Northern Ireland is one of our favorite places to visit in the United Kingdom. From breathtaking coastal landscapes, medieval castles, historic monuments to gorgeous beaches, and scenic vistas consisting of valleys and mountains Northern Ireland offer its visitors a unique and fascinating array of attractions. Numerous attractions in Northern Ireland are Game of Thrones filming locations and the major draw for the tourists and the travelers. Here are the top things to do in Northern Ireland to add to your bucket list.
Drive Through the Causeway Coastal Route
By Laurence Norah from FINDING THE UNIVERSE
The Causeway Coastal Route is the most popular road trip in Northern Ireland – and for good reason! It runs along nearly the whole Northern Ireland coastline from Belfast to Londonderry and covers many of the highlights of Northern Ireland in a relatively easy 200-mile drive.
Along the way, you’ll see everything from ruined castles to the ‘Game of Thrones’ filming locations to gorgeous white sandy beaches to a UNESCO world heritage site. There are also museums, hikes, and wildlife watching opportunities, as well as castle hotels and restaurants – truly, something for everyone.
The route is best experienced as a road trip, as there’s a lot to see, and driving it will let you plan out your own itinerary and go at your own pace. This is especially the case if you want to do the whole route and see everything along the way. However, if you don’t want to drive yourself, it’s also possible to do at least some of the route either by public transport or by taking a tour, with options departing from both Belfast and Dublin.
You’ll want at least two days to do the road trip if you are driving yourself, although longer is always better. We spent three nights on the Causeway Coastal route, and enjoyed every moment! For more information, see our highlights of the Coastal Causeway Route post.
Marvel at Giant’s Causeway
One of the top things to do in Northern Ireland is to take a day trip to the amazing Giant’s Causeway. There are plenty of tours or you can drive on your own exploring the scenic coastal landscapes on the way. Giant’s Causeway is located in County Antrim on the north coast of Northern Ireland about 90 minutes drive from the capital city Belfast. Giant’s Causeway is also one of the top day trips from Dublin in the Republic of Ireland.
The Giant’s Causeway consists of over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns which were formed by the volcanic eruption some 60 million years ago. There is no entrance fee for visiting the Giant’s Causeway. There is a small visitor’s center which provides information on the formation of the causeway if you are interested to learn more. There is an entrance fee to visit the Visitor’s center.
Cross the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Thrill-seekers would not want to miss this top Northern Ireland attraction. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is located about 15 minutes drive from the Giants Causeway.
The bridge was originally built by the fishermen in 1755 to cross over to the very small island of Carrickarede for fishing. Today the bridge run by the National Trust is open to the public to cross and experience the thrill as well as the stunning scenic vistas of Causeway Coastal Route and the Atlantic Ocean. There is an entrance fee to cross the bridge and the tickets are timed so only a limited number of people are allowed to cross at a given time. And the bridge may be closed if the weather conditions are not good.
Visit the Old Bushmills Whiskey Distillery
The Bushmills Whiskey Distillery is located in a small village of Bushmills north coast of County Antrim on the banks of River Bush about 10 minutes drive from Giant’s Causeway.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the distillery which walks through the distillery process and 400 years of history. The tour is followed by tasting sessions where visitors get to taste the range of whiskeys. Read here for more information.
Titanic Belfast Experience
Belfast, the capital city of Northern Ireland is the birthplace of the famous RMS Titanic. And one of the top things to do in Northern Ireland is the Titanic Belfast Experience.
The tour is held in an imposing building is shaped like a ship and is located in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast city. A walk through the museum consisting of artifacts related to Titanic, videos, interactive media and much more offers insight into the history and building of the magnificent Titanic.
The tickets to Titanic Belfast also includes a visit to the SS Nomadic which is the last remaining white star vessel. You want through the recreated interiors, grand staircases, and rooms. There is a good frequency of public transport buses from Belfast City Center opposite the City Hall to the Titanic Quarter.
Explore the Dark Hedges
By Jessica Norah from INDEPENDENT TRAVEL CATS
As fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones series will likely be aware, Northern Ireland was the stand-in for multiple Westeros locations in the show across many of seasons of the show. Perhaps one of the more famous of the real-world Game of Thrones locations is the Dark Hedges – a beautiful, centuries-old avenue of elm trees. These were planted in the 18th century to form a grand entrance to a stately home, and over the years, they have grown together to form a stunning half-mile long organic “tree tunnel”. In Game of Thrones, they were used to represent the Kings Road.
