You may be wondering, is Northern Ireland safe to travel to? We’re here to set the record straight and tell you all you need to know.
Due to the complex history of Northern Ireland and the recent period of conflict and civil unrest known as The Troubles, tourists may want to know whether Northern Ireland is safe or dangerous to visit. Similarly, some also wonder if Ireland is safe to visit.
Indeed, since we have grown into one of Ireland’s most significant tourism websites, we have had some emails asking questions such as “is Northern Ireland dangerous?” and “is Northern Ireland safe to visit?” Someone even asked us, “How do I go to Northern Ireland and stay safe?”
We can understand why people would ask such questions. If all we heard about a place was a few negative news stories, we would certainly do our research before visiting.
Negative news headlines ‒ a bad look for Northern Ireland
Unfortunately, many instances over the past 50 or so years have given Northern Ireland a bit of a reputation, which tourists can learn about through political tours.
I grew up in Northern Ireland and have seen pretty much all the negative news that made headlines around the world. However, Northern Ireland has moved on from the dark days of the conflict.
Today, it is a very peaceful and safe place to live. In fact, it is the safest region of the U.K., and its capital, Belfast, is much safer to visit than other U.K. cities, including Manchester and London.
If you are interested in what Belfast has been like after the Troubles, you should consider a ‘More than the Troubles’ walking tour.
Why was Northern Ireland considered unsafe for many decades? ‒ a dark history
If you want to understand why Northern Ireland was considered unsafe for many decades, it is essential to learn some history and facts about Northern Ireland.
The history of Northern Ireland is very complicated and quite lengthy. In short, the whole island of Ireland was once part of the United Kingdom.
In 1922, the 26 counties, which now make up the Republic of Ireland, became an independent country and Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom.
Thus, Ireland, as an island, has been divided into two separate administrative areas, having different laws, governments, and currencies. The division of Ireland was mainly a headcount between Catholics and Protestants.
A divided nation ‒ unrest between communities
Protestants have long had a strong association with British traditions, and the Catholic population had more of an affiliation with Irish traditions.
The majority of Protestants (who were predominately members of the Unionist community) resided in Northern Ireland. As such, the British decided to keep that part of Ireland in the United Kingdom. The rest of Ireland became independent.
However, there was a significant minority of Catholics still living in Northern Ireland after partition under an administration that favoured the Protestant majority.
There was mistrust between the two communities, and the Catholic community felt as if they were being treated as ‘second-class citizens’ by the Stormont Government.
Tensions cumulated in The Troubles, a violent civil war. It was four decades filled with bombings, battles, riots, and murders that consumed the small province since the 1960s. During The Troubles, Northern Ireland was a dangerous place for tourists to visit.
This bloody violence continued to varying degrees, hitting its peak in the mid-1970s with events such as the Nationalist hunger striker deaths in prison up until the Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by the majority of people in the late 1990s.
This agreement aimed to ensure rights for all the people of Northern Ireland and respect their traditions.
Did the 1998 agreement achieve peace? ‒ moving on from a violent past
Northern Ireland has changed dramatically since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. However, its troubles have not entirely ceased. There have been outbreaks of violence since the agreement, but these have been sporadic and not directed at tourists.
Due to the occasional crimes committed by paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, the U.K. Home Office defines the current terrorism threat level as ‘severe.’
However, it must be pointed out that tourist locations are not the target of any violent incidents and therefore are highly unlikely to be affected or caught up in any conflict while visiting Northern Ireland.
Besides that, there haven’t been any reported incidents of radical Islamic terrorism in Northern Ireland. Further, there are virtually no natural disasters that occur in Northern Ireland.
Probably the only risky time to travel to Northern Ireland is during the marching season in June/July, climaxing with the annual Orange March on 12 July.
Most of the parades that take place during this day are very peaceful. Still, if tourists do visit Northern Ireland during this time, it’s best to avoid areas close to where marches take place.
Overall, the Good Friday Agreement was a significant step toward peace for Northern Ireland. Today, it is almost the same as any other modern country in Europe.
Is Northern Ireland safe for visitors today? ‒ what you need to know
Northern Ireland is extremely safe for tourists to visit. In fact, when Northern Ireland is compared to the rest of the world, it has one of the lowest crime rates among industrialised countries.
According to statistics from the U.N. International Crime Victimisation Survey (ICVS 2004), Northern Ireland has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe (lower than the United States and the rest of the United Kingdom).
Japan is the only industrialised place safer than Northern Ireland. Almost all visitors experience a trouble-free stay.
So much security has been put in place since The Troubles to prevent the conflict that trouble is kept to a minimum. Therefore, Belfast City Centre can be regarded as a relatively safe city.
When political crime does happen, it is usually inter-communal violence or crime committed by paramilitaries that is never directed toward tourists. Indeed, there hasn‘t been any indication of tourists or tourist areas being targeted by terrorists.
Our advice would be to treat Northern Ireland as if you are visiting any other place in Europe. By practicing common sense and taking the standard safety precautions to stay safe and out of danger, you should be absolutely fine.
An overview of Northern Ireland’s safety ‒ the facts
- Northern Ireland is the safest region of the U.K., safer than Scotland, England, and Wales.
- Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital city, is actually one of the safest cities in the U.K.
- A survey ranked Belfast as the second safest city in the entire U.K. to live in, just behind Birmingham. That makes Belfast City Centre safer to visit than London, Manchester, York, Leeds, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Cardiff.
- Belfast has lower crime rates than Dublin.
- Northern Ireland was recently named the friendliest part of the U.K.
Should you visit Northern Ireland? ‒ what we think
Ask yourself no more whether Northern Ireland is safe or is Northern Ireland dangerous. Northern Ireland is an absolutely stunning place with extremely friendly people.
We think it would be a shame if you visited the island of Ireland without heading north of the border! If you visit, you won’t regret it!
Check out our Northern Irish Bucket List to start planning your adventure!
Violent crime: According to recent police statistics, the number of annual incidents of violent crime in Northern Ireland have almost halves.
Petty crime: Levels of petty crime are relatively low in Northern Ireland, compared to other European cities.
Severe weather: Thanks to Ireland’s location, severe weather events are relatively uncommon. However, it is best to check the forecast before planning your trip.
FAQs about whether Northern Ireland is safe to visit
Is it safe to visit Belfast?
Yes! Belfast has relatively low crime rates compared to other large cities. Therefore, making it one of the safer options for a city break.
Are English tourists welcome in Northern Ireland?
In general, yes. The majority of people in Northern Ireland will be welcoming to tourists from across the UK.
Is it safe to drive around Northern Ireland?
Yes! As long as you have a valid driving license, are aged 17 and over, abide by road traffic laws, and have the relevant insurance, it is safe to drive around Northern Ireland. In fact, it is a great destination for a road trip!