Travel Guide for Northern Ireland - Backpack and Snorkel Northern Ireland Purple Travel Guide

Northern Ireland is known for stunning natural landscapes like Giant’s Causeway, instagrammable sites like Dark Hedges, a rich history, and many castles. We provide detailed information and the best things to see and we show lots of photos so you know what you can expect.

Unlike neighboring Ireland, Northern Ireland was nearly torn apart during ‘The Troubles’, which was a 30-year ethno-nationalist conflict from the late 1960s to 1998. This deadly conflict was fought between the overwhelmingly Protestant unionists (loyalists), who wanted the province to remain in the UK, and the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nationalists (republicans), who wanted it to become part of Ireland.
In Derry, the epicenter of ‘The Troubles’, many artistic murals are a reminder of the conflict and its victims.

Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland
Free Derry Corner in Derry in Northern Ireland

Table of contents

Why should you visit Northern Ireland?

General Information about Northern Ireland

How much time do you need to visit Northern Ireland?

What is the best time to visit Northern Ireland?

The highlights of the history of Northern Ireland

Driving a car in Northern Ireland

Public Transportation in Northern Ireland for rail and bus

Money and Credit Cards in Northern Ireland

Tap water in Northern Ireland

Telephone

In which Time Zone is Northern Ireland

Visa requirements for Northern Ireland

Languages spoken in Northern Ireland

Itinerary for your Northern Ireland and Northern Northern Ireland visit


General Information about Northern Ireland

Entering Northern Ireland and Self-Guided City and Murals Tour of Derry

Exploring Giant’s Causeway; Dunluce Castle; Bushmills Distillery; Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge; and Dark Hedges

Self-Guided City and Murals Tour of Belfast

Self-Guided Belfast Tour

explore Ireland

General Information about Ireland

How much time do you need to visit Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland can be visited in 3 or more days, but it is best combined with a visit of Ireland.

In this Northern Ireland Purple Travel Guide, we present the Northern Ireland part of a 2 1/2-week itinerary for both countries that you can use as is, or you can tailor it to your interests.

You can find the itinerary in here.

What is the best time to visit Northern Ireland?

The weather in Northern Ireland is defined by mild summers and cool winters, without any large temperature extremes. In summer, temperatures will often stay at or below 70 F (20C) and in winter, temperatures will usually stay a few degrees above freezing.
Rain is constant throughout the year – there is typically some rain on 10 - 13 days per month, but it is seldom a washout.

The best time to visit Ireland is in summer.

  • June - August: This is the peak tourist season in Northern Ireland – the hotel and airfares rates are at their peak and many attractions will be crowded and reservations are strongly advised for many attractions. The days are long and the temperatures are mild. Rain is possible any day, but during the summer months, you normally see less of it.
  • September - October: This is the shoulder season. Hotel rates and airfares go down a bit and there are fewer tourists. The weather is cooler and you can be lucky and have great weather, or you can have a cool fall and lots of rainy days.
  • November - February: The days are short; and the weather is wet and it is cold. Except for the time around the Christmas holidays, hotel prices and airfares are at their lowest point of the year and the number of tourists is small.
  • March - May: This is shoulder season. Prices are still reasonable (except at around St. Patrick’s Day) and Spring has sprung. It is still cool, and the weather can be hit or miss. In some years, there is a lot of rain, in others it will be beautiful and dry. Unfortunately, it is impossible to forecast.

Below is the climate that you can expect on your trip to Belfast in Northern Ireland:

Average temperature by month in Belfast in Northern Ireland
Average precipitation by month in Belfast in Northern Ireland

Below is the climate that you can expect on your trip to Derry in Northern Ireland:

Average temperature by month in Derry in Northern Ireland
Average precipitation by month in Derry in Northern Ireland

