Top 10 things to do in Northern Ireland

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!

carrick-a-rede rope bridge

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!

Dunluce Castle

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!

things to do in Northern Ireland Tollymore Forest Park

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!

Saint Patrick's tour of Ireland Saul

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!

things to do in Northern Ireland Titanic

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.

mourne mountains

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!

traditional pubs in Belfast Duke of York

Have you visited some of these top attractions in Northern Ireland? Which one appeals the most to you?

9 Replies to “Top 10 things to do in Northern Ireland”

  1. Pingback: Hiking in Ireland: Your Complete Guide to the Best Hikes & Walks - Extreme Nomads

  2. Carole Martin

    I experienced the Titanic museum. It is a MUST. It was so interesting, but so sad at the same time. It was like being in a shrine. I actually became panicked and wept as I watched a simulation of the sinking andcread the SOS . It was interesting that people were laughing and talking when they went in, but were very quiet when they came out.

  3. Sheena

    This is so cool, I never thought of Northern Ireland being so interesting – putting it on my never-ending bucket list!

    • Els Post author

      Northern Ireland definitely has seen a rise in tourism thanks to GoT, but it’s still very low key though 🙂

  4. Gareth

    My home country! Thanks so much for posting this, I often feel that Northern Ireland goes unfairly ignored when compared to the rest of the island of Ireland. But really, the scenery up here is among the best in the world with a history to match. Being a native of Derry/Londonderry, I have a slight bias towards the city but it is really worth exploring. You have compiled a great list here but if I could suggest taking the train around the North coast, it takes in temples, castles and some astonishingly striking coastline. Thanks again for the write-up!

    • Els Post author

      Oh really? I’ve been living in Belfast for the last 3 years myself 🙂 I agree, the train towards Derry/Londonderry is definitely worth the trip! It’s good to see more and more tourism in Northern Ireland, isn’t it?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.