Things to do in Northern Ireland: 10 Top Spots You Must Visit

the not so nice side of travelling

I apologise in advance because I think I’ll be writing several posts on things to do in Northern Ireland. If you may recall, I had quite a lot of troubles to get into the country and I almost got deported. However, things turned around after I managed to finally get there and I ended up spending 5 of my 11-month journey travelling around the north coast.

Granted, I met my boyfriend there and that might have extended the original length of my stay, but I can honestly say that it is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve been to and I feel I still have a lot to see!

If you are an outdoorsy person, Ireland is the perfect destination. You’ve got a bit of everything: seaside, forests, cliffs and volcanic shores perfect for hiking, cycling and road tripping. The cities are not that big, but they are full of historical sites (and pubs, of course) and, if you are a little (lot) geek like myself, how can we forget all of those Game of Thrones scenarios!

I’ll start these series of posts about things to do in Northern Ireland with a list of the absolute must-sees (especially for first-timers), but I’ll write some more with not-so-touristy options as well. Just bear with me, I know it has been a while since my last post, but I moved to Denmark and then to Sweden, so it’d been a couple of crazy weeks.

Anyways, enjoy some of the suggestions and don’t forget to comment if you know any more spots that can’t be missed.

Best things to do in Northern Ireland

1. Titanic Belfast

What to do in Northern Ireland
All on board!

If there is something Belfast city is proud of, is that it is the hometown of the Titanic. When I was looking for things to do in Northern Ireland, the Titanic Belfast was one of the first options that popped up. I wasn’t extremely excited to visit it on the first place (I had watched the movie, that spoiler wasn’t going anywhere), but ended up really enjoying my visit.

It is kind of pricey, if I’m honest (around £18.00), so consider this before going. But, if you want to save some pounds, you can get there 1 hour before it closes and you get a 50% discount!

When you start you can ask for a special ticket with a vintage design and the moment you start the experience they take a shot of you with a cheesy background. I’m not going to post it because I still have some dignity, but let’s just say that Conor and I recreating the “I’m flying, Jack” scene is an understatement.

Anyways, Leo Dicaprio aside, the museum is really interesting. You get to see a recreation of the original first class cabins, see how the boat actually sank and read the last messages of the crew. Oh, and if you really want to get a whole James Cameron experience, you can even buy a Heart of the Ocean necklace for like, five quid.

2. Giant’s Causeway

Photo by: Nynke Bouma
Photo by: Nynke Bouma

Ok, so leave Northern Ireland’s capital behind you and get into the countryside to get a true feeling of the island. Giant’s Causeway is a must if you looking for things to do in Northern Ireland for the first time. This natural attraction is not only UNESCO’s World Heritage, but it comes with a super cool legend as well about an Irish giant challenging a Scottish giant to a battle and completely regretting it after seeing his size.

Some tourists might have been erased. Photo by: Nynke Bouma
Some tourists might have been erased. Photo by: Nynke Bouma

If you enter the causeway through the visitor’s centre (and park your car there) you have to pay an entrance fee (you also get an audio guide), but if you go by foot or public transportation, you can get in for free.

Conor, trying to look like he doesn't realise someone is taking a picture of him
Conor, trying to look like he doesn’t realise someone is taking a picture of him

Don’t forget to sit on this rock once you are on the beach, since it is supposed to grant wishes. Also, Irish weather is unpredictable to say the least, but make sure to check the weather report, since it is much better to visit on a clearer day, especially because it can get slippery. If you want a complete guide of the causeway you should have a look at The Digital Crusader blog, they have a fully detailed article about this site and others on the same area!.

3. Dunluce Castle

A must-see if you visit the north coast!
A must-see if you visit the north coast!

Once you are in the area, why not having a look at Dunluce’s Castle? I’d say that this is one of the best things to do in Northern Ireland because being in the country and visiting a castle just makes sense. Dunluce is in ruins, but you can still have a lovely walk and enjoy the view. Again, you need to pay to get inside, but, quick tip, if you are on a budget, you can always go beneath the castle and climb the cliff on the side to access it.

what to do in Northern Ireland
Somehow, the ruins have certain appeal

Also, this place has one of the most beautiful views of the Northern Lights, you can subscribe to this alert and if they send you an email, you better run there and enjoy the show.

what to do in Northern Ireland
Funnily enough, I had my first date with my boyfriends in here.

4. Bushmills Distillery

things to do in Northern Ireland
Sláinte! (means “cheers”)

One of my favourite things to do in Northern Ireland. No trip to this country is complete without some whiskey, and Bushmills Distillery is definitely a must. The moment you get out of the car you are received by this sweet, caramel-like, alcoholic smell (hey, I’m being honest, here) that kind of lure you into the building. Once there, you can pay for a tour, of course (about £8.00 per person), which includes a glass of the good stuff at the end. However, if you want to save some money, you can always go straight to the cafeteria and order a whisky right away and then wander around the communal areas (that’s what I did, at least).

5. Portrush and Portstewart

what to do in Northern Ireland
These places have some of the most beautiful sunsets, by the way.

If you are looking for things to do in Northern Ireland that most local people do as well, these two ports are your best choice. Featuring cool restaurants, pubs, award-winning ice cream shops and amazing coastal views, Portrush and Portstewart are the perfect places to get to know more about Irish lifestyle, since they are a favourite holiday destination for the locals.

things to do in Northern Ireland
Ocean, cafes, pubs, everything you need for a perfect getaway!

