Northern Ireland consists of six of the nine counties forming the island of Ireland's historic north-easterly province of Ulster, and is part of the United Kingdom. Despite bad publicity over the past few decades, it is nonetheless a fascinating region with much to offer in the way of beautiful scenery and cosmopolitan cities. Northern Ireland is renowned for the friendliness of its people.
Cities and Towns
Northern Ireland is home to numerous cities and towns. Below is a list of nine of the most notable. Other urban areas are listed on their specific county article.
Immigration and visa requirements
Northern Ireland has the same immigration and visa requirements as the rest of the UK.
For more information of UK Immigration and visa requirements, see the UK's Home Office website
The main airports in Northern Ireland are:
George Best Belfast City Airport  (airport code BHD): just 2 miles from Belfast city center, with magnificent views of the city of Belfast or Belfast Lough offered to passengers on approach and departure. The airport principally serves routes to domestic UK and Ireland, however bmi and BA offer interline connections to their flights and those of their alliances (Star Alliance and One World respectively) through Heathrow and Manchester. Airlines using the airport include:
The terminal is served every twenty to thirty minutes from 06.00 - 22.00 by the 600 Airport bus  (£1.30 single, £2.20 return). Depending on traffic, the journey to Belfast's Laganside and Europa Buscentres should take no more than fifteen minutes. Ask at the airport information desk for a free shuttle ride to the near-by Sydenham railway station for trains towards Bangor, Belfast and Portadown. Considering the airport's proximity to the city, taxis cost less than £10 to most parts of the city and are an economical choice for small groups.
The Airporter is an hourly shuttle from Belfast's two airports to Londonderry/Derry. The journey to Belfast City Airport takes two hours.
Belfast International Airport  (airport code BFS): further away from Belfast City Airport, but offers significantly more international destinations.
The terminal is served up to thirty minutes from 05.35 - 23.20 by the 300 Airport bus  (£6 single, £9 return) to Belfast Laganside and Europa Buscentres. Depending on traffic, the journey to Belfast's Laganside and Europa Buscentres takes about forty-five minutes. Taxis should cost no more than £25-£30 to Belfast City Centre.
The Airporter is an hourly shuttle from Belfast's two airports to Londonderry/Derry. The journey to Belfast International takes ninety minutes.
City of Derry Airport: a smaller regional airport serving County Londonderry.
Despite decades of underinvestment and service cutbacks, Northern Ireland Railways (a division of Translink, Northern Ireland's public transport operator) manages to maintain a small but increasingly reliable passenger rail network around the province, with four 'domestic' lines radiating out from Belfast.
Service is most frequent and reliable on the Portadown - Belfast - Bangor corridor, on which new trains offer frequent and fast suburban service. The line to Londonderry/Derry is exceptionally beautiful as it passes along the north coast after Coleraine, however travellers should note that the railway line is slower (two hours or more) than the equivalent Ulsterbus Goldline express coach (one hour and forty minutes). Contact NIR for information on tourist passes for exploring Northern Ireland by bus and train: with integrated bus and train stations in most major towns, the province is easily explored without a car.
'International' service to Dublin (with connections to other destinations in the Republic of Ireland) is offered by the Enteprise, a modern, comfortable and relatively fast train jointly operated by Northern Ireland Railways and Iarnrod Eireann (who operate trains in the Republic of Ireland). The journey to Dublin takes around two hours, and there are eight trains a day, offering two classes of service.
Roads link Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. However, take care when driving in border areas. In some places the border, being based on county boundaries, runs along the middle of the road while in others it's possible to cross into the South and then back into the North again within several hundred yards. Fortunately both regions drive on the left though road signs and speed limits in the Republic Of Ireland are now metric (kilometers) while road signs in Northern Ireland are all imperial (miles).
There are usually no border checks at all and there is complete freedom of movement between the North and Republic.
Frequent sailings across the Irish Sea connect Belfast to mainland Great Britain. All the operators listed below offer special promotions throughout the year, and some also offer through ticketing with rail and bus services at each end.
