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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Diaz

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Northern Ireland

Updated: May 6

When you think of a place where mythical landscapes meet modern history, Northern Ireland should top your list. This small corner of the globe is packed with rolling green hills, dramatic coastal paths, and a cultural fabric that is as compelling as it is complex. Whether you’re a fan of "Game of Thrones," a history enthusiast, or simply in search of stunning scenery, Northern Ireland offers a uniquely vibrant travel experience.

From its charming countryside to iconic locations popularized by the series, Northern Ireland is full of surprises. I fell so in love with the place during my visit that I’ve decided to have my wedding there! Stunning landscapes, ancient castles, dramatic cliffs, and beautiful coastlines characterize Northern Ireland. It’s part of the United Kingdom, nestled next to the Republic of Ireland. Beyond its green, sheep-dotted hills reminiscent of its neighbor, there's so much more to see and experience. Here's my ultimate guide to exploring this captivating region.

Getting to Northern Ireland

Most trips to Northern Ireland typically commence from either Belfast or Londonderry, contingent upon your point of departure. Belfast International Airport and George Best Belfast City Airport offer direct connections to various cities across the UK and Europe, serving as convenient entry points. Upon arrival, renting a car is advisable, given that many of Northern Ireland's captivating attractions are dispersed and are most conveniently accessed by road. While buses and trains provide public transport alternatives, they may restrict your ability to explore more secluded locales. In my case, I flew into Dublin and opted to rent a car from there, driving up to Belfast. However, the best approach depends on your individual preferences and circumstances.

Things to Do in Northern Ireland

The Giant’s Causeway

No visit to Northern Ireland is complete without a trip to the Giant's Causeway. Nestled on the Causeway Coast in the north, this UNESCO World Heritage site is about an hour's drive from Belfast and truly embodies the essence of the region. Formed from volcanic activity around 60 million years ago, it features approximately 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that stretch dramatically into the sea.

The legends woven around this natural marvel add to its mystique—most famously, the tale of the giant Finn McCool, who is said to have carved the causeway from the coast to stride across the sea to Scotland. Whether you lean towards the scientific explanation or prefer the romance of mythology, the Causeway's surreal beauty and geological significance are undeniable.

Walking along the coast, you can feel the power of the waves crashing against the columns and see the awe-inspiring formations up close. Hiking paths lead you through stunning rock formations, resembling giant organs, and ascend to offer spectacular panoramic views of the rugged coastline. Visiting the Giant's Causeway, you're not just seeing a scenic landscape; you're stepping into a story millions of years in the making, and it's an experience that's nothing short of magical.

Dark Hedges

The Dark Hedges, with their haunting beauty and mystical allure, have captivated visitors for centuries. Planted in the 18th century by the Stuart family, these beech trees were intended to impress guests as they approached Gracehill House. Today, they continue to make an unforgettable impression, especially in the early morning mist or the eerie twilight, which truly brings out the ethereal quality of the avenue.

Located in County Antrim, just a 20-minute drive from the Giant’s Causeway, the Dark Hedges is one of the most photographed spots in Northern Ireland. This stunning avenue of trees gained even more fame as the Kingsroad in "Game of Thrones," attracting photographers and fans from around the world. The atmosphere here is otherworldly, particularly when fog envelops the area, adding a layer of mystery and enhancing the legend of the Grey Lady, a ghost said to wander along the road.

Visiting the Dark Hedges is a must when you're in the area. To fully appreciate the quiet majesty and avoid the crowds, try to come during off-peak hours. Standing among these magnificent trees, with their branches intertwined above, creates a natural tunnel that feels like stepping into another world—a truly magical experience that's not to be missed.


Just a stone's throw from the Giant’s Causeway, I discovered Carrick-a-Rede, one of Northern Ireland’s most thrilling attractions. Each year, about 250,000 visitors, myself included, come to brave the famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. This 350-year-old marvel was originally built by fishermen who noticed the abundance of salmon passing by the island during breeding season, spanning from the mainland to Carrick Island.

