Due to the complex history of Northern Ireland and the recent period of conflict known as ‘The Troubles’, tourists may want to know whether Northern Ireland is safe or dangerous to visit.
Indeed, since we have grown into one of Ireland’s biggest tourism websites, we have had some emails asking questions such as ‘Is Northern Ireland Dangerous?’ and ‘Is Northen Ireland Safe to visit?’ Someone even asked us ‘how do I go to Northern Ireland and stay safe?’
I can understand why people would ask such questions. If all I heard about a place was a few negative news stories, I would certainly do my research before visiting.
Unfortunately, there have been many instances over the past 50 or so years that have given Northern Ireland a bit of a reputation.
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 UK, and it’s capital, Belfast, is much safer to visit than other UK cities including Manchester and London.
Why was Northern Ireland considered unsafe for many decades?
If you want to understand why Northern Ireland was considered unsafe for many decades, it is important to learn a little bit about its history.
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 but 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 essentially a headcount between Catholics and Protestants. 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 unionist) resided in Northern Ireland, and 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 which 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‘ which was essentially a civil war. This was a period of four decades of bombings, battles, riots and murders that has consumed the small province since the 1960’s.
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 and including the nationalist hunger striker deaths in prison until the Good Friday peace agreement was endorsed by the majority of people in 1998.
This agreement aimed to ensure rights for all the people of Northern Ireland and respect their traditions.
Did the 1998 Agreement achieve peace?
Northern Ireland has changed dramatically in the years since the Good Friday peace 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 UK Home Office defines the current terrorism threat level as ‘severe.’
However, it must be pointed out that Tourists are not the target of any terrorist incidents and therefore are highly unlikely to be affected or caught up in any conflict while visiting Northern Ireland. In addition, there haven’t been any reported incidents of radical Islamic terrorism in Northern Ireland.
Probably the only risky time to travel to Northern Ireland is during the marching season in June/July that climaxes with the annual Orange march on July 12. Most of the parades that take place during this team are very peaceful but if tourists do visit Northern Ireland during this time, it’s best to avoid interface areas close to where marches take place.
Overall, the Good Friday Agreement was a great step towards peace for Northern Ireland and today it is almost the same as any other modern country in Europe.
Is it safe for tourists to visit Northern Ireland today?
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 conflict that trouble is kept to a minimum.
When political crime does happen, it is usually inter-communal violence or crime committed by paramilitaries which are never directed towards tourists.
Indeed, there hasn‘t been any indication of foreigners 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 taking the normal safety precautions to stay safe and out of danger, you should be absolutely fine.
An Overview of Northern Ireland’s Safety
- Northern Ireland is the safest region of the UK, safer than Scotland, England and Wales.
- Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, is actually one of the safest cities in the UK.
- A survey ranked Belfast as the second safest city in the entire UK to live in, just behind Birmingham. That makes Belfast safer to visit than London, Manchester, York, Leeds, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Cardiff.
- Belfast has lower Crime rates than Dublin.
- Northern Ireland was recently named as the friendliest part of the UK.
Should You Visit Northern Ireland?
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!