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Northern Ireland travel guide

About Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland distils the best of Britain into a bite-sized bundle: its plunging glens and pristine lochs are as gorgeous as any in Scotland; its quaint countryside villages as olde-worlde as anything in rural Wales; and Belfast borrows its Victorian pomp from London.

Of course, it’s irrefutably Irish too, and few visitors get further than ordering a pint of Guinness before encountering the wit and loquacious charm of its inhabitants.

This hasn’t always been the case. For decades it was best avoided due to the riots and bombings of The Troubles, which erupted between Unionists and Republicans. But since 1998’s Good Friday Agreement, which calmed the fighting and quelled the geopolitical disorder, tourists are starting to appreciate what they’ve missed for so long.

Covering little more than a sixth of the Irish landmass, Northern Ireland has plenty to pique attention: from majestic mountains and bracing coastline to ancient monasteries and toe-tapping live music joints.

As locals will proudly tell you, Game of Thrones was filmed across the country, and coaches now make their way to Dragonstone (Downhill Beach), The Haunted Forest (Tollymore Forest Park) and Beric Dondarrion’s hideout (Pollnagollum Cave) for picture opportunities.

Belfast remains the showpiece. Its patched history offset by unbridled nightlife, major cultural attractions (not least the incredible Titanic Belfast museum) and an invigorating restaurant scene. Further west, highbrow arts and goodtime festivals thrive in absorbing Londonderry, while the tiny cathedral city of Armagh still stands as the ecclesiastical capital of all Ireland.

From the rugged hills of County Armagh and the quiet loughs of County Down to the granite bulk of the Mountains of Mourne, its al fresco treats are many, but one indoor pursuit prevails: drinking, which is as important here as it is south of the border. From countryside boozers to time-burnished city saloons, you’re never far from a pub here.

Northern Ireland’s compact size stands as a selling point. You can sample the pulse of city living, see the sea-bashed magnificence of the Giant’s Causeway, and then mosey back via its mollifying mountains – all in the space of a few days.

Key facts

Area:

13,576 sq km (5,242 sq miles).

Population:

1.8 million (2014).

Population density:

135.6 per sq km.

Capital:

Belfast.

Government:

A consociational (which roughly means 'power-sharing') devolved government within a constitutional monarchy.

Head of state:

HM Queen Elizabeth II since 1952.

Head of government:

Prime Minister Theresa May since 2016 (head of UK government); First Minister Arlene Foster since 2016 (First Minister of Northern Ireland Assembly).

Travel Advice

For current travel advice for Northern Ireland, please see the UK travel advice page.