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Castles, the coast or city lights: Well-known faces reveal favourite Northern Ireland places

A new deluxe version of Patricia Schultz's bestselling travel book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die hits the shelves this month, and it includes three local gems - the Giant's Causeway, Mournes and Belfast. Here, five prominent NI people tell Leona O'Neill about their favourite destinations

Portrush Harbour
Portrush Harbour
Good life: Pete Snodden and wife Julia in LA
Dr Leah Totton
Julian loves Hong Kong
Love story: Diona Doherty with husband Sean
Getting engaged
Scottish jewel: Gareth Woods on a visit to Edinburgh's castle

Cool FM DJ Pete Snodden (39) has the fondest of memories from Portrush in Co Antrim. As a child he spent his summers in the seaside town and now he, wife Julia and their two daughters Ivana (8) and Elana (5) replicate those idyllic summer breaks.

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Good life: Pete Snodden and wife Julia in LA

"We spent an awful lot of time in Portrush when we were growing up," he says. "When I was a child we had a touring caravan and we used to go to the Margoth Caravan Park there, in Skerries. When I was a kid we went there every summer and I remember it like it was yesterday.

"It was the first time that I remember being allowed to go into the town on my own. I remember going to T-Shirt City and getting myself a printed baseball cap. My mum had given me £5 and I went to the shop, bought the cap myself and walked back. I was maybe nine years old. It was just amazing. Even at home in Bangor I wouldn't have been allowed to walk down into the town by myself, so it was a big deal.

"I spent lots of very happy days in Portrush and have such good memories. I remember going to the Dolphin Fish and Chip Shop, which is still there, and getting fish and chips which always tasted so much better than anywhere else. We had this touring caravan and there was a bunk bed in it. I slept in it and I thought this was the best thing ever.

"I am an only child, so I would have been going up there in the summer not knowing anybody, but you always found friends on the caravan site.

"I just have loads of really happy memories from those times. Fast forward 10 years and I ended up going to university in Coleraine and was around Portrush all the time, going to Kelly's and Traks and all the nightclubs. That is where I met my wife.

"And now, fast forward another 15 years, we have a caravan in Portrush and we bring our girls there. We spend most of the summer there and Portstewart and all the way up the north coast."

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Pete says that he would recommend Portrush as one of the best places to visit before you die.

"It's got the best beaches and views, great food, entertainment and ice cream," he enthuses.

As far as his favourite place in the world goes, Pete says California wins every time.

"Before we had children, my wife and I did a fair bit of travelling," he says. "We were in Australia, China, Japan and America. My favourite place out of the lot was California. We went there on our honeymoon and a couple of times after that. We stayed in Hollywood on our honeymoon and in Santa Monica at the end. One of my favourite memories is from a restaurant in the Venice area. We got out of the taxi to go in and Chris Martin from Coldplay was standing on the pavement. I thought I can't walk past Chris Martin without saying something.

"He was in the middle of a conversation with his PA and I just said that I was sorry to interrupt him, but that I was a massive fan of his music, worked on the radio and played his music all the time and I just wanted to say hello. He said no problem, that he was just in the middle of something, but would come in and see us in the restaurant in a minute.

"We went in and sat down, and as we were having our main course Chris Martin suddenly came over and said he was sorry about that but we should get a picture together.

"A lot of people don't like LA, but I think it depends on where you go. I absolutely loved it. Santa Monica is amazing. I have this dream of us some day taking the kids to California. I want to hire a convertible, put the two kids in the back and drive that coast from Santa Monica to Paradise Cove, stopping at all the beaches. I just love that part of the world and the attitude of the people. It's just a really, really cool spot with really chilled out people."

'My favourite place in NI is Portrush harbour, my late grandfather took me fishing there when I was a little girl'

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Dr Leah Totton
 

Londonderry-born Apprentice winner Dr Leah Totton (31), who runs an aesthetics business in London and Essex as well as working as an accident and emergency doctor, says Portrush holds a very special place in her heart.

“My absolute favourite place in Northern Ireland is Portrush harbour,” she says. “I have such a lot of fond memories there with my family and my grandfather who is no longer with us. He took me fishing there as a little girl.

“We had family holidays there — aunts, uncles, cousins, granny and grandad, every summer. We still do that every summer, even now.

