To the northwest lies the Causeway Coast with its holiday resorts; the Giant’s Causeway, 38,000 hexagonal basalt columns formed by cooling volcanic flow (listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site); and the Old Bushmills Distillery, one of the oldest whiskey distilleries in the world. Nearby, the massive ruined Dunluce Castle stands atop the cliffs.
The nine Glens of Antrim, and the spectacular coast road running north from Larne, are prime draws in the east of the county, as is Carrickfergus Castle, on the north shore of Belfast Lough. Castle Gardens at Antrim,
on the northeast shore of Lough Neagh, exemplify 17th-century horticultural design. Nearby, Patterson’s Spade Mill at Templepatrick is an unusual attraction. Ferries serve Rathlin Island, where Robert the Bruce supposedly observed the persistent spider, nowadays a bird sanctuary, from Ballycastle.
Belfast: The capital stands on the River Lagan at the head of Belfast Lough. It offers excellent shopping and a wide range of visitor attractions. A uniquely Belfast experience is the guided bus tour around focal points of Belfast’s recent history, including Falls Road and Shankill Road, to see the famous murals. The Ulster Museum, in the Botanic Gardens, covers an eclectic mix of archaeology, art and natural sciences. North of the city centre are Belfast Zoo, Belfast Castle and Cave Hill, a popular lookout point. The Lagan Lookout on Donegall Quay explains the river’s role in Belfast’s development. Opposite the refurbished Grand Opera House in Great Victoria Street is the ornate Crown Liquor Saloon, a Victorian public house owned by the National Trust. For younger visitors, the Dreamworld indoor theme park is a new venue in the Windsor district.
Northern Ireland’s smallest county rises from Lough Neagh to rocky Slieve Gullion, Cuchulain’s mountain, in the south. Armagh City is the all-Ireland religious capital, with two cathedrals; the Armagh County Museum; Georgian Mall; and the Planetarium/Space Center. Outside the City, the Navan Centre, built at the site of ancient Ulster capital, Emain Macha, offers an exciting multimedia window on the past. At Craigavon, the Lough Neagh Discovery Center explains the UK’s largest lake. The lough and the Blackwater River both offer watersports and angling.
From Silent Valley in the mysterious Mountains of Mourne, to Strangford Lough (according to legend, St Patrick’s landfall when he arrived in Ireland in AD 432) and the resort coast of Belfast Lough, this is a county of great variety. At Holywood, west of Belfast, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum is a major attraction, while in Bangor, the Castle and the North Down Heritage Centre are highlights. Mount Stewart House, near Newtonards, is a fine stately home. Portaferry offers the Exploris Aquarium, while students of St Patrick flock to Downpatrick, where his grave reputedly lies in the cathedral grounds, and the Saint Patrick Centre tells his story. The linen industry is important to west Down culture, and visitors to Banbridge can take appropriately themed guided tours.
Ulster’s Lakeland is the predominant feature of the county. Enniskillen, the county town, straddles the narrows between Upper and Lower Lough Erne. Pleasure boats run to Devenish Island, an important early monastic site complete with round tower. Enniskillen Castle incorporates a Heritage Centre and the Museum of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers regiment. Golf, sailing, water-skiing and even pleasure flying are available nearby. Fishermen make record catches here – the lakes are said to be ‘polluted with fish’. Two nearby stately homes, Florence Court and Castle Coole, are open to the public. Upon entering the Marble Arch Caves to the south of Enniskillen, visitors take an underground boat trip to the showcaves. At historic Belleek Pottery in the far west of the county, craftspeople demonstrate their skills in fine porcelain manufacture.
Massive 17th-century city walls and ‘singing pubs’ are famous features of Derry/Londonderry, on the River Foyle. The Tower Museum sensitively – and vividly – interprets the city’s turbulent history, while the Fifth Province celebrates Irish Celtic culture. The Foyle Valley Railway Center focuses on the region’s former narrow-gauge network. The wild Sperrin Mountains lie south of Limavady, near which is the beautiful Roe Valley Country Park, where Ulster’s first hydroelectric power station, the Power House, is open to visitors. At Draperstown to the east, the Ulster Plantation Centre tells the story of a notorious aspect of Irish history.
Between the Sperrins in the north and green Clogher Valley with its village cathedral in the south lies a region of great historical interest. The Ulster-American Folk Park near Omagh acknowledges the county’s close connections with the USA. The Ulster History Park is nearby. Gray Printers’ Museum at Strabane still has its original 19th-century presses. There are forest parks at Gortin Glen and Drum Mano. Dungannon, in the southeast of the county, is home to Tyrone Crystal – whose glassworks are open to visitors.