Fionn Davenport, one of Ireland’s best-known travel writers, last year penned a vivid despatch from Tombstone, Arizona, America’s iconic “cowboy town”.
“The town looks the real deal,” he recounted, “as do the grave markings in Boot Hill cemetery.”
Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers are buried in Boot Hill, killed by Wyatt Earp and his brothers Virgil and Morgan and their friend Doc Holliday, at the famous gunfight at OK Corral in 1881.
“Less authentic are the daily re-enactments of the fight,” Davenport continued, “performed by actors who tip their Stetsons and say ‘howdy’ before stepping in for the ubiquitous selfie.”
Besides abundant broadcasts, Davenport has written for The Lonely Planet for almost 20 years, and wrote the nomination for Belfast and the Causeway Coast in the leading travel-guide organisation’s ‘Best in Travel 2018’.
“This has elevated Northern Ireland to the top of global travellers’ ‘must-visit’ list this year,” said Orla Farren, communications and PR manager at Tourism NI.
She was introducing a ‘Journey of Rediscovery’ in the MAC in Belfast last week, where Fionn Davenport was the guest speaker.
The event, held to celebrate “the world’s best region to visit in 2018” said Orla, showcased the variety of “emerging attractions and new cultural experiences” that Northern Ireland can offer as short-break destinations.
“One of the things that Northern Ireland has is authenticity,” said Fionn during his inspiring talk highlighting our numerous distinctive tourist attractions.
“It’s real,” he stressed. “You can come and learn about it, come and witness it, come and photograph it.”
The much-travelled guest speaker posed the most important question that can be asked about any destination – “Does it meet or exceed expectations?”
His answer – “Northern Ireland exceeds expectations” – thoroughly supported Tourism NI’s call for “everyone to put Northern Ireland at the top of their short-break ‘bucket list’ this year”.
“We’re encouraging everyone,” Orla added “to take a journey of rediscovery this year with a short-break to experience the variety of emerging attractions and new cultural experiences on your doorstep, which have helped Northern Ireland become a top global destination.”
“Belfast’s transformation over the past two decades has been remarkable,” said Fionn, “from its hip neighbourhoods that burst with bars, restaurants and venues, to the vibrant Titanic Quarter, home to a sensational museum.
“Beyond lies the Causeway Coast, whose timeless beauty and high-grade distractions – golf, whiskey and some of the world’s most famous rocks –are more popular now than ever…and there’s so much more.”
He talked about our cuisine –“Not a huge number of people realise how great Ballycastle is” – and he cited one of his own favourite destinations – “I love the lakes of Fermanagh.”
The MAC event highlighted just a few destinations on Tourism NI’s bucket list.
From sleeping under the stars in a bubble dome at Finn Lough and helicopter tours of Game of Thrones filming locations, to taking a moonlight paddle-boarding trip on the River Roe or understanding the significance of some of Belfast’s street-art on a tour led by local artists.
“It is no surprise that visitors are flocking in their millions every year,” said Orla Farren, “We know there is so much more to discover and explore. We’ve been working with the tourism industry over the past year to develop more authentic experiences for visitors, such as the Belfast Traditional Music Trail.”
Orla mentioned the exciting tourism projects planned for the years ahead including the transformation of Derry’s Ebrington Square and – a first for Northern Ireland – a Dark Sky Observatory, visitor-centre and glamping pods in the heart of the Sperrins.
She spoke about the wonderful Gobbins cliff-walk that will be re-opening this Spring; the first British Open Championship since 1951 which comes to Portrush next year and ‘screen tourism’ with 25 publicly accessible film locations from Game of Thrones.
Roamer will be visiting a selection of bucket list destinations in the near future.
The full tally at DiscoverNorthernIreland.com includes Portrush’s ‘Catch and Sea’ tour for seafood lovers; the Erne Water Taxi, offering ‘chauffeur-driven’ trips around Fermanagh’s stunning and historic lakelands with a delicious, local-food, picnic hamper and Heaney HomePlace, the new museum where visitors can journey through the life and literature of Northern Ireland’s late, great, legendry poet.
There’s the all-year-round Long Line Surf School where beginner or advanced surfers, and stand-up paddle-boarders, can ‘dance on the waves’ guided by fully trained coaches, on Benone beach and Portstewart Strand.
For landlubbers, there’s the Away a Wee Walk ‘guiding and walking company’ offering authentic and ‘soul-renewing’ experiences hiking in our landscape.
Alternatively, get outdoors with leading eco-adventure company ‘Far and Wild’ which places importance on sustaining the environment.
Their activities include a moonlight kayaking trip paddling under the Peace Bridge down to the River Roe and under Binevenagh.
With ‘GOT Air Tours’ visitors can enjoy stunning aerial views and the picturesque scenery of the Causeway Coast and staying in the sky, Finn Lough Forest Domes provide everything needed to enjoy a beautiful sky at night.
The transparent walls and roof and the four-poster bed make the dome perfect for stargazing in comfort.
For more information about short breaks in Northern Ireland visit DiscoverNorthernIreland.com.