The highlights of the history of Northern Ireland

  • 115,000 - 16,000 BC: Northern Ireland is periodically covered with ice that is more than 10,000 ft (3 km) thick, resulting in an ice bridge between Ireland and Great Britain
  • 14,000 BC: the ice bridge only exists between Northern Ireland and Scotland
  • 12,000 BC: the ice bridge is gone - Northern Ireland and Great Britain are completely separated
  • 8,000 BC: middle stone age communities are present in Northern Ireland
  • 4350 BC: farming of crops and domesticated animals (cattle and sheep) in multiple locations in Northern Ireland. People start building megalithic monuments - more than 1,200 are known today
  • 3,500 BC and 3,000 BC: the oldest field system with dry-stone walls in the world is operated and the main crops are wheat and barley
  • 2,500 BC: the bronze age starts and some notable inventions are: the wheel, brewing alcohol, textile weaving, skillful metalworking, oxen harnessing
  • Sometime around 2,500 BC: The Bell Beaker culture expands to Northern Ireland. The Celtic language is being brought to Ireland either during the Bronze Age or the later Iron Age
  • 500 BC: the population is somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people
  • 500 BC: The iron age starts in Ireland and written records are being created by Greco-Roman geographers
  • 2nd century AD: Ptolemy calls Ireland Mikra Brettania (Little Britain) and Great Britain: Megale Brettania (Great Britain). He later uses the word Iouernia for Ireland and calls Great Britain Albion. The Romans call Ireland Hibernia and later Scotia
  • 150 BC: Before 150 BC, items like vases, etc. have mostly European styles and afterwards, mostly show influence from Great Britain
  • 100 BC – 300 AD: The Irish Dark Age leads to economic and cultural stagnation. Ireland is a patchwork of many rival kingdoms
  • 432 AD: Romano-British Christian missionary Patrick arrives in Ireland. His work and the work of other Christian missionaries eventually leads to a collapse of the druid tradition
  • 840s: The first High King of Ireland appears. A High King of Ireland is a king who claims to have or actually has, lordship over all of Ireland.
  • 9th century: Viking raiders start plundering Irish monasteries and towns
  • 1169: Anglo-Normans invade the Kingdom of Leister with 40 knights, 60 men-at-arms and 360 archers
  • 1170: More landings by Anglo-Norman nobleman Richard de Clare, known as 'Strongbow', with at least 200 knights and 1,000 soldiers to invade other parts of Ireland – the military interventions were sanctioned by King Henry II of England
  • 1171: Fearing that Strongbow will set up his own kingdom in Ireland, King Henry lands in Irland with a large army (at least 500 mounted knights and 4,000) to gain control over both the Anglo-Normans and the Irish – his move is supported by the Roman Catholic Church. Henry grants Strongbow the Kingdom of Leinster but seizes the rest of Ireland
  • 1172-1175: fighting all over Ireland
  • 1175: Henry II of England and High King Ruaidrí agree to the Treaty of Windsor, dividing Ireland into a Norman-held territory that acknowledges Henry as overlord, and the rest of Ireland with Ruaidrí as overlord
  • 1176: The Treaty of Windsor falls apart and fighting starts again
  • 1177: Henry II repudiates the Treaty, declares his 10-year-old son ‘Lord of Ireland‘, forms the Lordship of Ireland from the territory held by the Anglo-Normans and encourages the Anglo-Norman lords to conquer more territory
  • Starting in 1169: Norman lords start building their own castles
  • 1216: A version of the Magna Carta (the Great Charter of Ireland) is created by replacing London with Dublin and the English church with Irish Church
  • 1297: The Parliament of Ireland is founded
  • 14th century: More and more of Ireland comes under rule of native Gaelic chiefdoms
  • 1367: The Irish parliament passes the Statutes of Kilkenny to uphold Norman rule and prevent assimilation of the Normans into the Irish society. English subjects must speak English and follow English law.
  • End of 15th century: Irish culture and language, with some Norman influences, flourish and become dominant
  • 1494: The Irish Parliament is rendered powerless by Poynings' Law (Statute of Drogheda) is enacted. It states that the parliament cannot meet until its proposed legislation is approved by Ireland's Lord Deputy and Privy Council and by England's monarch and Privy Council
  • 1542: Henry VIII of England declares himself ‘King of Ireland’ in the Crown of Ireland Act to reestablish English rule over Ireland
  • mid-16th century: The English Crown confiscates Irish-owned land and colonizes it with British settlers, especially in the province of Ulster, where up to 80,000 Protestant English and Scots settle in the new Plantations
  • 1593 to 1603: In the Nine Years' War, the English prevail against an Irish confederation led by the two most powerful Ulster lords
  • 1607: The Flight of the Earls (the heads of the Irish resistance and about 90 of their followers consisting of much of much of Ulster's Gaelic nobility) marks the end of the old Gaelic order. Their lands were seized and settled with Protestant settlers from Britain
  • 1607: Catholics are barred from holding public office and from serving in the army
  • 1615: The constituencies of the Irish Parliament are altered so that Protestants are in the majority
