Ireland is truly an inspiring isle. A land of storytellers, talented musicians and impassioned songwriters, inspired by a breathtaking landscape like a patchwork quilt of colors and vistas that is always worth diving into and drinking in. And Belfast is perfectly placed for a host of captivating day trips.

With colorful characters and cute rogues aplenty, and accents that vary even from village to village, Ireland is the subject, muse, backdrop and inspiration for endless stories of fact and fiction played out in books and TV shows, and spoken word folklore passed down through the generations. Discover the reality on these top day trips from Belfast.

Get local insight on destinations all over the world with our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox.

Make like a Derry Girl on a day trip to Derry

Why go: Discover the real city behind the hit TV show

Northern Ireland’s second-largest hub, Derry (Londonderry) has had a star turn on the small screen over the last five years as the backdrop for Channel 4’s hit series Derry Girls. This coming-of-age sitcom set in the 90s – as The Troubles ended and the Northern Ireland Peace Process became a reality – reveals the charm, humor, mischief and joy of a place all too often misunderstood or misrepresented, triggering a surge of interest in Northern Ireland’s intriguing second city.

Walk through history by ascending the impressively intact 17th-century city walls, which preserve some of the most important historical sites in the city, then visit the auburn-bricked neo-Gothic Guildhall to marvel at the stained glass windows and learn about the Ulster Plantation. Don’t miss The Walled City Brewery for great food and craft beers before you make a beeline back to Belfast.

How to get to Derry from Belfast: Hop on the train to Derry at Great Victoria Street; it takes about 2½ hours and runs hourly most days from around 7am. Note that the last train back from Derry leaves around 8:30pm. Traveling by bus, the 212 Goldline Express connects Derry and Belfast's Europa Bus Centre in two hours, leaving every half hour at peak times. Alternatively, drive the 70 miles in about 90 minutes, via the M2 and A6.

People standing on the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
The Giant's Causeway is one of Europe's most eye-catching coastal landscapes © Claudio Fornaciari / EyeEm / Getty Images

Drive the Epic Causeway Coast, the most dramatic day out from Belfast

Why go: To drink in some of Ireland's most spectacular landscapes

A mythical tale in local folklore tells the story of an ancient giant named Fionn MacCumhaill who tore up parts of the Antrim Coast and tossed them into the ocean to create a cobbled pathway towards Scotland to challenge another giant, Benanndonner, who threatened Ireland and needed to be taught a lesson. So begins the tale of the Giant’s Causeway.

As wonderful as the myth may be, the causeway is entirely explained by a natural phenomenon. Lava oozing furiously from the earth’s surface tens of millions of years ago cooled, contracted and cracked, creating a series of 40,000 interlocking, hexagonal-shaped basalt columns. The reality doesn’t make this popular day trip spot any less breathtaking – it's an otherworldly site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland.

Whilst driving along the North Antrim coast, take in Dunluce Castle, Mussenden Temple, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the pretty coastal towns of Portrush and Portstewart. Harry’s Shack set on Portstewart Strand is one of the most picturesque settings for a meal anywhere in Ireland.

How to get from Belfast to the Causeway Coast: This day trip is best undertaken with a rental car, so you can choose how far you travel and how long it takes, stopping along the way for incredible vistas and fascinating sites. The Giant’s Causeway is located 60 miles from Belfast and it takes around an hour to drive here via the M2. 

Gay men with bicycles in the Temple Bar district of Dublin, Ireland
Dublin is every bit as colorful, charismatic and cultured as you've been led to believe © davidf / Getty Images

Visit Dublin, a city for all the senses

Why go: To soak in Dublin's sights, sounds, flavors and sensations

A day trip from one capital city to another, set two hours apart on the eastern side of the same island (but neither boasting an underground metro system). In some ways, Dublin and Belfast feel similar, even familiar, and though both are proudly unique, this pair of cities definitely complement one another. However, note that you’ll need to switch to euros (€) when you enter the Republic.

Dublin is a city experienced through the senses: the waft of roasted barley tempting visitors to the Guinness Storehouse; the lilt of the fiddle and the bang of the bodhrán (frame drum) bouncing between the cobbles of the pub-lined cultural quarter of Temple Bar; the verdant city center oasis that is St Stephen’s Green; glimpses of the free-range herd of fallow deer in Phoenix Park.

Iconic experiences abound – check out the sea of light and dark blue on flags and jerseys as the crowds flow towards Croke Park on match day, or catch sight of the Spire or the Poolbeg Chimneys from many different corners of the city. Then there's the taste of that first sip of a creamy pint of cold stout, the slurp of fresh oysters, and thick buttered brown bread paired with coddle (sausage stew) or chowder.

Take time to enjoy a brown paper bag of fat, golden, freshly-fried, salt-and-vinegar doused chips from Leo Burdock’s or spend an hour in Sheridans Cheesemongers being led by the nose and tastebuds, trying as many samples of Irish farmhouse cheese as they are willing to offer. There’s a reason Irish writers, poets and playwrights use such evocative language to describe Dublin’s fair city – Dublin truly captivates.

How to get to Dublin from Belfast: The Belfast-Dublin Enterprise train service runs eight times daily (less frequently on Sundays) between Belfast Lanyon Place and Dublin Connolly Station, taking just over two hours. Aircoach’s 705X bus service runs 13 times daily between the two cities; the Goldline Express X1 service to Dublin Busaras station runs on a similar schedule. Alternatively, you can drive the 100 miles or so in just under two hours via the M1/A1 motorways (tolls apply).

The Dark Hedges is stand of 300 year old Beech trees on a unique stretch of the Bregagh Road near Armoy, Northern Ireland
The Dark Hedges near Armoy is one of the most iconic Game of Thrones locations in Northern Ireland © Bob Anderson / 500px

Visit the best Game of Thrones’ locations near Belfast

Why go: To discover the real Westeros

Game of Thrones is probably one of the best things to happen to Northern Ireland tourism in the last decade. The filming location for many notable scenes in the fantasy drama series, "Norn Iron" has embraced its Game of Thrones legacy, celebrating its natural backdrop as a bonafide land of fantasy. Many of the show’s most distinctive filming locations can be discovered on a day trip from Belfast, from the caves of Cushendun to picture-perfect Ballintoy Harbour and, of course, the breathtaking avenue of intertwined beech trees known as The Dark Hedges.

When Storm Gertrude landed without welcome in early 2016 and thrashed for days, several trees from the iconic Dark Hedges were unfortunately felled. However, instead of breaking these casualties down for firewood, they were resplendently carved into intricate works of art. Ten wooden doors were created in honor of the fallen trees – fans can follow the trail and find all ten Game of Thrones doors, which are dotted widely around Northern Ireland in different pubs, restaurants and hotels.

Whether you're a Thronie or not, it’s well worth getting outside of the capital in order to appreciate the unique landscape, which seems to sit between reality and fantasy.

How to explore Game of Thrones locations from Belfast: Several tour companies offer 8–9 hour coach tours (among them Game of Thrones Tours, City Tours Belfast and Taxi Tours Belfast) departing from and returning to Belfast, which include photo opportunities and a live commentary at several GoT stops. Private group tours are also available for smaller groups. Alternatively, you can hire a car and simply drive to many of the top locations.

Explore related stories

Dublin, Ireland- A busy side street in the city of Dublin, the capitol of the Republic of Ireland located on Ireland's eastern coast.
tourists, local life, historic, bright, leisure

Festivals & Events

When is the best time to go to Dublin?

Apr 14, 2024 • 6 min read