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Considering a visit to Northern Ireland? Keep reading for a guide to the 10 best places to visit in Northern Ireland!
This post was written by Francesca from Travel Heal Love.
I lived in Northern Ireland for 8 years and, while I wasn’t convinced in the beginning, it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.
Northern Ireland is a place of the world that’s not on many travelers’ radars, but that is filled with wonders. Because of this, I wanted to create a list of the best places to visit in Northern Ireland to show others what an amazing place this country is!
So, if you’re planning on visiting Northern Ireland, whether on a short trip or an extended one, here are 10 amazing places to add to your itinerary!
A World in Reach contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I may receive a commission at no cost to you! Read my full disclosure here.
Explore the capital city of Belfast
There is no way you can miss a visit to the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland: Belfast! The city suffered greatly during the violence that accompanied the partition of Ireland when the island of Ireland was divided into Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland (now known as the Republic of Ireland and what most people think of when they think of Ireland). Belfast especially suffered during the more recent conflict known as the Troubles, a 30-year conflict between two groups: the nationalists and unionists. A Belfast Black Taxi Tour is a great way to learn more about the city’s turbulent history.
Today, the atmosphere of Belfast is completely different and people from the two factions coexist without major issues. Northern Irish people are friendly with foreigners and tourists and want them to enjoy the beauties of their country! In fact, if you want to meet new people while traveling, Belfast will easily give you great opportunities.
Belfast is a vibrant city – green and in rapid expansion, and way cheaper and quieter than London or other British cities. Moreover, there is plenty of history, especially from the Troubles period (like murals and graffiti), and bars, hotels, restaurants, and events for every traveler. All of these things make Belfast one of the best places to visit in Northern Ireland.
Top Places to See in Belfast
Belfast City Center and City Hall
The Belfast City Center is centered on Donegall Square, a large square that is home to the majestic Belfast City Hall with its big garden. From the square starts long streets full of shops, cafés, pubs, and restaurants.
The Belfast City Hall was first opened in 1906 and is one of Belfast’s most iconic buildings. Guided tours of the building are offered and are completely free. The open garden in front of the building has been the home of the Belfast Christmas Market since 2004 – a must-see if you’re visiting the city around the holidays!
On the right side of the building there is the Titanic Memorial Garden which commemorates those who lost their lives on board on the Titanic in 1912.
Don’t miss visiting the City Hall at night. The building is illuminated in a variety of colors, showing off its beautiful architecture.
Belfast Botanic Gardens
Around 1800, the Belfast community showed an increasing interest in botany. Because of this, the Botanic Gardens were established in 1828 by the Belfast Botanic and Horticultural Society.
When it first opened, the gardens contained exotic tree species and impressive plant collections from the southern hemisphere, many of which can still be seen in the park. In addition, there is an amazing rose garden with many species from all around the world. It is impossible to describe the view and the smell with words! You have to be there to experience it for yourself – in spring if possible!
Today, the park is a popular spot where residents, students, and visitors can enjoy concerts, festivals, and other events. Moreover, it has several walking routes that are perfect for a scenic walk or run.
Queen’s University Belfast
Queen’s University Belfast is Northern Ireland’s most prestigious university. It was founded by Queen Victoria in 1845 with the name of Queen’s College. It changed its name to the Queen’s University of Belfast in 1908 and today its campus spreads across hundreds of buildings.
The university is a highly respected and world-renowned academic institution. Alumnu include two Nobel laureates and one Turing Award laureate.
Visiting the gorgeous campus is a must when in Belfast.
Titanic Quarter and Belfast Harbour
The Titanic Quarter is a large waterfront area that includes historic maritime landmarks, film studios, and the world’s largest Titanic-themed attraction: the Titanic Museum. The same area, which is situated on land in the Belfast Harbour, was previously occupied by part of the Harland & Wolff shipyard that built the famous Titanic.
Belfast’s Titanic Quarter is one of Europe’s largest urban waterfront regeneration projects that now attracts over 3.5 million visitors every year. It is home to major TV and film productions like the world-famous HBO series Games of Thrones and is also home to an exhibition dedicated to the show with original costumes and sets.
The main attraction though is none other than the Titanic Museum. The museum opened in 2012 and is one of the top visited attractions in Northern Ireland. The museum’s exhibitions guide you through the Titanic’s journey including the construction of the ship, its launch, the journey, and its tragic end.
You can book your Titanic Museum tickets online before your visit.
Pay a visit to the Belfast Zoo
The Belfast Zoo first opened in 1934 and has undergone numerous expansions over the years.