  • 1639-1653: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms decimate the Irish population by almost half
  • 1672: The Test Act 1672 states that Roman Catholics and nonconforming Protestant Dissenters are not allowed to be members in the Irish Parliament
  • 1690s: The Scottish famine leads to a significant influx of Scottish to Ulster
  • 1717 – 1775: approx. 250,000 Ulster Presbyterians emigrate to the British North American colonies
  • 1740: During the famine of 1740, approx. 250,000 people (about 1/8 of Irish the population) dies
  • 1782: Poynings' Law is repealed, giving Ireland legislative independence from Great Britain
  • 1798: A rebellion led by the Society of United Irishmen with the goal of creating an independent Ireland fails
  • 1800: Through considerable degree of bribery, and with funding from the British Secret Service Office, the British and Irish parliaments pass the ‘Acts of Union’ that merge the Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain and create the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’, effective 1801. This leads to the dissolution of the parliament in Ireland and replaces it with a united parliament at Westminster in London
  • 1829: Due to Daniel O'Connell’s (The Liberator) mobilization of Catholic Ireland, the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 is passed. It leads to the emancipation of Catholics by repealing the Test Act 1672
  • 1845–1852: The Great Famine devastates Ireland and leads to the death of 1/3 or Ireland's population. 1847 is the worst year and is known as ‘Black '47’, about 1 million people die and more than 1 million emigrate, mostly to the United States and Canada
  • 1879-1923: Economic depression causes civil unrest and the Land War and accelerates emigration. By the late 1800s, half of all immigration to the United States comes from Ireland
  • 1912: More than 500,000 unionists sign the Ulster Covenant, in which they promise to oppose ‘Home Rule’ (Irish self-governing) by any means and thus any Irish government
  • 1914: Pro-British unionists smuggle thousands of rifles and lots of ammunition from Germany to Ireland for use by the paramilitary organization Ulster Volunteers (UVF) to oppose Home Rule; Irish nationalists form their own paramilitary organization, Irish Volunteers, and also smuggle weapons into the country
  • 1914: after relentless campaigning, especially from Charles Stewart Parnell, for the Home Rule, the Home Rule bill passes, but excludes the six counties of Ulster where pro-British protestants form the majority. The provinces of Ulster will later become Northern Ireland.
  • 1914: The Suspensory Act 1914 suspends Home Rule during World War I and leaves the duration of the exclusion of Ulster from the bill open
  • 1916: The Easter Rising of Irish Republicans for an independent Irish republic is quickly ended by British troops. British executions of their leaders and the arrests of thousands of nationalist activists strengthens support for the separatist Sinn Féin
  • 1918: The pro-independence republican party, Sinn Féin, overwhelmingly wins the general election
  • 1919: Sinn Féin proclaims an Irish Republic and sets up its own parliament for the entire island – British authorities outlaw this government. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) starts a three-year guerrilla war
  • 1921: The Anglo-Irish Treaty ends the hostilities and ends British rule over most of Ireland with the exception of Northern Ireland which remains within the United Kingdom
  • 1922: The Northern offensive of the IRA fails and an 11-months civil war among republicans erupts over the interpretation of the Anglo-Irish Treaty
  • 1925: Northern Ireland's border is drawn. Its population is 2/3 Protestant (mostly loyal to the UK) and 1/3 Catholic (mostly nationalists/republicans). Gerrymandering of election boundaries ensures that Catholics hold no political power
  • 1941: Over 1,000 people are killed, hundreds seriously injured, and about £20 million worth of damage is caused during air raids from the Nazis (Belfast Blitz) on an unprepared Belfast
  • 1949: In the Ireland Act 1949, the UK government guarantees Northern Ireland’s position in the UK
  • Late 1960s – 1998: ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, an ethno-nationalist conflict between British loyalists and the British army against Irish separatists, cost the lives of 3,532 people (of which 1,840 were civilians) and injure more than 47,500
  • 1972: On January 30, British soldiers shoot 26 unarmed civilians during a protest march in the Bogside area of Derry. This event is the worst mass shooting in Northern Irish history and called the Bloody Sunday, or Bogside Massacre. Later it will lead to the painting of many murals in Derry that commemorate this event
  • 1998: The Troubles end with the Good Friday Agreement, which regulates, among others:
    - the total disarming of all paramilitary groups
    - the recognition of two sovereign states (the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland)
    - Northern Ireland will remain within the United Kingdom until a majority of voters in Northern Ireland decides otherwise
    - This Irish constitution removes a claim of Irish sovereignty over the entire island
  • 2005: the Provisional IRA declares an end to its campaign and decommissions all weapons