Portstewart it’s more like a college town, since it is near Coleraine University, while Portrush has a more local touristy vibe, because it’s a favourite destination for other people in the nearby cities. Both are very near from each other (just about a 1.5 hour walk) and if the day is nice, I’d highly recommend going from one to the other by foot. The coastal path is beautiful and you can have a Morelli ice cream without feeling guilty afterwards. If you are looking for not-so-typically-touristy things to do in Northern Ireland, you better write this two ports down.

things to do in Northern Ireland
Aren’t these little houses lovely?

6. Mussenden Temple

I didn’t know what was all the fuss about this place until I finally visited it. It might have been closed when I went (it was the middle of the winter), but the view from there was still worth it. The temple is on the edge of a cliff with a view straight to the ocean and it is surrounded by a huge field. Perfect place to take pictures and walk around in the outdoors, which makes it one of the favourite things to do in Northern Ireland.

7. Downhill House

Well, if you are already going to Mussenden Temple, you can’t really miss Downhill House, since it is literally right next to it. The house is a ruined old mansion that you can walk freely. Some chambers are closed, but there are enough open spaces to keep you entertained. Again, Irish fields surround the place and you can find plenty, and I mean PLENTY of sheep in the area. It is a bit hard to walk among all of the poop, but you get the hang of it after a while.

8. The Dark Hedges

what to do in Northern Ireland
No tourists but us!

Game of Thrones fans, this is your spot! If you ever wondered how the Kingsroad looks like, here is the answer. The Dark Hedges may be just a tree tunnel, but it became super famous after its appearance in the epic HBO series. In case you are not a fan of the show (is that even possible?), this place is where Arya Stark travelled through during her scape from King’s landing.

what to do in Northern Ireland
Be careful with the Lannisters if you visit!

I am warning you, obviously, the place looks different in real life without all of the filters and the medieval props around. Also, some of the trees were destroyed during storm Doris at the beginning of this year, so it is not as thriving as it used to be, but it is still a super cool place to visit.

things to do in Northern Ireland
We were so lucky! The place was empty!

I have heard that it is very difficult to find the place empty enough to get a decent picture, but Conor and I were very lucky and just met two old ladies on the road that offered to snap a shot for us if we did the same for them. So, if you want a better photo, arrive there early in the morning or when the weather is not very nice. The place will look dark and mysterious, anyway.

9. Ballintoy Harbour

things to do in Northern Ireland
It is great for hiking, as well!

Again, if you are a George R. R. Marin enthusiast, here is another place perfect for you. Northern Ireland is a favourite location for the show, and Ballintoy Harbour is the home of the Iron Islands, the birthplace of Theon Greyjoy. There is also a pub nearby featuring one of the ten Game of Thrones doors that are hidden around Ireland. If you happen to bump into a commemorative door, you can get into the pub, ask for a passport booklet and mark the door you have found.

I just visited a couple of the show’s set, but here is a complete guide of the Game of Thrones locations in Northern Ireland, in case you wan to visit them all! They are all amazing and very instagrammable!

Up to you

10. Carrick-A-Rede-Rope Bridge

things to do in Northern Ireland
Photo by: Nynke Bouma

I will leave this one as an option for you, stating that I have never been there because I’ve been told, in more than one occasion, that it is not worth it. The Rope Bridge is very popular around the area, especially if you are looking for a bit of adrenaline, since it is not the most stable bridge and it moves a lot while you are crossing it. However, it costs around £9.00 pounds to visit it and it is not very large, so the fun ends quickly. As I said, it is up to you.

Where to stay

Honestly, this place feels like a second home now
Honestly, this place feels like a second home now

If you want to visit most of the spots above, for me, Portrush Holiday Hostel is the best option. I volunteered there for several months and my stay couldn’t have been more pleasant. I promise I am not biased when I say this is one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in, and believe me… I’ve stayed in plenty.

It may say “hostel”, but the truth is that it has more of a Guest House vibe. Of course you can rent a bed in a dorm room, but the private rooms are lovely and very affordable. All of the rooms have a private bathroom and the breakfast is included (toast, cereal, coffee or tea and the best muesli in the world, period). The owners, Philip and Colette, are amazing hosts and always make an extra effort to make you feel at home.

The hostel is in the Antrim coast, which makes it perfect to visit most of the places of this list. Belfast is around two hours away, but you can easily take a day trip and return at night-time. Also, the restaurants in the area are yummy and the prices are great! I cannot recommend this place enough. Travel blogger’s word!

How to move around

things to do in Northern Ireland
Buses are pink!

Ok, so, as I’ve previously stated, Ireland has a lot of countryside still, so moving around, especially during the low season, might be a bit tricky. If you are planning to visit during summertime, you can easily take public transport. The Rambler Bus starts operating around May and it stops in most of the super touristy spots. Also, the train is awesome. It is super punctual, the facilities are nice and clean and there is always WiFi on board.

However, if you, like me, decide to take a trip during winter time, I’d highly recommend to rent a car. The train still operated during this season, but the Rambler Bus doesn’t, so it becomes really tricky to get to some of these spots. However, Northern Ireland is one of the best countries for road tripping and the sight you get from the car are absolutely priceless.

I’d also recommend to walk and hike as much as you can, since the landscapes are gorgeous and the terrain is perfect for trekking, even if you are just a beginner.

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