Northern Ireland has undergone sectarian strife since early in the 17th century, but the Good Friday Accord of April 1998 and the transfer of governing powers to the Northern Irish Parliament in December 2000 are evidence of a gathering calm in this small country perched on the northeast coast of Ireland.
The small size of Northern Ireland, only 85 miles long and 70 miles wide, puts everything within a few hours by car. Some of Northern Ireland's fame for visitors has come from pursuits at a slower speed than the automobile. Yearly, thousands from all over Europe visit for the many, well-marked distance walks.
The Ulster Way, a 1073 kilometer trail that circles through the entire country, is the most famous. Hundreds of smaller walks, many along navigable waterways, create a web of walks that can take the hiking visitor almost anywhere from anywhere in Northern Ireland.
Many small and interesting museums dot the green landscape. Several are open air centers and parks that actively present their focuses to visitors.
The story of Irish emigration to America in the 18th and 19th centuries is told by the Ulster American Folk Park. Ireland's dramatic contributions to WWI in the Battle of the Somme and in the Middle East are commemorated at the Somme Heritage Center in County Down.
The Ulster History Park open air museum of human history in Ireland reconstructs ancient life in full-scale replication, and the 5th Province Museum recreates the history and culture of the early Celtic inhabitants of the island.
You'll find beautiful gardens, attractive harbors, and rolling green hills wherever you go. Fishing, cycling, and yachting are major activities, and the number of festivals and marches is limited only by the number of days. In Belfast there's the Jazz and Blues Festival in Belfast and the Folk Festival in October. And St Patrick's Day is everywhere and anywhere on 17 March.
Northern Ireland has a history of unexpected visitors. European Celts invaded and Christian monks proselytized in the early days. The remnants of the Spanish Armada found the shores in 1588. Elizabeth I and later Cromwell brought Protestant and Anglican settlers.
The potato famine too frequently dropped by, and even Amelia Earhart unexpectedly landed there at the end of her 1932 solo flight from America.
It may be better if you plan your visit, but you'll certainly be welcomed in any case.