Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. It covers around one sixth of the total area of Ireland and consists of six counties within the province of Ulster. The remainder of Ireland is a sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland.
For many years until recently, Northern Ireland was the site of violent and bitter ethno-political conflict. Nationalists, who are predominantly Catholic, want to be unified with the Irish Republic; whilst Unionists, who are predominantly Protestant, want to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Beginning as a small settlement, Belfast grew to be a major player in the global linen trade and a dynamo of the Industrial Revolution. Before that was the rebellion in 1798, famine in 1840-1850 and great social change in the latter part of the 19th century.
The Northern Irish built the Titanic, invented the tractor and gave the world soccer player George Best, musician Van Morrison and writer CS Lewis. WWII saw most of the city centre destroyed by the Luftwaffe in 1941 during the Belfast Blitz.
Now they have peace and a burgeoning tourism economy, along with a great feeling of optimism. Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, is a thriving city and welcomes tourism with confidence.
A Belfast Black Taxi Tour will take you to the now-quiet trouble spots. Compare the painstakingly painted murals of Loyalist Shankhill Road with those of the Republican Falls Road. They have very different messages and there are no grey areas. The Peace Line was designed to keep the two communities apart.
Local guides will tailor a tour to suit individual visitors. Maybe go from the city centre to the shipyards, the elegant university quarter and museum district. Tours are intimate and informative and a great way to see what has shaped Belfast.
Finish your trip with a big bowl of Irish stew and a pint of Guinness.
The Antrim coast is stunningly beautiful. The road begins in the city of Newry, County Down, and heads north-east through the fishing towns of Warrenpoint, Rostrevor and Kilkeel. The coastal village of Ballygally has some beautiful beaches and is home to Ballygally Castle, the only 17th-century building still used as a residence in Northern Ireland and reputed to be haunted.
The Giant's Causeway, often referred to by the locals as the eighth wonder of the world and declared as Ireland's first World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1986, extends 4.8km along the coast. It consists of 40,000 polygonal basalt columns, side by side, some well over a metre tall.
Just an hour away is one of Northern Ireland's most loved attractions. Carrick-a-Rede, which boasts unrivalled coastal scenery, has an exhilarating rope bridge. Fishermen erected the bridge over a 30-metre deep and 20-metre wide chasm to check salmon nets. Today, visitors go just for the challenge.
Londonderry (or Derry), often called the Maiden City, is on the west bank of the River Foyle. It is one of Ireland's longest continuously inhabited places and one of the few remaining walled cities in Europe. The earliest historical references date to the 6th century when a monastery was founded there by St Columba, but for thousands of years before people had been living here.
Londonderry was the first planned city in Ireland. It was begun in 1613, with the walls completed five years later. The central diamond within a walled city with four gates was thought to be a good design for defense and the grid pattern was much copied in the colonies of British North America.
The modern city preserves the 17th-century layout of four main streets radiating from the Diamond to four gateways Bishop's Gate, Ferryquay Gate, Shipquay Gate and Butcher's Gate. In the porch is an inscription: "If stones could speake then London's prayse should sound Who built this church and cittie from the grounde".
The 1970s were disastrous for Derry. The urban fabric of the city was ravaged by repeated bombings. Bloody Sunday, in January 1972, when 14 unarmed civil rights marchers were killed by British soldiers, was only one of many episodes in which people lost their lives.
Armagh, Ireland's oldest city, has a rich historical and cultural legacy. The area is of unparalleled archaeological importance, reflecting over 6500 years of history. The ancient cathedral city is known as the City of Saint Patrick. Saint Patrick chose the ancient hilltop of Armagh to build his first stone church in 445AD.
Irish road bowling is primarily centred in Armagh and Cork, though there is a following in the US and New Zealand. The ancient sport is played in four person teams, throwing an 800g bowl along a country road course up to four kilometres long. The fewest throws to traverse the distance wins the contest.