Whatever it’s you’re looking for, you can find it in Northern Ireland. So many people only visit Belfast and drive the Causeway Coast, but there is so much more to this area that demands exploration.
1. Belfast: Titanic Belfast, The Troubles and beyond
Belfast is always a great place to start your adventures in Northern Ireland. There are endless things to do here, including a visit to the Titanic Belfast. It’s the world’s biggest Titanic visitor experience, with two tours available – self-guided or guided. Take the time to explore the nine interactive galleries, from the Shipyard Ride to The Sinking.
There are plenty of great pubs in Belfast too, so make sure you stop into one during your visit. Or perhaps visiting the Crumlin Road Gaol, a high-security prison that held prisoners since 1846, is more up your alley. Just be careful not to get locked in.
While you’re here, get a deeper understanding of the city and delve into its tragic history known as the Troubles. Lasting for around 30 years, the conflict between the Catholic nationalists and Protestant loyalists, that started in the late 1960s, has changed Northern Ireland forever.
During The Troubles, the people of Belfast began expressing themselves through art by creating murals throughout the city. These paintings depicted important aspects of each community’s culture and history. It was also their way of showing pride and communicating their values and feelings. Keep your eyes peeled as you wonder around and you can discover these stories immortalised on the city’s walls.
Derry is famous for a few reasons; firstly, because it’s the only remaining walled city in Ireland. History buffs will love wandering around the city and you can even walk the 400-year-old city walls.
Secondly, there’s been a bit more attention on Derry since the popular TV show Derry Girls. You can stroll around trying to spot all of the amazing murals around the city, many of which are political as well as artistic. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll get a kick out of seeing the Derry Girls Mural. Check it out for yourself on our 6-day The Wild Coasts of the North tour or our 3-day Causeway Coast, Derry & Fermanagh Lakelands tour.
3. The Giant’s Causeway
At the top of most people’s lists when they visit Northern Ireland is to head to the Giant’s Causeway. We can’t blame them. This site is truly spectacular. If you can visit off-season, we’d recommend it, as this is one popular destination.
The Giant’s Causeway was formed some 50-60 million years ago due to volcanic activity and it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’d be happy to take you there on our tours to Northern Ireland and give you a more mythical explanation of how it came to be.
4. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Imagine building a bridge. Most people would never attempt it. Even fewer would attempt it with water crashing against rocks a short drop below them. But salmon fishermen back in 1755 decided it was worth the risk and effort to connect the mainland to the island. Never get between a man and his fish.
If you're feeling more adventurous, why not give the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge a go? Don't worry, it’s been upgraded since its initial construction and you can now take on the 20-metre walk for yourself.
5. Castles: Carrickfergus Castle & Old Castle Ward
A trip to Northern Ireland isn’t complete without a visit to at least one castle. Whether you love them for their history, or due to their beauty and Instagram-worthiness, you’ll love the selection.
There’s Carrickfergus Castle, which has been besieged by the Scots, Irish, English and French... and is still standing. It was even used in the First and Second World Wars, has been used as a prison, and was the primary residence to more than one King.
Or perhaps you stop by Old Castle Ward, an ancient site that was also used as a filming location for Winterfell in the Game of Thrones. You might recognise it from season one of the show, where many of the farmyard scenes were filmed.
6. The Causeway Coastal Route
This 120-mile drive is perfect for anyone wanting to visit both Belfast and Derry/Londonderry, plus you’ll get to enjoy this stunningly scenic drive as you go. From incredible geological landscapes like the Giant’s Causeway to pristine beaches like Downhill Beach, you’ll see it all.
It’s possible to do it in a day, but feel free to stop overnight in one of the many quaint villages along the route. There are plenty of things to do along the way as well, such as the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge mentioned above. Game of Thrones fans will also get a kick out of the route, as there are many filming locations you can see along the way, including the Dark Hedges.
7. Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail
Something about the word bog that makes people shiver. Perhaps it's thanks to films like The Neverending Story and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - but we seem to anticipate the worst when it comes to these marsh deathtraps.
The Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail is nothing like the movies. Nicknamed ‘Ireland’s Stairway to Heaven’, the trail is an 11km walk through County Fermanagh.
On it, you’ll wander your way through Northern Ireland’s largest bog, but make sure you’re prepared for it, as the walk takes between two and three hours to complete.
8. The Marble Arch Caves
For those with a love of ancient landscapes, check out the Marble Arch Caves. At the foothills of Cuilcagh Mountain, you can explore the limestone caves and underground rivers on tours.
The landscape encompassing it was formed over 340 million years ago; brimming with caves, rivers, mountains, ancient woodlands, waterfalls and gorges.
9. Mussenden Temple
Instagram users will adore Mussenden Temple. Perched on the edge of a cliff, it boasts amazing views of the ocean and Downhill Strand beach. This is a great chance to get active after a long stint of driving, with the Downhill Demesne Walking Trail. This easy 3.2km dog-friendly trail will take you along the cliff edges, by the Temple itself and through beautiful scenery.
Mussenden Temple and Downhill beach are another great example of why Northern Ireland is a great place to visit for Game of Thrones fans. You may just recognise this as the place where Dragonstone was in the show.
Check it out for yourself on our 4-day Donegal & the Wild Atlantic Way tour from Belfast.
Who doesn't love a charming seaside town? The gentle rush of waves, the cry of hungry seagulls (for chips, not you), the unending stretch of blue water that shifts emotions and colours depending on its mood (aka the time of day).
Portrush is one of Northern Ireland’s top-rated holiday destinations. It’s got everything: beaches, beautiful scenery, delicious food, and it's close to attractions like Dunluce Castle; so there’s plenty to do on a visit. You can even spend the night there on our 9-day All Ireland Explorer tour.
11. The Gobbins
Grab your camera and be ready to steel yourself for this insane cliff-face walk. The Gobbins Cliff Path is a wholly unique experience. Not only will you get to walk alongside the rock and over the rushing waters below, you even get to venture into yawning caves. ‘The Tunnel’ is the very definition of eerie, but when else are you going to get the opportunity to go below sea level while in a cave, hearing the thunderous sea booming outside?
It’s a great experience for those with a little dare devil in them. And if epic views and spotting local wildlife is your go-to when travelling, the Gobbins will provide plenty of both.
We weren’t lying when we said there was ample to do in Northern Ireland. Trust us when we say this is well worth a visit and make sure to give yourself enough time to really explore the area. If your plan is to cycle or drive or hike in these amazing spots, we hope you have a fantastic adventure.
If you’d like us to do a lot of the legwork, we’d love to see you on one of our many tours to Northern Ireland. Relax and enjoy the views as our driver-guides regale you with stories about the regions and places you visit, sharing some of the facts and quirky stories about each place.