Driving a car in Northern Ireland

Cars are driven on the left-hand side of the road. It is important to note that some roads in Northern Ireland are narrow and opposing traffic may only be a few inches (cm) away from your car on certain roads. Roads are, however, typically wider than in Ireland.

Here is an overview of the different road types:

  • The Motorways (M Roads) are wide highways with 2 lanes in each direction and often very little traffic.
  • The next lower tier of roads are regional highways, called ‘A Roads’.
  • Regional Roads (B Roads) and Local Roads (C Roads) are lower tier roads.

In contrast to the Republic of Ireland, speed limits in Northern Ireland are in miles per hour.

The speed limits for regular cars without trailers and motorcycles are as follows:

  • Motorways: 70 mph (112 km/h)
  • Dual carriageways: 70 mph (112 km/h)
  • Single carriageways: 60 mph (96 km/h)
  • Urban areas: 30 mph (48 km/h)
  • In high pedestrian traffic areas, you will see: 20 mph (32 km/h)

Public Transportation in Northern Ireland for rail and bus:

Some cities, like Dublin, have excellent and frequent bus transportation. Dublin, as the only town in Ireland, even has a tram.
To travel between cities, you can either take a bus or train.
Northern Ireland has an excellent clean, save and punctual public transportation system. Trains and Buses are operated by Translink. Tickets can be bought online and at the railway stations or inside the bus you want to take.

If you plan to use a lot of trains or buses, then you may want to consider one of the discount cards available.

  • The iLink card provides unlimited travel for a specified period of time (1 day, 1 week, 1 year) within 5 Zones in Northern Ireland
  • Belfast Visitor Pass: For a duration of 1, 2, or 3 days, the pass offers free travel on buses and trains in the e Belfast Visitor Pass Zone (excludes the airport route) and discounts on admission to lots of attractions, tours, shopping, and restaurants
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Money and Credit Cards in Northern Ireland

The currency used in Ireland is the British Pound Sterling. You can find the current exchange rate here.
Credit cards (MasterCard and VISA) are widely accepted, except on buses.

Tap water in Northern Ireland

Tap water is safe to drink in Northern Ireland, but it has a more or less strong chlorine taste and therefore we preferred to filter it to remove the chlorine taste.

Telephone

The country code for Northern Ireland is the same as for England: +44

In which Time Zone is Northern Ireland

Ireland is on Ireland Time: UTC/GMT +0 h and observes Daylight saving time (DST).
You can find the current local time here.

Visa requirements for Northern Ireland

As a part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has the same entry regulations as the rest of the United Kingdom. You can check if you need a visa to enter Northern Ireland here.
At the time of writing, there are no border crossing stations between Ireland and Northern Ireland, meaning that anyone can cross the border. As a matter of fact, you may not even be aware that you cross the border as there are often no signs.

Languages spoken in Northern Ireland

English is the first and most commonly spoken language in Northern Ireland. Irish is an official language, too, and spoken by some people.

Itinerary for your Ireland and Northern Ireland visit

The best way to experience this part of the world is by combining Ireland, and Northern Ireland. This can easily be done on a 2-week or 3-week trip.
The itinerary in this travel guide is a 2 1/2-week itinerary that will allow you to see the highlights of both countries.

You can use this itinerary as it is or modify it to fit your interests and travel style.

Please be advised that it can rain at any point on the island, so adding a few buffer days in the areas that you are most interested in could be a good idea.

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Backpack and Snorkel Travel Guide for Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland Purple Travel Guide
Backpack and Snorkel Travel Guide for Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland Purple Travel Guide
Backpack and Snorkel Travel Guide for Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland Purple Travel Guide
Backpack and Snorkel Travel Guide for Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland Purple Travel Guide
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