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Need suggestions for Northern Ireland bases for daytripping

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I'm just starting the research for our first trip to Northern Ireland, 2 to 3 weeks in Sept 2014. There is much less travel information here on Fodors about Northern Ireland than for the Republic of Ireland. Even my good friend Rick Steves isn't being very helpful at first glance ;;)

I've seen a vast range of comments about Belfast saying skip it entirely, do it as a day trip from Dublin (we will fly in and out of Dublin on this trip since we are using USAir) or stay two days and then move on. Even the green Michelin guide gives Belfast only 2 stars.

We've been to Dublin for 5 days on a previous trip so my plan was to take the bus to Belfast immediately after arriving at the Dublin airport and end our trip with two days in or around Dublin before flying home.

The must see that seems to be on every list is the Giant's Causeway. Surely there must be additional sights in Northern Ireland to use as a base for day trips. Places that come to mind are Derry/Londonderry and Enniskellin and the area around Castle Ward.

As first time visitors to Northern Ireland we are more interested in visiting castles, historic home and gardens and museums than taking hikes along the coastline. So I'd like to stay where we can take day trips that offer those sights.

How would you divide a 2 to 3 week trip using a rental car rather than public transportation? We prefer slow travel so does this amount of time seem a good decision for a first trip? Thanks for any comments or suggestions. Deborah

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