Planning Your Time

Though Northern Ireland may not look that big on paper, tackling a fair share of its many attractions in less than a week isn't possible without exhausting yourself in the process. If your time is limited, choose the eastern half (Belfast, the Antrim Coast, and the Mountains of Mourne) or the western half (Derry and the Border Counties). The cities are small enough to tour in a day or two. But remember that the rural wonders—the Antrim Coast, the Fermanagh lakes, the Mountains of Mourne—cast their spell easily. You may head out to enjoy them for a day trip and find yourself wishing that you'd factored in more time to explore the endless string of postcard-worthy villages, misty glens, and rugged mountains. Distances are not great, but neither are the roads—you'll spend most of your time traveling smaller roads, not major express highways. If you have three days, spend an extra night and day in Derry. A half-day side trip should also be made to the top-class Ulster American Folk Park at Omagh, where the contribution of Northern Irish people to American history is traced.

Festivals and Events

When planning your visit, remember that Northern Ireland is a great place for festivals: almost every town has its own theme festival of some sort. Early in May, tens of thousands of revelers flock to Derry for an annual five-day extravaganza, the City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival (, held at various venues.


The Ould Lammas Fair. Every year since 1606, on the last Monday and Tuesday in August, Ballycastle has hosted the Ould Lammas Fair, a modern version of the ancient Celtic harvest festival of Lughnasa (Irish for "August"). Ireland's oldest fair, this is a very popular two-day event with entertainers, several hundred shopping stalls, and even a pony show. Treat yourself to the fair's traditional snacks, dulse (sun-dried seaweed; also known as dillisk) and yellowman (rock-hard yellow toffee). Ballycastle, Co. Antrim.

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Fodor's Essential Ireland: with Belfast and Northern Ireland

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