12 AWESOME Things To Do in Northern Ireland

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As we have seen through many of the different articles contained on this website Ireland is, without doubt, a unique and fascinating country with a variety of landscapes, activities, and entertainment on offer for even the most discerning of travelers. Northern Ireland has much to see in terms of tourist attractions.

From the famous Wild Atlantic Way to the beautiful Dingle Peninsula there is something to do in this extraordinary country for everyone, young and old alike. The purpose of this article is to focus exclusively on the area of Northern Ireland.  It is still officially a part of the United Kingdom and totally unique in its own way.

We will investigate some of the many interesting aspects and unique areas to visit of this northerly section of the country. Explore stately homes and castles, historic cities like Belfast. Here you will see that Northern Ireland has a history and culture all of its own.

If you are planning to visit the country of Northern Ireland anytime soon this article should give you some great suggestions and help you decide on which places to go.

1. City of Belfast

image of belfast

No visit to the country of Northern Ireland would be complete without a stop in Belfast. It is the capital city and the home to over a quarter of a million people. It became a city by royal charter all the way back in 1888,  and is located on the River Lagan. The name ‘Belfast’ in old Irish Gaelic language is translated from the words Béal Feirste. Liiterally meaning ‘the mouth of the river.’

The history of this fascinating city dates back almost to time immemorial with proof of occupancy dating all the way back to the stone and bronze ages. After several digs and excavations there have been remnants of Iron Age forts and settlements discovered on the slopes of the hills just outside of the city. In more recent times the city became famous as the business location of Harland and Wolff, the shipbuilders that constructed the ill-fated Titanic.

Now, during the present day, Belfast is a thriving capital city with a vast array of shopping, trendy bars, eclectic restaurants, and live music venues. Activities and entertainment along with everything else that you would expect to find in a major metropolitan hub. It is also the locations of the prestigious Queen’s University, originally founded as Queens College, the University of Ulster, and Union Theological College.

Depending on how long you plan to spend in Belfast there is a wide array of attractions that you can visit during your stay. Some of the more popular tourist destinations are the Belfast Botanical Gardens, Belfast Zoo, Grand Opera House, Ulster Museum and many, many more besides.

Here is some information on the best attractions that you can find on offer in the city.

Belfast Zoo

The Belfast Zoo has been operating since 1934 and it covers an area of approximately 55 acres. It has exhibits of over 120 species of different animals some of them protected or endangered. The zoo goes a long way to contribute and participate in conservation efforts locally, nationally and worldwide, and details of their programs can be found at the zoo.

This is a great day out for the entire family and will appeal to all ages with the zoo striving to entertain, educate, and help visitors learn about the zoo and its inhabitants. There is an interesting and vast array of exhibits. Here you will find enclosures and exhibits of mammals, large and small, amphibians, reptiles, and birds.

Everything from elephants to big cats to small tropical frogs and insects. Belfast Zoo is guaranteed to entertain and delight the kids and is a great spot to visit for a family day out.

Donegal Square

This popular and bustling square in the heart of Belfast has become a solid tourist attraction over the years. Every year hundreds of locals and tourists alike make sure that this is a stop on their itinerary.  

The popular square is characterized by the vast and imposing Belfast City Hall building that dominates the area with its imposing presence.

After Queen Victoria made Belfast the city in 1888 it was decided that the City Hall was needed to reflect the city’s new status. This amazing building was constructed from White Portland stone and designed by Alfred Brumwell Thomas.

The City Hall was constructed in a baroque revival Style and was intended to reflect the city’s newfound importance, and to onlookers, it certainly does that.

The hall dominates Donegall Square and is a popular attraction for visitors to the area with daily tours of the hall available. The remainder of Donegall Square and its surrounding location has become a bit of a shoppers paradise.

Multiple shops line the streets of the area running in North, South, East, and Westerly directions out from the City Hall. If shopping is your thing then this section of Belfast will be sure to delight.

Belfast Botanic Gardens

image of Belfast Botanic Gardens

If you are seeking a bit of peace and quiet away from the noise of the city then consider visiting the Belfast Botanic Gardens. It was established in 1828 by the Belfast Horticultural and Botanic Society as a park for the public. Over the decades this spectacular array of flora and fauna has become a firm visitor favorite.

Containing such favorites as the Tropical Ravine, the Palm House and exotic birds. There are several endangered species of plants and flowers that can be observed. Stroll along one of the walking routes and enjoy seeing the different species of trees, or enjoy the extensive Rose Garden with its many varieties.

Belfast Botanical Gardens is an important part of Belfast Victorian culture and many historic references have been preserved in the area. The park and its attractions open from mid-April to September throughout the year and are well worth a visit.

