With an arresting green coastal route, UnescoWorld Heritage-listed natural wonders and cities rich with history, both ancient and modern, Northern Ireland will have you thinking you’ve dropped into a mythical otherworld.
In some ways, it’s true because Northern Ireland is the backdrop for many of your favorite TV shows and films like Dracula Untold, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, The Fall, Vikings and of course Game of Thrones. Although it’s a small country, it is packed with exceptional places to see and cool things to do. If you want to learn more about political history, visit film sets, or spend your days in nature, Northern Ireland has you covered.
Visit Game of Thrones filming locations
Although the series may be over, you can still pretend to be in the world of Westeros as Northern Ireland was a key filming location for Game of Thrones. There are multiple sites around the region to visit today, including the 400-million-year-old Cushendun Caves, seen in both Seasons 2 and 8. One of the most popular Game of Thrones filming locations is the haunting tunnel of the Dark Hedges, which doubled as the road to King’s Landing. Ballintoy Harbour may be familiar as the port of Pyke in the Iron Islands. And you can’t forget Castle Ward in County Down that was the backdrop for Winterfell. A Game of Thrones studio tour is also set to open in the not too distant future in Banbridge.
Test your vertigo on Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Located just a stone's throw away from the famous Giants Causeway is the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. This 300-year-old rope bridge was first erected by fishermen to connect the island of Carrickarede and the mainland of County Antrim. The bridge may be old, but it is safe to cross, though it might not be for the faint of heart: it’s only 20 meters wide and 30 meters above the rocks and ocean below. Yes, it also sways and bounces in the wind. But putting fear aside, those who dare to cross will be rewarded with not only a thrill, but also a striking view of the Causeway Coastal Route.
Meet myths and legends at the Giant's Causeway
Equally exhilarating when cloaked in mist as when bathed in sunshine, this spectacular rock formation is a Unesco World Heritage site and one of Ireland's most atmospheric landscape features. Uneven stacks of tightly-packed hexagonal columns stand in neat clusters along the water’s edge, forming a causeway that inspired local legends that the stones were put in place by a giant. If you can, try to visit midweek or out of season to experience it at its most evocative. Sunset in spring or autumn is the best time for photographs. A state-of-the-art ecofriendly building houses the visitor centre here, half-hidden in the hillside above the sea.
Take afternoon tea at Glenarm Castle
If you’re keen to learn about the history of one of Northern Ireland’s most historic family homes, then Glenarm Castle & Walled Garden is right up your alley. Built in 1860, Glenarm Castle is the ancestral home of the McDonnell family to this day. Take a tour of this fantastic castle and catch sight of some treasures on display from the La Girona shipwreck. Then take a walk around the Walled Garden to smell the earthy herbs or delight in the explosion of reds, oranges and pinks found in the blooms here. Afterward, chill at the tearoom for a little food and coffee and perhaps take some edible souvenirs home with you.
Try the whiskey at Bushmills Distillery
A trip to Northern Ireland really would not be complete without a pit stop to the Old Bushmills Distillery, the world’s oldest legal distillery, established in 1608. Learn about the ins and outs of Irish whiskey including the meaning of the ‘angel's share’. Of course, you end the tour with a tasting session, sipping on a few samples of their premium whiskeys.
Climb heavenly stairs
Part of the Unesco Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, the Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail is one astoundingly beautiful hike in Enniskillen. Nicknamed ‘the stairway to heaven’, the construction protects the land while affording great views. The 1.6km (1 mile) route weaves across the largest expanses of blanket bog in Northern Ireland and the Cuilcagh Mountain. While the climb may be steep, awaiting those who reach the top is a summit plateau with a spectacular 360-degree view of Lough Erne and the surrounding countryside of Cavan and Donegal.
Walk through centuries of history at Carrickfergus Castle
Just outside Belfast is Carrickfergus Castle, Northern Ireland’s most famous castle. This imposing castle that was built over 800 years ago by the Normans was besieged by the Scots, Irish, English, and French and had a military role until 1928. One for history buffs, it’s also the best-preserved medieval castle in Ireland that's open to the public with fascinating exhibitions on display throughout the castle.
Take a black taxi tour of Belfast
As the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast can easily be explored in a day or two. It was once a focal point of violence during The Troubles so taking a black taxi tour is a great way to learn more about the complex history. These well-informed drivers will take you to key locations such as the art murals and Peace Wall. After taking in the tour's history, you might need to grab a pint and maybe catch a music session at one of Belfast's cosy pubs. Not to be missed before you leave the city, Titanic Belfast is a striking maritime landmark where guests can take a self-guided tour about the impressive but doomed ocean liner.
Witness the murals of Derry
Derry is Northern Ireland’s second-largest city and Ireland’s only completely intact historic Walled City, built in the 17th century. Just like Belfast, this city has a long history with The Troubles. One spot that can’t be missed is the historical landmark of Free Derry Corner in the Bogside neighborhood, a nationalist area. While you’re there, check out the murals of the People’s Gallery and the Bloody Sunday Memorial to understand how the decades-long Northern Ireland conflict affected the city and its inhabitants, and does so to this day.
Get lost in the Peace Maze
For those who want to travel off-the-beaten-path, plan a trip to the Peace Maze in Castlewellan Forest Park. Comprising of 6,000 yew trees, it was turned into the world’s largest permanent hedge maze, representing peace for Northern Ireland and hope for the future. Go around twist and turns to get to the middle of the maze and once you succeed, ring a victory bell and celebrate your triumph.