Whether you are here for a couple of weeks or a few days, there is something for everyone in Northern Ireland. From beautiful mountain walks in the Mournes, tree top adventures in Moneymore and canoeing on the Fermanagh lakes to admiring art at The MAC, watching Swan Lake at the Opera House or learning some history at Titanic Belfast – there is plenty to keep you entertained!
You can find all the information you need to plan your trip on the Discover Northern Ireland website but we’ve also put together our ‘Bucket List’ for the top 10 things to do when in Northern Ireland.
Your ‘Bucket List’ for Northern Ireland
- Visit the Giant’s Causeway – we know every tourist site says it but it really is spectacular. Hire a car and drive the coastal route to take in the wonderful north coast scenery. Park the car and walk down to those beautifully strange basalt columns, take a seat, listen to the waves crash against the rocks and breathe in the fresh sea air. If you are feeling energetic, climb up the Shepherd’s Steps and walk along the cliff-top route to see the view from above. Breath-taking! On the drive back to your hotel stop off at the 65ft long Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which stretches from the mainland to Rocky Island and is suspended almost 100ft above sea level. Warning: if you are scared of heights it might be best to look at a photo instead – especially if it is windy!
- Walk the Derry~Londonderry Walls. The last remaining walled city in Ireland (and one of the best in Europe) deserves a visit. The walls in the historic city were built at the beginning of the 17th Century and form a walkway spanning 1.5km around the Renaissance style streets of the old town. Walking the walls will give you some great views of the 2013 UK City of Culture and the City Council now offer guided tours. Stop and have a look around St. Columb’s Cathedral, the oldest building in the city, which houses the padlocks and keys from the original gates of the city walls. Once you have worked up a thirst pop over to Peadar O’Donnells to listen to some traditional Irish music while having a cold one.
- Tour Titanic Belfast. Have you heard about that ship built by Harland & Wolff in the early 1900s? The largest and most luxurious liner of its time that ended its journey after hitting an iceberg on its first voyage to America. There have been a few films about it, and even though there were very unfortunate circumstances surrounding its demise we are still pretty proud of it. And what better way to celebrate its 100th anniversary than to create an amazing attraction in Belfast telling its story! Learn about boomtown Belfast, find out about the people responsible for the making of the ship, discover how it was made, hear the stories of the passengers and dive deep into the sea to study the wreck.
- Hike up the Mourne Mountains. If you are in the mood to see an area of outstanding beauty a visit to the Mournes in County Down is an absolute must. The scenery is stunning all year round but our preference would be to go when the sky is clear and the sun is shining so you can see for miles. Some of our favourite walks include Hare’s Gap, Meelmore and Meelbeg, Lough Shannagh, Slieve Binnian and, last but not least, Slieve Donard. If you decide to walk the latter take a picnic and enjoy it in Donard Park after you descend the mountain. A short stroll will take you into the centre of Newcastle where you can try a Pooh Bear ice cream in Mauds.
- Watch a show at the Grand Opera House. Comedy, musicals, drama, dance and opera – whatever your taste in theatre, the Grand Opera House in Belfast has something that will entertain and inspire. Let’s start with the actual building. The Victorian main auditorium was designed by renowned architect Frank Matcham and the intricate detail around the interior balconies, and roof panels painted by a local artist are something to behold. The Grand Opera House opened its doors in 1895 and has played host to many famous names including Pavarotti on his debut UK performance and comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. Enjoy a pre-theatre meal at one of the city’s many restaurants and after the show pop across to The Crown Bar, Belfast’s most famous pub complete with cosy snugs and Victorian décor.
- Visit Carrickfergus Castle. This Norman Castle is one of the best preserved structures in Ireland. Located on the northern shore of Belfast Lough the castle dominates all approaches to the town. It was fully garrisoned for 750 years, from 1178 when it was built until 1928. Guided tours are available however the installation of information boards around the historic castle means you can explore it at your own leisure. You can also purchase an information booklet with a map from the Visitor Centre. If you fancy a walk along the coast, Blackhead Path is a short drive away (5 miles). The 2-3 mile seaside walk is lined with grassland, woodland and a rocky shoreline that leads to the Whitehead Lighthouse, where you can admire the views across to Bangor and Scotland (on a clear day).
- Sample a cocktail in the Bar at The Merchant Hotel, Belfast. Thinking of spoiling yourself? Then a visit to the decadent Merchant Hotel in Belfast is a must. With sumptuous surroundings, top class table service, a cocktail menu the length of a novel (the waiters are more than happy to advise on a cocktail to suit your taste) and tasty nibbles served with every drinks order, it really is a treat not to be missed.
- Morton’s Fish and Chip Shop in Ballycastle. Some travel miles to visit what is nicknamed the ‘Best chippy in Northern Ireland’. There are always queues but the standard of food makes it well worth the wait. Delicious haddock, cod and scallops fresh off the boat, crispy chips and service with a smile. They even offer gluten free batter!
- Enjoy dinner at the Mourne Seafood. If you are in the mood for mouth-watering, well-presented fish dishes served in a great atmosphere then Mourne Seafood is the place for you. Restaurants are located in both Belfast and Dundrum, which means you can enjoy a meal after spending a day in the capital city, or following a hike in the Mournes or a day trip in Newcastle. If you feel like something a wee bit different you can also book a cookery class at the Belfast Cookery School, in association with Mourne Seafood. It’s a great night out and the chefs are great craic! You can choose from a number of different cookery classes, from Spanish and Indian, to dinner party and baking. Take a group of friends and enjoy some wine while preparing and eating your cookery masterpieces!
- A trip to the Bushmills Distillery is a fun day out for whiskey lovers and non-whiskey lovers alike. A popular tourist attraction, they were granted a licence to distil in 1608 and were officially registered in 1784. The world famous whiskey has featured in Hollywood movies, music videos, books and poems and is enjoyed across the globe. During the tour of Bushmills Distillery you will be guided by friendly and knowledgeable staff through the mixing room, fermentation hall, distillery, cask room, blending lounge and bottling plant. The tour finishes in the gift shop and restaurant where you can pick up a souvenir and grab a bite to eat (you’ll also get a free voucher for a sample Bushmills whiskey of your choice). Definitely worth a visit!