With St. Paddy’s Day just around the corner, there’s been lots of chatter about Ireland. I first traveled to the Republic 3 years ago when I went to Dublin to celebrate the aforementioned holiday. I loved the city, and my experience there inspired my return in 2011.

However while on that first trip, I discovered more than just Temple Bar. After drinking green Guinness till my eyes turned emerald, I traveled north to Northern Ireland. I didn’t have any real expectations for the country before arriving. Belfast’s rough history both saddened and fascinated me, but beyond that, I predicted my time traversing the countryside to be pleasant but  forgettable at best.

Oh man, how I was wrong.

Northern Ireland is home to some of the most gorgeous landscapes in the world.

What I saw there seemed like something from a different world and I can’t recommend a trip to see the natural marvels of Northern Ireland enough.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

It is believed that fisherman originally built the bridge to the tiny island of Carrickarede over 350 years ago. Today, you won’t encounter many fisherman around the area, though expect to battle through a sea of tourists. On the day I visited, my peers and I were lucky enough to have the bridge more or less to ourselves.

The Giant’s Causeway

A World Heritage Site and a natural phenomenon, the Giant’s Causeway is in itself worth a trip to Northern Ireland. The incredible rock formation is composed of over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that formed after an ancient volcanic eruption occurred 50-60 million years ago. However, many locals will be quick to share one of the countless legends surrounding the Causeway.

Of course, there is much more to experience beyond these two tourist attractions. Belfast is deserving of a post all to itself, while Derry is another city that is worth a visit. Also, I don’t think any trip to Northern Ireland would be complete without a stop in the Old Bushmills Whiskey distillery — a place that I’ve actually never been to, and another reason why I NEED to return to this country.

And finally, because this post is dedicated to “the mystical beauty of Northern Ireland,” I must include a shout out to Van Morrison. If I was technologically savvy enough to add a video, I would. However, as that is definitely not the case, I’ll provide a link and a simple request that everyone check out “Listen to the Lion” — as it really doesn’t get any more ethereal than that.