Belfast Zoo’s goal is to protect animals that are in danger in their natural habitat. The zoo leads conservation works and takes part in over 90 European and international breeding programs which help to ensure the survival of many species under threat. For these reasons, the Belfast Zoo is well known and respected globally for the work carried out.
The Zoo sits on a 40-acre site designed to improve animal welfare and freedom. The animals housed at the zoo have large areas where they can live and roam.
This incredible zoo houses over 120 species including tigers, lions, penguins, sea lions, giraffes, and zebras. You can also participate in daily talks and feeding shows to see animals enjoy their meals and learn about their habits, traits, and personalities.
There is a long pathway that snakes through the zoo, which takes about 2 hours to walk. For those with mobility issues, the zoo offers wheelchairs and electric scooters. There are also many eateries and sitting areas where you can take a break and rest.
Roam around Belfast Castle
Located on the northern outskirts of Belfast nearby the zoo is Belfast Castle, the perfect spot to check out when returning to the city after your zoo visit!
The castle is reached by taking a nice, easy walk through the woods. Once you arrive at the castle, you can enjoy an amazing view of Belfast’s Harbour and walk through the beautiful, well-maintained garden.
Currently, the castle is closed to the public due to COVID-19, but it is still worth seeing from the outside. It is a hidden gem not everyone is aware of, but it is definitely worth the visit.
Marvel at Giant’s Causeway
Giant’s Causeway is not only one of the best places to visit in Northern Ireland, but also one of the most beautiful places in the world!
The Giant’s Causeway is an area made of 40,000 basalt columns that were formed by an underwater volcano eruption more than 6 million years ago. The area has been a designated Natural UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986.
According to local legend, the Irish giant Finn MacCool built the causeway as stepping stones to Scotland so that he could meet his Scottish enemy after he was challenged to a fight. In reality, the site was formed by a rapid lava flow after a volcanic eruption which formed the hexagonal volcanic columns.
The Giant’s Causeway is located on the north coast of Northern Ireland, between the town of Bushmills and Ballycastle, around 100 kilometers from Belfast. It’s really close to the Carrick-A-Rede bridge; for this reason, you can find numerous day tours from Belfast that include these both of these sights.
Entry to the Giant’s Causeway is free of charge, but if you want to visit the visitor center you’ll have to pay an admission fee. There, you’ll find an interactive exhibition of the site and its history.
To reach the site, you can either walk about 1 kilometer from the parking area or pay £2 for the shuttle.
Cross the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
The Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge is my favorite place of all Northern Ireland – I have visited it more than 5 times and would happily go again! This 20-meter long, 100-feet above sea level suspended bridge was first erected by salmon fishermen in 1755. It was then restored in early 2008 at a cost of over £16,000!
The current bridge is made of wire, rope and wood, making it very stable and safe to cross. However, there have been several instances where visitors, unable to face the walk back across the bridge, have had to be taken off the island by boat. I can tell in my experience that even my brother and mum who are afraid of heights have been able to cross it round trip without any difficulties.
This amazing attraction is situated in Ballyntoy between Ballycastle and Bushmills, just 11 kilometers from Giant’s Causeway. It is owned and maintained by the National Trust and it definitely is one of the best places to visit in Northern Ireland.
You can book a day tour to Carrick-A-Rede and Giant’s Causeway from Belfast to see both incredible sights in one day!
From the car park to the bridge you will have to walk a 1-kilometer coastal pathway that offers amazing views of cliffs overlooking the sea. If you are lucky enough to visit on a clear day (which are not many in Northern Ireland, I know), you might even be able to see Scotland’s coast!
Sample Irish Whiskey at the Old Bushmills Distillery
Another unmissable spot to visit in Northern Ireland is the Old Bushmills Distillery, located 100 kilometers from Belfast in its namesake village of Bushmills.
Old Bushmills Distillery is the oldest licensed distillery in the world, founded in 1608. In recent years, it has become one of the most visited attractions to visit in Northern Ireland with around 120,000 visitors per year.
Old Bushmills Distillery produces different types of Irish whiskey, including:
- Original: a classic Irish blend; rich with a smooth, warming taste
- Black Bush: high single malt component, mostly matured in sherry casks
- 10, 16, and 21-Years Single Malt: matured in different barrels over the years to give it a unique taste
You can visit the distillery on a guided tour where you will be shown all the different steps in the production of the whiskey. At the end of the visit, you will have the opportunity to try two of their most popular whiskies and buy gifts and bottles to take home.
Even if you don’t like the taste of whiskey, visiting the distillery is worth it. I really enjoyed the tour and learning about the science behind the ingredients and the different distillation phases. On the other hand, my partner loves whiskey and he enjoyed the tasting probably more than the tour, plus he got lucky because he was able to have his samples and mine!