Today, this stunning avenue of trees is a popular attraction in Northern Ireland and is popular even amongst visitors who have never seen the Game of Thrones TV show. There’s just something inherently beautiful about such a natural attraction – even if it is often crowded with people!
If you want to visit it with fewer crowds, you’ll want to be here either early in the morning, or in the offseason (late autumn/winter) when fewer people are traveling in Northern Ireland. We’ve visited twice at different times of the year, and for more information and tips on visiting, see our guide to the Dark Hedges.
Join a Game of Thrones Tour
By Carly Heyward from FLIGHT OF THE EDUCATOR
I’d like to preface this suggestion and say that I specifically went to Northern Ireland for this experience. I’m an avid Game of Thrones fan (watcher and reader), and I’d already been to several locations in Morocco, so it was only natural that I needed to go to Northern Ireland as well! However, you don’t have to be a Game of Thrones fan to enjoy this tour.
The tour is amazing because it’s pretty much always led by a local that not only loves and knows about Ireland, but they are often also extras in the show! That’s a lot of behind the scenes action! The tour itself hits up a lot of the major spots in Northern Ireland mentioned in this post, but what sets this tour apart is that they will also show you pictures and videos from the show to better aid the connection.
But best of all, it includes PROPS! Not all tours are created equal, but this tour came with cloaks and swords to let you sink further into the fantasy.
The reason that you don’t have to be a GOT fan is that it stops at a few non-GOT places as well. List of stops includes a Bravoosi harbor, Melisandre’s “Cave Baby” cave, Dark Hedges (Kingsroad), Carrick-a-rede bridge, and a GOT themed restaurant! And of course, the Giant’s Causeway.
This tour is a great way to see the main sites, but with the medieval flair of GOT!
Learning how to Longboard in Derry
By Joanna from THE WORLD IN MY POCKET
Never underestimate what your body is capable of… like learning in one hour how to longboard, for example! I didn’t expect that when I’ll visit Derry (or Londonderry), in Northern Ireland, I will come back with some longboarding skills, especially that I have never been on a board with wheels in my life. I barely know how to roller skate.
However, after a short introduction on how to stand on a longboard and how to keep my balance, I trusted my guide from Far and Wild Adventures and gave it a go. First, we started on a very small inclination. Gradually, we went higher and higher, on a small hill, learning how to break. By the end of the hour, I was going through traffic cones, avoiding hitting them.
After the lesson finished, the guide led me and the other people in the class towards the square in front of the Guildhall in Derry, crossing the Peace Bridge on the way. We ended up riding through the water fountains, getting wet and having a lot of fun!
If you are in Derry and are looking for a fun activity to do, definitely try learning how to longboard. The difference between longboarding and skateboarding is the board – the one used for longboarding is longer and has bigger wheels, offering more stability. A 2 hours lesson with a visit to the Walled City Brewery included costs £25 (2018).
The Bangor Coastal Path
By Allan Wilson from IT’S SOMETIMES SUNNY IN BANGOR
The Bangor Coastal Path, often known as the North Down Coastal Path, is found just a handful of train stops from Belfast City center. Yet it really feels like worlds apart from the central city streets.
As the name suggests, the coastal path starts in Bangor, before following the coastline of North Down back towards Belfast, eventually finishing at the small coastal town of Holywood. And while it is possible to start at various locations along the path, Bangor town is undoubtedly a highlight in itself, as the coastal path leaves from the town’s Marina (the largest in all of Northern Ireland), and passes Pickie Fun Park, before the wild scenic seascapes begin.
The path does, however, follow the main train line, meaning it is possible to hop on, or off, at various stations along the route, so you don’t really need to double back on the same path you just came (these stations include Carnalea, Helen’s Bay, and Holywood).
Along the way, there will also be various well-known attractions in the region, including Crawfordsburn Country Park, Helen’s Bay Beach, Grey’s Point Fort, and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum which is slightly further up from Cultra. Otherwise, the real highlight of the Bangor coastal path is the serene walk past forest parks, beaches, and contrasting seascapes, along these rather magnificent coastlines.
