Northern Ireland is a tourist’s delight. From stunning natural phenomena such as The Giant’s Causeway to complex political history at the murals in Belfast, Northern Ireland has plenty of attractions to offer visitors.
Easily accessible from England, Scotland, Wales, and the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland makes an excellent addition to one of these trips.
So, why don’t you rent a car and start exploring? Just one thing, you may wonder. What are the best places to visit in Northern Ireland? Where do you start your trip?
To help you choose the best places in Northern Ireland for you, here is a guide on the 8 Best Places to Visit in Northern Ireland. Have a quick read, and let us mull your options over for you.
Best Places to Visit in Northern Ireland: Belfast
The capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast, is our obvious choice on the list. And, if you are flying or catching the ferry from England, Belfast will likely be your first stop in Northern Ireland anyway.
Picture Belfast as the hub of Northern Ireland. If you want nightlife, condensed city attractions, and history – Belfast is the best place to visit in Northern Ireland. With the coast and plenty of surrounding green space, the city offers a versatile introduction to Northern Ireland, especially for those short on time. To further maximise your time in Belfast, you should consider what area you choose to stay in, but, for now, let’s focus on the city’s attractions.
Things to do in Belfast
For things to do in Belfast, expect an incompletable list of attractions and experiences. In saying that, the Titanic Belfast is an incredible place to start.
Since shipwrights built the infamous Titanic ship in Belfast, the city has a fair claim to its tragic history. Visitors can wander the museum grounds, embarking on the ultimate ‘Titanic Experience’ as they learn more about the ship and see the shipyard for themselves. For an adult ticket, visitors will pay £19.50, with discounts for students, children, and seniors, and complimentary admissions for under 5s and essential carers.
For a bit more history, the Ulster Museum and Crumlin Road Gaol offer quality insights into Northern Ireland’s historical background. The Ulster Museum is free, although you may need to book timeslots online to visit. For adult entrance Crumlin Road Gaol, tickets cost £12 at the door or £10.80 when booked online.
If it’s a political history that you’re after, you should book a tour of the murals and visit Stormont – Northern Ireland’s Parliament. For the murals, Shankill and Falls Road lay divided by the Peace Wall. To experience both sides of the conflict, you should aim to see the murals on both roads and prioritise tours that include these sites.
Finally, for a combination of green space and viewpoint, Cave Hill Country Park offers scenic walking opportunities just North of the city centre.
Best Places to Visit in Northern Ireland: Newcastle
Coined as the ‘Gateway to the Mourne Mountains’, Newcastle is a coastal town that sits in the shadow of Slieve Donard – the highest mountain in Northern Ireland. Very much a base for those wanting to explore the local nature on offer, expect a resort atmosphere with lots of other fleeting visitors.
Thanks to its surroundings, Newcastle is the best place to visit in Northern Ireland for outdoor adventuring. I’ve written a detailed guide on things to do in Newcastle and a guide to visiting the Mournes here, but you can get a taster below.
Things to do near Newcastle
When visiting Newcastle, climbing Slieve Donard is a rite of passage. At 850m, expect to reach the summit in around 2 ½ hours. While 850m may not seem much, the climb is challenging and will require moderate fitness. You will be on a near-vertical climb for many parts of the route, which can become quickly tiring. However, once you reach the summit, you will be greeted by the incredible view over the Mourne Mountains range and the Silent Valley Reservoir below.
If this is all sounding just a bit too strenuous, you will be glad to hear that Slieve Donard looks just as impressive from ground level. For a different perspective, instead head to the Silent Valley Reservoir, where you can walk the circumference of the water and admire the mountains surrounding you.
Alternatively, appreciate the Slieve Donard view from Newcastle before skipping the mountains altogether and heading to Tollymore Forest Park – where Game of Thrones famously shot some scenes. Spot kingfishers in the Shimna River, cross 200-year-old bridges and wander at your leisure across the 630 hectares of woodland.
