Holidays in Northern Ireland: The Titanic Quarter and Beyond
I can't quite believe I'm going to mention the Titanic, especially as I live in Belfast and the Titanorak centenary celebrations and all the resulting guff are driving me MAD, but, well, it seems that 2012 being the hundredth anniversary of a Belfast-built ship sinking on its maiden voyage is both a) something to be proud of and b) something people all around the world are into. The new Titanic Visitor Centre (don't start me) opened in Belfast at the beginning of April, with reports saying there were over 100,000 tickets sold in 23 countries before it even opened.
This is reflecting a very welcome trend over the past ten years or so, where Northern Ireland is now seen as an excellent holiday spot. Belfast was voted one of the top ten destinations in the world for 2012 by National Geographic, and it looks like this year will be one of the busiest tourist times in N Ireland ever. There are loads of cheap flights to Belfast from all over the UK, and we've over 95 campsites all over the country from Belfast to Ballycastle – here are four of the best spots for a N Ireland camping holiday.
Belfast: Wandering around the Titanic Quarter is clearly The Thing For 2012, but there's a lot more to Belfast than that. The 'Queen's Quarter' – the area around Queen's University, Botanic Avenue and Bradbury Place – is full of good bars, restaurants, and spots for live comedy and music. The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in May is one of the best around and has most shows available to travellers on a budget, while the Cathedral Quarter itself is one of the oldest places in the city and has St Anne's Cathedral, the Duke of York pub, live music at the John Hewitt and cobbled streets to trip on in your heels.
Where to stay: Party in the city then escape into the countryside a few miles away to soothe your head and enjoy the scenery. Try Lakeside View Caravan Park at Hillsborough, or Dundonald Touring Caravan Park in Dundonald, both less than ten miles away from Belfast and with easy transport links into the city.
Antrim Coast: The north coast is probably the most popular tourist spot in N Ireland, with tiny villages, great views, seaside towns and the Glens of Antrim. Try some golfing at Portrush, a top golfing spot hosting the Irish Open this year, climb the sand dunes at Portstewart, take the Bushmills whiskey tour, and wander around the seaside town of Ballycastle before taking the ferry across to see the puffins on Rathlin Island. The biggest tourist draw of the Antrim coast, and N Ireland, is the Giant's Causeway, a World Heritage Site and managed by the National Trust, but forever sticking in my mind as this Led Zeppelin album cover.
Where to stay: We have 25 sites in Co Antrim, covering all the main holiday spots including Ballycastle, Bushmills, Portrush and the tiny Glens of Antrim villages such as Cushendun and Cushendall. Have a look at the Ballyness Caravan Park in Bushmillls, a David Bellamy Conservation Award Gold winner, or try the Hilltop Holiday Park if you're basing yourself at Portrush.
Ulster Way: This 625 mile long distance walking route is one of the longest in the UK and Ireland, and takes in all of N Ireland around its borders. There are several 'quality sections' which are fully waymarked and which pass through Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. One of the best things about the Ulster Way is that it goes through cities and towns as well as rural areas – if you're staying in Belfast, the Lagan Towpath nine mile stretch from Lisburn to Belfast is probably the best walk from the city.
Where to stay: There are campsites and caravan parks all along the Ulster Way, so you'll always have somewhere to bathe your feet no matter which part you walk. The Ring of Gullion Way goes from Newry to Carnbane, with theKilbroney Caravan Park within a few miles of Newry. Or there's the Belcoo to Beleek scenic walk, with the Rushin House Caravan Park at the starting point of Belcoo.
Fermanagh Lakelands: Fishing! The Fermanagh lakes with Upper and Lower Lough Erne are renowned for coarse fishing, pike fishing and winter roach fishing, with Lough Melvin the best spot for salmon and trout fishing. There's also plenty of boating and watersports to get stuck into, and Lough Erne has 154 islands to explore – take a trip to the monastic site Devenish Island with its 12th century round tower. Away from the lakes, Fermanagh has woods and forests, wetlands, cliffs with views to Donegal, the Marble Arch Caves, and the Ulster American Folk Park charting Irish emigration to America 300 years ago.
Where to stay: We've ten sites in Co Fermanagh, including a couple near the county capital Enniskillen – the Castle Archdale Caravan Park and the Share Holiday Village. Elsewhere, try the Drumhoney Holiday Park at Lisnarick, near Lower Lough Erne.
So, see y'all in N Ireland this year then. Say hi if you see me – mine's a Bass. Just don't mention the Titanic. Cheers!