Northern Ireland remains one of the most fascinating places on earth with its beautiful castles, breathtaking landscapes, and tales of knights and princesses. There are also the famous leprechauns that might hide a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but you shouldn’t hold your breath until finding one. But, even though it is considered a safe destination, Northern Ireland still comes with its dodgy places that should be avoided by tourists. Here are the top 5:
The main train stations in Belfast
Just like all other destinations in the world, the main train stations in these cities remain the places where you are most likely to lose your wallet or belongings. Keep in mind that train stations in Northern Ireland don’t have a special room where you can safely deposit your luggage, so you should carry it with you anywhere you go.
Stay away from pickpockets who will easily steal your dual screen portable DVD player, smartphone, wallet or laptop.
On the bright side, there are plenty of police officers and locals willing to help you find your way, so asking for help and directions shouldn’t be a problem, as long as you can understand the local accent.
Dodgy pubs after 10 p.m.
Irish people are known for their affinity to alcohol but don’t expect to run into trouble at each corner. Most pubs and restaurants are safe throughout the day and night, with some restrictions. If you’re a tourist, you should avoid the outskirts of the big cities like Belfast, as well as their bars.
A safer choice would be to stick to those in the old town or the center of the cities. These are usually frequented by police officers specifically to keep away troublemakers. However, you should be safe in almost all local pubs, cafes, and restaurants, as long as you mind your own business.
Shankill neighborhood in Belfast
Shankill is the name of both a region outside Dublin and a famous area in Northern Ireland’s capital city, Belfast. Both Shankill communities are known to be Catholic. The district in Belfast is also a center of loyalist paramilitaries, so you should pay more attention than in other places.
You should stick to neutral clothing and avoid any obvious displays of the Irish flag or the Union Jack to prevent conflicts. Although the neighborhood is safer now than it used to be twenty, thirty years ago, you should still be cautious.
This region is separated by Shankill by the so-called “peace lines” which are tall walls with barbed wire. Before the ceasefire, it wasn’t a good idea to instigate one of the two parts of Belfast with religious or political signs.
Again, even though things changed in the past few decades and people seem to have finally put their differences away, it would be best to refrain from separatist or religious remarks.
You can easily recognize the neighborhood you are in by the graffiti on the walls. The Catholic neighborhoods (including Shankill) will have public displays of the IRA, INLA, and FTQ symbols, while the Protestant neighborhood (The Falls) will usually display the Union Jack flag, and the UDA, RHC, and UVF symbols.
Although all the six counties of the country (Antrim, Down, Armagh, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone) are still depicted as conflicted areas in the media, the truth is that things have changed for the better.
There is still “sectarian” violence occasionally between the Catholics and the Protestants, but these internal feuds are usually far from the public eyes and the tourist zones.
The infamous terrorist group Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) is still active in the country, but its goals are mainly symbolic. Their modus operandi doesn’t include terrorist attacks on tourists or civilians.