Crawfordsburn Country Park
By Alex Peters from THE WAYWARD WALRUS
When the friends I was visiting in Belfast said one overcast Sunday morning in September, “let’s go visit this park nearby,” I thought cool! A nice little park day to get out of the house, even if the weather isn’t so great – it is Ireland after all! Here I was imagining a playground, maybe a socc-errr I mean football field or a pretty field inside the park. When we finally arrived at Crawfordsburn Country Park, about a 30-minute drive from the city center of Belfast, I would soon realize it was this and so much more than my American self-thought of a park.
Not only did it have the playgrounds you’d typically find in a park, but it featured some of the most beautiful and serene natural landscapes I’d ever seen in a city park. Walking trails winded through lush green forests, under actual stone bridges and a waterfall. Wooden animal art carvings were peppered throughout the park catching your eye as you walked the paths. Even more so, the park had two expansive beaches that backed up to a breathtaking view of Helen’s Bay.
If you only have a short time in Northern Ireland, Crawfordsburn makes a great addition to a day trip to Bangor, which is just east of the park and a quick 10-minute drive. However, you could easily fill up a full morning and afternoon inside the park exploring all the natural beauty. It also makes a great day trip for all ages – it houses a 5K running path, cafe, sprawling meadows and a geology garden perfect for kids. Best of all though, admission is free!
Explore the Giant’s Ring
By Faith Coates from XYU AND BEYOND
We were lucky to be staying in Belfast for 6 months house sitting and having a rare amount of time to explore the whole of N. Ireland. One of the favorites off the beaten path finds was the Giant’s Ring.
On the southern outskirts of Belfast, near Ballynahatty County Down lies the Giant’s Ring a vast circular enclosure known as a ‘henge monument’. This structure is unique in Ireland because it has a central stone tomb and is the largest enclosed space in the country. Probably dating from around 2000 BC the site’s original function is unclear, but excavations and aerial photography show that the Giant’s Ring is part of a complex landscape of tombs, standing stones and other circular enclosures in the area.
The earthwork henge that surrounds the central tomb circles 7 acres and is 590 feet across and stands up to 12 feet high in places. Archaeologists believe the henge was built around the beginning of the Bronze Age and surrounded an earlier Neolithic passage tomb.
The top of the henge is flat and there are five gaps cut into the ring, which nobody is clear on why they are there. It could be original or it could be modern. Early digs in the 1700’s found very large teeth, which led to the belief that Giant’s created the ring, and lived there. This was later proven to be false as the teeth were identified as elephant ones, how they got there is another mystery.
The Giant’s Ring today is a beautiful place for a walk and you will find many Irish folks out with their dog’s in any kind of weather. It is quite a hauntingly peaceful spot just sitting in a farmer’s field within easy reach of motorways and shopping centers in a suburb of Belfast.
Visit the Ulster Museum
By Gemma from TWO SCOTS ABROAD
Game of Thrones fans won’t want to miss the 77-meter tapestry which depicts the story of all seven seasons, with space of the eight to be added! It takes up the space of a full room in the Ulster Museum so set aside a good thirty minutes of your time to take in the scenes.
Although the GOT tapestry is the main reason to go for many visitors, the Ulster Museum also displays a very interesting, and heartbreaking, exhibition of The Troubles (and Beyond). There has a been a great attempt to present the facts of this sectarian conflict as balanced as possible through newspaper cuttings, eyewitness accounts, art, and video footage.
As the museum is located in the Botanic Gardens and is free of charge, a visit makes it a cheap self-guided Belfast day tour well worth setting aside an afternoon for.
How to get there: Located in the Botanic Gardens, a nice walk via Botanic Avenue.
Cost: Free entry
‘Winterfell’ or Castleward
By Lavina from CONTINENT HOP
While Northern Ireland is abundant in natural attractions and activities, it is also synonymous as being home to numerous Game of Thrones locations. One of the spots that were used frequently for the most of season 1 and 2 and was termed ‘Winterfell’ was Castleward. Castleward is a National Heritage Trust property and has a mansion on its extensive grounds.
There are numerous trails of varying difficulty that walkers and cyclists can take to wander around the gardens and the grounds.
For Game of Thrones fans, some trails have been specially marked that showcase the various locations where certain scenes were shot. One can also join the archery experience at the very place which was home to the Starks! Prior booking is needed for the same.
