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Things to Do in Northern Ireland - page 2

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Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
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Considered one of the world’s scariest bridges, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is not for the faint of heart. Spanning a chasm that is almost 100 feet deep and nearly 70 feet wide, this Northern Ireland bridge connects Carrick-a-Rede Island to the mainland and attracts a quarter of a million visitors every year. The original structure was built by fishermen more than 300 years ago, and as recently as the 1970s, the bridge had only one handrail and large gaps between the slats.

The current bridge is less than 10 years old and is made of wire and Douglas fir. There is no record of anyone falling off the bridge, but it is not uncommon for visitors to get cold feet after crossing once, requiring a boat to bring them back to the mainland. Aside from the treacherous structure, the surrounding area is designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest due to its unique flora and fauna.

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Dark Hedges
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Fifty miles northwest of Belfast, off the Antrim Coastal Road, you will find one of the most unique and most photographed attractions in Northern Ireland: a row of trees known as the Dark Hedges. Planted by the Stuart family back in the 18th century, these beech trees are now overgrown and intertwined, creating a tunnel along the stretch of Bregagh Road that once led to Gracehill, the Stuart family manor.

Legend has it that the trees are haunted by a mysterious gray lady who weaves in and out of the trees at dusk. In addition to being a popular subject to artists, the trees also serve as a frequent backdrop for wedding photographs and have been use for scenes in the show Game of Thrones, representing the Kings Road.

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Old Bushmills Distillery
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Bushmills Distillery is the oldest working distillery in Ireland. Founded in 1608, it has been known as the Old Bushmills Distillery since 1784. A fire destroyed the distillery in 1880, but it was rebuilt, and the 1890s proved to be a heyday for the company as it won numerous prizes, including the only gold medal for whiskey at the 1889 Paris Expo.

Visitors to the distillery can take a guided tour and then leave with a bottle of Distillery Reserve 12-year Single Malt Whiskey, only available from the gift shop. Tours start at the mash house, where the distilling process begins, and continue on to the still house, where whiskeys are distilled three times. The tour concludes in the bottling hall, where whiskey is bottled before being sent all around the world.

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Antrim Coast Road
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Running along Northern Ireland's coast, the Antrim Coastal Drive goes past all the major coastal attractions in the country, and, if you continue to follow the A2, all the way to the walled city of Derry on the border.

Tucked under limestone cliffs with the sea crashing a few feet to the right, Antrim Coastal Drive is a particularly popular route in the summer months. On the drive, you'll go through the Nine Glens of Antrim — famous for their hiking opportunities, through the Mourne mountains, past 12th century Carrickfergus Castle, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, the beachside town of Portrush, coastal hamlets like Ballygally, Glenarm, Carnlough, and Waterfoot, and, most famously of all — the Giant's Causeway. And there are plenty of Irish pubs, harbors, and beaches you can stop by along the route, too.

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Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices
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It’s easy to imagine busy architects hunched over long drawing tables as they worked tirelessly on plans for the famous Titanic and its sister ship, the Olympic at Belfast’s Harland & Wolff Drawing Office. This three-story structure, built in the early 1900s, is home to open office spaces with a distinctly cathedral-like vibe. The vaulted ceilings and wide-open windows fill the rooms that once housed some 30,000 employees with plenty of natural light. While this headquarters office of Harland & Wolff remained open until 1989, it eventually closed for business. But today, travelers can still step back in time on a tour of the Titanic drawing offices.

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Ballintoy Harbour
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The village of Ballintoy was featured as the fictional town of Lordsport in the second season of the Game of Thrones television series. The area around Ballintoy offers exceptional walking, with stunning scenery steeped in history and folklore. Ballintoy Harbour is known for its annual dawn service on Easter Sunday, which has become a tradition recognized by people of all ages and denominations.

