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The grounds of Belfast City Hall are a favourite of city-centre workers, students and tourists looking to take a break.

Brian Morrison/Northern Ireland Tourist Board

Ireland may not be top of mind as a winter destination, but it’s worth considering. Sure, it will be on the cool and rainy side. But average temperatures in January and February fall between 4 and 7 degrees – which is likely still warmer than at home. Also on the upside: You won’t have to deal with throngs of tourists – and exploring the chilly outdoors is the perfect excuse to enjoy good craic at a cozy pub. Need further convincing? Read on.

Brave the elements

The Gobbins Cliff Path

This series of walkways, bridges and tunnels built into a dramatic coastal cliff lets you you saunter over the North Channel and crawl underneath the Irish Sea. In the winter completing its 1.2 kilometres will be chilly for sure, but the waves will be that much more impressive. Nature is the star of the show here, but the experience also comes with some interesting history: The original path was opened in 1902 to encourage city dwellers to ride the rails and take in some fresh air. During the 2 1/2-hour outing you’ll learn about its ups and downs as an attraction as you pause for some lovely views and photo ops. Opens Jan. 4 for the winter season; £15 ($25) (all prices for adults); timed entry so advance booking recommend; thegobbinscliffpath.com

Carrick-a-Rede

Fishermen started using rope bridges at this National Trust site 350 years ago to connect the mainland to a wee island that provided easier access to the sea. Today tourists take about 30 seconds to walk across a more permanent structure suspended 30 metres above the water, pausing quickly for that mandatory Instagram photo. Get the shot but then take the time to enjoy the surrounding coast paths. On a clear day you can see Scotland! £8 ($13); timed entry so advance booking recommended; nationaltrust.org.uk/carrick-a-rede

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Belfastalogy

It’s impossible to fully appreciate Belfast without delving into its troubled history. A walking tour with guide Marti may leave you feeling unsettled but your trip will be richer for it. I have never met a guide more passionate about his hometown, and more willing to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly. And make no mistake, there is a lot of good. Group tours from £8 ($13) (smaller personalized tours also available); advance booking recommended; belfastology.com

Dublin walking tour

Of course, the value of taking a deeper dive applies to Dublin as well. Skip the heavily advertised “free” tours and go with Historical Walking Tours of Dublin. For a modest fee you’ll enjoy a smaller group tour led by a history graduate of Trinity College Dublin or the National University of Ireland. Topics include Oscar Wilde, the Great Famine and, of course, politics. €12 ($18); historicaltours.ie

Warm up

Crosskeys Inn

After a day spent exploring the Causeway Coast get cozy (and, if necessary, dry off) at the Crosskeys Inn, Ireland’s oldest thatched roof pub. The bar dates back to 1654 and appears not to have been renovated since the late 1800s, but of course that’s the charm. It’s a little warren of a place; careful when opening the main door that you don’t knock a patron off his bar stool. Then grab a pint and a seat by the fire. crosskeys-inn.com

Connemara and Galway bus tour

Technically spending a day exploring these two sights along the Wild Atlantic Way will involve wandering around outdoors. But if you head out on a Paddywagon tour you’ll be able to defrost on a warm bus between stops. In Galway, try some local seafood (such as fish and chips at McDonagh’s) and enjoy a Guinness at a real-deal Irish bar. Throughout the day take in the almost lunar landscape of the Connemara wilderness while listening to surprisingly insightful commentary. I’m not a huge fan of bus tours, but I did enjoy the two I took with Paddywagon. €35 ($52) from Dublin; paddywagontours.com

Taste and Tour

No doubt a pub crawl is on your Ireland to-do list, but add a food version when in Belfast. Local company Taste and Tour offers a couple of different culinary outings (plus some boozy ones). And since Belfast is such a compact, walkable city, you’ll never be outdoors for long. Highlights of my morning included divine hot chocolate at Co Couture, a blue cheese I actually liked at Sawers and the best seafood chowder ever at the Morning Star. I went behind a bar to pour a Guinness and got insider trips for further libations from my delightful guide, Sinead. £55 ($93); tasteandtour.co.uk

Sleep tight

Bullitt Hotel

Named after a Steve McQueen movie, the Bullitt appropriately oozes coolness at every chance. Rooms are minimal but colourful (and come with a free bagged breakfast), the Taylor & Clay restaurant is superb, the large lounge area is constantly buzzing and an outdoor drinking/eating area is lit up by a large sculpture of Jameson barrels. Definitely one of the liveliest places I’ve ever stayed. Rooms from £109 ($184); bullitthotel.com

Iveagh Garden Hotel

Dublin is an expensive city to visit, even if you avoid the overpriced pints of Temple Bar. The Iveagh Garden Hotel, which opened in February, offers a rare opportunity for upscale accommodation at a downmarket price. It features traditional rooms but also “city pods,” which come with a queen bed but not a lot of space. They are perfect for a solo traveller (or a very close couple), and with prices as low as $91 in a city where a bunk in a hostel can cost $30 or more, they’re an excellent value. iveaghgardenhotel.ie

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The writer received complimentary admission to the Gobbins and Carrick-a-Rede, and a one-night stay at the Iveagh Garden Hotel, courtesy of Tourism Ireland. It did not review or approve this article.

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