My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Travel”
Northern Ireland is one place you don’t want to miss as you travel around Europe. The country’s capital, Belfast, is a charming city known for being the location where the famous Titanic was built.
It’s also home to political murals that reflect the “The Troubles”—the conflict that has defined the country’s contemporary history. A little further outside of the city you can see picturesque views of the countryside as well as beautiful cliffs overlooking the sea.
Here are some top experiences you should have on your bucket list when visiting Northern Ireland.
LEARN ABOUT SHIPBUILDING IN THE TITANIC BELFAST MUSEUM
Made popular by the 1997 epic film, the widespread history of the Titanic makes this attraction one of the most popular in the city. The self-guided museum takes guests through a series of galleries where you can learn about the RMS Titanic, which was originally built in Belfast by shipbuilders Harland & Wolff. The museum goes well beyond the ship’s building however, and touches on its launch, its maiden voyage, the tragic sinking and its aftermath. However, it’s important to note that as this is one of the most popular attractions in the city, Independent Travel Cats advises getting your ticket in advance to avoid waiting in line.
STROLL AROUND THE BELFAST PEACE WALLS
The conflict known as “The Troubles” was a trying time in the city of Belfast. The violence between the unionists and nationalists resulted in 3,500 deaths and 50,000 injuries. During the 1970s, a Peace Line was created which separated the conflicting sides from each other. However, human spirit and kindness also prevailed. Save the Children’s Northern Ireland 1971 report details how children and mothers from both sides of the Peace Line would interact with each other in a friendly and relaxed way, with no sign of animosity. These small interactions weren’t enough to stop the growing conflict, however, and the Peace Walls was erected. This was to prevent violence from erupting between the two sides.
Now, decades later, the walls are painted with colourful murals on either side. Each side depicts the sentiments of the community, and gives a snapshot of the culture and history that runs through the town. One way of exploring these murals is through strolling around and taking your time with each piece. However, if you want a more guided experience, another option would be to take a Black Cab tour. Jump in a black cab and drive around the different murals and points of interest along the Peace Wall. While you’re traveling around, a local guide will tell stories about their own personal experiences of “The Troubles.” Hearing stories from a local’s perspective is always a good way to immerse yourself in a city’s history.
MARVEL AT THE GIANT’S CAUSEWAY
Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on the north coast. The site holds about 40,000 natural columns jutting out to the sea. The columns were formed due to a volcanic eruption that happened many centuries ago.
Legend has it that the giants of Ireland and Scotland were challenged to a fight, and for the duel to take place, the giants created a causeway over the ocean leading to Scotland. Interestingly, you can find the same types of columns at Fingal’s Cave in Scotland which supposedly comes from the same flow of lava or were made by the same giants, whichever you choose to believe. Remember that visiting the Giant’s Causeway is free, although you do have to pay more if you want to explore the Visitor’s Center. To access the Causeway for free, follow the archway to the side of the Visitor’s Center.
DRIVE THROUGH THE DARK HEDGES
Similar to Wales, Northern Ireland is composed of beautiful sprawling countryside. The Dark Hedges is a quiet road near the rural town of Ballymoney in County Antrim where beech trees line each side, creating an eerily imposing tunnel-like entrance. Planted almost 300 years ago, they were made famous when they appeared in the hit TV series Game of Thrones. The hedges originated in the 18th century when the Stuart family planted the trees to impress visitors as they approached their mansion, the Gracehill House. The hedges are just a 50-minute drive from Belfast, so it’s a perfect stopover before going further to explore the north coast.