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Why more and more visitors from the Republic are holidaying in Northern Ireland

The North offers new experiences that people are craving after 18 months at home

The upsurge in home holidays prompted by overseas travel restrictions has extended to Northern Ireland. People who normally looked south to sunnier climes for a break away have been travelling in the opposite direction in increasing numbers over the past few months.

"It was only a few years ago that over 50 per cent of people from the Republic of Ireland had never been to Northern Ireland but now, thanks to the increase in holidaying at home, people are seeing that there are so many new experiences to explore right on their doorstep, many are even surprised that it is only a two-hour drive from Dublin," says Fiona Cunningham, Republic of Ireland market manager at Tourism Northern Ireland.

"We certainly have seen an increase of visitors from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland, many of whom have said that they are just visiting for the first time," adds Victoria Brown, group marketing manager with the Galgorm Collection. "We hope that all these visitors who have enjoyed their experience will act as advocates and that we can continue to grow this market. We have found that our visitors are much more activity-based – connecting with nature, exploring authentic experiences, and a lot of that is based on the landscape. Northern Ireland is well placed to be successful in that market."

Experiences and adventure are key attractions, according to Cunningham. “After having spent so much time at home over the last 18 months, we know from our research that people are searching for and craving new adventures and Northern Ireland has so much to offer, from bucket list attractions or unique experiences,” she says.


“Visitors are awakened by our giant experiences – of culture, landscapes, our legends, our cities, our coast and our food,” Cunningham adds. “And the people of Northern Ireland are giant-spirited too. The people you meet along the way can’t wait to welcome you and show you why it is so special there. We are really encouraging people to embrace the giant spirit of Northern Ireland this autumn and come explore new places and adventures only a short drive away.”

The Causeway Coastal Route features high on Victoria Brown’s list of favourite attractions. “It is one of Europe’s most spectacular road trips and Galgorm is the perfect base from which to explore some of our most well-known attractions,” she says.

And then there is Belfast. "The city has undergone a cultural renaissance since the 1970s. The beautiful Victorian architecture sits side by side with Belfast's industrial heritage," says Brown. "The rejuvenated city now has a thriving restaurant, music and festival scene to rival many UK and European cities. If it was me, I would head down to the Titanic Quarter docklands area. This part of the city has undergone extensive regeneration and is built around the docks where the Titanic started her historic journey in 1912."

Outside of Belfast, one of the many attractions recommended by Cunningham is the OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory, in Co Tyrone. The centre gives visitors a unique opportunity to experience the night sky as it is rarely viewed, alongside an experienced tour guide. Visitors are able to explore our solar system and stargaze using telescopes to view the night sky without light pollution.

Back in Belfast, people thinking ahead can book a trip to the city’s renowned Christmas market with the Travel Department. The company takes the hassle out of travel, offering transfers, accommodation, excursions, and guide all included. The trip includes a visit to the festive markets as well as a panoramic tour of Belfast on arrival. Visitors also get free time to take historical tours like the murals and black cabs tours.

Five good reasons to visit Northern Ireland

The food
In 2018, Belfast was named the world's best food destination at the International Travel and Tourism Awards, pipping other global food destinations. "We're pretty proud of this achievement and want people to come and see for themselves how amazing the Northern Ireland food scene really is," says Victoria Brown.

The golf

Northern Ireland really is a giant when it comes to golf and has champions like Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell to prove it. Northern Ireland offers the perfect mix of links and parkland golf courses and is home to the Golf Digest number one golf course in the world – Royal County Down – and to the host of the 148th Open, Royal Portrush.

Getting around is easy
"You can drive from city to coast to countryside in just a few hours and get a taste of Northern Ireland in a few days," says Fiona Cunningham. "The cities and towns are extremely compact and easily explored on foot."

Northern Ireland is full of natural wonders
The Unesco world heritage site of the Giant's Causeway is its most popular attraction, but a stellar line-up of natural wonders awaits those who go off the beaten track. Visit the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, the idyllic Fermanagh Lakelands and the captivating Mourne mountains.

And there's always Game of Thrones
Northern Ireland's landscapes were used as the backdrop for the hit HBO series Game of Thrones. Fans of the show can tour filming locations including the sites for Winterfell Castle, Kingsroad and Riverrun.

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times