Northern Ireland: a little piece of land that is officially part of the United Kingdom, while being geographically situated on the island of Ireland. No wonder it confuses people! It took a while before tourists ventured here after the conflicts of the ‘70’s-‘80’s, aka “The Troubles”. But with those times far behind us, Northern Ireland is now ready to show the world what it has to offer!
Top things to do in Northern Ireland
1. Swing on the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
On the north coast, a 20m long rope bridge links the mainland to a tiny island across, 30m above the sea. Traditionally fishermen built bridges to the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede to check on their salmon nets. Nowadays it is no longer used by fishermen and has been turned into a tourist attraction. On a windy day, it can be quite tricky to cross, but all is worth it when you admire the fantastic views over the coastline and Rathlin Island in the distance!
2. Northern Ireland’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Giant’s Causeway is the country’s number one tourist attraction and one of the best places to visit in Northern Ireland. It’s the highlight of the Causeway Coastal Route.The causeway consists of about 40.000 massive black basalt columns sticking out of the sea and was formed by to volcanic eruption about 60 million years ago. But according to a local legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a Scottish giant who crossed the causeway all the way from Scotland into Northern Ireland!
Basalt polygonal columns are flanked by the wild Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding cliffs give you the opportunity to enjoy the best panorama on the North Coast!
It can be really busy at the Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, so you might want to visit early morning or late evening.
If you have time and energy, I would highly suggest to walk between both attractions. It will take +/- 4 hours (16 km) on various terrain It is truly is one of the most scenic coastal walks of Ireland and once you are away from both attractions, there is hardly anybody in sight! To me, this is one of the best things to do in Northern Ireland!
3. Dunluce Castle
Hugging the cliffs of the north coast, Dunluce Castle is one of the most picturesque and romantic castles in Ireland! The ruins date from the 16th-17th century when it was the seat of the earls of County Antrim. The castle met its tragic end when on one stormy night in 1639, the castle kitchens fell into the sea below, taking all staff with them! According to the legend, the cries of the doomed workers as they fell into the sea can still be heard on stormy nights!
4. Follow into the footsteps of Jon Snow
Did you know that a lot of the Game of Thrones series was filmed in Northern Ireland? The indoor scenes were filmed inside the Titanic Studios in Belfast, but that’s not all! On a Game of Thrones locations tour, you’ll be able to spot the place where Melissandra gave birth to the shadow baby, the scene where Ned Stark beheaded the deserter of the Night Watch and even have a go at archery in Winterfell! There are over 20 different locations to spot, so you can easily spend a few days in Northern Ireland just doing that!
5. Walk on 17th century city walls
Derry or Londonderry has played a massive role in the history of Northern Ireland, so if you are interested in this intriguing part of the world, you simply can’t miss Derry!
It is the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland and one of the finest examples of walled cities in Europe. The walls were built in the 17th century as a defence against Catholic invaders. Nowadays you can walk the whole length along various gates, bastions and viewpoints.
6. Follow into the footsteps of Saint Patrick
A lot of places in Ireland are associated with Saint Patrick, but the majority of them are in Northern Ireland. A roadtrip along the Saint Patrick’s trail will take you from his very first church to his grave. Don’t miss the Saint Patrick’s museum in Downpatrick and learn all about the patron saint of Ireland!
7. Learn about Belfast’s troubled past
Belfast has long been synonym to conflict and sectarianism. The Peace Wall that divides a part of the Catholic and Protestant community and the numerous politically-inspired walls still bear witness to its tragic past. Take a “black taxi tour” where the driver will function as your guide and point out the history and the delicate nature of this place. Or go on one of the other tours to learn about Belfast’s troubled past.
8. Visit the world’s largest Titanic Experience
Did you know Titanic was built in Belfast? Explore the shipyard, walk the decks, travel to the depths of the ocean and uncover the legend of Titanic in the city where it all began! And don’t blame Belfast for its tragic end! The locals still claim “it was fine when it left there!”
You can easily spend a few days in the capital of Northern Ireland to check out the many things Belfast has to offer!
9. Hike amidst the stunning scenery of the Mourne Mounta ins
On a sunny day, one of the most amazing things to do in Northern Ireland is to stand on top Slieve Donard at a height of 850m, taking in the surrounding views over the vast terrain of the Mourne Mountains! They used to be a popular smuggling route during the 18th and 19th centuries: illegal ships full of tobacco, wine, spirits, silk and spices docked at the foot of the Mournes in Newcastle. Smugglers then loaded ponies with these illegal products and trekked through the Mourne Mountains to Hilltown. This old smugglers track still exists today and is used as a popular walking route, aptly know as “The Brandy Pad”.
The area was voted ‘Best Walking Destination’ in Northern Ireland and it’s not hard to see why.
10. Come for the craic!
“Craic” is one of those wonderful Irish words that are hard to translate. It basically means having a good time, not always accompanied by alcohol, but, let’s be honest, very often so. Head for one of the many pubs in Belfast and discover what “the craic” is all about!
Have you visited some of these top attractions in Northern Ireland? Which one appeals the most to you?