Ancient volcanic formation or road for giants? Either way, Northern Ireland's Giant's Causeway is worth a stop.
  • Ancient volcanic formation or road for giants? Either way, Northern Ireland's Giant's Causeway is worth a stop.
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Ever since the peace accords of 1997, Northern Ireland has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance. Freed from 25 years of conflict, referred to locally as “The Troubles,” Northern Ireland has rebuilt its economy – and although some resentment remains, all indications are that the peace will hold.

Europeans returned to visiting Northern Ireland long ago, but Americans are just beginning to rediscover this fascinating place. I recent had a chance to visit Northern Ireland on a day trip from Dublin, and was pleasantly surprised to find all it had to offer.

Belfast

Nothing symbolizes the rebirth of Northern Ireland more than the reputation Belfast is garnering as an up-and-coming destination for European travelers. On top of this, Belfast has capitalized on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of its most famous export, the Titanic. For a history of the ship, visit the Titanic Belfast museum on the waterfront.

Belfast’s compact downtown is centered on the magnificent 1906 City Hall (left). There’s an exhibition hall inside and a Titanic memorial on the side of the building.

A short walk from the historic city hall takes you to the opposite end of the spectrum, the futuristic Victoria Square Mall. The four-story mall is housed in a clear glass dome. At the top is an observation deck. A short walk further takes you to the 1869 Albert Memorial Clock tower.

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge

The famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, an hour north of Belfast.

The famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, an hour north of Belfast.

For as long as anyone can remember, local fishermen have been using this rope bridge to cross to Carrick-a-Rede Island during salmon season. The salmon are now gone, so it will just be you and other tourists brave enough (hopefully) to cross the 66-foot span over a 98-foot-high chasm to the sea below with only a few planks and two ropes to hang onto.

Besides the rope bridge, this area of the Northern Ireland coast is particularly scenic, as you overlook Rathlin Island and the channel between Ireland and Scotland. On clear days you can just make out the Scottish coast.

Giant’s Causeway

If you were to pick only one sight to see in Northern Ireland, this should be it. Just west of the rope bridge, Giant’s Causeway is a unique geological formation of basalt columns formed by volcanic activity 50-60 million years ago.

Around 40,000 such columns are distributed over an area of a couple of miles.

Locals unable to explain the cause for the large geometric shapes instead created elaborate legends around the formation being the remains of a causeway between Ireland and Scotland built by a giant – hence the name.

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