The name "Carrick-a-Rede" means "The Rock at the End of the Road," perfectly encapsulating the bridge’s rugged allure. Stepping onto the bridge, suspended over 30 meters (about 98 feet) above the churning sea and jagged rocks below, you can't help but feel a surge of adrenaline. Yet, despite the heart-pounding height, the bridge is completely safe, fortified with strong, thick ropes for a secure crossing.

Crossing the bridge was a thrilling experience, and reaching Carrick Island felt like a triumphant feat. From the island, the panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish coast are simply breathtaking. On clear days, you can even catch a glimpse of Scotland and Rathlin Island in the distance. Standing amidst the elements, with the wind in my hair and the vast ocean stretching out before me, I felt a profound sense of wonder and adventure. Carrick-a-Rede isn't just a destination; it's an unforgettable experience.

Torr Head Scenic Road

A few kilometers north of Ballycastle, we veered off the main road to Cushendun and onto the Torr Head Scenic Road—a narrow, winding route that promised adventure at every bend.

Driving through the Torr Head peninsula was a feast for the senses. We passed by the towering cliffs of Fair Head, the tranquil charm of Murlough Bay, and finally arrived at Torr Head itself, where an abandoned coast guard station stood sentinel. From this vantage point, Scotland lay just 19 kilometers (about 12 miles) across the sea, a tantalizing glimpse of another land.

With every twist of the road, we were treated to stunning views of the rugged coastline and the vast expanse of the sea. I couldn't resist stopping several times to capture the scenery with my camera, savoring the moments of tranquility along the way. Traveling at our own pace allowed us to fully immerse ourselves in the natural beauty of Northern Ireland.

As I gazed out towards Scotland, I was struck by the sheer magnificence of the landscape. The Torr Head Scenic Road offered more than just a route; it was a journey of discovery, a reminder of the beauty that unfolds when you choose the road less traveled.

Mourne Mountains

During my Northern Ireland trip, I had to explore the renowned Mourne Mountains, just an hour's drive from Belfast in County Down. These peaks are a haven for adventurers, offering trails for both seasoned hikers and casual walkers alike.

The highest peak, Slieve Donard, towers at 850 meters, accompanied by ten others ranging from 500 to 750 meters. Each trail unveils its own scenic wonders, but it was the iconic Mourne Wall that truly captured my attention. Stretching over 35 kilometers, this stone barrier serves as both a guide and a testament to the area’s rugged beauty.

Hiking in the Mournes was a breathtaking experience, with diverse landscapes from rocky peaks to gentle slopes. It's a paradise for hikers of all levels, offering memorable vistas and a deep connection with nature.

Dunluce Castle

Just a short drive from the Giant’s Causeway, I visited the dramatic ruins of Dunluce Castle, perched precariously on the cliff's edge. This castle, once a lavishly decorated residence of the MacDonell clan from Scotland, stood as a fortress against sieges and storms until one fateful storm in 1639 claimed part of it to the sea. Today, the haunting beauty of the crumbling ruins, constantly threatened by the natural forces that will one day claim them entirely, offers a poignant glimpse into a turbulent past. Walking among these storied walls, where history and nature intertwine so dramatically, was an unforgettable experience.

Titanic Belfast

Ever since it opened in 2012, Titanic Belfast has been Northern Ireland's star attraction, drawing in over 450,000 visitors each year. This six-floor museum, located in the Titanic Quarter, stands as the world's largest tribute to the iconic Titanic liner.

As you step inside, you're transported on a journey through time, exploring the Titanic's story from its origins in Belfast to its tragic end off the coast of Newfoundland. The museum's distinctive architecture, resembling the bow of a ship, adds to the immersive experience.

During my visit, I was captivated by the museum's nine galleries, each offering a unique perspective on the Titanic's history. It was a moving and unforgettable experience, a reminder of the enduring legacy of this legendary ocean liner.

