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Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland

Well done, youre considering a holiday in Europes safest, friendliest, most exuberant tourist destination!

Much has happened in the past few years and old perceptions of the North have had to be rewritten, theres no doubt that Belfasts dynamic nightlife, with its club scene, modern bars, traditional pubs and gourmet restaurants, nas huge appeal for the 18-35 age group

A measure of the citys renewal has been me increase in hotel room numbers: theyve trebled in just five years. And according to a UN report, Northern Ireland has the second lowest crime rate in the developed world, only Japan is safer for tourists to visit.

Beyond the cities youre immediately off the beaten track and into green countryside, with farms and villages linked by small roads winding between thorn hedges. Watch the signposts or you may land back in the village you left five minutes ago. Even a hamlet can have half a dozen ways in and out.

Size-wise Northern Ireland is small. Establish a base - hotel, cottage, anywhere, your choice - and you can visit all the places in this guide on easy day trips. For sheer variety of landscape, the country feels bigger than it is. Mountains, glens, an inland sea, peaty moors, everythings packed neatly together.

Cycle routes and waymarked walks have opened up enchanting rural and coastal areas and getting around by bike or on foot are smart ways to slow down, make new friends and offload the overload. Keep the plan flexible.

Schedules can slip, especially when you get talking. That may be the moment when the relaxation you promised yourself starts to happen

North east

In legend the Giants Causeway was the work of Finn McCool, a giant who commanded the king of Irelands armies. He took a fancy to a lady giant from Staffa, an island in the Hebrides, and built the Causeway to bring her to live with him in Ulster.

Its the most famous sight in Ireland but the true star is surely the beautiful north Antrim coast itself, the most dramatic and colourful stretch of coast in Europe. These huge cliffs of red sandstone, white chalk, black basalt and blue clay, some with topknots of sea pinks, march east to Fair Head, Ireland's cornerstone, an eerie tableland where kestrels hover. Inhabited by giants, ghosts and more than one banshee wailing through the sea mist, the region is steeped in myth and legend.