Although it’s a small country, Northern Ireland certainly isn’t lacking in things to see and do. From stunning coastal landscapes and cosy rural villages to underground caverns and even a crisp factory, here’s our pick of the best sights to see on your Northern Irish journey.
Opened in 2012 for the centenary of the ship’s sinking, the Titanic Museum is a striking building in the middle of Belfast’s Titanic Quarter. With nine different exhibitions covering Belfast’s shipyard boom, the construction of the ship by Harland and Wolff, and its untimely demise, the Titanic Museum is absolutely one of Northern Ireland’s most impressive buildings.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and national nature reserve, this breathtaking and alien landscape is absolutely a must-see and one of Northern Ireland’s most enduring destinations. Legend has it that the giant Fionn Mac Cumhaill built the Giant’s Causeway as a bridge between Ireland and Scotland. The nearby Visitor’s Centre goes into detail about this legend while also explaining the true history of the stones.
First opened in 1929, the Ulster Museum is an exercise in juxtaposition. The original building received a Brutalist extension in 1972, and the contrasts continue inside. The museum’s various levels house exhibitions on The Troubles, natural sciences, and ancient history, all leading up to the art gallery on the top floor. Exhibits rotate regularly, so this attraction rewards repeat visitors.
Situated on the shores of Strangford Lough, Exploris is Northern Ireland’s only aquarium. Recently refurbished, the centre retains its original aquarium and seal preservation effort, but it also gained a reptile room that not only houses a handful of new and scaly residents but also allows visitors to view the centre’s fish and otter population via a platform.
Perched on a cliff near Castlerock, Mussenden Temple was originally constructed as the Earl-Bishop of Derry’s library. The grounds surrounding the temple and the nearby manor house are open to the public year-round, but the temple itself is only open on certain days. The ocean views alone make Mussenden a must-see.
With over 30 working exhibit houses, the Ulster American Folk Park, an open-air museum, tells the story of Irish emigration through a walking tour with costumed guides. The experience features two sections, Old World and New World, with a full-sized replica of an immigrant ship to bridge the gap, and also includes displays of traditional crafts, such as blacksmithing, embroidery, and bread-making.
Former occupants of this now-closed prison include Éamon de Valera and Bobby Sands, both instrumental figures in Irish politics. When Crumlin Road Gaol opened in 1846, it was a state-of-the-art facility, and these high standards have carried through to the visitor’s centre. Guided tours take around an hour, with a possible pit stop at Cuffs Restaurant to end your stay.
Constructed to literally bridge the gap between the unionist Waterside and nationalist Cityside areas, the Peace Bridge is the newest of Derry’s three bridges. At over 200 feet (61 metres) long, it’s not only an impressive feat of engineering and design but also acts as a stage for some of the city’s events, including New Year’s celebrations and even Radio 1’s Big Weekend.
Derry’s walls are centuries old, and Derry itself is one of the most well-maintained walled cities in Europe. The path along the top of the walls is about a mile (1.6 kilometres) long, forming a walkway around the inner city. Views of the area are excellent, and the cannons placed at strategic points cannot help but remind walkers of the many sieges throughout the city’s history.
Tayto® crisps are an iconic taste of growing up in Northern Ireland, but not many people know that the Tayto® Castle Factory is actually open for tours! In Tandragee Castle sits the crisp maker’s manufacturing line, and visitors can expect to receive still-warm crisps straight from the conveyor belt.
This attraction is made up of two museums. The Folk Museum focuses on traditional rural ways of life, while the Transport Museum is concerned with vehicular transport of all kinds. Like the Ulster American Folk Park, the Folk Museum contains several replica buildings designed to showcase an older way of living. The Transport Museum houses planes, trains, and automobiles of all sorts, including a permanent Titanic exhibition.
This short bridge, 100 feet (30.4 metres) above the ocean and rocks below, spans the gap between the mainland and the tiny island of Carrickarede. Don’t worry; it’s perfectly safe! Hundreds of thousands of people head there each year to visit the island. Crossing costs a small fee, but it’s more than worth it for the thrill and the views from the other side.
The oldest working distillery in Ireland, The Old Bushmills Distillery is both a functioning distillery and a visitor’s centre detailing the area’s history of whiskey. A walking tour through the distillery will showcase the copper pot stills used in the production of Ireland’s only triple-distilled single malt whiskey. Tasting events are also available for anyone looking for a more ‘hands on’ approach.
St George’s is a large indoor market just outside Belfast City Centre. Open from Friday to Sunday, a different choice of stalls is set up depending on the day. Fridays are the Variety Market, with fresh fruit and vegetables standing alongside antiques dealers, booksellers, and clothes stalls. On Saturdays, food and crafts take centre stage, with live music to entertain visitors and stallholders alike. Sunday is a mixture of the two days, with the musicians returning, and a special emphasis placed on local artisanal products.
Cuilcagh Boardwalk is a 1.6-kilometre (one mile) stretch of raised platform over scenic bogland, situated on a stretch of the Cuilcagh Way walking path. The boardwalk was constructed to protect the blanket bog habitat underfoot, and the trail extends up Cuilcagh Mountain itself and ends at the summit of the mountain, coming to a stop at an ancient Bronze Age cairn and offering exceptional views of Loch Erne and the surrounding countryside.
The 5 W’s of this title stand for Who, What, Where, When, and Why, the important questions science asks. W5 is an Interactive Discovery Centre focused on engagingly exploring science. They pride themselves on getting visitors of all ages involved, with permanent exhibits and an ever-changing variety of temporary exhibitions and events.
This row of beech trees was recently featured as The King’s Road in HBO’s Game of Thrones, which led to an increased tourist footfall to the area. Picturesque and brooding, these trees are a perfect stop on any Northern Irish road trip.
HomePlace is dedicated to the memory of Seamus Heaney, Northern Ireland’s most famous literary export. Located in his hometown of Bellaghy, it is an interactive exhibition made up of hundreds of artefacts and photographs, chronicling the poet’s childhood and career through to his death in 2013. The centre hosts regular literary events, so check the calendar to see if there is anything to catch in the 191-seat Helicon.
HMS Caroline saw combat in World War One, and following that, she docked in Belfast to serve as headquarters for the Royal Naval Reserve. Now, the ship acts as a museum where visitors can see the innards of a war vehicle as well as learn about semaphore and other wartime skills. Faithful recreations of the Captain’s Quarters, Mess, and Wash are sure to delight history buffs.
Open from March to September, the show cave is the only part of this massive subterranean structure that is open to the public, but it alone makes the area worthy of a visit. Tours comprise a boat ride along underground riverways, as guides describe the cave system’s history and point out some fascinating limestone formations.