Although it’s a small country, Northern Ireland certainly isn’t lacking in things to see and do. From stunning coastal landscapes like the Giant’s Causeway to city attractions like Titanic Belfast, here’s our pick of the best sights to see on your Northern Irish journey.
Opened in 2012 for the centenary of the RMS Titanic’s sinking, Titanic Belfast 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, Titanic Belfast 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 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 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 currently 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 of Bristol and 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 it 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 Bar and Grill 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 200ft (61m) long, it is not only an impressive feat of engineering and design, but it 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 (1.6km) 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 you can actually tour the Tayto factory. In Tandragee Castle sits the crisp maker’s manufacturing line, where you 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, 100ft (30.4m) above the ocean and rocks below, spans the gap between the mainland and a tiny island. 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.
As the oldest working distillery on the island of 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, the market offers a different choice of stalls depending on the day. Fridays are the Variety Market, with fresh fruit and vegetables standing alongside antique 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 on local artisanal products.
The Cuilcagh Boardwalk is a one-mile (1.6km) 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 and ends at the summit of the mountain, coming to a stop at an ancient Bronze Age cairn and offering exceptional views of Lough Erne and the surrounding countryside.
The five Ws of this title stand for who, what, where, when and why – the important questions that science asks. W5 is an interactive discovery centre focused on engagingly exploring science. The centre prides itself 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 featured as the King’s Road in HBO’s Game of Thrones, leading to an increased tourist footfall in 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.
The HMS Caroline saw combat in World War I, and following that, she docked in Belfast to serve as headquarters for the Royal Naval Reserve. Now, the ship acts as a museum where you 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, these caves are the only part of this massive subterranean structure that is open to the public, but they alone make the area worth 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.
Originally built just over 800 years ago, this Norman construct is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in the UK. Used for military purposes right up until 1928, the castle is now open to the public and runs guided tours throughout the day. The castle also hosts a number of historical exhibitions, perfect for learning about its rich history through the ages.
One of the nine glens of the spellbinding Antrim County, Glenariff Forest Park is a must-visit natural attraction in Northern Ireland. Covering over 1,000ha (2,470 acres), the park has plenty on offer for everyone wanting to take in the wilderness, including horse riding, barbecuing and walking tours. There is even a tea house offering a perfect spot for a quick cup of tea.
At over 150 years old, the Botanic Gardens is one of the must-visit spots in the city of Belfast. Featuring exotic plant life from all over the southern hemisphere, the gardens are a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Be sure to check out the tropical ravine, which has recently had a £3.5 million investment to bring the section back to its former Victorian glory.
Just a short walk out of the Belfast city centre, the SSE Arena is one of the top entertainment venues in Northern Ireland. Hosting a variety of acts, from live music to comedy, it is also home to the famous Belfast Giants ice hockey team; catching a game is one of the best nights out in the city and a must when visiting the area.
Described as “one of the most dramatic walks in Northern Ireland”, the Gobbins Cliff Path makes for a fascinating day out. Taking in several historic sights along the way, including Gordon’s Leap, Otter Cave and Wise’s Eye, the cliff path has plenty of stories to tell.