“It was a beautiful spot and still is. I love the view with Barry’s Amusements in the background and Ramore on the corner is my favourite restaurant in Northern Ireland.”

The busy doctor says that her go-to place in the world would be Accra Beach in Barbados.

“When I was a medical student I went and worked there for months and it was my first real experience of working as a doctor. I went with my best friend from medical school and we lived in a small house near Accra Beach in Christ Church.

“I would visit the beach after work every day and it was just stunning. I had been on package holidays when I was younger but I had never been to somewhere so idyllic. It was like paradise to me and I remember always thinking to myself that this beach is directly from a postcard, it was that breathtaking, just beautiful.

“I have been back to Barbados many times and have been fortunate enough to have now visited many beautiful and exotic places, but for me Accra Beach has never lost that ‘wow’ factor for me.”

'I've happy memories of summers in Glenarm, even the time that I was chased by a bull ...'

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Julian loves Hong Kong
 

Belfast-based UTV presenter Julian Simmons has special memories from Co Antrim’s jewel, Glenarm.

“When I was a kid we used to have a cottage on Lord Antrim’s estate in Glenarm,” he says. “That sounds very posh, but it was quite a broken down cottage with holes in the floor and everything. We had it for about four years and every summer we were up there all the time — my mum, Pearl, and my dad, Alan. Glenarm and Carnlough has been a very special area for me in Northern Ireland.

“Dad used to go fishing off the harbour and we’d go out in boats fishing as well. I was bored to death but I would go anyway. I am an only child, and my cousin John would come over from England and we’d go fishing off the rocks at the harbour.

“Glenarm is a lovely place. I certainly did enjoy my time there. There were beautiful shops and little cafes and sometimes we would walk back to our cottage. It was a long walk up to Lord Antrim’s Estate, it went up the hill out of Glenarm and, honestly, it felt like walking to the Gobi Desert. I had such happy times.

“My mum loved it, too. We used to help on the farm in the summer when it came to making the haystacks. And, of course, if any baby calves were born, I was beside myself. I loved all that. And we befriended a big black bull who looked like he would take the head off you.

“One night we came back from fishing and we went down to look at the dam we had made on the river. So we made our way down to the river and I could feel the ground moving underneath our feet. The bull was coming for us. He charged at John and he got out of the way and then he came for me, so I climbed over a wall and fell nine feet into a river. I thought I was dead. I came to my senses and realised the river was about two inches deep and I looked up at the bull looking at me over the wall. So yes, happy memories from there indeed!

“I love it there, it is beautiful and they are lovely people from that part of Northern Ireland.”

Julian says that his favourite place in the world is Hong Kong, a place where he feels “at home”.

“I travel all the time,” he says. “I have been all over the world. But one of the places that is close to my heart really is Hong Kong.

“I am generally there around three or four times a year. The shopping is very good, the places to eat are fabulous and it’s just a nice city to be in.

“When I’m there I like to go over on the Star Ferry to the Peninsula Hotel and have afternoon tea.

“My claim to fame is when we were leaving the Peninsula Hotel one evening and there was a whole fracas going on on the pavement outside.

“All the staff were out in black suits, and then this big stretch limo drew up. And the door opens and out comes Michael Flatley. And the first thing he says is ‘awk, hello Julian, how are you?’. But it was funny to go halfway across the world to bump into Michael.

“Hong Kong is a really beautiful, bustling city. A lot of the times that I’m there, people recognise me from the television, because people from Northern Ireland are travelling more and more these days.

“I remember coming up an escalator in one of the underground stations and there were a lot of Chinese teenage girls coming down the other way and they were all calling to me. They were on holiday from Northern Ireland. It was most bizarre.

“But it is definitely one of the places I would recommend people visit before they die.”

'Every time I visit my home town, Derry, it is even more beautiful and has the most amazing and funny people'

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Love story: Diona Doherty with husband Sean
 

Northern Irish actress Diona Doherty says her heart belongs to her home city of Londonderry, which she can’t look past as the best place to visit in Northern Ireland.

“Derry is perfect, everyone should visit Derry,” she says. “I just recently hosted the live broadcast of the Halloween celebrations, which have been voted the best in the world, so Derry is filled with cultural, artsy people who are so creative and love to perform. I think that is where I got it, it’s in most Derry people to have a bit of a performer in them.

