Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland

The top places to see in Northern Ireland include the stunning Dark Hedges
The top places to see in Northern Ireland include the stunning Dark Hedges | © Henk Meijer / Alamy Stock Photo
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.

Titanic Belfast

Building, Museum
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.
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The Giant's Causeway

Bridge
The Giants Causeway, Co, Antrim, Northern Ireland. Image shot 08/2014. Exact date unknown.
© scenicireland.com / Christopher Hill Photographic / Alamy Stock Photo
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.
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Ulster Museum

Museum
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.
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Exploris Aquarium

Aquarium
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.
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Mussenden Temple

Building
Mussenden Temple, Northern Ireland
© Gareth Cosgrove / Alamy Stock Photo
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.
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Ulster American Folk Park

Museum, Park
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.
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Crumlin Road Gaol

Museum
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.
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The Peace Bridge

Bridge
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.
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Derry city walls

Building, Ruins
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.
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Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

Museum, Park
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.
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Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Bridge
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.
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The Old Bushmills Distillery

Distillery
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.
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St George's Market

Market
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.
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Cuilcagh Boardwalk

Natural Feature, Hiking Trail
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.
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W5

Museum
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.
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Seamus Heaney HomePlace

Museum
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.
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HMS Caroline

Museum
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.
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Carrickfergus Castle

Historical Landmark, Building
Carrickfergus Castle on the North Antrim Coast Road on shore of Belfast Lough. Norman period built by John de Courcy in 1177.
© David Lyons / Alamy Stock Photo
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.
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Glenariff Forest Park

Forest, Park
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.
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Belfast Botanic Gardens

Botanical Garden, Park
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.
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The SSE Arena

Sports Center, Music Venue
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.
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Additional reporting by Nicholas Grantham

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These recommendations were updated on September 4, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.