Northern Ireland

NI tourism hoping for another record-breaking year

Portrush beach
Image caption Visitors have been flocking to beaches like Portrush during the heatwave

Last year was a record-breaking year for tourism in Northern Ireland and there are signs that this year could be even better, according to Tourism NI.

Northern Ireland's official tourism body said visitor numbers are up about 7% for the first three months of 2018.

The Giant's Causeway was particularly popular in 2017, attracting more than one million visitors.

"We had 2.7m visitors and that has been a record year, and is a record year after previous record years."

"Last year we had tourists spend £926m here in Northern Ireland," said Tourism NI's chief executive, John McGrillen.

Unique experiences

He added: "We've just got figures in today for the Republic of Ireland and again spend is up significantly despite the fact that Easter was in the second quarter of the year, so the trends all remain very positive I'm pleased to say."

While the traditional attractions continue to bring in holidaymakers, a number of unique visitor experiences are helping to draw tourists to the Causeway Coast.

Wendy Gallagher launched her breakfast fishing trip, 'Catch and Sea', in Portrush, County Antrim, last year.

Image caption Businesswoman Wendy Gallagher has started a new tourism venture

"We spend a couple of hours on the boat and then we come back into Portrush harbour, and our fish is filleted and cleaned," she explained.

"Then it gets taken straight over to Babushka on the south pier and it gets cooked up for breakfast."

Wendy said tours like hers are encouraging visitors to spend more time on the north coast.

"They can come out fishing with us, they can then go surfing the next morning, they can go coasteering along the coastline, they can go on a walking tour, they go on a running tour, so there is actually quite a lot going on."

With The Open golf championship coming to Portrush next year, tourism chiefs are keen to see a wider offering for visitors.

A new Game of Thrones running tour takes tourists on a scenic journey along the locations where the show was filmed.

'Outstandingly mythical'

Launched earlier this year by Jonny Graham, it aims to capitalise on the success of the series.

Image caption Ballintoy Harbour was used as the set for 'the Iron Islands' in Game of Thrones

"Being a Game of Thrones fan, I thought the best thing to do would be to also have a Game of Thrones running tour," he said.

"I love running along the north coast, I think it's the most beautiful place to run in Northern Ireland or anywhere I've been in the world.

"Because we then can pass through a number of different filming locations, I decided that a running tour through Larrybane and Ballintoy would be a great idea.

"I've had people from all over the world, most of them have been keen runners like me and they have been looking for running tours as they are aware that there are running tours in other parts of the world."

Image caption The Game of Thrones running tour gives tourists a taste of Northern Ireland's rural landscape

Bryce Woodell, from California, is one of the thousands of tourists to have travelled to the Causeway Coast for the Game of Thrones experience.

"It was just kind of cool to see if I recognised anything or saw anything that looked outstandingly mythical.

"I've just been taking non-stop photos since I landed, it's been pretty awesome," he said.

More on this story