Belfast - Off the beaten track
Cave Hill Country Park
Belfast is ringed by hills, visible from many points in the city, but none loom so large as Cave Hill (355m/1165ft). It's the best place to get your bearings and drink in some views - on a clear day you can even see Scotland lurking on the horizon. The Country Park sprawls over 300 hectares (740 acres), reaching down to Belfast Lough, and is littered with ringforts, evidence of Iron Age occupation. Wolfe Tone and his United Irishmen gathered at the suitably dramatic McArt's Fort in 1795 to pledge to continue their struggle for Irish independence. Five artificial caves dating from the Neolithic era are nearby, and further down the slopes there's Belfast Castle, a Scottish Baronial confection dating from 1870 that's the venue for many a fashionable Belfast wedding. Below Cave Hill, Belfast Zoo has splendid views over Belfast Lough and as zoos go its enclosures are pretty good, in particular the sea lion and penguin pools.
This massive prehistoric earthwork is only 8km (5mi) from Belfast's city centre, in County Down. The enclosure is vast - nearly 200m (655ft) in diameter and covering three hectares (seven acres) - and at its heart there's an ancient tomb called the Druid's Altar, dating from around 4000BC. Pragmatic punters in the 18th century held race meetings at the enigmatic site, realising the potential of the 4m (13ft) embankment as a natural grandstand and temporarily banishing the fairies who inhabit such prehistoric rings.
This gracious 1820s mansion offers a glimpse of Georgian Belfast. Painting exhibitions are displayed in the Higgin Gallery, and there's a reputable restaurant, gardens filled with rhododendrons and azaleas, and paths leading across the 41-hectare (101-acre) grounds down to the Lagan Towpath. The grounds abutt the rolling meadows, woodlands, formal gardens and riverside fields of Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park. The main attraction is the spectacular City of Belfast International Rose Garden, incorporating more than 20,000 blooms and a garden tracing the development of the rose.