Belfast and the Causeway Coast have been named the top region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet.
The region tops the ranking in the travel publisher’s Best in Travel 2018, a travel yearbook that highlights the top 10 regions, countries and cities to visit in the year ahead. They are recommended by Lonely Planet travel experts.
Belfast and the Causeway Coast came in ahead of Alaska, the Languedoc-Roussillon region in France and the Aeolian islands in Italy. The writers praise 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."
They also highlight the region’s transformation, in particular that of Belfast, saying the city is now “full of hip neighbourhoods that burst with bars, restaurants and venues to suit all tastes” while “the rusting old docklands are now the vibrant Titanic Quarter, home to fancy apartments and a sensational museum.”
The authors suggest travellers take a black taxi tour to discover the political legacy of the Troubles, before heading north for golf on Portstewart links course, having food at nearby Harry's Shack. They also suggest visiting the Giant's Causeway, which was recently rated as the most "overrated and underwhelming" tourist attraction by Irish Times readers.
"Belfast and the Causeway Coast topped our list of the top 10 regions because it is deservedly now recognised as a must-visit destination by travellers from across the globe, said James Smart, Lonely Planet's destination editor for Britain and Ireland.
"Dynamic Belfast has put its troubled past behind it and is a city transformed, its streets packed with buzzing bars and great stories, while the coastline beyond boasts spectacular scenery and plenty of great diversions. The region may be famous for Game of Thrones but its many scenic filming locations are just the start," he said.
The appeal of the region is heightened by the current value of Sterling, making the UK a more affordable place to visit for overseas visitors. The guidebook also lists the 10 Best Value Destinations and the UK was listed seventh. Tallinn, in Estonia, topped that list, with Lanzarote in second place.
“While the value of the pound hasn’t been great news for British travellers, it has been a great boost for people looking to visit the UK, and we expect this to continue next year,” says Smart.
Niall Gibbons, ceo of Tourism Ireland, said today that the ranking is "another well-deserved accolade which provides Tourism Ireland with a great hook to continue to promote Belfast and the Causeway Coast around the world as a 'must visit' destination."
"The inclusion of Belfast and the Causeway Coast as the number one region in the world … will surely help to inspire travellers everywhere to put Northern Ireland on their holiday wish-list for next year," he said.
Tourism Ireland has planned a campaign, including a dedicated page on their international website, ireland.com, which attracted almost 19.4 million visitors last year.
The ranking is a “game changer” for Belfast, the Causeway Coastal Route and the rest of Northern Ireland, according to John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism NI. “The word is officially out there, Northern Ireland is a must see destination. We are thrilled and excited to read words like ‘unforgettable’, ‘unmissable’, ‘sensation’ and ‘extravaganza’ in Lonely Planet’s praise of our tourism gems”.
The annual Lonely Planet Best in Travel selection involves expert writers and travellers providing hundreds of suggestions of destinations not to be missed from the places they have visited over the past year. These places are then shortlisted by a panel of in-house travel experts who consider criteria such as topicality, excitement and wow-factor to decide what to include in the travel yearbook.
The guide also lists the Top 10 Countries to visit in 2018. Chile topped the list, followed by South Korea, Portugal and Djibouti. Seville, Spain, was listed as the Best City to Visit in 2018. Detroit, US, was in second place and Canberra, Australia, in third.
The guide also features five travel trends that consumers should look out for next year, with destination races, vegetarian and vegan travel and private islands among those selected as ones to watch.
Online, visitors to lonelyplanet.com/best-in-travel can view videos that accompany each of the number one destinations to show why they were selected the top spots for travel in 2018. The footage was filmed using GoPro equipment and travellers can enter a My Best in Travel video competition to win round-trip flights for two to Chile and a GoPro HERO6 Black.
Top 10 regions in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2018
1. Belfast and the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
2. Alaska, USA
3. Julian Alps, Slovenia
4. Languedoc-Roussillon, France
5. Kii Peninsula, Japan
6. Aeolian Islands, Italy
7. The Deep South, USA
8. Lahaul and Spiti, India
9. Bahia, Brazil
10. Los Haitises National Park, Dominican Republic