Ulster Museum

The Ulster Museum is a must-see destination for new visitors to Northern Ireland. It contains collections and artifacts from all corners of the globe and tells the story of Northern Ireland itself,  containing items and artifacts from its far-reaching history.

There are many interesting and unique exhibits such as a butterfly collection, artifacts from the Bronze Age, and the popular Peter the Polar Bear, a preserved and mounted polar bear that was donated to the museum, and one of the most popular visitor attractions.

This is a great spot to visit should you encounter a rainy day on your vacation, a common occurrence in Ireland,  or if you would just like to spend a day out with the family. the museum will appeal to all ages and interests and is a great way to while away an afternoon.

Titanic Belfast

things to do in Northern Ireland picture of titanic belfast

Did you know that the most famous ship in the world was constructed in the city of Belfast? The Titanic was constructed at Harland and Wolff shipyards located in the city. Any visit to Belfast to include a trip out to the purpose-built Titanic Belfast exhibition.

Learn about the full history of the Titanic from its construction in the shipyards of Belfast to its ill-fated Maiden voyage across the Atlantic ocean. Learn all about the history of Belfast during the era, and it’s economic boom at the time.

The Titanic was commissioned and constructed for White Star Line and at the Titanic experience, you can take a tour of the last remaining ship in the company’s fleet, the SS Nomadic.

See the real plans, drawings, relics and recovered artifacts from the wreck itself. See how they paint a picture of how life would be for steerage passengers all the way up to the first-class travelers on the ship.

At the location, there is also an ocean exploration centre when you can learn how recovery missions and exploration missions undertaken. Find out what life is like for scientists and Engineers that man these voyages.

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2. Carrick-a-Rede

image of Carrick-a-Rede

Situated on the high northern coast of the country in The town of ballintoy, County Antrim there is a unique then original old rope bridge that was originally constructed by salmon fishermen. It dates all the way back in 1755  and is suspended almost 100 ft in the air. But don’t worry the bridge has been well maintained and traversing across it has become a popular tourist attraction.

Carrick-a-Rede also offers details and examples of local history and has some spectacular coastal walks to enjoy. The area is home to Sharks dolphins porpoises and seabirds. Visitors that are brave enough to walk onto the rope bridge will be rewarded with some of the best views of the local scenery and wildlife.

Part of Carrick-a-Rede makes up a section of the Ulster coastal walk, and its picturesque and impressive scenery has been used as a filming location for the popular television series Game of Thrones.

If you are planning on spending a day in this area it is worth taking a trip out to Rathlin Island. This remote and scenic island is just 4 miles off the coast and is the location of West Lighthouse and thousands of Puffins that use the island as a breeding ground. It is a favorite tourist spot and you can spend the day walking the island and birdwatching.

Once you have walked the area and are in need of rest and refreshment there is a cafe on site where you can grab a cup of coffee or a snack. There is also a souvenir and gift shop what you can buy mementos of your day and hand made local items.

3. Giants Causeway

image of giants causeway

Also located high on the north shores of Northern Ireland and to the west of Carrick-a-Rede is the world-famous Giants Causeway, possibly the most popular tourist attraction in the entire country of Northern Ireland. This location is visited by thousands of tourists every single year that come to marvel at the geological phenomena that create the unusual rock formations.  

The causeway is characterized by thousands of hexagonal-shaped basalt columns that were created by a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. That’s the official version.

The local Irish folklore tale has it that the unusually shaped area was created as a result of an argument between two giants having a disagreement Finn MacCool and Scottish giant Benandonner.

Whichever way it occurred there is no doubt that this region is one of the most unique and impressive natural phenomena is on the planet. There is a visitor centre at the location with displays and interactive exhibits to educate people on the history and mythology of the area and not conservation and Preservation efforts.

There are walking trails throughout the area and the Giants Causeway it is truly an international destination wood visitor information available in several different languages to accommodate tourists from all countries.

4. Florence Court

Nestled over in Enniskillen in County Fermanagh, Florence Court is a fantastically impressive historic home, estate, and gardens. This building is Florence Court a Georgian mansion with somewhat of a scattered history.  

The circumstances surrounding the original construction and ownership of the hall are largely unknown. What is known however, was that the building stayed in the Cole family for three generations and the building was given the name of Florence Court after Sir John Coles wife.

The estate, grounds and outlying buildings have now become a sustainable operation and visitors can enjoy observing fully operational carpentry shops, and sawmills. Learn about Victorian working methods and technology such as The Hydraulic Ram and Blacksmiths Forge still operating just as they would hundreds of years ago.

