Planning a trip to The Emerald Isle? We’ve rounded up our picks for best things to do in Northern Ireland to help you plan your trip.
But first a few quick facts about Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and is separate from the Republic of Ireland.
On May 3, 1921, Ireland was split in two after the Irish War of Independence, where all but six counties gained independence from Britain.
The six counties have been a part of the UK ever since and it is a fascinating place to visit as Northern Ireland has its own distinct identity from both Britain and Ireland.
Northern Ireland is small a small land, with a population of only 1.8 million people and an area of only 14,130 km². (Canada is 9.9 million square km). But it packs a huge punch!
You can put a lot into a Northern Ireland Road Trip exploring everything from famous Game of Thrones Filming Locations to incredible photography sites and taking on great adventures in Europe’s highest tides!
Places to Visit in Northern Ireland
- Causeway Coast – Giant’s Causeway, Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge, Ballintoy Harbour, Portrush, Torr Head Drive (detour), Old Bushmills Distillery
- Game of Thrones – Castle Ward, Dark Hedges, Marble Arch Cave Geo Park, Dunluce Castle,
- Belfast – Black Taxi Tour, Segway Tour, Titanic Museum, Crumlin Gaol, Carrickfergus Castle,
- London-Derry – Murals and Medieval Walls, Mussenden Temple
- Where to Stay in Northern Ireland – Belfast, Giant’s Causeway, Causeway Coast, Loch Erne
We didn’t know we’d crossed the border until the speed limit changed while driving through Ireland.
One minute we were in the EU, the next we were on British soil in Northern Ireland. There are no borders and we didn’t see a welcome sign. We only noticed when the speed limit changed from km to miles.
Our Euros were no longer needed. Stopping at the ATM to stock up on British Pounds, we were now ready to explore the best things to do in Northern Ireland’s six counties.
The Best of Northern Ireland
Get your interactive map of our picks for the best things to do in Northern Ireland and take it with you.
Renting a car to drive along the causeway coastal route is a perfect way to explore all there is to see and do in Northern Ireland.
Also read: Things to do in Dublin
Part 1 – The Causeway Coastal Route
The Causeway Coast spans from Belfast to London Derry with most of Northern Ireland’s most famous tourist attractions.
It is considered one of the best road trips in the world, and we recommend taking your time to go for hikes, take boat trips and enjoy all of the amazing Northern Irish hospitality.
While there are many famous sites to see, it is also a stunning drive that is worth visiting just to get out of the car to take in the high seacliffs and breathtaking coast.
1. Giant’s Causeway
All we ever heard about when going to Ireland was “Have you visited the Giants Causeway?”
It was actually an annoying question.
Is something really that spectacular that everyone has to constantly ask about it? Well, the answer is yes. It is spectacular.
The Giants Causeway is one of the most extraordinary places to visit in Northern Ireland. It was formed by a giant lava flow frrom a volcano that erupted millions of years ago.
The basalt columns were perfectly formed as the lava dried, creating symmetrical hexagonal pillars in the form of a staircase.
The columns are so perfectly formed, it is easy to believe the legend that the giant’s causeway was actually built by the Giant Fionn McCool.
Needless to stay, the Giant’s Causeway is the number one things to see in Northern Irelan d.
Tip: Stay at the Causeway hotel to explore the stones in Peace. All tour buses arrive at mid day, but you can visit the centre from dawn to dusk. We explored at both sunrise and sunset and each time we shared the Giants Causeway with only two other people.
2. Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge
Once upon a time, fishermen walked across a precarious rope bridge to cross over to the island of Carrick a Rede to fish for salmon.
It was dangerous and difficult, but the salmon were plenty.
Today there aren’t many salmon in the area, but the Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge has remained a popular tourist stop.
The Bridge has been rebuilt and is an easy and safe cross, but some people found it to still be quite a thrill.
If you aren’t afraid of heights, it’s not a very exciting walk. we didn’t care much for the bridge itself, but it was the views from the island that are worth the trip.
It takes you out from the mainland letting you look back to the coast enjoying long view of the high cliffs.