“Every time I come back and visit Derry it just gets more and more beautiful. There is always something added. I remember the first time I came back and saw the Peace Bridge and thinking ‘wow’, this is absolutely gorgeous. At night time it’s all lit up and looks amazing.

“Derry has some gorgeous old cobbled streets and hills that are just steeped in history and are gorgeous to look at. I just feel that it is a beautiful place with the most amazing and funny people. Everyone in Derry is a comedian. So I would highly recommend Derry as a great spot.”

The Derry Girls and Soft Border actress says the Scottish city of Edinburgh also holds a very special place in her heart.

“One place in the world that I love is Edinburgh,” she says. “Edinburgh is where I met my husband while I was doing a Fringe show one August. During that year I was there with a 13-piece sketch group, so none of us made any money. We put a show on in a ridiculously expensive venue and some nights we were just performing for two people in the whole audience for whom I’m pretty sure English wasn’t even their first language. So we had a pretty unsuccessful Edinburgh fringe run and the other 12 people in my sketch group were having a horrible time, but I met my husband Sean on the very first day that I was there.

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Getting engaged

“So I couldn’t have cared less about the show for the rest of the month. I was on this relationship bootcamp for a month, sneaking off to have Starbucks. On one of our first dates we went up to Arthur’s Seat in the middle of Edinburgh. We hiked up there and had a little barbeque at midnight overlooking the city.

“Fast forward four years later, Sean tricked me into thinking that he had a gig back in Edinburgh and that they were going to fly me over as his pretend manager to go to the gig. And we went back up to Arthur’s Seat and Sean proposed to me up there. So Edinburgh has a really, really special place in my heart and I think it’s the most gorgeous city.”

'Yellowman, bodyboarding and that ancient face carved into a rock - Ballycastle really is a must-see'

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Scottish jewel: Gareth Woods on a visit to Edinburgh's castle
 

Q Radio's Gareth Woods (26) says the north coast's Ballycastle is the place he would recommend people to put on their bucketlist

“It’s a place where my older brother and I spent a lot of our childhood,” he says. “My parents bought a caravan and if we didn’t go abroad on a summer holiday, we went straight to Ballycastle — sometimes for the whole summer.

“My favourite memories from our caravan days would have been when the whole family came up, including my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins and we just had a blast. I visited this year’s Ould Lammas Fair for the first time in years and every memory came flooding back, from mum and dad buying me Yellowman to the corner bar I would have been in with granny and granda. It was a whiskey and a Guinness for them and for me it was a glass bottle of Coke and about 500 packets of bacon fries. When I was told we were going to the caravan at the weekend I jumped with joy and made sure dad packed the wetsuits, as we went bodyboarding at the beach every summer.

“If you’re looking for a quiet weekend away with a lovely beach, cosy, warm Irish pubs and friendly people, definitely go there. And look out for the ancient face that’s carved into a rock further down the bay. Not a lot of people know about it. It’s a lovely town with a lot of history.”

Like Diona, Gareth says that the Scottish jewel of Edinburgh is very dear to him and holds a lot of magic, as it is where his relationship with his partner began to flourish. “I’ve been to a lot of cities, from Chicago to Venice, but one that stands out for me is Edinburgh,” he says.

“Scotland in general holds a place in my heart, as it was where my relationship with my boyfriend, Ethan Kerr, started to grow.

“Before I met Ethan I actually hadn’t been to Scotland in my life. We started going out in November 2014 but during that time he worked in Auchterarder at the fabulous Gleneagles Hotel. We would get the train to Edinburgh and ate in beautiful restaurants, drank in awesome bars and stayed in stunning hotels.

“I didn’t realise how beautiful Scotland was and I was in awe at Edinburgh’s Gothic architecture and cobbled streets, I felt like I had just stepped into a Harry Potter film and little did I know the city inspired the Harry Potter series.

“There’s plenty to do and lots to see. If you arrive via train into Edinburgh Waverley station you’ll be greeted with the sound of Scottish bagpipes in the vicinity, a lovely touch.”

1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz, new deluxe version with 1,000 photographs, published by Artisan Books, £40

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