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Northern Ireland guide
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Last updated : Nov 2009
Northern Ireland Social Profile
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Food and Drink

The best value for money meals in Ulster are to be had at lunchtime, when many restaurants and pubs offer special menus. Most families have high tea at about 18:00 hours and hotels and restaurants offer the same. High tea usually consists of a cooked meal (an Ulster fry – eggs, sausages, ham or fish with chips) and varieties of bread, scones and cakes. Dinner is served from about 19:00 hours. Typical Northern Ireland foods include home-made vegetable soups, shellfish, potato dishes, dried seaweed, locally grown fruit and home-baked cakes and pastries. A handy booklet is 'Where to Eat in Northern Ireland', available from newsagents and the Tourist Information Centres, which lists all the places where food is served, a price indication and description of the sort of food. It is wise to book ahead for the more popular restaurants, especially towards the weekend.

The pubs are open all day Monday-Saturday 11:30-23:00 and Sunday 12:30-22:00 with half an hour ‘drinking-up’ time. Popular drinks are Guinness – a dark heavy stout with a creamy head – and whiskey (Northern Ireland is home to the world’s oldest whiskey distillery at Bushmills). Irish whiskey is often consumed along with a bottle of stout. Real ale fans can try Hilden produced at Lisburn and can be found locally.


Northern Ireland has a long tradition for musical entertainment, from the toe-tapping live folk bands playing in pubs to the soulful lyrics of Van Morrison and the world-famous flautist James Galway. Visitors will be able to find something to suit, from the latest dancing music in nightclubs to opera or classical concerts. Traditional Irish music in ‘singing pubs’ provides for a good evening’s entertainment, particularly Belfast and Londonderry. Special musical venues include the summer Jazz and Blues Festival in Londonderry and Limavady and the October International Guitar Festival held in Newtownards. Details of bands and concert venues are listed in That’s Entertainment magazine, found in record stores, pubs stores and bookshops.

There is also many theatres and art galleries located in and around Belfast, including the Lyric Theatre, where Liam Neeson started his career. There are summer theatres in Newcastle,Portrush, plus the Riverside Theatre at Coleraine. The Belfast Festival at Queen’s (3 weeks in November each year) is Europe’s largest arts festival after Edinburgh.

Other venues in Belfast for drama performances and concerts are the Grand Opera House, Ulster Hall, King’s Hall and the Crescents Art Centre, the Armagh Theatre and Arts Centre and the new Millennium Forum theatre in Derry and regional theatres. More information can be obtained from the Northern Ireland’s Arts Council’s monthly magazine art.ie or at the Northern Ireland Tourist Board


Ulster is famous for its pure Irish linen; cut-glass goblets, bowls and decanters; creamy Belleek pottery; handwoven tweed; pure wool jumpers and cardigans hand-knitted in traditional patterns; hand-embroidered wall hangings; Carrickmacross lace and silver jewellery.

Shopping hours

Shops are usually open 09:00-17:30 six days a week (late-night shopping Thursday in Belfast city centre).

Other cities and towns close for a half-day one day a week (it differs from town to town). Shopping centres on the outskirts of towns have late night shopping Thursday-Friday unitl 21:00.

Special Events

For a complete list of festivals and other events celebrated in Northern Ireland, contact the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.

The following is a selection of special events occurring in Northern Ireland in 2005:
January Belfast at Queens; New Year Viennese Concert Ulster Orchestra, Belfast; Northern Ireland Festival of Racing, Lisburn
February Heart of the Glens Festival, Lisburn
March Coleraine International Choral Festival.
Mar 25 -Apr 24 Belfast Film Festival.
May 3 Belfast City Marathon
May 12-15 Balmoral Show
June Jazz and Blues Festival, Enniskillen; Northern Ireland Game and Country Fair; Walled City Festival, Londonderry (Derry).
July 12th of July Parades, countrywide; 26th Annual Kingdom of Mourne Festival, Kilkeel
September 12th Hillsborough International Oyster Festival; Aspects Irish Literature Festival; European Heritage Open Days 2004, Belfast.
Note: Accommodation during festival times should be booked well in advance.

Clothing: A tie, trousers and shoes (as opposed to jeans and trainers) are required for entry to some nightclubs and restaurants, otherwise casual wear is acceptable.


In hotels, a service charge of 10 to 12 per cent is practised, which may be added to the bill. 10 to 15 per cent is usual for restaurants and it is often added to the bill, in which case a further tip is not required. 10 to 15 per cent is also usual for taxi drivers and hairdressers but this is not included in the bill. There is no legal requirement to pay service charges that have been added to bills and if the service has been unsatisfactory. Visitors should remember, however, that in the UK wage levels for catering staff are set deliberately low in the expectation that tips will make up the difference.

Social Conventions

Due to the political situation in Northern Ireland, travellers should take care when visiting certain parts of the main cities and the border area. No problems should arise providing the visitor follows local advice and avoids opinions on political or religious topics.