Best Places to Visit in Northern Ireland: Causeway Head
A locality on the very North Coast, Causeway Head is most known for its Giant’s Causeway rock formations – rumoured to be the work of giants. Although, the area is also famed for its popular local beverage, Bushmills Whiskey. Expect many unassuming hamlets and accommodation options spread (often remotely) across the area. If you are visiting Causeway Head, book somewhere to stay in advance to avoid bookings filling up.
Things to do near Causeway Head
The Giant’s Causeway is one of the most popular attractions in Northern Ireland, so it tops the list of attractions in Causeway Head.
A designated World Heritage Site, the Causeway is formed by thousands and thousands of black basalt columns. Science explains the phenomenon by an ancient volcanic eruption. But legend has it that the Irish giant Fionn built the Causeway to reach his Scottish rival Benandonner – who then tore up the path to leave the small patch of the Giant’s Causeway that exists today. To visit the Causeway, an adult ticket costs £13, which you should book in advance online.
As we mentioned, Bushmills whiskey is a famous product from the nearby town of Bushmills. To taste the beverage at its birthplace, you should carve out time to visit the Old Bushmills Distillery. Opt to embark on a Distillery Tour or Tasting Experience, with prices starting from £9 per adult. And, as you will have visited the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery, you may wish to pick up a souvenir bottle from the Distillery Shop.
Finally, not to miss out on an extra bit of history, the 5th Century Dunseverick Castle ruins make an excellent stop to finish an itinerary for Causeway Head and take in some dramatic cliff views.
Best Places to Visit in Northern Ireland: Carrick-a-rede
Technically, you should plan to visit Ballintoy, seen as Carrick-a-rede is a tiny, unhabituated island. Famed for Carrick-a-rede Bridge, Ballintoy is located just East of Causeway Head, also on the North Coast of Northern Ireland.
Remember that accommodations are few and far spread, so booking in advance is a wise option if you wish to stay locally.
Things to do near Carrick-a-rede and Ballintoy
To experience the Carrick-a-rede Bridge first-hand, you will walk approximately 20-minutes down the coast from the Visitors Centre and designated parking area. The bridge was initially constructed by fishermen over 250 years ago, who benefitted from the lucrative Atlantic salmon industry. Nowadays, a modern replica of the Carrick-a-rede bridge allows visitors to cross over to explore the Fisherman’s Cottage – an educational restoration project aiming to keep the legacy of the fishermen alive.
For Game of Thrones and film fans, Ballintoy Harbour may look familiar. The area was used as a film set for the series, filming character Theon’s arrival at the Iron Islands, amongst many other harbour-side scenes. Aside from its claim to fame, Ballintoy Harbour is a fantastic place to book in for watersports or sit at Roark’s Kitchen to grab a snack – making it a great place to spend half a day.
Best Places to Visit in Northern Ireland: Enniskillen
Located in the centre of Fermanagh, Enniskillen sits on an island separating the two halves of Lough Erne – one of the most famed lakes in Northern Ireland. Near the Irish Border, the town is a top destination in the Southern section of Northern Ireland and makes a great stop-off point for those arriving from the Republic of Ireland.
Things to do near Enniskillen
When staying on an island in a lake, water activities seem a no-brainer when choosing things to do near Enniskillen. To paddleboard, kayak, or canoe, you should visit the Enniskillen Water Activity Zone, where you can rent equipment seven days a week.
If you want to explore the natural world further, head underground at the nearby Marble Arch Caves. Visitors can jump onto (weather dependant) tour boats to explore the chambers and passages – all with the educational information from an expert tour guide. After a short ride, you then have the chance to jump out and explore the softly illuminated caves on foot. For an adult ticket, you can book online for £10, while for a private tour of 12 people, you can pay £108, which is great for large groups travelling together.
