Northern Ireland has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately, but there's so much more to the country than its troubles. Tourism is down in Northern Ireland at the moment, with hotels and tour operators reporting a wave of cancellations from visitors put off by the violence that has been broadcast around the world. As distressing as the scenes are, Northern Ireland is a beautiful country and tourism is essential to the economy. With a bit of common sense and some forward planning, there's no reason to shy away from such a beautiful country, and if that doesn't convince you, here are 10 more great reasons to visit Northern Ireland:
1. Giant's Causeway
Northern Ireland is famous for the Giant's Causeway, the most popular tourist destination in the country and a UNESCO World Heritage site to boot. Whether or not you believe the unusual rock formations were created by an Irish giant and then ripped up by his Scottish rival, the Causeway and its surrounding coast are a must-see for any visitor.
2. Stunning Scenery
The drive down to Belfast from the Causeway passes through a number of scenic towns where you can get out of the car and go for a leisurely walk on the beach. The rugged coastline provides the kind of scenery you don't really find in England and there are plenty of quaint tea rooms to try some local cuisine, like soda bread, with a cup of tea.
3. City of Culture
Londonderry (or Derry as it is known) is the UK City of Culture for 2013, and has a full itinerary of events, exhibitions and festivals. Download a programme from www.cityofculture2013.com to see what's going on.
4. Fun for the kids
Back in Belfast itself there's no shortage of things to do, whether you visit with a loved one, with friends or with family. The W5 science museum keeps little ones (and not so little ones for that matter) entertained with its hands-on approach to science.
5. The Titanic
The Titanic Belfast walks you through the stories of the ill-fated passenger liner. Opened in March 2012 at a cost of £77 million, Titanic Belfast is a museum like no other. A variety of galleries guide you through every stage of the Titanic's construction, voyage and sinking with interactive exhibits and even a ride through a recreated shipyard which shows how the Titanic was built.
6. City Sightseeing
There are plenty of opportunities to sightsee in Belfast, with the Parliament Buildings of Stormont being particularly grand. The Albert Memorial Clock in the city centre is also surely worth seeing. Belfast's very own Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Memorial Clock tower visibly leans to one side and the City Hall, now unfortunately synonymous with the flag riots, is also a beautiful building, with gardens which are the perfect place for a picnic in the warmer months.
Shopping is also a pull for visitors to the city, with the Victoria Square Shopping Centre providing a home to a number of retailers including All Saints, Calvin Klein and Kurt Geiger. What is extraordinary about the centre though is the view from the top. Visitors with a head for heights can climb the spiral staircase up into the dome on the top of the centre for a 360° panoramic view of the city.
From Carrickfergus to Enneskillen, it seems like you can't go anywhere in the country without stumbling upon some kind of medieval fort. Apart from being beautiful pieces of architecture, most castles also have a museum so you can learn all about their fascinating history as well.
9. If it's good enough for the Starks...
Hit TV series Game of Thrones is partially filmed in Northern Ireland, and fans will be able to recognise many of the locations as beaches and castles around the country. There are even rumours of a bus tour in the works.
10. It won't break the bank
You can fly to Belfast International with Easyjet for as little as £26 one way from London Southend, or fly Stansted to Londonderry from £18.99 one way. If you're not a fan of flying, Stenalines do ferry crossings from Cairnryan in Scotland over to Belfast, with single fares starting at £79.