Watch our video: The Best of Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route
3. Ballintoy Harbour
This quiet village is now famous for being featured in Game of Thrones when Theon Greyjoy landed in the harbour of his homeland.
However, this is really worth the stop to walk out to the coast and witness the fearsome waves crashing against the large rocks and jagged coast.
It’s also one of the best things to do in Northern Ireland for free.
Why? because not only can you tour where the Game of Thrones was filmed, you get to see giant waves crashing against the most incredible coast.
What’s the main reason for visiting here?
The switchbacks and winding roads leading to Ballintoy Harbour are too tight for tour buses to make the turns, therefore, you won’t see many package tours in Ballintoy.
Portrush is a beach community in Northern Ireland that is known as the capital of the Causeway Coast!
It’s a great place to make a base. From here you can easily visit Whiterocks Beach lcoated on the Causeway Coastal Route to take in the beautiful sandy beach flanked by limestone cliffs.
Known for its surfing and watersports, there is a boardwalk that will take you down from the parking lot.
5. Portrush Sea Tours at Portrush Harbour
Take a tour with Portrush Sea Tours at Portrush Harbour to discover the stunning coastline from the sea.
This tour goes out to a cluster of rocky islands known as the Skerries . YOu’ll see a lot during this tour such as Dunluce Castle. Portbalintrae, Runkerry house, Giant’s Causeway, Ballintoy and Carrick-a-rede Rope bridge.
This is also a great way to visit Rathlin Island to do some hikiung.
6 Harbour Rd,
Portrush, County Antrim BT56 8DF
M: + 44 (0) 7761696060.
6. Glens of Antrim
Located in County Antrim, the Glens of Antrim are a beautiful location in Northern Ireland consisting of 9 valleys (glens).
Many people miss visiting the Glens when touring Northern Ireland, but you simply must make a point of viewing the lush green valleys.
There are beautiful lookouts that you can drive to and there are plenty of hiking trails. If you have time, getting out into the Irish countryside if a must!
7. Glengarriff Forest Park
Known for its waterfall walks, Glengarrif Forest is one of the nine Glens of Antrim.
A designated national nature reserve, the forest park has several trails, view points and places to spy on wildlife.
8. Hiking in the Mourne Mountains
The Mourne Mountains is home to Northern Ireland’s highest peak, Slieve Donard.
The Mourne Mountains are also the premiere place in Northern Ireland for rock climbing.
9. Old Bushmills Distillery
Ireland is known for its Irish whiskey and a trip to the country would not be complete without visiting a distillery.
The tour of the Bushmills Distillery, is interesting, but you are not allowed to take any photos once inside.
It was fun to see how the Whisky is prepared, but let’s be honest, it was tasting the spirits in the end that we all looked forward to.
Dave splurged and bought an expensive bottle of 16 year old Bushmills Single Malt and I can guarantee that we’ll be reminiscing about the experience when we finally pop it open and have a taste over the holidays.
10. Torr Head Drive
If you take a detour off of the Causeway Coastal Route, you’ll discover a hidden gem known as Torr Head Drive.
Located between Cushendun and Ballycastle, this route doesn’t see a lot of traffic because of its clinging cliffs and narrow roads. So the caravans tend to avoid this route.
It offers a clear view of Scotland. As a matter a fact, it is the closest point to Scotland at only 12 miles apart!
While in the area, take a ferry to Rathlin Island to spend some time away from it all. It is the only inhabited island off shore of Northern Ireland with a population of only 150 people.
11. Ride a Horse on the Beach
One of our favorite things to do in Northern Ireland and Ireland is to go horseback riding. Horse culture is a huge part of Irish history and taking a ride is an amazing way to explore the countryside.
We loved our ride that took us through the Irish countryside and then ended with a gallop along the beach.
I can’t remember who we rode with, but Tourism Northern Ireland has a great list of stables here.
Game of Thrones
The immensely popular HBO Series, the Game of Thrones was filmed in Northern Ireland.
Its main studio and production office was in Belfast and there are countless locations throughout the country that you’ll recognize from the show.
These are a few highlights of where to experience Game of Thrones in Ireland.
12. Game of Thrones experience at Castle Ward
You can’t visit Northern Ireland without seeing at least one Game of Thrones site.
