Northern Ireland is a mystical land of coastal wonders, tranquil loughs (lakes), beautiful countryside and buzzing cities.
A filming location for Game of Thrones, home to legendary, mythical giants and a capital city where the Titanic ship was built, this welcoming country offers everything you desire for a multi-purpose vacation.
While its southern brother Ireland gets loads of tourist so is Northern Ireland still pretty untouristy except for the hardcore Game of Thrones fans that visit the country every year.
If you’re planning a trip soon, here are some of our top things to do in Northern Ireland.
Your trip to Northern Ireland will most likely start in the Belfast, the capital and largest city in the country.
Belfast has gotten a huge facelift in recent years; it’s been cleaned up, with parks and art areas, with tons of hipster cafes and bars around the University area.
Belfast doesn’t offer too many sights around the city except the Titanic museum, Belfast City hall, and some cathedrals so this post is more about what you can see and do outside the capital of Northern Ireland which is easiest with either a rental car or on a day tour around the country.
Top Things To See In Northern Ireland.
Marvel at the Giant’s Causeway
Nestled on the northern coast of the country, just over an hours’ drive from Belfast lies the mysterious Giant’s Causeway.
Naturally constructed from over 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns, this place is said to have been built by a giant named Finn MacCool – an ancient Irish warrior.
Wandering along the clifftops, looking down, the columns stretch out into the sea, and further along, there’s a Wishing Chair or throne made from the same basalt columns.
Nobody really knows how Giant’s Causeway was formed, but one, more scientific explanation claims it was the result of seismic and volcanic activity in the region over 50 million years ago.
It’s a special place to visit, especially as the sun casts its shadow on the rocks before it sets for the day.
Hike in Glenariff Forest Park
Covering 1000 hectares of woodland, lakes, conservation areas and wide-open spaces, Glenariff Forest Park is perfect for lovers of the great outdoors.
Spend leisurely days here, hiking, horse-riding or bird watching, enjoy a picnic or spend the night on the caravan site.
Bring your binoculars to spot hen harriers, Irish hares and red squirrels and walk the 3km waterfall trail for incredible photos.
Those with more stamina may enjoy the 8.9-kilometre scenic trail which incorporates a steep trek, but it’s worth it.
The views over the glen and on clear days across the Mull of Kintyre to Scotland are simply breath-taking.
Gain the Best Views of Belfast from Cave Hill
For the best views of Belfast, head for Cave Hill, a basaltic hill overlooking Northern Ireland’s capital.
The hill is said to have been an inspiration for Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels as it resembled a sleeping giant protecting citizens of the city below.
As referred to in the name, there are three large caves set inside the hill – they are man-made and thought to have been excavated with the purpose of mining for iron.
Atop the cliff is McArt’s Fort, an ancient ring fort which used to serve as a refuge during troubling times and to store supplies for winter.
From this vantage point, in addition to Belfast city, you can also see the west coast of Scotland and the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea.
Go on an Irish Pub Crawl
You can experience a traditional Irish pub crawl in almost any Northern Irish city. However, some of the best pub crawls are in Belfast.
Live music plays a huge part in the Belfast pub scene with bands playing in venues almost every night of the week.
The Five Points is one of the newest venues in the city, where Irish bands play catchy tunes, and the Guinness is on tap.
Nearby, Robinsons Bar is one of the longest established bars in Belfast with numerous themed rooms to entertain revellers, and further afield historic Kelly’s Cellars has an old-world vibe with a vaulted ceiling, wines, spirits and antiques all around.
Whether you’re seeking a local vibe, modern cocktail venue or a bar where you can dance to the tune of a fiddle, you can visit them all on a pub crawl in Belfast!
See Where Game of Thrones Was Filmed
Game of Thrones fans will adore visiting Northern Ireland.
Many Westeros scenes were filmed here, and even though the seasons have now all concluded, you can still relive your favourite moments from the show at these local landmarks.
The first place to visit is Bregagh Road, just outside Ballymoney.
This place is home to the famous Dark Hedges – a cathedral-like avenue of beech trees which served as Kingsroad in the series.
It’s a popular spot with tourists and GOT fans, so arrive early or later in the day for the best photos.
Many fans believe the Dorne scenes were filmed in Spain, and most were, apart from a couple which was filmed at Portstewart Strand.
Also, scenes where Robb Stark was proclaimed “King in the North” took place at Inch Abbey near Downpatrick.
The best way to see all the best Game of Thrones locations is obviously on a dedicated tour; however, if you do your research before, you can rent a car and take your time relishing the memories.
Sunbathe on Portrush Whiterocks Beach
Portrush Whiterocks Beach has been awarded Blue Flag status for being one of the best beaches in Northern Ireland.