The sprawling estate is situated on the foothill of mountains and is covered by park like woodlands and gardens, which visitors can enjoy strolling through. Enjoying the many well-tended flower beds and even see the mother of all Irish yew trees. There is also an 18th century thatched summer house and walled garden where roses are grown and an apple Orchard is located.

This is a very dog-friendly location and the estate encourages pet owner’s to bring their well behaved four-legged friends with them to enjoy the miles of beautiful walking trails and woodland areas.

5. Barry’s Amusements

If you’re looking for a little more high energy fun and excitement during your visit to Northern Ireland then consider making your way to Barry’s Amusements in Portrush. It is the largest funfair and amusement park in the country of Northern Ireland and was created when members of a traveling circus were invited to make a permanent site at the spot many decades ago.

It has since grown into Barry’s and is known all over the country. The park is open to summer months from April to the end of August and offers a variety of rides that would appeal to younger children and older teens alike. For younger children there are a selection of rides such as Helter Skelters,  the Turtle Splash and Mini Dodgems that should provide plenty of fun while keeping your youngsters safe period

For the older and more adventurous kids, there is a selection of Roller Coasters, the Extreme Orbiter, and the Big Dipper all guaranteed to provide thrills and excitement.  Souvenir photographs are available on a selection of the rides and the park is well appointed with all facilities that would be needed for a family day out.

6. Bushmills Distillery

It is true that the Irish are reputed to have more than usual amount of love for a wee tipple now and again. So, if you’d like to see how Bushmills whiskey is made then head along to the world-renowned Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim. It has to be in operation almost continuously since 1608 When King James I granted a license to distill on the site, and it is the world’s oldest distillery.

In the late 1800s it was all but destroyed by a fire and then rebuilt soon after. Bushmills kept distilling their amber liquid, gaining notoriety through the early 1900s. Their name has even been included in the famous literary work ‘Ulysses’ by fellow Irishman James Joyce. In 2008 they celebrated their 400th year and are still continuing to produce their famous Bushmills brand whiskey today.

Bushmills claims that the secret to their success is their adherence to traditional brewing methods and producing their whiskey only in small batches.

Visitors can spend a day at the location and observe how the ingredients for the brewing is prepared and how the whisky is made and distilled. Guests will also have an opportunity to try the different batches of whisky and can purchase their own on site.

7. The Dark Hedges

The Dark Hedges has inspired, fascinated and intrigued visitors for decades. It is a dark, natural covered walkway created by Beech trees planted originally by the Stuart family, local homeowners. There are approximately 150 trees lining the roadway leading up to the house which was designed to impress visitors. It has certainly done just that and attracts hundreds of tourist a year that come to see the spectacle..

Over the years the trees have grown together and intertwined in a twisted tapestry of leaves and branches that lean over and create a dark canopy over the road below.

People come to see the natural occurrence and take many pictures here and it is a popular location for photoshoots. It’s also been used recently as a filming location for the popular television series Game of Thrones and used in several different scenes for the production.

It is a mysterious, atmospheric, and some even say, romantic location with several weddings being held here in the past. There is also a little of the supernatural in the place with rumours of the ‘Grey Lady’ haunting the road.

Some stories report that she is the daughter of the homeowner James Stuart himself, others say that the wandering spirit is from a local graveyard.

The graveyard has been deserted for many years and virtually obliterated but the local folklore says that on Halloween night the Grey Lady is joined by the spirits of the occupants of the forgotten graves and together they walk through the Dark Hedges.

8. St Georges Market

During your stay if you were seeking a break and feel like doing a little shopping then spend the afternoon visiting St George’s Market. It is the last surviving covered Victorian market in Northern Ireland and the impressive covered area dates back to the late 1800s.

It has recently won several local and national awards as one of the best indoor markets in the country, and St Georges Market has a great variety of wares and fares to choose from. It hosts different events including the variety market on Fridays and a City Food and Craft market on Saturdays which draws a large crowd.

The Friday market attracts thousands of visitors every week and has become somewhat of a local hit. There is a vast selection of stalls selling meat, fish, nuts, produce, international foods, pastries, and anything else that you can possibly imagine.

There are also a number of stalls selling antiques and clothing. The wide variety appeals to many and the huge selection is almost overwhelming. The markets fish section alone holds 23 stalls!

The Saturday market has an impressive choice of local and national foods, and has a good organic selection for the customers to choose from. The selection of food from around the world includes meat, fish, beans, coffee, and other produce.

Some of the best speciality foods and dishes can be purchased here including items such as wild boar and the best pork money can buy from Cookstown.

There is a thriving craft section too with handmade items on display. Local pottery, glasswork, metalwork, and flowers can all be bought here. Just to keep things light and upbeat there are usually a few local musicians that play their music in the market for your entertainment.