There’s a lough on the property too, and if you’re lucky you can see seals swimming in it!
Castleward is about a 45-minute drive from Belfast and can be easily reached via bus too. It’s a beautiful spot to spend a whole day!
The fishing village of Strangford is located just behind Castleward and is a must-visit for its beautiful colorful houses and prized fish and chips. Mussels are farmed in the lough as well so one can expect fresh mussels here too!
Fun Things to do in Northern Ireland with Kids – Aunt Sandra’s Candy Factory
By Thais Saito from WORLD TRIP DIARIES
One of our favorite stops in Northern Ireland (besides the unbelievable Giant’s Causeway, of course) was Aunt Sandra’s Candy factory. Even though it’s a small shop, we ended up visiting it around 3 times in the few days we were there.
You’ll find the usual stuff (like sour worms, gummy bears, etc), but you’ll also find some exquisite fudges and chocolates made right there, licorice that actually tastes good, and some uniquely Northern Irelander things, like the Yellow Man.(Yellow Man are pieces of chewy toffee flavored honeycomb kind of things, bright yellow, and delicious! Very hard, though.)
When you enter the shop, you’re suddenly overwhelmed with the smell of the sweet stuff and the colors and the amazing colors. There’s a door to the kitchen and, even though you can’t enter it, you can watch them making something if you’re lucky!
If you miss the store (which I really think you should visit), you can visit the stall at St. George’s Market every weekend. The stall is small, it has less stuff and doesn’t smell as nice, but it was great fun. The gentleman there gave us pieces of everything to try out, played with my kids, and gave us lots of insider information on Belfast.
Hiking in Silent Valley, County Down
By Nate from NATE MEETS WORLD
You might not think of Northern Ireland as a premier hiking destination but the Mourne Mountains might change your mind. Hiking around Silent Valley is one of the many amazing places you can explore in this area of Ulster but this is probably the most family-friendly option. The five trails in this area guide you through woodlands, wetlands, and grasslands. They are all relatively short and flat (between 1-2 miles in length) which make it a perfect way to spend 2-3 hours with your youngest niece/nephew or oldest grandparent.
On a sunny day, walkers are treated with the perfect mountain backdrop that surrounds some of the bluest water you will ever see. This is the perfect spot for a Sunday picnic. If you have some extra time, I recommend taking the trail along the eastern side of Silent Valley which guides you all the way to Ben Crom Reservoir!
Silent Valley is located in the southeast corner of Northern Ireland near the town of Atticall. It makes for an easy day or weekend trip from Belfast down the A24. However, if you don’t have a vehicle, take a ride on Ulsterbus 20 from central Belfast to Newcastle and then hop on Ulsterbus 37 to reach Kilkeel. From Kilkeel, Ulsterbus 125 will take you to Atticall. This bus only runs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays so plan accordingly.
The Ruins of Dunluce Castle
By Kaila Yu from NOMLIST
The famous ruins of the Dunluce Castle and the history that surrounds them seem as though they come straight out of a Hollywood script. Built on dastardly looking cliffs overlooking the sea, the MacQuillan family first built the fortress, only for it to be seized in the 1550’s by another clan!
The MacDonnell clan then controlled the castle through a time of violent rivalries and rebellion until the early 1600’s when a town was settled there. An interesting medieval history can now be explored through the archaeological artifacts that have been unearthed including tools, written records, and more.
The views from the ruins overlooking the water are simply beautiful and in my opinion worth a trip all on its own. The castle ruins and history are icing on top of the cake. In addition to this, it is open daily and very reasonably priced at just £15.00 for a family of up to 5 people, 3 of which can be adults.
The only concern from a planning perspective is to be sure to dress for the weather. I have found it much more enjoyable with fewer people around, so it may be worth avoiding the peak tourist seasons and times.
Dine at Michelin Starred Ox Belfast
By Kacie Morgan from THE RARE WELSH BIT
If you class yourself as a foodie, you can’t visit northern Ireland without paying a trip to Belfast, home to two Michelin-starred restaurants.
I was lucky enough to eat at one of these restaurants when I went to Belfast earlier this year. Located on Oxford Street, Ox Belfast can usually be found at the top of any Belfast food guide or ranking. Dining at Ox Belfast was my first experience of dining in a Michelin-starred restaurant and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.
Celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, the restaurant is headed up by Stephen Toman and Brittany-born Alaine Kerloc’h. It ticks all the boxes of a typical Michelin-starred restaurant in terms of the quality and presentation of the food, without the airs and graces that usually come with the fine dining experience.
Served from Tuesday to Thursday for both lunch and dinner, the five-course tasting menu is priced at £55 (or £85 with wine-pairing), while four courses cost £45 (£70 with wine pairing). The seasonal menu is updated regularly according to the availability of local produce. On the evening of our visit, highlights included fresh scallops in a bisque with salsify and squid ink crisp, medium-rare Mourne mountain lamb, and rhubarb four-ways served with thyme, honey and creme fraiche parfait.
Take the Black Cab Tour
By Nina Danielle from NINA NEAR AND FAR
The Black Cab Tour is a must-do in Belfast. It’s insightful and eye-opening experience, that will give you an appreciation for Northern Ireland’s complicated history. While this beautiful country is now a destination for thousands of visitors every year, there was a time when conflict overtook the country.
Northern Ireland went through a period of time known as “the troubles” in the 1960’s to the 1990’s when there was serious conflict between Protestants and Catholics. Fights, fires, and car bombs were exchanged between the groups. In 1999, walls were erected across Belfast to separate the neighborhoods of Protestants and Catholics. They’re still standing in many parts of the city.
On the Black Cab Tour, your driver will take you to known Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, and see important sections of the walls. Throughout the drive, you will learn more details about “the troubles” and about the division that still exists in Belfast today, and how it impacts daily life for many people. The walls are covered in murals that make political statements, about Northern Ireland and other countries and political situations around the world. While Northern Ireland is now known for its beautiful landscapes and famous filming locations, this tour will give an important glimpse into the country’s history.
The tours begin in front of Belfast city hall. Price depends on group size, beginning at 35 Pounds for 1-2 people, or 12 Pounds for groups of 3 or more (As of 2018). The tour lasts about an hour and a half.
Walking Tour of the Bogside, Derry
By Teresa from BROGAN ABROAD
The Bogside is a neighborhood in Derry that’s just outside of the city walls, where a lot of the events of The Troubles took place, including the infamous Battle of the Bogside and Bloody Sunday. These events were key in the recent history and Northern Ireland so if you are spending time in Derry, learning about them will help any visitor understand the country today.
The Bogside walking tour is about an hour long, and it retraces parts of the original march visiting actual places where the dead and wounded fell, so it is not for the faint-hearted.
The tour includes an overview of Derry from 1968 and the Civil Rights Associations. It’ll go through the internments without trial that occurred at the time, the background to the march, and the actual day of the march, the killings, the cover-up afterward and the Saville Inquiry, which brought justice to the events.
The walk will also take you through the People’s Gallery, a collection of large gable wall murals by the Bogside Artists that remembers the events of The Troubles.
The tour ends at The Museum of Free Derry, where you can learn more in-depth about those difficult times.
Visit Portrush and the White Rocks Beach
By Claire Sturzaker from TALES OF A BACKPACKER
Portrush is a bustling seaside town and is blessed with beautiful stretches of golden beaches on either side of the town. East Strand Beach lies, unsurprisingly, to the east of the town, and stretches a couple of miles along the coastline to White Rocks Beach. Walking from Portrush along the East Strand Beach to White Rocks Coastal Park is a lovely way to enjoy whatever weather you have, and to see the different parts of the coastline, from beautiful beaches to rocky cliffs.
The walk takes around 30-40 minutes along the flat sand, and you can spot various seabirds such as gannets feeding in the waves. If you’re lucky you might also see dolphins or harbor porpoises too. When you reach White Rocks Beach you’ll see the limestone cliffs which give the beach its name. Over the years the waves have carved caverns and arches into the rock, some of them deep enough to go in and explore. From White Rocks Beach you can also walk up the new stretch of the Causeway Coast Way, which leads up onto the cliffs and towards Dunluce Castle. From here you have lovely views of the beach and rock formations below.
You can get to Portrush by car or train from Belfast, or take the bus from nearby Coleraine which also goes to the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge further along the coast.
We believe you now have plenty of reasons to plan that much-awaited trip to the wonderful land of Northern Ireland. Do share with us your top Northern Ireland bucket list item. And how many of these have you already crossed-out from the list?
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