Things to Do in Northern Ireland
The Giant's Causeway is a cluster of approximately 40,000 basalt columns rising out of the sea on the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the area draws thousands of tourists each year who come to marvel at and photograph this natural wonder.
Titanic Belfast sits where the ill-fated luxury liner was built. Opened in 2012 on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s maiden voyage, Titanic Belfast is a top Northern Ireland attraction. Exhibits follow the rise of Belfast as an industrial superpower, recreate the early 1900s shipyard experience, and chart construction details.
The picturesque Dark Hedges tree tunnel, formed by the overhanging and intertwined branches of beech trees that line either side, was planted in the 18th century in an effort to spruce up the nearby Gracehill House. Amateur and professional photographers have long been drawn to its eerie beauty, and Dark Hedges is now a popular pilgrimage site for fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Nestled high along the Antrim coastline, Dunluce Castle offers dramatic views and insight into the life and legends of old Irish clans. Explore ancient ruins, discover township remains, or descend into a hidden cave to experience the site that inspired CS Lewis’ Cair Paravel and served as a filming location for HBO’sGame of Thrones.
Crossing the nerve-racking Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a feat for the sure-footed—the narrow 66-foot-long (20-meter) swinging span is suspended high above the choppy Atlantic waters, connecting the Northern Irish mainland to Carrick-a-Rede Island. Originally built more than 300 years ago by salmon fishermen—and since rebuilt with sturdier materials—the National Trust-managed footbridge is now traversed by wobbly-kneed travelers who want to soak up the rugged coastal scenery.
West Belfast’s Falls Road was a violent flashpoint during the Northern Irish conflict. Falls Road is in a predominantly Catholic nationalist neighborhood that borders Shankill Road, a mostly Protestant unionist area. The two areas are now separated by a peace wall that is adorned with hundreds of colorful politically themed murals.
The first Belfast Peace Walls were built in 1969 in response to Northern Ireland’s sectarian conflict. Initially intended as temporary barriers, the continuation of the Troubles led to the extension and reinforcement of the walls. Today, they’re political and philosophical murals and attract visitors looking for insight into this part of Irish history.
This working-class neighborhood of West Belfast came to prominence during the Northern Irish conflict, when it served as a stronghold for loyalist paramilitary organizations. The peace walls that separated Shankill from the neighboring Falls Road to curb sectarian violence are now covered with political murals.
Back in the early 20th century, the RMSTitanic sat in this vast 900-foot (274-meter) dock—then known as Thompson Dry Dock—while workers toiled to put the final touches on the luxurious liner. Next door, an Edwardian-era pump house, which was used to drain water from the dock, now houses original machinery andTitanic-inspired exhibits.
Built in 1850 to accommodate prisoners tried at the courthouse across the street, Crumlin Road Gaol (Crumlin Road Jail) housed some of Northern Ireland’s most notorious criminals as well as leading political figures during its 150 years in operation. The jail was also the setting for executions, riots, and hunger strikes.
More Things to Do in Northern Ireland
Old Bushmills Distillery
The world’s oldest legal distillery, Bushmills was first granted its whiskey-producing license back in 1608, though historical records suggest production began even earlier. Distillers used malted Irish barley, grains, and water from St. Columb’s Rill to produce their oak-aged Bushmills Original and their Black Bush blend.
Belfast City Hall
The neo-Baroque Belfast City Hall is home to a memorial garden and visitor exhibition that provide insight into the city’s history. Built to commemorate Belfast’s new city status in the late 1800s, the building survived the Belfast Blitz, and was at the center of the 2013 dispute regarding its continued use of the Union flag.
Antrim Coast Road
Perhaps the most celebrated stretch of Antrim Coast Road is known as the Antrim Coastal Drive, which winds along a 25-mile (40-kilometer) route and provides scenic views from Belfast to Derry. Discover landmarks including the Mourne Mountains, Glens of Antrim, and Giant’s Causeway on one of the UK’s most picturesque routes, and explore the towns, harbors, and beaches along the way for insight into local life.
Situated at the east end of the Causeway Coast and to the north of the Glens of Antrim, Ballycastle offers easy access to outdoor delights. The seaside town is filled with old-fashioned pubs and shops, while a family-friendly beach and promenade runs along the shore. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Scotland from here.
Located along the scenic Antrim coast, the harbor of the traditional fishing village of Ballintoy offers striking Atlantic views and insight into a rural way of a life. The village has remained virtually unchanged over the last few centuries, and as such was chosen as a filming location for Pyke’s harbor inGame of Thrones.
The 800-year-old Carrickfergus Castle is one of the best preserved medieval structures in Ireland. Built in the 12th century by Norman lord John de Courcy, it was used to ward off attacks from the Scots, Irish, English, and French, and also served as a garrison during World War I and an air raid shelter during World War II.
Now permanently berthed at Belfast’s Hamilton dry dock, the SSNomadic is the last surviving vessel from the White Star Line, the once-prominent shipping line behind the ill-fated RMSTitanic. Built in the Harland and Wolff shipyards, the SSNomadic was the tender to theTitanic, ferrying passengers to the luxury cruise liner.
The turreted Scottish Baronial-style Belfast Castle stands high atop a promontory overlooking the city. It was built using the fast-diminishing funds of the third Marquess of Donegall, and the castle now serves as a restaurant, wedding reception site, and events venue. A visitor center in the basement chronicles the history of the castle and the surrounding Cave Hill Country Park with which it shares the hillside, while the ornamental gardens promise stellar views over Belfast City Centre and Belfast Lough.
Queen's University Belfast
Founded in 1849 as a non-denominational alternative to Dublin’s Trinity College, Queen’s University Belfast is known for for its magnificent medieval-style campus. Visitors are drawn to the university’s eclectic mix of architectural styles and peaceful green space. Harry Potter fans will want to visit the red brick Lanyon Building that looks like a real-life version of Hogwarts.
Situated at the foot of Glendun, one of the nine Glens of Antrim, this small seaside hamlet is known for its pretty harbor and beachfront, as well as for its historic buildings and Cornish-style houses. In recent years, the Cushendun Caves have come to public attention after featuring in a prominent scene in Game of Thrones.
Belfast Cathedral Quarter
Known for its artistic atmosphere, the ever-expanding Belfast Cathedral Quarter is the city’s up-and-coming cultural hub. The former trading district, now home to a number of galleries, music spaces, and trendy restaurants, hosts a number of indoor and outdoor events suited to everyone, including young travelers, foodies, and families.
Belfast Grand Opera House
Since opening over a century ago, the Belfast Grand Opera House has withstood many challenges, including the Troubles and planned demolition, to become an iconic landmark. As Northern Ireland’s first listed building, the Art Nouveau theater has hosted many notable performers over the years, and the refurbished site continues to draw audiences today.
St. Anne's Cathedral
Though work on St. Anne’s Cathedral (also known as Belfast Cathedral) began in 1899, many changes and extensions were made during the following decades, culminating in the addition of the Spire of Hope in 2007. The neo-Romanesque structure contains a wealth of decorative features and artworks, including a 150,000-piece glass mosaic.
Albert Memorial Clock
Albert Memorial Clock is a well-recognized feature of the Belfast landscape. The Victorian structure stands at 43 meters (113 feet), overlooking Queen’s Square and River Lagan beyond. Built on reclaimed marshland, the tower is known for its slant, and is affectionately referred to as Belfast’s answer to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
- Things to do in Belfast
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- Things to do in Northeast Scotland