Northern Ireland has for long been the child of a lesser God when it comes to tourist footfalls. Tourists visiting the UK most often than not give it a pass for the Roman heritage of Britain and the heart piercing beauty of the Scottish highlands. But Northern Ireland is steeped in history and natural beauty; a country where years of political conflict may have overshadowed what it can offer to the ever hungry traveler.
I had made this trip many years ago and hence will not get into details of the travel itinerary. However you can, with ease, plan a weekend or even better a 3-day extended weekend to cover much of Belfast and the surroundings. The first day (couple of days) can be spent touring the Irish coast covering the Dunluce Castle, getting drunk at the Old Bushmill’s Distillery, wondering wide eyed at the Giant’s Causeway, swinging perilously on the Carrick-a-Rede Rope bridge, and finally arriving at the Glenariff Forest Park whilst the last day can be a Belfast city tour spending some time at the Titanic dry dock, the birthplace of the most iconic symbol of man’s might succumbing to nature’s deceit.
If for nothing else (I mean even when the craze of Game of Thrones doesn’t get you here), visit this place for the typical sea and cliff beauty that the UK is revered for. And for those who are on a Game of Thrones pilgrimage, I am sure you will not give the House of Greyjoy a miss in a million years.
Everyone has heard of the great Scotch Whiskey, but it isn’t common knowledge that the first whiskey was distilled in Ireland and one of the oldest amongst these first whiskey distilleries is the Bushmill’s. So spare a couple of hours for a tour of the distillery along with a tasting session with the tour guide.
The Giant’s causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its unique beach made up of hexagonal blocks of basalt stones known to have been the effect of an ancient volcanic eruption almost 60 mn years ago. Its a sight you will most likely remember till your dying moment because of its eery symmetrical landscape. You will wonder (unless ofcourse you are a geologist and all you do your entire life is hunt down amazing natural formations) at the artistry of nature and its resilience to withstand millions of years of evolution and still inspire awe. It is said that on a clear day you could even wave off your fellow Scottish right across the ocean.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Its a 20 m long hanging rope bridge 30 m above the sea and you will as much enjoy the walk across the bridge as you will the walk towards the bridge. If you are feeling slightly more adventurous then you can visit it on a windy morning and have fun walking on a swinging bridge (but the bridge may be closed with the weather playing truant).
Glenariff Forest Park
Do what people do best in a forest, walk and be merry. For camping enthusiasts, there seems to be a new camping site open in the forest. Alternately walk along the Waterfall Walkway and just lose yourself in the beauty of nature.
Belfast City Tour
Now that you have done the Coast tour, you can soak up in the atmosphere of Belfast and relax in the many Irish pubs which are famous all over the world. We had a slightly unconventional tour owing to our tour guide and driver being an IRA enthusiast, so we visited their Central Jail and the cemetery where many of the IRA martyrs have been laid to rest. The streets nearby were a visual treat with vibrant graffitied walls something that you will rarely see in a the rest of the UK. It gave us an insight into the political context of the Irish people something we would never have otherwise. And this trip culminated with us visiting the Stormont (or the Parliament buildings) which is the seat of the Irish Assembly giving an almost symbolic end to our pseudo political tour.
Titanic Dry Dock and Pump House
No trip to Belfast would be complete without talking about Belfast’s Maritime heritage site – the Harland & Wolff shipyard in the city’s Titanic Quarter where the RMS Titanic was built and dry docked before its maiden (and final) journey in 1912. Spend a couple of hours looking in awe at the world’s only authentic Titanic landmark, her physical footprint in history. Descend into the 44 feet colossal dry dock and walk in the retrace the footsteps of the men who built that piece of history more than a century ago. You can see the legendary pump-house, which still houses the original pumping engines and also enjoy a cup of coffee inside the cafe while your mind drifts back to the haunting scenes from the Kate-Leo blockbuster.
And that in a nut shell is your weekend guide to Northern Ireland, a place so beautiful and so rich in heritage but so often passed over for reasons I have never fathomed.
So just fly, fly, fly away !!
So long traveler !