Northern Ireland is the smallest and least visited country in the UK, made up of 6 counties in the northeast of Ireland. Depending on your age and outlook, you might associate Northern Ireland with its proud shipbuilding industry, its turbulent politics or its many set locations featured in Game of Thrones. Regardless, Northern Ireland is now an area on the up thanks to a host of regeneration projects and inward investment.
The capital city of Belfast is the cultural and economic hub of the country. The world’s most famous ocean liner, RMS Titanic, was built here and there’s an excellent museum devoted to it, while the nearby Medieval monument of Dunluce Castle ruin in County Antrim makes for a popular daytrip. Northern Ireland has an esteemed golfing pedigree with several local world champions and many excellent courses. Other iconic landmarks include the Giant’s Causeway and the Glens of Antrim. If you’re looking for natural wonders, Northern Ireland is particularly special thanks to the abundance of lakes, mountains and coastal vistas.
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The capital city of Belfast has emerged from its turbulent history and is now a cosmopolitan city to rival any in continental Europe. A big part of what makes Ireland such an endearing place to visit is the friendly banter and quick wit of the locals, which you’ll no doubt experience in the local pubs and restaurants. So what are the best things to do when you visit Northern Ireland?
Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage site, the Giant’s Causeway is a bizarre and spectacular rock formation that spills out into the sea. Northern Ireland’s most famous natural attraction is made up of 40,000 basalt columns, caused by a volcanic eruption some 60 million years ago!
As well as the actual rock formation, you can take a look in the visitor’s centre, which has more information about Giant’s Causeway and information about the legendary giant from ancient folklore that gave the site its name. Located on the north coast of County Antrim, the wind really whips in off the Irish Sea here so wear plenty of layers and suitable footwear.
Rural Ireland at its most enchanting! The lakes of Fermanagh mark the boundary between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This area encapsulates the classic image of rural Ireland – rich, green rolling hills and wide-open lakes. The main town of Enniskillen is the main hub of activity in the region, with plenty of natural wonders for you to visit, most notably Fermanagh’s largest body of water, Lough Erne.
Boat tours and kayaking trips out on the lake are a great way to explore the area from a new angle. Of all the small islands scattered throughout Lough Erne, Devenish Island, with its ancient monastic ruins, is a highlight not to be missed. You can also explore caves, spend a few hours fishing, squeeze in a round of golf, or simply enjoy a local meal and a few pints while soaking up the lakeside views.
Learn more about the world’s most famous shipwreck love story. Titanic Belfast is a fascinating museum dedicated to the ill-fated vessel which was the largest ocean liner of its time. She was built in Belfast in the early-20th century and captivated people across the world, both for her size and her promise of luxury.
When she sunk on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic, it created a furore. Over 1,500 people perished in the icy waters, and the stories of those on board are told in dramatic detail at this museum in the docklands of Belfast, close to where the ship was originally built. This fascinating museum is one of the best things to do in Belfast and highly recommended. Location: 1 Olympic Way, Queens Road, Belfast BT3 9EP, UK Open: Daily from 9 am to 6 pm Phone: +44 (0)28 9076 6386
Visit Derry City
Learn about Derry’s fascinating and turbulent history. Derry City Walls encircle the whole city and are some of the finest preserved city walls in Europe. They are well maintained and allow you to explore Derry from a prime vantage point. You will pass decorative cannons and ornate gates on your walk around with plenty of information boards explaining how and why the walls were built in the 1600s by Scottish and English settlers. You can walk the walls on your own or pay for a guided tour to add some context to the sights you see. The City itself is another beautiful sight altogether! The city in autumn is an absolute vision.
Hiking in the Mourne Mountains
Epic mountain scenery in County Down. The 28 peaks of the Mourne Mountains dominate County Down and offer some of the UK’s most dramatic hikes, complete with views of forests, lakes and granite mountains. Use the town of Newcastle as a base.
If hiking isn’t your thing, take a pleasant drive through the hills and soak up the scenery from the comfort of your car. Highlights to look out for include the majestic Blue Lough and Slieve Binnian Mountain. For adventure seekers, consider a caving trip or an afternoon of mountain climbing. Location: Moyad Rd, Newry BT34 5XL, UK
Drive the Causeway Coastal Route
Stop frequently along the coast between Belfast and Derry because it is simply too picturesque! The Causeway Coastal Route is a 130-mile road trip linking Northern Ireland’s 2 largest cities – Belfast and Derry. One of the UK’s most celebrated seaside routes, you will pass a collection of famous landmarks along the way so you should expect to stop often on this journey.
The town of Ballycastle marks the halfway point of the route – it’s just a few miles from Northern Ireland’s most famous tourist attraction, the Giant’s Causeway. Factor in some time to stop and gaze at this geological peculiarity but be ready for some extreme weather conditions. Other highlights along the way include Dunluce Castle and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.
Gobbins Cliff Path
Approach the cliffside for a stunning view. Gobbins Cliff Path is a must-do 2.5-hour cliffside route for dramatic views and a few hair-raising moments. It was built in the early 1900s and has been evoking awe ever since. You’ll see plenty of wildlife along the way, including seals, puffins and even dolphins. A reasonable level of fitness is required as some parts of the cliffs are quite steep. You’ll also need some proper hiking boots – they are available to rent from the visitor centre.
You can drive to Gobbins Cliff Path from Belfast in 30 minutes, making it a great day out from Northern Ireland’s capital city. If you’re visiting in the summer months, it’s advisable to book tickets in advance as numbers are limited. Location: 74-68 Middle Rd, Ballystrudder, Larne BT40 3SL, UK Open: Daily from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm Phone: +44 (0)28 9337 2318
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Don’t look down, seriously. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a footbridge linking the mainland to Carrickarede island. With blustery winds and the waves crashing 100 ft below, crossing the bridge really gets the adrenaline pumping.
If you manage to cross the bridge, you’ll be able to enjoy an incredible seascape with Rathlin Island visible and even the Scottish coast on clear days. Located on County Antrim, this is a popular stop on the Causeway Coastal Route, not far from the Giant’s Causeway. There’s however, a small fee to cross the bridge along with a truck load of courage.
Otherwise known as the King’s Road xD The Dark Hedges is a country lane lined with twisted beech trees. It has become one of Northern Ireland’s most famous stops after being featured on Game of Thrones.
Beautiful in any weather, Dark Hedges is actually called Bregagh Road and links to the towns of Armoy and Stranocum in County Antrim. Due to the number of visitors, there’s now a driving ban in place so you will have to park at a nearby hotel and walk to Dark Hedges to get your photo!
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