, or like maybe you could picture your Scottish ancestors, fleeing persecution and landing safely in Ireland for a reprieve before sailing to America. It’s just sort of crazy how untouched it all still seems. here is my Top Ten for your visit to Northern Ireland! It goes without saying, take the coastal road, all the way around and down!
- Dunluce Castle, Portrush, County Antrim. It’s just poetic in its ruins. And since it’s falling into the sea, it won’t wait for you forever.
- Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim ( you can see the causeway for free if you buy a delicious Irish Coffee at the Hotel. It will be necessary. Trust me. It’s never warm in this spot.)
- The old Bushmills Distillery, Bushmills, County Antrim
- The Mountains of Mourne, County Down (The Mourne Wall, Hare’s Gap, any trail, insane views and sunsets here, Slieve Donard)
- Derry town , County Derry, Bishop’s Gate and only walled town in Ireland. Derry is geographically divided by a river and on the edge of the republic (Donegal). This town is fascinating, with it’s long history of upheaval and division between Northern Ireland Nationalists and the Republic supporters.
- Ulster Museum, Belfast has a fabulous mixture of modern exhibitions and historic permanent displays. They definitely have the advantage of the Brits as far as funding for fabulous museums goes
- Europa Hotel, Belfast. This is Europe’s most bombed hotel. Taken down by the IRA over 40 times, until the 1990’s– I think a more fitting title would be World’s most resilient hotel
- Belfast Murals are just so cool and gritty. Belfast’s graffiti is a piece of Ireland that you definitely have to experience. I know I harp on history and knowing where you’ve been, but…You’ve gotta know where you’re going too.
- Belfast City Hall, Where President Clinton helped facilitate peace agreements between the North and South in 1998.
- Beaghmore, County Tyrone, a complex of Bronze Age structures including stone circles and cairns.
Close contenders include: Titanic Museum. Belfast, Antrim Castle, Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, Devenish Island ( most extensive remains of an early Christian settlement in Ireland)