Fun Fact: Old Bushmills Distillery appears on the £5 banknotes.
NOTE: The Old Bushmills Distillery is temporarily closed due to COVID-19.
See the Dark Hedges
If you are a fan of the famous HBO series Game of Thrones, then you cannot miss a visit to the iconic Dark Hedges!
The Dark Hedges is an avenue of beech trees in Northern Ireland that form a tunnel. It has been used as a location in Game of Thrones, representing the King’s Road, which has led to the site becoming a popular tourist attraction. Many newlyweds have also chosen this spot as their setting for wedding photos as it is completely free of charge.
You cannot park under the trees, but there is a nearby building that offers parking spots. Follow the guided pathway and you will reach the Dark Hedges after an easy, 15-minute walk through the woods.
For the Game of Thrones fans visiting the site, make sure to check out Season 2, Episode 1: The North Remembers. In this episode, you’ll see how the Dark Hedges were filmed to represent the King’s Road.
To see the Dark Hedges and more Game of Thrones filming locations, book a Game of Thrones day tour from Belfast.
Relax in the Seaside Towns of Portrush and Portstewart
If you’re looking for the perfect way to spend a few days on the North Coast of Northern Ireland, you cannot miss the small seaside towns of Portrush and Portstewart. These two beautiful towns are a popular spot for northern Irish summer holidays, but they can be enjoyed all year round.
I went in the last days of January and simply loved it! It was less crowded and we could really relax and unwind from the daily stress. It was the best gateway that allowed me to restore my inner peace.
Both towns have long and beautiful beaches that are perfect for long walks. You will see people swimming, surfing and playing in the sea (even in January!). I thought they were completely nuts because the water must have been freezing, but it was super entertaining!
The center of the towns have several bars and restaurants facing the sea. We enjoyed delicious, warm beverages and food while enjoying the view.
In addition, if you are a golf fanatic, there are many golf courses where you can play a round of golf. The 2019 Open Championship was held at the Royal Portrush Golf Club and attracted visitors from all around the world.
Admire the views from Mussenden Temple
One of the best things to visit in Northern Ireland for a great view, the Mussenden Temple is a small circular building located on the cliffs near Castlerock. It sits high above the Atlantic Ocean on the northwestern coast of Northern Ireland.
The Temple offers spectacular views. To the west, you can look over Downhill Strand towards Magilligan Point and County Donegal. To the east, you can look over Castlerock Beach towards Portstewart, Portrush, and Fair Head.
Mussenden Temple was built in 1975 as a part of the estate of Frederick Augustus Harvey, Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol. The temple served as a library for Harvey’s niece. Unfortunately, the interior isn’t open to the public, but you can admire the views from outside.
One of the best parts about Mussenden Temple is that it is completely free! Once you arrive, you can park your car in a large parking lot before walking about 20 minutes to reach the temple. You can also walk inside the ruins of the old Bishop’s Mansion.
Go on a Spa Retreat in Newcastle
A favorite thing to do for many Northern Irish people is to go on a spa retreat. It might be because the weather is often cloudy and cold, and spas and resorts are everywhere!
One of the best spas in Northern Ireland is the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa. It is located in Newcastle, a small seaside resort town in County Down. The resort lies by the Irish Sea at the foot of Slieve Donard, the highest of the Mourne Mountains.
The Slieve Donard Resort and Spa is great for a wellness retreat, and you can trust me as I know everything about healing retreats! The resort offers spa treatments including massages, facials, skin detoxing, and more. There are also indoor swimming pools, a jacuzzi, steam and sauna rooms, and a light therapy room.
In addition to the spa, Newcastle is known for its sandy beaches, forests, and mountains. Slieve Donard is famous for its incredible trekking and mountain walk.
If you are looking for a luxurious getaway that involves relaxation and peace, you cannot miss a stop in Newcastle and a stay at its beautiful resort. Click here to check rates and availability at Slieve Donard Resort and Spa.
As you can see, there are so many amazing things to do in Northern Ireland. I hope this list has given you inspiration for a visit to this beautiful country!
Since Northern Ireland is a pretty small country, you can see most of these places in about a week if you rent a car. I would definitely spend 2 days exploring Belfast. You can spend the rest of the time exploring the other awesome places on this list.
Have you been to Northern Ireland? What spots would you add to this list?
About the Author: This post was written by Francesca, the editor of Travel Heal Love. Originally from Italy, Francesca has lived in the United Kingdom for nearly 8 years. She has always loved traveling the world and decided to start her blog to encourage everyone who is burned out and tired of their usual routine to embrace a new adventure and live life to the fullest. For Francesca, traveling is the ultimate road to inner peace and self-care.
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