We do love the Game of Thrones, and having the chance to immerse in an interactive experience was so much fun.
Visiting Castle Ward lets you re-enact moments from the Game of Thrones. We found ourselves acting out John Snow teaching Bran archery in Winterfell.
Clearsky Adventures ran the location when the Game of Thrones filmed there and they have many stories to tell of what happened during the months that the HBO Production was based here.
There are 11 filming locations in total on the grounds of Castle Ward where you can see many scenes from the series.
Book your Game of Thrones and speedboat advnetures through Clearsky Adventures
13. Dark Hedges
It’s a short stop near the Giants Causeway, but we would have to say that it is a must.
The Dark Hedges are one of the most photographed sights in Northern Ireland, making it one of the top things to see in Northern Ireland.
It’s located on a small road lined with the gnarling branches of beach trees planted to create an archway over the drive.
Built in the 18th century by the Stuart family to impress visitors as they approached their home, the Dark Hedges have endured and have become one of the staple stops for anyone visiting Northern Ireland.
14. Marble Arch Caves Global GeoPark
The Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, situated just outside Enniskillen, County Fermanagh is one of Europe’s finest show caves.
You start by taking a very short underground boat ride to a path that takes you through the narrow passageways of the caves.
There are rivers, waterfalls and stalactites and stalagmites.
It’s an easy walk so you don’t have to worry about dressing for the ocassion. However, be prepared for a steep climb up 160 steps at the end of the tour.
The Marble Arch Caves are a UNESCO Global Geopark due to the world importance of their geology and landscapes.
15. Dunluce Castle
Dunluce Castle is another great stop in Northern Ireland along the Coastal Route.
It’s an ominous castle ruin overhanging on these cliffs and you can just imagine what life would’ve been like there when people were living there.
Wandering the castle grounds lets you imagine what life was like in the medieval Times.
16. Speedboat to Europes Highest Tides at Strangford Lough
We took an amazing speedboat ride out to the harbour to see the neighbouring villages and the thrilling whirlpools created by the tides mixing with the seas.
The tides here are the highest and fastest tides in the Europe and the water is moving at a fast speed. So fast in fact, they are harnessing the tidal water for hydro electric power.
It was crazy to take the boat over the tidal pools. You could see yourself approaching the scary looking foamy pools and our driver cranked the steering wheel twirling us around and around. What a thrill!
Part 3 – Belfast and Area
Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland and the city has gone through many changes. It is worth spending a couple fo days exploring Belfast.
There are plenty of things to do in Belfast, but be sure to spend some time int he pub for a real taste of Irish culture.
One of our favourite places to visit is The Historic Crown Bar, Belfast’s most famous saloon!
17. Black Taxi Tour of Belfast
The Black Cab political tours are an excellent way to learn about the history of Northern Ireland.
Get in a taxi driven by a local driver who survived the troubles as he tells you about the Catholic and Protestant conflict. It takes you through the two neighborhoods where you’ll see the painted murals depicting pivotal moments in history at Shankhill road and the Clonard Martyrs Memorial Gardens at Falls Road that pays respect to the IRA volunteers who fought and lost their lives.
This tour is a must when visiting Northern Ireland.
18. Titanic Museum
When making a list of things to do in Northern Ireland, don’t rule out visiting a museum.
We’re not huge fans of museums, but the Titanic Museum is something special.
It’s a fascinating display of artifacts from the ship with letters, clothing and even rooms re-created.
There are multimedia displays, virtual reality rooms and even live cameras from the team that discovered the Titanic showing the underwater salvaging and research they are doing today.
The Titanic Museum has certainly become one of the top things to see in Belfast.
19. Segway Tour of Belfast
A Segway tour is an excellent way to explore the Titanic Waterfront and other Belfast Attractions.
Touring around on the electric vehicle is a ton of fun for an alternative way to learn about the shipbuilding history of Belfast. You even ride through a lifesize outline of the Titanic herself!
Plus you’ll get to see Titanic Studios (the studio where Game of Thrones was filmed) and the Titanic Belfast Museum.
20. Crumlin Road Gaol
A self-guided tour of the Crumlin Road Gaol (Jail) takes you through the only remaining Victorian era prison.
