Right! Let’s settle this once and for all. Where is better for tourists to visit, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland? The definitive answer is… We’re sorry, but it’s not a clear-cut answer unless we know what kind of traveller you are and what you’re interested in. What we can do, however, is sing the praises of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, giving you enough information to help you decide for yourself. However, the truth is that you don’t have to choose between them both, as an all-Ireland trip is probably the best way to experience Ireland. If this appeals to you, take a look at our Wild Grande – 14 Day Tour of Ireland.
National Parks in Ireland and N. Ireland
If you love nothing more than getting out into nature, then a good way to distinguish between NI and the RoI is to look at their national parks. Northern Ireland has no official national parks, but it does have several beautiful wild areas — most notably, the Mourne Mountains, which is a reasonably large mountain range in County Down that reaches right up to the coast. The Republic of Ireland, on the other hand, has some of the best national parks in Europe. There are six in total that you can visit and they all offer something different. We don’t have the time to discuss them all here, but we recommend you read our guide to Ireland’s six national parks. It’s safe to say that if you’re looking for a bit of rugged wilderness, then the Republic of Ireland is the place to go.
Experience Ireland’s Big Cities
The Republic of Ireland is considerably larger than Northern Ireland, so you can rightly expect it to have more big cities. Dublin is roughly twice as big as Belfast and this is a good thing for some visitors and a bad thing for others. We would say that Belfast has fewer tourists and might offer that traditional Irish experience most tourists are looking for. However, there is just so much grandeur to Dublin, with some truly staggering architecture. Preference between Dublin and Belfast will completely come down to taste, so check out our blog titled What City is Better to Visit and Why? Belfast or Dublin?
The only other big(ish) city in Northern Ireland is Derry/Londonderry, jokingly called Stroke City by the locals because of the need for the forward stroke to separate the nationalist ‘Derry’ and unionist ‘Londonderry’ names for it. Stroke City is beautiful and well worth visiting, with a lot of history to explore. The highlight for most is the Derry Walls around the older part of the city.
The Republic of Ireland, on the other hand, has several cities for you to explore, including Galway, Limerick, and Cork. Galway has an unmistakable bohemian feel to it, packed with colour, musicians, and artists. Limerick is an “island city” as it sits between two rivers; it has some truly elegant Georgian architecture and its 13th century King John’s Castle is just about as intact and impressive as a castle can be when it’s 800+ years old. Cork is the second largest city in Ireland and it has become known for its culinary prowess. Cork takes food so seriously you can even visit the Cork Butter Museum. All this talk of food leads nicely to the next section…
Is the Food Better in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland?
While the north and south share a lot in common foodwise, there are some differences. You will enjoy great food wherever you go in Ireland, but we’ll discuss a few of the different nations’ favourite dishes and you can decide for yourself which you find more appealing.
The Northern Irish make the best bread. There’s no competition. In fact, Northern Ireland has some of the most unique bread recipes in the world, and it’s always a mystery to us that more of them haven’t caught on. You may have heard of soda bread before? Well lots of soda breads appear around the world, but there is reasonable evidence to suggest that it was invented in Ulster. When wholemeal flour is used, you get a very different texture, much looser, and this is called wheaten bread. Slap some Irish smoked salmon on a slice of wheaten bread with a dash of lemon juice and some cracked black pepper and you’ve got something very special. Also look out for potato bread and Veda, a kind of malt loaf unlike anything else!
Contrary to what you might have heard, food in the Republic of Ireland is not all potato based… We do like potatoes, but probably no more than our French or British neighbours. Irish food is often simple, hearty food that reflects its people, but most Italian food is also simple, so simple is most certainly not a bad thing. Perhaps the most famous dish to come out of Ireland is Irish stew. This classic dish is traditionally made from lamb/mutton, potatoes, onions, and parsley, but most people will add carrots too. It’s perfect winter fare. Ireland also has incredible seafood; we’re an island nation and we love our fish and shellfish. Galway, Kerry, and Cork are all amazing places to go if you love seafood. This leads perfectly to the last section of this blog…
Which Coastline is Better, the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland?
As it’s much bigger, the Republic of Ireland has so much more coastline and so it has many more seaside towns and villages to visit. This alone probably means that it wins in this category, but then you add pages like the Ring of Kerry, Dingle, and the entire stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way, and it’s difficult to see how Northern Ireland can compete.
However, Northern Ireland does have one ace in the hole: the Antrim Coast Road. This road is a section of the A2 that runs along the coast of Northern Ireland. This road is one of the best drives in Ireland as a significant portion of it runs along the sheer cliff face, looking down onto the Atlantic Ocean. Parts of the road cut tunnels through rocks, making for some truly epic scenery. This one stretch of coastline doesn’t make Northern Ireland compete with the Republic of Ireland, but it does mean that you’ll probably want to see both!
There you have it! Wild N Happy’s attempt at a fair comparison between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. As we said at the start: there is no reason not to visit both, and this is especially true considering there is no hard border, so you can just drive there. You’ll have to change your currency between GBP £ and EUR €, and the speed signs will change between km/h to miles/h, but that’s about it! We hope this blog has inspired a few readers to consider visiting both parts of Ireland in the future — and if you need a little more inspiration, check out our range of multi-day tours of Ireland. If you have any questions about our tours, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. What are you waiting for? Start planning your next great Irish adventure!