Seat61.com offers informed and independent advice on how to book combined train and ferry tickets from any railway station in Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland has a limited motorway system, connecting Belfast to Dungannon, Ballymena and Newtonabbey. All large towns and cities are well connected by road. The speed limits are -
Motorways (blue signs) - 70 miles per hour. (113 km/h)
Other roads (green & white signs) - 60 miles per hour. (97 km/h)
Urban areas (towns and cities) - 30 miles per hour. (48 km/h)
By bus and train
Translink operate the Northern Ireland public transport system.
English is spoken everywhere. There are a wide range of regional dialects. Ulster Scots and Irish are used in some small communities. Do be aware though that the Northern Irish tend to speak quite rapidly compared to most English speakers, and have a huge arsenal of local words that are frequently dropped into conversation by speakers of all ages and groups. For example:
Wee - Small. Aye - Yes. Sheugh - Small ditch or drain. Dander - A short walk at a gentle pace, often with no particular destination. Locked, Wrote off, Lamped, Half-cut, Rat-arsed - Drunk (along with about 200 other words for the same thing)
Bushmills whiskey is made in the town of the same name on the north coast, and distillery tours are highly recommended. Belfast produces its own range of ales. Depending on their license, most bars stop serving alcohol at either 11PM or 1AM. Some clubs serve until later, and some bars have (illegal) "lock-ins" where the doors are locked at closing time, but people can stay and drink for longer. You usually have to be known by the bar staff to be allowed to remain, however.
A popular dish is the 'fry-up' (also called the Ulster Fry). It consists of eggs, bacon, tomatoes, sausages (referred to as bangers), potato bread. Some versions include mushrooms, baked beans, soda bread, ham, and pancakes. Fry-ups are generally prepared like the name says, everything is fried up in a pan. Traditionally lard was used to fry it in, but recently due to health concerns, oils such as canola and olive are used. It is generally referred to by the rest of the public as a 'heart attack on a plate'. Historically, it was popular with the working class.
Despite a reputation otherwise, Northern Ireland has one of the lowest crime rates among industrialized countries. According to statistics from the U.N. International Crime Victimization Survey (ICVS 2004), Northern Ireland has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe (lower than the United States and the rest of the United Kingdom). In fact, the results of the latest ICVS show that Japan is the only industrialized country safer than Northern Ireland. Almost all visitors experience a trouble-free stay. However, as with most places, avoid being alone at night in urban areas. In addition, avoid wearing clothes that could mark you out as being from one community or the other (for example Celtic or Rangers kits). Do not express a political viewpoint (pro-Irish or pro-British) unless you are absolutely sure you are in company that will not become hostile towards you for doing so. Even then, you should be sure that you know what you're talking about !! Avoid political gatherings where possible. Many pubs have a largely cultural and political atmosphere such as on the Falls Road, the mostly Republican main road in West Belfast, but expressing an opinion among good company, especially if you share the same view, will usually not lead to any negative consequences.
Northern Ireland tends to shutdown for at least a few days surrounding the 12th July due to the 'Orange' marches. These have been known to get a bit rowdy but have vastly improved in recent years.
The country code for Northern Ireland is the same as the rest of the UK, +44. The code for the whole of Northern Ireland is 028, with the 0 being dropped for inbound international calls. Northern Ireland numbers can be called from the Republic of Ireland by replacing the area code 028 with 048. International phone cards are widely available in large towns and cities.
The official currency of Northern Ireland is the pound sterling. Bank of England notes are commonly used but the four Northern Irish banks print their own versions. Northern Irish notes are legal tender in Great Britain but widespread ignorance of this fact means that they are rarely accepted outside of Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland does a large amount of trade with the Republic of Ireland (where the euro is used) and therefore many outlets in border areas accept euro. Typically expect to pay around 3 euro for every 2 pounds, and expect your change in sterling.
Virtually all larger shops and pubs in Derry City will accept euro as payment. In addition, many major pubs and shopping outlets in Belfast city centre now accept euro. In particular, the pub company Botanic Inns Ltd and the shopping centre Castle Court can be cited as accepting payments for goods in euro.