Tucked away off the Causeway Coastal Route, it’s the perfect place to spend a sunny day with a loved one, friends or family members.
It’s a scenic spot, surrounded by towering limestone cliffs and rocks with arches which rise from the sea.
Soak up the sun, hike from Curran Strand to Dunluce Castle, take a dip in turquoise waters or simply relax on pale golden sands with a tasty picnic!
Walk across Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a 20m/66feet long rope bridge that connects the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede over a 30 metres (98 ft) drop above the rocks below.
It is thought local salmon fishermen have been building bridges to the island for over 350 years, but the current Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge was built back in 2004.
While the bridge was built by salmon fishers, so is Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge these days only used by tourists. The area has been overfished, and these days there´s almost no Salmon left in the area.
One of the filming locations for the Game of Throne is located only a few min away from Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.
Wander through Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter
Cathedral Quarter in Belfast is the city’s cultural and creative heart. Its buildings house eclectic art galleries and narrow alleyways hide artisan studios, dance centres and theatres.
The former trading district also boasts plenty of upscale and chic restaurants where foodies can sample everything from steak and pizza to Northern Irish fare.
Afterwards, wander to the banks of the River Lagan to see the impressive Big Fish sculpture crafted from dozens of blue and white tiles!
Discover Northern Irish History at Carrickfergus Castle
This Norman castle in the town of Carrickfergus on the shores of Belfast Lough is steeped in history.
This castle on the water’s edge has been besieged by the French, Scots, Irish and English, yet remarkably it still remains one of the most well-preserved medieval structures in the country!
It may have had a turbulent past, but today it’s a much calmer place, housing historical artefacts, cannons and exhibits.
It’s incredibly impressive, especially at night when it illuminates and lights reflect on the water, so if you can stay a while longer, do so, you won’t regret it.
Visit Titanic Belfast
In Belfast, you can follow the journey of the Titanic, from conception to its final moments in the Atlantic Ocean.
Built-in Belfast, the Titanic set sail on its maiden voyage on 10th April 1912, and 4 days later it hit an iceberg and sank with hundreds of passengers on board.
This unique interactive exhibition centre allows visitors to explore the shipyard, walk the decks and travel to the ocean depths to uncover the ship.
Imagine life on the ocean liner, see what it looked like inside and explore 9 interactive galleries to gain the answers to all your questions! Another good reason to visit – Titanic Belfast is considered one of the leading tourist attractions in the entire world!
See the Puffins on Rathlin Island
Nature lovers and bird watchers should spend a day on scenic Rathlin Island.
It takes just under an hour to reach the island by ferry from Ballycastle on the north coast and is a breeding site for seabirds including guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes.
If you’re coming to see the puffins, they return in April and stay throughout the summer.
During this time, the island becomes one of the UK’s largest seabird colonies.
It’s fair to say there’s not much to do on the island, (there’s a lighthouse, information centre and pub), but if you love being at one with nature and want an escape from busier towns and cities, you will love it.
Visit The Bushmills Whiskey Distillery
If you love a drop of fiery nectar the Northern Irish call whiskey, Bushmills Distillery is the place to be.
Venture an hour north of Belfast to the riverside village of Bushmills to learn secrets of Irish Whiskey distilling over the past 400 years.
This, Ireland’s oldest working distillery, began its journey in 1608 and today, visitors can take tours, discover the production and distilling process all whilst sampling a glass or two!
Bushmills distillery is the world´s oldest whisky distillery.
Walk Londonderry’s Walls and Visit Tower Museum
The second-largest city of Northern Ireland is Londonderry or Derry.
Its modern, vibrant and surrounded by stone walls which once protected the city.
Construction began in 1613 and lasted for over 5 years, and fortunately, the walls and ramparts are still in good enough condition today to walk along.
To learn about the city’s history, visit the Tower Museum.
It hosts permanent exhibitions which include the fascinating story of Derry and the tale of La Trinidad Valencera, an Armada shipwreck which was one of the largest ships of the fleet.
How to Get to Northern Ireland
You can reach Northern Ireland by train from Dublin, by ferry from Cairnryan in Scotland or from Liverpool, England and cruise ships often stop in Belfast as part of a larger itinerary.
It’s also possible to fly to Belfast’s International Airport from some European cities, but honestly so do very few international airlines fly into Nothern Ireland, so you are better to fly into Dublin international airport in Ireland and take a bus to Northern Ireland.
Once you’ve arrived in Northern Ireland, you can navigate the country easily if you rent a car.
Roads are relatively peaceful and easy to drive along outside the major cities, and you can travel to almost all areas of Northern Ireland from Belfast in less than 2 hours.
Taxis and tours are available, as are electric bikes in the cities, and there’s also Translink which has bus routes linking Belfast to most towns and cities in Northern Ireland.