With so much to do in the small region of Northern Ireland, it’s easy to miss out on a few remarkable attractions and tours along the way. Here are the most unusual things you can do while visiting the North this year.
Bushmills Distillery Tour
Northern Irish whiskey is best tasted in its origin town, Bushmills, where you can take a first-class tour of the oldest distillery in Ireland and try some of their finest whiskey for yourself. In 1608, Sir Thomas Phillips requested a licence to distill, which King James I granted, and the distillery became official in 1784. On the tour, you’ll be able to see the distillery in action and learn about the highlights of its history in authentic settings. The distillery’s silent season occurs from July 3rd–Aug 4th when the distillery undergoes annual maintenance.
Bushmills Distillery Tour, 2 Distillery Rd, Bushmills, Northern Ireland, UK, + 44 28 2073 3218
Northern Irish residents are familiar with a yellow and red packet of Tayto crisps – apparently, one in five packets of crisps eaten in Northern Ireland belong to Tayto. For those who did not grow up here, you can experience them in all their nostalgic glory at the Tayto Castle and Factory, in the countryside town of Tandragee. Their tours run all week, taking you through the oddly satisfying process of making the crisp – or chip – and you’ll get to meet Mr. Tayto along the way. The surrounding grounds, including Tandragee Castle, are a delight to meander through during the summer months.
Tayto Castle, Tandragee, Craigavon, Northern Ireland, UK, + 44 28 3884 0249
The Dark Hedges
Game of Thrones fans will definitely want to take a detour to see the King’s Road in the flesh, locally named The Dark Hedges, near Armoy in County Antrim. These serpentine beech trees were planted over 300 years ago, forming a rare avenue which lines the entrance to Gracehill House, a perfect addition to the awe-inspiring sets on HBO’s hit TV show. You can take a road trip to, and from, the North Coast from Ballymoney, which has been included in compilations of the UK’s top road trips.
The Dark Hedges, Bregagh Rd, Ballymoney, Northern Ireland, UK, + 44 28 2766 0230
Most visitors will not miss out on a chance to see the UNESCO-listed Giant’s Causeway, but they might miss out on another excellent North Coast destination: Blackhead. This lighthouse guided many ships to their destination in its working days, including Northern Ireland’s most famous association, the RMS Titanic, which set sail in 1912. Visitors can stay in this landmark lighthouse, which has been fully restored to reflect the original décor, or explore the Whitehead trail and Causeway coastal hiking routes beyond.
Llama Trekking at Jungle NI
Northern Ireland is not all hiking trails and coastal destinations – if you’re looking for a day of extreme sporting and fun, this list has got you covered. Jungle NI offers a range of outdoor activities, from archery and paintballing to zorbing and tree top trails! The most unusual activity? You can take one of their friendly llamas through the forest on a map-guided trail. It’s available for any age, and the llamas love the human company – and won’t bite – so it’s a great activity for children.
Tepee Valley Campsite
The owners of Tepee Valley, in Tandragee, have built their campsite on a simple philosophy: that we need to explore our natural surroundings and unplug from our tech-driven lives. This campsite will immerse you in a camping experience like no other when you stay in one of their beautiful tepees or traditional gypsy caravans. After a great night’s sleep, enjoy breakfast that’s been cooked over an open fire. It’s the better alternative to the ‘glamping’ trend.
Wee Toast Tours
Skip the bus tour and take a cycling tour with a twist from Wee Toast Tours. Peddled by everyone on board, each bar bike, which fits 15 people, features a driver who will steer you throughout Belfast city, passing the beautiful Cathedral and Titanic Quarters and City Centre. It’s BYOB, or you can book a keg and tap in advance, and this company will provide a personal barista for your trip. Be quick – this activity books up quickly for hen parties and summer birthdays!
Wee Toast Tours, 5 College Ct, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK, + 44 7591 593441
Road trip junkies will love exploring the Northern Irish countryside in a retro Volkswagon Campervan from RentaDonkey. ‘Donkey’ the van has its own kitchen and sleeping facilities, complete with the original vintage design. You can choose the length of your trip and the destination, and visit all the top sites and attractions on your way. You can check out the recommended coastal road trips in Northern Ireland here.
If you are travelling to the Causeway Coast, take the short ferry trip to the spectacular Rathlin Island, home to Atlantic nomads – puffins, guillemots and razorbills, which are visible year-round. The island has a tiny population of around 140 people, a unique community sustained by holes in the island, which provide power and water supply. If you’re lucky, you can spot the famous golden hare on the island – only spotted a handful of times! To find out more about the history of Rathlin, its community and wildlife populations, you can have a look at the tourist information booklet here.
This small town sits on the Ards Peninsula, at the entrance to Strangford Lough. The ferry trip is the best way to access the land, which leaves every half hour from Strangford. Known for its strong fishing community tradition, Portaferry contributes heavily to Northern Ireland’s clam and prawn market – and every restaurant will have an excellent seafood option on the menu. Not only do they sell fish, but they also care for them at Northern Ireland’s aquarium, Exploris, which has a large seal rehabilitation programme and is open to the public. Both the aquarium and this quaint town have captured the hearts of their visitors every year, making it an unmissable location in the region!
Exploris, The Rope Walk, Castle St, Portaferry, Northern Ireland, UK, + 44 28 4272 8062