Giant’s Ring

Just a quick 20-minute drive from Belfast city center, I stumbled upon the Giant’s Ring, a mysterious megalithic site dating back to 3000 BC. Enclosed by a circular fence 200 meters in diameter (about 656 feet), it features a 4-meter-high grassy slope adorned with a dolmen and a towering ancient tree known as “the Guardian.” Legend has it that walking around the ring three times counterclockwise brings luck—a tradition I eagerly embraced. It's a magical spot in the Irish countryside, steeped in history and mystery, that's sure to captivate any history or legend enthusiast.

Where to Eat in Northern Ireland

During my adventures in Northern Ireland, I stumbled upon some culinary gems that left me craving more. Here are a few spots that I highly recommend:

The Fullerton Arms (Ballintoy)

This charming gastropub in Ballintoy offers hearty Irish fare with a modern twist. From traditional Irish stew to gourmet burgers, every dish is bursting with flavor. Plus, the cozy atmosphere and friendly service make it the perfect spot to unwind after a day of exploring the nearby sights, including the iconic Ballintoy Harbour.

The French Rooms (Bushmills)

Tucked away in the picturesque village of Bushmills, The French Rooms is a hidden gem offering a delightful blend of French and Irish cuisine. With its elegant decor and mouthwatering menu featuring locally sourced ingredients, it's the ideal spot for a leisurely lunch or romantic dinner.

O'Connor's Bar and Guesthouse (Ballycastle)

Located in the heart of Ballycastle, O'Connor's Bar and Guesthouse is a beloved local institution known for its warm hospitality and delicious home-cooked meals. Whether you're craving traditional Irish comfort food or fresh seafood caught right off the coast, you'll find it here in abundance.

Carrick-a-Rede Bar & Restaurant (Ballintoy)

Perched on the stunning coastline near Ballintoy, the Carrick-a-Rede Bar & Restaurant offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape and the iconic Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Indulge in a delectable selection of freshly prepared dishes, including seafood caught from the nearby waters and hearty Irish classics. Whether you're dining indoors or al fresco on the terrace, you'll be treated to a memorable culinary experience paired with warm hospitality and unbeatable vistas. After your meal, take a stroll along the nearby cliffs or venture to the famous rope bridge for an unforgettable adventure.

The Bushmills Inn Restaurant (Bushmills)

For a dining experience steeped in history and charm, look no further than The Bushmills Inn Restaurant. Set within a beautifully restored 17th-century coaching inn, this award-winning restaurant serves up a delectable menu of modern Irish cuisine using the finest locally sourced ingredients. From succulent steaks to delicate seafood dishes, every bite is a delight.

Morton's Fish and Chip Shop (Ballycastle)

No visit to the seaside town of Ballycastle is complete without indulging in some traditional fish and chips from Morton's. This family-run chip shop has been serving up crispy battered fish and golden fries for generations, earning a reputation for some of the best fish and chips in the area. Enjoy your meal with a side of mushy peas and tartar sauce, and don't forget to ask for a sprinkle of salt and vinegar for that authentic seaside taste.

The Copper Kettle (Ballintoy)

Step back in time at The Copper Kettle, a charming tearoom and bakery in the heart of Ballintoy. Indulge in freshly baked pastries, homemade cakes, and traditional Irish scones served with lashings of cream and jam. With its cozy atmosphere and friendly staff, The Copper Kettle is the perfect spot to enjoy a leisurely breakfast or afternoon tea after a day of exploring the scenic surroundings.

The Bushmills Inn Brasserie (Bushmills)

Experience fine dining in a historic setting at The Bushmills Inn Brasserie. Located within the iconic Bushmills Inn, this elegant restaurant serves up a tantalizing array of gourmet dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. From sumptuous steaks to delicate seafood, each dish is a masterpiece of flavor and presentation, complemented by an extensive wine list and impeccable service.

