From the history of the ancient Irish clans to the more recent clashes of The Troubles, Northern Ireland has a rich history and heritage. It should come as no surprise then that it is filled with excellent museums. Here’re our picks for the must-visit museums in Northern Ireland.
Belfast’s Titanic Quarter has undergone huge renovations in the past decade, and the centrepiece of this area is the Titanic Building itself. Close to Samson and Goliath, the two cranes that dominate the skyline, the Titanic Museum opened in 2012 in commemoration of the centenary of the ship’s sinking. The museum covers Belfast’s history as well as the history of the Titanic itself, and it was voted World’s Best Tourist Destination in 2016.
Situated within the grounds of the beautiful Botanic Gardens, just a stone’s throw from Queen’s University, this museum first opened its doors in 1929. In 1972, it underwent a major refurbishment, both inside and out, and its extension is one of the finest examples of Brutalist architecture in the UK. Inside, exhibits cover natural and national history, with exhibitions on The Troubles and Ireland’s extinct flora and fauna. The top level houses an art gallery with rotating exhibitions, so this is one museum you can visit again and again.
Located within Derry City’s historic walls, the Tower Museum houses two permanent exhibitions. One, ‘The Story of Derry’, describes exactly that, the history of The Maiden City and its walls. The other is called ‘An Armada Shipwreck – La Trinidad Valencera’ and deals with the story of La Trinidad Valencera, a massive Spanish Armada ship which sank off the coast of Donegal in 1588 and lay undiscovered until 1971.
Housed in Belfast’s Odyssey Complex, this Interactive Discovery Centre contains over 200 interactive exhibits focused on exploring science. Named after the five questioning words – Who, What, Where, When, and Why – W5 concerns itself with education and entertainment in equal measure. This might look like one for the kids, but adults are sure to find plenty to enjoy as well.
We’re cheating here since this entry is actually two museums that happen to share a site. The Folk Museum is dedicated to traditional rural ways of life and consists of over 30 open-air buildings moved from the Ulster countryside and rebuilt brick by brick on site. The Transport Museum, on the other hand, illustrates the broad history of Irish transport and includes not only vintage cars and bicycles but also a large collection of old steam locomotives in their Irish Railway Gallery.
The Ulster American Folk Park is an open-air museum focused on Irish emigration. With a particular focus on migrants to America, the park consists of a walking tour in two parts. The first, the Old World is focused on life in Ulster and showcases traditional Irish crafts. After a walk through a full-sized immigrant ship to represent the long journey over the Atlantic, you arrive at the New World, a replica of an American town. The costumed guides are informative and helpful, and this museum is sure to delight children and adults alike.
One uncommonly known fact about Northern Ireland is that, at one point, Belfast was the linen production capital of the world, even gaining the nickname Linenopolis in the 19th century. The linen industry has an important place in Irish history, and The Irish Linen Centre in Lisburn is dedicated to preserving this history. The ‘Flax to Fabric’ exhibition is a permanent fixture at the museum, but there is also a regular rotation of other exhibitions for visitors to enjoy.
This 16th-century castle sits on the west end of the island town of Enniskillen. Now, the castle houses two museums, one cultural museum focused on the history of County Fermanagh and one military museum focused on the history of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The beauty of the lake and the surrounding town makes this castle more than worth a visit even if you don’t go to the museums.
Crumlin Road Gaol has had its fair share of guests in its history, many of them unwillingly. Take a trip inside and follow in the footsteps of Éamon de Valera, Bobby Sands, and Martin McGuinness. Opened in 1846, it operated as a prison until 1996, and opened its doors to the general public after a refurbishment effort in 2012. With the guided tours, frequent events, and Cuffs Restaurant, you won’t feel any need to escape.
Dedicated to the memory of Seamus Heaney, Northern Ireland’s Nobel Prize winning literary export, HomePlace is an interactive museum elegising his life. Covering his childhood years all the way up to his death in 2013, HomePlace is tucked away in Heaney’s home town of Bellaghy, and contains hundreds of artefacts, from Heaney’s favourite boots to his famous duffle coat. As well as the museum, the centre contains a café, a small library, and hosts events in the 191-seat performance space, the Helicon.