And, for history lovers, prioritise a trip to the Enniskillen Castle Museums. Founded in the 15th Century, the Castle has plenty of history and has seen 16th Century sieges following sparks of Irish resistance. Later being developed into military barracks then, finally, into the two museums visitors will see today; there is lots to learn on a visit.
Best Places to Visit in Northern Ireland: Derry/Londonderry
Located inland from Belfast, you have likely heard of Derry from the popular show the Derry Girls. A walled river city, it has risen in the international eye thanks to many festivals, including Radio 1’s Big Weekend in 2013.
Visitors can expect culture, history, and politics in abundance on arrival in Derry – making it one of the best places to visit in Northern Ireland.
Things to do in Derry/Londonderry
A trip to Derry would not be complete without a visit to its 1610-built city walls, so we are starting our list of things to do with walking the 1.6km stretch of walls. Admiring the views down over the city below, visitors can also look at the numerous cannons left out as examples along the wall.
If you want to dive headfirst into the political history of Northern Ireland, the Free Derry Museum offers an educational perspective on the events of the mid-60s. The museum particularly focuses on The Troubles and sectarianism leading up to Bloody Sunday, offering stories and displays to visitors. And, nearby, the Free Derry Corner features the famed wall emblazoned with the political message stating, “You are now entering free Derry”.
For more historical information, The Siege Museum and Tower Museum make good attractions to visit. Both museums feature informative exhibits, giving visitors to Derry a chance to learn more about the city and its past.
Best Places to Visit in Northern Ireland: Portrush
A little seaside town, Portrush is known for two things – beaches and golf. Once a fishing town, Portrush has become a great place to experience coastal living in Northern Ireland, earning it a spot on our list of Best Places to Visit in Northern Ireland.
Things to do near Portrush
For golfers, the Royal Portrush Golf Club is a top destination for a scenic round. On the rota to host the Open Championships, the golf club hosted the tournament in 1951 and, more recently, 2019. Head online to the Royal Portrush Golf Club’s official website and request a booking to book a tee time.
If you want to make the most of the town’s coastal location, Portrush Whiterocks Beach is the place for you. The beach has a reputation for natural beauty and features a number of caves and scenic cliff formations – think a grey, limestone, and colder version of the Algarve. Whiterocks Beach is a great spot to enjoy some watersports or join a fishing trip from the nearby harbour with Causeway Boats.
For a family-friendly day out, Barry’s Amusements is Northern Ireland’s longest-running Amusement Park. Located centrally in Portrush, the park gives the town the ultimate seaside resort atmosphere. Better still, the park is free to enter. Visitors need only purchase tokens to exchange for rides.
Best Places to Visit in Northern Ireland: Rathlin Island
Home to only around 140 people, Rathlin Ireland is six miles off mainland Northern Ireland and only accessible by boat. The Island’s quiet, remote location makes it the epitomising place to visit for tranquillity and a unique insight into off-the-grid living.
Accommodation options can be few and far between – so book in advance to optimise your chances of finding lodgings. Coolnagrock Rathlin Island B&B is one option while, for an untraditional experience, the Rathlin Glamping Pods are worth looking into booking.
Things to do on Rathlin Island
Bird watchers, you are looking at the right place. At the RSPB Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre, you can enter a protected reserve home to Puffins, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, and Fulmars, amongst many more birds. Adults can enter the centre for £5, while students pay only £3.50 – making it an affordable way to spend half a day or so.
For walkers, the Roonivoolin Trail offers a scenic route from the harbour to the easternmost part of the Island. Aside from seals and birdlife, you will spot the Rue Point Lighthouse – which cuts an aesthetically isolated picture against the dramatic cliffs. For more natural views, Kebble Cottage, on the opposite end of Rathlin Island, has picnic benches for self-organised dining with no sound other than crashing waves and a car engine once an hour.
Your trip to Northern Ireland is going to be incredible – we can guarantee it.
If you know the area well and would like to recommend another place for readers, feel free to comment below.