Photo: Lonely Planet
ONCE considered a no-go area by many holidaymakers, Northern Ireland has long since put its past behind it and is now firmly back on the tourist map.
More than two million sightseers visited last year prompted by prolonged peace and the development of key attractions by Tourism Ireland.
Tour operator Insight Vacations marketing manager Beverley Rose said the vast majority of clients who visit Northern Ireland are in the 50-plus age range. She said the company’s Country Roads of Ireland tour, which incorporates stays in Northern Ireland, is its best-selling product so far this year.
“A lot of people have visited Dublin and the Ring of Kerry in the south and now want to see what Northern Ireland has to offer,” she explained.
With more than 400 flights leaving the UK for Belfast every week, many holidaymakers use the capital as a gateway, spending a day and night in the city before heading off to a range of attractions in the region. Travel Weekly offers four Northern Ireland holiday ideas.
Where: striking north from Belfast on the A2, clients will soon find themselves driving along the stunning Antrim Coast. With exhilarating views of the Irish Sea on one side and the dramatic Antrim Hills on the other, the journey to Giant’s Causeway is 60 miles.
Why: arguably Ireland’s most famous coastal landmark, Giant¹s Causeway is a patchwork of hexagonal rock pillars built, legend has it, by a mythical giant called Finn MacCool. Clients won¹t be able to resist clambering all over it while marvelling at a true geographical wonder.
A top place to stay is the three-star Ballygally Castle Hotel, near Larne. It’s right on the coast and only 20 miles north of Belfast. Built in 1625, Ballygally is the only 17th century castle still used as a residence in Northern Ireland.
How: Superbreak offers a double room at the Ballygally Castle Hotel for £60 per person with breakfast.
Where: Derry is Ireland’s only completely walled city. Built in the 17th century, it’s 70 miles northwest of Belfast making it a good day-trip destination or a staging post from which to travel over the border into County Donegal.
Why: as well as the historic city walls, of particular interest is the craft village, in the heart of the old city, where visitors can see demonstrations of pottery-making and weaving.
The most popular hotel in this area is the four-star Everglades, situated just outside the city on the banks of the River Foyle. A golf course next door is an added bonus.
How: a tour of Derry and a night at the Everglades Hotel is included as part of Insight Vacation’s 12-day Country Roads of Ireland tour. Prices start at £1,150 per person.
Where: considered an area of outstanding beauty the towns and villages of Mourne are exciting destinations and also good bases for discovering the magic of the mountains.
Only 30 miles from Belfast, the 12 peaks include Slieve Donard, which at 850 metres is Northern Ireland’s highest point.
Why: the towns of Bryansford and Tollymore are centres for outdoor adventure.
Visitors can try everything from pony trekking and canoeing to abseiling and hill walking. Embassy Leisure Break’s national sales manager Penni Graham recommends the main town of Newcastle as a traditional holiday resort. It offers sandy beaches and the Tropicana Outdoor Fun Pool for kids. It is also home to the four-star Slieve Donard Hotel, one of Ireland¹s most popular properties.
How: one night at the Slieve Donard hotels leads in at £86 per person per night twin-share with Embassy Leisure Breaks, including breakfast.
Where: a short 40-mile jaunt from Belfast, the city of Armagh is built on several hills, the highest boasting the Cathedral of St Patrick, built in the 13th century.
Why: Tourism Ireland is promoting Armagh as the home of St Patrick, a draw that has proved popular with WA Shearings clients. Launched this year, a new tour taking in the city is one of the company¹s top sellers, according to product manager for UK and Ireland Caroline Brown.
Clients can take a guided walk to follow in St Patrick’s footsteps, meet local characters in period dress who tell tales of the region’s history and watch demonstrations of traditional skills such as bread making. Accommodation is at the central four-star Armagh City Hotel.
How: WA Shearings’ nine-day Antrim coast, Armagh and Galway tour leads in at £674 per person including flights.
Northern Ireland Tourist Office industry site: www.discovernorthernireland.com
Tourism Ireland consumer site: www.tourismireland.com
Tourism Ireland industry site: www.tourismireland.com/corporate/
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