Home to a vast array of spectacular landscapes and rugged coastlines, Northern Ireland offers its tourists a healthy balance of scenery, culture, cosmopolitan cityscapes and history during their visit.
It may only span 14,000 square kilometers, but Northern Ireland is full of brilliant places to visit, so we have pulled together our Top 10 Tourist Hot Spots to Visit in Northern Ireland to give you some ideas of the best places to see during your stay on the Emerald Isle.
1. Giant’s Causeway
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and national nature reserve, the Giant’s Causeway is a must-see attraction for all visitors to Northern Ireland.
The natural formation of thousands of hexagonal basalt columns is breathtaking a stunning sight to behold. Over 40,000 of the geometric-shaped rocks line the coastline and elegantly cascade into the Atlantic Ocean.
The stones were formed during a volcanic age over 60 million years ago when the molten rock formed into lava and flowed into the sea and cooled down rapidly, causing it to create the hexagonal stone columns. You’ll be able to enjoy a short stroll around this remarkable beauty spot as you take in the wonders of mother nature.
There is also a visitors centre where you can learn more about the geology and legend behind the history of the Giant’s Causeway.
2. Titanic Belfast
Built on the historic site where the ill-fated ship was built over 100-years ago, Titanic Belfast is the largest Titanic visitor attraction in the world.
The striking building has six floors packed with fantastic exhibitions which tell the story of the legendary ship, from being built in Belfast’s shipyard to the maiden voyage which nobody fathomed would end in such tragedy in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in 1912.
The brilliantly curated exhibitions allow visitors to immerse themselves in the history surrounding the Titanic.
3. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Swaying 30 metres above the swirling ocean, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge may not be for the faint-hearted, but we think it’s well worth facing your fears for.
Spanning between the County Antrim mainland and Carrick Island, the 20-metre long rope bridge has stood its ground for over 250 years. The spectacular Antrim coast scenery is stunning in its own right, but taking those views in as you cross the swaying Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is truly something else.
On a clear day, you’ll be able to enjoy views to Rathlin Island and even the Scottish coast.
For a small fee, you’ll be able to precariously cross over the water from a thrill-seeking height, with a noisy colony of seabirds to keep you company during the experience.
4. The Dark Hedges
The avenue of beech trees has made a name for itself as a tourist attraction after featuring in the ever-popular HBO series Game of Thrones.
Nowadays, fans of the show flock to the picturesque tree-lined road so they can imagine they are Arya Stark embarking on the long journey along the King’s Road.
The trees were originally planted by the owners of a grand Georgian mansion in the 18th century. They wanted to create an impressive entrance to their home, so in 1775 they planted 150 beech trees to line the road to their estate.
After nearly 250 years, the trees have formed an eerie tunnel which offered an atmospheric backdrop for the TV series.
5. Carrickfergus Castle
Located on the northern shore of Belfast Lough, Carrickfergus Castle is a Norman castle which, despite suffering numerous sieges through the ages, remains the best kept medieval castle in Northern Ireland.
The grounds are steeped in history, and you’ll be able to take it by wandering around the grounds and exploring the display exhibitions within the Great Tower.
The visitor attraction also offers daily tours for those who are keen to learn more about the history of the castle.
Set alongside a quaint harbour and marina, a visit to Carrickfergus Castle would make a fabulous day out for the whole family.
6. Old Bushmills Distillery
Famed for its triple-distilled single malt whiskey, the Old Bushmills Distillery is the oldest working distillery in Ireland, and they offer guided tours around their facilities. Since King James I signed the original grant to distil over 400 years ago, the distillery has been in production ever since.
During the guided tour you will get the chance to take in the sights and smells of the distillery, you’ll see the impressive copper pot stills used in the production process, and at the end of the tour there’s a tasting session where you’ll be able to try a selection of whiskeys from Bushmill’s award-winning portfolio.
A trip to the gift store concludes the tour, or you could even choose to stay for lunch in the restaurant which serves Bushmills inspired treats for you to enjoy.
7. Ulster Folk and Transport Museum
Located in Cultra, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum is only 11km from the centre of Belfast and is well worth a visit.
The Folk Museum allows you to step back in time and experience how life in Ulster was over 100 years ago. Learn about the traditions of the people in Northern Ireland by taking part in basket weaving or watching a blacksmith hard at work. The museum is set in over 170 acres of beautiful countryside which you’ll be able to explore to meet the farm animals and watch the live farming and rural demonstrations.
In the same visit, you can also experience The Transport Museum, which tells the story of Northern Ireland’s transport through the years. From horse-drawn carriages to locomotives, the museum is the home to an extensive collection of vehicular transport of all kinds.
8. Explore Kilkeel & Mourne Mountains
The Kingdom of the Mournes is a granite mountain range located in County Down.
Kilkeel, the ancient capital of the Kingdom, is a small fishing town which is the home to one of the best-equipped fishing fleets in Ireland. You’ll be able to visit the Mourne Maritime Visitor Centre where you can get more of an insight into the local fishing and maritime heritage and culture. Kilkeel also offers a selection of family activities, such as an 18 hole golf course, swimming pool and the Silent Valley reservoir.
During your visit you should also take the time to explore the Mourne mountain range – drive along the breathtaking Mourne Coastal Route and take in the vast scale of the mountains, or if you’re feeling fit enough you can bask in the views from the top by hiking up on foot.
9. Mussenden Temple
Mussenden Temple, now part of the National Trust property Mussenden Temple & Downhill Demesne, is open to the public all year round.
The temple itself is a small circular building which teeters on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Built in 1785, it was initially constructed as a library by the 4th Earl of Bristol as part of his estate at Downhill Demesne. The walls that were once lined with books now stand empty, but nowadays the temple holds a license so civil wedding ceremonies can take place there.
Standing proudly on the edge of the 120 ft cliff top, over the years coastal erosion has caused the temple to creep closer to the cliff’s edge until the National Trust reinforced the cliff to prevent the building from falling into the sea.
From the temple, you’ll be able to enjoy the spectacular views over Downhill Strand towards Magilligan Point and County Donegal in one direction and to the other direction is Port Stewart, Portrush and Fair Head.
10. Crumlin Road Gaol Museum
Since shutting it’s heavy air-lock gates to prisoners in 1996, the Crumlin Road Gaol Museum has become a popular visitor attraction within Belfast.
Crumlin Road operated as a prison for 150 years from 1846, during which time it imprisoned murderers, suffragettes and loyalist and republican prisoners. During a guided tour you’ll get to walk in the footsteps of the previous inmates, take a trip along the eerie underground tunnel that connects the Gaol to the Courthouse and hear the stories about life within the walls as a prisoner.
Seventeen men received the death penalty at Crumlin Road, so you’ll even take a look around the Condemned Man’s Cell where those men took their last steps before being hung for their crimes.
The 70-minute tour is incredibly interesting, and you’ll get to experience exactly how life would’ve been for the prisoners during their incarceration.