Ballintoy Harbour is still a working harbor for local fishermen, who are well regarded for their skills as boatsmen due to the dangerous waters. Due to its location and natural defenses, Ballintoy Harbour is one of the best locations to see the fury of Atlantic storms up close. Watching the basalt islets that abound in the area allow you to see the areas of the most dangerous swells and tidal currents.

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Carrickfergus Castle
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At more than 800 years old, Carrickfergus Castle is one of the best preserved medieval structures in Ireland. Located in the town of Carrickfergus about 10 miles north of Belfast, it was built between 1177 and 1195 by the Norman lord John deCourcy. Additions to the castle were made in 1216 and again in 1226, when the walls were extended to completely encircle all of the rock where the castle stood. Over the centuries, the castle was used as protection against attacks from the Scots, Irish, English and French. Later, it was used as a garrison during the First World War and as an air raid shelter during World War II.

Ownership of the castle was transferred from the army to the government of Northern Ireland in 1928, and at that time, many additions to the castle were removed in order to restore it to its original appearance. Exhibits in the castle today attempt to show what life was like during medieval times.

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Causeway Coastal Route
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Recognized as one of the top scenic drives in Europe, the Causeway Coastal Route is to Ireland what the Garden Route is to South Africa. This scenic highway winds through 120 miles of coast between Belfast and Londonderry. Travelers can take their pick of nine scenic offshoots from the main road—or take every one!

Travelers who venture off on the smaller “B roads” that lead to Roe Valley, Bann Valley and Glenshesk will find small villages, quiet towns and unique shopping destinations. But all scenic stops are ripe with thick foliage, beautiful scenery and impressive views that make a long drive along single-lane back roads worth it.

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Ballycastle
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This tiny town in Northern Ireland’s County Antrim is on the far end of the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. As a result, it’s home to stretches of scenic coastline and beautiful mountain passes that make it an ideal destination for travelers looking to get outdoors.

Whether its hiking Knocklayde, a heather-covered mountain that’s well known in the region, or strolling along Blue Flag Beach, there’s something for everyone in this quiet town. A lovely bike path runs from Ballycastle to Cushendun that’s perfect for cyclists and what remains of Kinbane Castle will have history-loving visitors talking a trip back in time (with some pretty impressive coastal views).

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More Things to Do in Northern Ireland

Cushendun

Cushendun

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Cushendun, derived from the Irish for “Foot of the Dun” for its position at the mouth of the River Dun, has long been a safe harbor for travelers between Ireland and Scotland. The village was erected in 1912, based on the villages of Cornwall in England for Ronald John McNeill, Baron Cushendun. Initially consisting of a town square and seven houses, it was expanded with quaint whitewashed cottages. The town's harbor features the ruins of the 14th-century Carra Castle, and regular ferry service once ran between Cushendun and Scotland, up until the Great Famine in the 1840s.

The area of Cushendun has long been a favorite among artists, writers and painters. Notable artists who drew their inspiration from the region include poets Moira O’Neill and John Masefield and painters such as Humbert Craig, Maurice Canning Wilks, Theo Gracy and Charles McAuley.

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Belfast Cruise Port

Belfast Cruise Port

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Belfast’s mix of a turbulent political past, maritime history and modern-day urban regeneration make it one of Europe’s most interesting cities to visit now. From Titanic sites to the famous murals of the Troubles to the lively waterfront district, Belfast will both entertain and enlighten you.

You’ll dock in Belfast Harbour, a couple of miles north of the city center. There’s not much around the port, so take one of the free shuttles into downtown. If you want to visit the Titanic Quarter, note that while it’s located in the port area, it’s not walkable, so your best bet is to take a cab.

Start in the Titanic Quarter, a waterfront historical and entertainment district dedicated to Belfast’s role in the Titanic’s tragic story. Your main destination here is the striking Titanic Belfast building and it’s Titanic Experience, an interactive museum where exhibits explain the ship’s entire history, from its creation to the aftermath of the sinking.

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