Pocket Britain

The UK's smallest nation squeezes all sorts of unique geography, culture and history into its 5345 square miles

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Northern Ireland is one of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom. The country has a long history, which began over 9,000 years ago when the very first settlers turned up. Since then the area has been affected by the arrival of several different groups of people, who each made their own contributions to the land. Early on were the Celts, who brought along such traditions as language and music. Later came the Vikings, who founded some of the province's biggest cities, and the Normans, who built castles and roads.

White Island Figures, Lough Erne.
Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
During all this, Ireland had not yet been split into the two separate countries we know today. This division occurred in the early 20th century, when 6 of its counties became their own province. This may not seem like a high number, and it's true that Northern Ireland is a relatively small place. Nevertheless, its 5,000 square miles are packed full of wonderful features. The modern cities, beautiful lakes and dramatic coastline are the envy of nations ten times its size.

The Six Counties of Northern Ireland
For most visitors, the point of arrival is Belfast, the nation's capital. During the last decade, the city has experienced a huge evolution, with new shops, bars, clubs and restaurants opening at an uncountable rate, cementing its growing reputation as one of the premier destinations in the UK. Despite this expansion, the city hasn't forgotten its Victorian and Edwardian heritage, and many of its historic buildings are being restored and looked after. Belfast offers all the things you might expect from a modern capital, including great eating, drinking and sightseeing. Its cultural scene covers both huge arts festivals, and tiny live houses. Everything spreads out from the City Hall, a stunning Baroque building that's the centrepiece of the entire town.

Modern Belfast, with City Hall on the left
Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board

The Duke Of York pub is one of Belfast's gems.
Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
The nation's second city is Londonderry, which has a history even longer than Belfast's. It's circled by the best set of walls in Europe, which the public are free to walk upon. Other urban areas include Bangor, home to the country's biggest marina, and Enniskillen, a picture postcard town sandwiched between two beautiful lakes. Water is a big feature of Northern Ireland. None of its residents are ever far away from a breath-taking view of blue waves and green trees.

Derry City Walls.
Photo horslips5

Enniskillen Castle.
Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
In fact, Northern Ireland contains some of the most spectacular scenery of anywhere in the British Isles. The north coast is particularly renowned for its unbelievable views. Thick forests lead up to the shoreline, where jagged cliffs spike into the air. This is the setting for the Giant's Causeway, one of the most famous places in the country and a World Heritage site. It features around 40,000 interlocking rock columns, formed by an ancient volcanic eruption, and is the mythical home of fearsome giants! From here, the coastline heads east towards the scary Carrick- a Rede rope bridge, and west towards the Old Bushmills Whisky Distillery. The Antrim Coast Road links everything together, in what is usually agreed to be the best drive in Britain.

The Giant's Causeway.
Photo Effervescing Elephant

Carrick Island and Rope Bridge.
Photo Qole Pejorian
Despite its size, the sights and attractions in Northern Ireland are fantastically varied, and it would be easy to spend weeks and weeks on a trip here.
Visitor Information
By Air: Northern Ireland is served by flights into Belfast International Airport, George Best Belfast City Airport and City of Derry Airport.
By Ferry: Coast to Coast from Scotland to Northern Ireland in an hour! Northern Ireland has first-class ferry connections with Scotland, England and the Isle of Man. New, high-speed vessels, enhanced on-board amenities, entertainment and shopping, together with lower prices, make the car ferry a very attractive way to go.
Belfast Tourist Information Centre, 47 Donegall Place, BT1 5AD. Tel: 028 9024 6609

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