Where to Stay in Northern Ireland

When it comes to finding the perfect place to stay in Northern Ireland, you're spoiled for choice. From charming bed and breakfasts to luxury hotels and cozy cottages, there's something to suit every taste and budget. During my own travels, I opted for an Airbnb in Belfast, ensuring I had a central base for exploring all that Northern Ireland has to offer. Here are a few more accommodation options worth considering:

The Fitzwilliam Hotel (Belfast)

Situated in the heart of Belfast city center, The Fitzwilliam Hotel offers luxurious accommodation and impeccable service. With its sleek design, comfortable rooms, and convenient location near major attractions, it's a great choice for travelers looking to explore the vibrant city.

Causeway Lodge (Bushmills)

Tucked away in the picturesque countryside near Bushmills, Causeway Lodge offers cozy bed and breakfast accommodation with a warm welcome. With its peaceful surroundings and hearty breakfasts made with local produce, it's the perfect place to unwind after a day of exploring the nearby Giant's Causeway and other attractions.

The Bushmills Inn (Bushmills)

For a touch of historic charm, look no further than The Bushmills Inn. Dating back to the 17th century, this boutique hotel offers elegant rooms, fine dining, and a cozy bar with open fires and traditional Irish music. Located in the heart of Bushmills village, it's the perfect base for exploring the area's distilleries, coastal walks, and historic sites.

Carrick-a-Rede Cottage (Ballintoy)

Experience the beauty of the Causeway Coast with a stay at Carrick-a-Rede Cottage. This charming self-catering accommodation offers stunning views of the coastline and easy access to nearby attractions such as Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and Ballintoy Harbour. With its cozy interior and idyllic setting, it's the perfect retreat for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

The Marine Hotel (Ballycastle)

Overlooking the picturesque Ballycastle Marina, The Marine Hotel offers comfortable accommodation and stunning views of the North Antrim coastline. With its friendly atmosphere, on-site restaurant serving locally sourced cuisine, and convenient location near the town center, it's a great choice for those looking to explore Ballycastle and the surrounding area.

Best Time to Visit Northern Ireland

Having explored Northern Ireland throughout the year, I've discovered that each season brings its own unique charm. Here's what you can expect during each season:

Spring (March to May): Spring is a wonderful time to visit Northern Ireland, with blooming flowers, milder temperatures, and longer days. It's the perfect season for exploring the countryside, hiking along coastal trails, and visiting historic sites without the crowds.

Summer (June to August): Summer is peak tourist season in Northern Ireland, with warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine. It's the ideal time for outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, and exploring the stunning coastline. Just be prepared for larger crowds and higher prices.

Autumn (September to November): Autumn is a magical time to visit Northern Ireland, with vibrant foliage, crisp air, and fewer tourists. It's the perfect season for scenic drives, countryside walks, and enjoying cozy evenings by the fire in traditional pubs.

Winter (December to February): Winter in Northern Ireland can be chilly and wet, but it's also the quietest time of year to visit. With fewer tourists around, it's the perfect opportunity to explore historic sites, cozy up in traditional pubs, and enjoy the festive atmosphere of Christmas markets.

Ultimately, the best time to visit Northern Ireland depends on your personal preferences and what you hope to experience during your trip. Whether you're seeking outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, or simply some rest and relaxation, Northern Ireland has something to offer year-round.

Whether you're trekking along the rugged cliffs of the Causeway Coast or wandering through the bustling streets of Belfast, Northern Ireland offers an array of experiences that can cater to any traveler’s curiosity. It's a place where every corner holds a story and every landscape is a backdrop for legends. So, pack your bags, grab your camera, and prepare for an unforgettable adventure in Northern Ireland. Happy travels!


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Hi, Thanks for stopping by!

I'm Samantha! A photographer and I believe that every picture has a story. As a blogger, I share my travel stories with everyone. I think it's important to document my travels and share my experiences with others. I've been to some amazing places and I've seen some incredible things. I want to share my stories and photos with the world.

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