Often overlooked as a holiday destination, Northern Ireland is an underrated country that comes packed with memorable scenic landscapes and friendly locals. While it shares an island with the Republic of Ireland, crossing the border into Northern Ireland is crossing an International Border – back into the UK.
While it may be small in size, Northern Ireland is the perfect location for hip cities, stunning coastlines and an exploding foodie scene. These are our favourite must-see areas in Northern Ireland.
The capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast is a vibrant city bursting with life. Filled with history, a rich cultural heritage, lively nightlife and a food scene to die for, there is plenty to keep you busy! Some highlights include the Titanic Belfast – Europe’s best attraction, built on the site of the famous RMS Titanic -, Queen’s Quarter which houses Queen’s University, Botanic Gardens and Ulster Museum and the Cathedral Quarter, the perfect destination for Irish pubs, food and markets.
Causeway Coastal Route to Giant’s Causeway
Heading north out of Belfast, take the winding coastal road to the famous Giant’s Causeway; one of Northern Ireland’s most breathtaking landmarks. Of course, there are many stops to take along the way. An hour and a half from Belfast is the impressive Carrickfergus Castle. Over 800 years old, the castle has survived attacks from Scotland, England and France. The next stop on your drive along the Coastal Route is the stunning Dark Hedges; an archway of beech trees which has become well known after it was used as a filming location in Game of Thrones.
Other landmarks between Belfast and Giant’s Causeway that are worth stopping for include:
Stroll along the cliff tops of the Gobbins along the Antrim Coast.
Visit the coastal village of Cishedndun and the caves – this was also a popular filming location in Game of Thrones.
Test your bravery walking across the 20-metre Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, located 20-minutes away from Giant’s Causeway.
An hour southwest of Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland’s second-largest city, Derry (also known as Londonderry by locals). Sitting on the northern side of the border between Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland, Derry is a city that continues to flourish as an artistic and cultural hub. In 2013, the city was celebrated as the UK’s first City of Culture, which saw the city centre receive a major makeover with the construction of the Peace Bridge, Ebrington Square and the redevelopment of the waterfront and Guildhall.
Packed full of history, a walk around the walls in Derry is a must, as it reveals the history, heritage and cultural scenes that make up the city. Built during the period of 1613 – 1618, the Walls, which measure 1.5km in circumference, provides a unique layout of the original town, which remains the only completely walled city in Ireland.
Mourne Mountains and Newcastle
Southeast of Derry, in southern Northern Ireland, is the beautiful Mourne Mountains. A paradise for outdoor lovers, the large number of different elevations and landscapes make the Mourne Mountains one of the best locations for walking and climbing. In fact, Belfast-born C.S. Lewis, author of ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’, once wrote that the landscapes here are what inspired his mythical land of Narnia. Even if you’re not an avid outdoorsman, you can still enjoy the natural beauty of the Mourne Mountains.
A 20-minute drive east of the Mourne Mountains is the small coastal town of Newcastle. Located at the foot of the mountains, on a beach makes for some epic scenery. The town has branded itself as an ‘activity resort’ for Northern Ireland, with its main selling point being that it sits at the foot of Slieve Donard – the tallest mountain peak.
For castles, palaces, cathedrals, ancient sights, breathtaking scenery, special treats and so much more, be sure to check out our Britain and Ireland holidays of a lifetime!