9. Dunluce Castle

This castle is reputed to be haunted and dates all the way back to the 1500 and is located in County Antrim. Over the centuries It has had a long and sometimes not so pleasant history.

There are rumours of an eerie banshee and there are also accounts that part of Dunluce fell into the sea many hundreds of years ago. This could be true as the castle is built precariously on a basalt outcrop on the cliffs.

Dunluce Castle was owned by the McQuillan’s and first shows up in the official records around 1513. At some point it was the seat of several Earls and there has been many historic artifacts found during archeological digs and excavations of the property that give insight in the history and daily life at Dunluce.

The Haunting

One cannot talk about Dunluce castle without mentioning the Banshee – a wailing woman who is reputed to haunt the building and who has become synonymous with the building. Irish folklore says that she is Maeve Roe, the daughter of the Lord MacQuillan, the castles original owner. She refused to marry the suitor her father had chosen for her as she was in love with another man.

Enraged at her defiance her father locked Maeve in her room in the tower each night. Her lover managed to break her out and they attempted to escape in by boat. They were slammed into the rocks by the waves and tipped into the ocean.

The mans body was recovered the next day but Maeve’s was never found. It is said that the Banshee that can be heard wailing and crying at Dunluce is the spirit of Maeve crying for her lost lover.  

Visitors to Dunluce can tour the atmospheric building and enjoy views across the ocean from the cliffs. Wild and remote this is some of Ireland’s history at its finest and combined with the sweeping views of the ocean and rugged cliffs it is a treat for visitors. As the area is so scenic it has been used for filming scenes for a couple of popular television series, games of Thrones being the most well known.

10. Marble Arch Caves

Located in the depths of the Cuilcagh Mountains there is a whole subterranean underworld waiting to be discovered and invisible to those above. Marble Arch is a series of underground caves, caverns, walkways, paths, rivers and Chambers.

This is the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark located in County Fermanagh and visited by tourists from the world over that come to see the natural showcase that located just beneath the surface of the earth above.

Daily tours are conducted by guides that will explain some of the geological creations and history of the caves as well as showing guests some of the unique and natural formations that the caverns contain within their depths.

Take a leisurely boat ride and sail along the subterranean river while viewing some of the natural formations of stalactites and calcite walls.

Wide walkways have been created for visitors comfort and everything is lit by powerful lighting for high visibility.  This attraction is suitable for guests of all ages and fitness levels and there is a visitor centre on site that has video presentations of some of the history of the area.

As part of the Marble Arch nature preserve There’s a wildflower garden for the kids and they can try their hand at identifying different insect and wildflower species after watching the presentation.  

11. Rock Climbing at Tollymore National Outdoor Center

For the active and adventurous vacationer why not try your hand at rock climbing at the Tollymore National Outdoor Centre? They have everything needed for beginners and people that wish to improve their skills and have experienced rock climbers on hand to give help and advice.

All of the climbs are all done on the Mourne mountains which has perfect crags and areas for climbers of all ability levels. Tollymore is Ireland’s only National Center.

All of the staff at Tollymore are highly experience nationally and internationally and hold all of the required climbing and safety qualifications. The facility offers a wide range of hill walking, rock climbing and mountaineering and offers training for those that wish to earn a certification and lead others.

Their website has details of the many courses and different climbs on offer at the facility and details course packages and pricing.

12. Crumlin Gaol

Commonly known as ‘The Crum’ it is the only surviving Victorian jail in Northern Ireland.  17 men were executed here and it has a somewhat checkered history including stories of some paranormal activity occurring within its walls.

Children from impoverished families were often incarcerated here due to small petty theft offences and the place was one of misery and suffering.

Crumlin Gaol was built in the mid 1800s and was the first prison to be constructed to be in line with the ‘Separate System’. The practice of keeping prisoners segregated one to a call to discourage any kind of communication between them.

As the years went by and overcrowding became a problem the rules went by the wayside and sometimes there were as many as 3 people to a cell in Crumlin. Public executions were also held at the prison routinely with the last one being in 1961.

Now Crumlin has become somewhat of a popular event location with concerts and live music events taking place here on a regular basis. It is also now regularly booked out for corporate events and private engagements.

During the day visitors can come to the prison and select from a variety of different guided tours such as the history of the prison, the Victorian experience, or a paranormal tour.

Whatever you decide to do take a moment to plan your trip, try and see as many of the great historic sites, public parks, natural areas and tourist attractions that Northern Ireland has to offer.

You will not be disappointed by this fantastic and diverse country, and along the way you will experience some amazing scenery, see medieval buildings, and learn all about the history and the life of its inhabitants throughout the centuries.

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