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Sights of Ulster - Picking the Best of the North

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The top sights of Ulster? Long regarded as one of the most dangerous places in Ireland and all Europe, Ulster has now been changed nearly beyond recognition due to the peace process. Ulster is safe and should not be missed. Museums, castles, famous cities and natural attractions are waiting for you.

And don't forget to share your favourite Ulster attraction(s) with other readers!

1. The Giant's Causeway

Giant's Causeway
Northern Ireland's top sight and accessible by car and shuttle-bus (if the fairly steep final mile seems too daunting). Strangely regular basalt columns point the way towards Scotland, seen on the horizon on good days. Travellers with some time on their hands are advised to take in the nearby Old Bushmills Distillery, connected by steam train.

2. Derry City

The Walls of Derry
Long dominating the headlines with sectarian violence, Derry City (the official name) or Londonderry (still the legal name according to the charter) now attracts more shoppers and sightseers than reporters. The famed city walls that withstood the Siege of Derry (1658) can be walked and allow for views into Catholic and Protestant quarters, both with their own murals and flags displaying allegiances.

3. Slieve League

Despite the similar claims of the Cliffs of Moher, the cliffs at Slieve League near Carrick (County Donegal) are officially the highest in Europe. And their are fairly natural still. A small, winding road leads up to a gate (remember to close it) and two car parks. Those suffering from vertigo should definitely leave the car at the first one. And walk from there.

4. Glens of Antrim

Several valleys stretch inland from the Antrim coastline, nestling between ridges of wooded hills. This is an ideal country for long walks. Some of the best amenities can be found at the Glenariff Forest Park.

5. Carrickfergus Castle

Situated on the northern shore of Belfast Lough and landing place of William of Orange in 1690, this small town has a pleasant center with old and new architecture combined to good effect. Pride of place, however, goes to Carrickfergus Castle. Standing on a basalt ledge near the shore, this medieval fortress is still intact and a visit can even include a medieval banquet. You might also want to visit the Andrew Jackson Centre nearby, a recreation of the ancestral home of the 7th president of the USA.

6. Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

The "Village of Cultra" is a faithful recreation of Ulster life in the 1900s, complete with local industries, farmsteads and no less than three churches. Buildings are either originals relocated or reconstructed. Just across the road is the Transport section of the museum, with massive steam locomotives and a very good Titanic exhibition.

7. Belfast City

The largest city in Ulster is still divided along sectarian lines but life is looking as normal as can be to the visitor. At least in the city center. Look at the quaint Opera House and the splendid City Hall, have a pint in the historic Crown Liquor Saloon or the Europa Hotel ("The most bombed hotel in Europe!"), enjoy the shopping or a cruise on the Lagan. Or simply enjoy the animals of Belfast Zoo.

8. Strangford Lough

This is not a lake but a sea inlet - which the necessary use of the Portaferry to Strangford ferry will make obvious. Hundreds of islands dot the lough, on one you will find the long lost Nendrum monastery with its round tower. Visit teSaint Patrick Centre and cathedral in Downpatrick on the trail of Patrick, Ireland's patron saint. Alternatively observe wildfowl at Castle Espie, visit the splendid Mount Stewart House and Gardens or climb up to Scrabo Tower (near Newtownards) to have the best view.

9. Florencecourt

Florencecourt is one of the splendid "great houses" to be found in Ireland. Though burnt out in the 1950s, the house has been lovingly restored and is now in the care of the National Trust. But the house itself is only part of the attraction. The huge grounds are a feast for the eyes and invite to take long (but never exhausting) walks. Several once necessary workshops like the sawmill or the forge are to be found. And do not miss the grandaddy of all Irish yews in the gardens!

10. Ulster American Folk Park

You might hear bluegrass music drifting through the air. Or occasionally see Union troops passing by, followed by some Confederates. Special events are numerous at this huge park. But the usual emphasis is on the emigration from Ulster to the USA. And visitors can re-live this experience, making their way from humble cottages to a busy city street, boarding a sailing vessel and actually arriving in the "new world".

Ulster's Best Attractions - What is Your Opinion?

Ulster's best attractions - is there a definite list or a wide difference of opinion? Guide books and websites can recommend, but what are the popular favourites among the attractions of Ulster? What, in your personal opinion, should be the one sight no visitor of Ulster should leave without having seen it first? Share your favourite Ulster attraction(s) with other readers!

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