Located in Belfast, The Crumlin Road Jail closed its doors in 1996. There is an underground tunnel that connects the jail to the courthouse across the street.
21. Mountain Bike at Barnett Demensne
Not everything in Northern Ireland is about history and scenery, there are adventures to be had as well!
If you are in to mountain biking, Barenett Demesne is Ireland’s first official purpose-built jumps park. This is for extreme riders ready to take on jumps, rails and table tops.
If that sounds like a bit too much for you, don’t worry, there are green, blue and single track extreme trails to suit everyone’s needs!
22. Carrickfergus Castle
This castle is located in County Antrim just outside of Belfast. The medieval castle is one of the best-preserved in Ireland and is a must-visit when in Belfast.
Surrounded on three sides by the sea sitting on a high outcrop it remained a strategic location to defend Ireland for centuries.
It was completed in 1242, and saw 800 years of military operation.
23. London Derry Murals
Take a walking tour through Derry with Derry Bogside tours for information and first hand accounts of the Blood Sunday conflict.
See the murals dedicated to those who were killed as you retrace the footsteps of the day of the march that saw many civilians killed.
24. Walls of London Derry
London Derry’s walls date back to the 17th century and is one of the best preserved walled cities in Europe.
A walk along the high and wide walls and take a walking tour to learn about the sieges and conflicts of its past.
You can book both tours with Bogside History Tours
25. Mussenden Temple
When I read about the Mussenden Temple I was really curious because you walk through remnants of an ancient settlement.
Once you pass through, you come to the end of a cliff where a very small stone temple stands more than 250 feet above the sea! It doesn’t look like it belongs but it’s an incredible scene to photograph.
The Bishop of Derry built the temple in 1785 as a summer library. I can imagine how peaceful it was to read books as the summer air swooped through the land.
26. Watermill Lodge
This article is called The Best things to do in Northern Ireland and we feel it wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the best meal we had in the country.
The Watermill Lodge in Lough Erne was hands down the best meal we’ve had in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. We really felt that Northern Irish hospitality in this cozy restaurant.
The Watermill Lodge is a Michelin rated restaurant and we can understand why. The food was exqisite and the atmosphere was quiet and romantic.
I know you’ll find this strange, but it’s a French fine dining restaurant with an incredible menu designed by Chef Pascal Brissaud.
We had a delicious meal with wine pairing recommended by our well informed server. Everything he suggested went beautifully with our set menu £25. Even the wines were reasonably priced.
27. Ulster American Folk Park
And finally, Ireland has become popular for North Americans to retrace their roots and heritage to see where their ancestors have come from.
Ulster American Folk Park and Folk Museum is dedicated to the Irish who made the journey across the Atlantic seeking a new life.
We traced our heritage to Ireland and it was one of the best travel experiences we’ve ever done.
Where to Stay in Northern Ireland
Sleive Donard Resort and Spa
Slieve Donard Resort and Spa is one of Northern Ireland’s most luxurious resorts. It is located on the beach on one side and Royal County Down Golf Links on the other.
It’s a great place to start to explore the Northeastern Coast.
Ballygally Castle Hotel
Ballygally Castle Hotel is located on Causeway Coastal Route, Ballygally Castle, a 17th Century Castle overlooking Ballygally Bay.
It’s a great base for exploring the Causeway Coast.
Giant’s Causeway Hotel
Causeway Hotel – We loved staying here because it was so close to Giant’s Causeway. We could walk down at sunrise and at sunset avoiding all the tour buses and crowds.
Watermill Lodge – Besides eating at Watermill Lodge, we also stayed overnight. Located on Lough Erne, it is a wonderful and luxurious country retreat.
An Old Rectory Guesthouse – Belfast
An Old Rectory Guesthouse was originally a Church of Ireland rectory. It was built in 1896 to house the rector of St John’s, Malone. The Victorian era property, is situated in South Belfast, close to all transport links and onsite parking.
And there you have it, that’s our suggestions for the best things to do Northern Ireland by Dave and Deb. Do you have a favorite site to see in the country?
For more information on visiting Northern Ireland check out Ireland Tourism Canada.
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