Best Places to Visit in Northern Ireland and Derry
For culture, history and nature, you really can’t beat Northern Ireland. Whether you’re visiting the capital of Belfast, the second city of Derry, or the beautiful countryside, you’ll find plenty of things to see and do.
To help you plan your trip, here’s our guide to what to do in Northern Ireland. No matter if you’re a solo traveller, enjoying a romantic weekend away as a couple, visiting as a family, or with a group of friends, there’s something for everyone in Northern Ireland.
Places to visit in Northern Ireland
There’s so much to explore in Northern Ireland, whatever your interests. Whether you’re spending a long weekend in Belfast, or travelling around the country to experience everything the countryside has to offer, you’ll find lots of options to keep you busy.
If you’re struggling to narrow down your itinerary – or if you have no idea where to start – here are our top picks for places to visit on your Northern Ireland trip.
Belfast is the bustling capital city of Northern Ireland. With a population of around 345,000 people, it’s the biggest city in the country. The city has a history of conflict and division due to The Troubles, a period of conflict between loyalist and unionist factions that lasted for around 30 years from the late 1960s to 1998.
Since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, which brought an end to most of the conflicts, Belfast has been a relatively peaceful place. It’s undergone major redevelopment to make it the thriving city it is today.
With that in mind, here are some of the places you need to add to your must-do list when visiting Belfast.
Belfast is the birthplace of the Titanic. The great ship was designed and built in the city’s dockyards before setting sail on her ill-fated maiden voyage.
The enormous Titanic museum building can be found on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard, where the RMS Titanic was built, and it’s one of the city’s most iconic sights, designed in a star-shape and built by 1,000 workers over four years.
Inside, you’ll find out all about the history of the ship, as well as its doomed journey across the Atlantic, and the fates of the passengers and crew onboard. With nine interactive galleries covering everything from the ship’s construction to its tragic sinking. A restaurant, gift shop and cafe, it’s a must-visit attraction when you’re in Belfast.
St. George’s Market
St. George’s Market is the last surviving Victorian covered market in Belfast, making it one of the oldest attractions in the city.
There’s been a market on the site since 1604, but the present-day market was built between 1890 and 1896. It’s only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but if you’re visiting over the weekend, it’s well worth a visit to sample some of the best local Irish food and soak up the atmosphere.
The Friday Variety Market hosts nearly 250 stalls selling a diverse range of products. Browse their wares while listening to live music by local artists. On Saturdays, you’ll find the Food and Craft Market, selling delicious local morsels and international cuisine alike. It’s a great place to grab a coffee and do a spot of people watching, to a soundtrack of live music.
The Sunday market offers a mixture of the Friday and Saturday markets, with a special emphasis on local arts and crafts – and again, you’ll have the opportunity to discover local bands and solo artists. Pick up some souvenirs to take home and experience everything that one of the best markets in the country has to offer.
The imposing City Hall building is a real focal point of Belfast’s city centre. Building of this Grade A-listed building was completed in 1906, and it’s been one of the most-visited attractions in the city ever since.
It’s worth a visit simply to gawk at the beautiful building, but you can also take a free guided tour. These are open to the public daily, on a first come first served basis, and they give you a glimpse of areas of City Hall not usually open to the public, including the Rotunda, clad in Italian and Greek marble, and the ‘whispering gallery’ in the central dome.
Causeway Coastal Route
The Causeway Coastal Route is one of the most beautiful road trips in the world, spanning 120 miles along the north coast of Northern Ireland. Along the way, it offers breathtaking views of the rugged coastline, dotted with charming towns and villages including Carrickfergus, Ballycastle and Portrush.
It’s also home to famous attractions like the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – two of the best places to visit in Northern Ireland!
Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most-visited attractions in the country, the Giant’s Causeway is unmissable.
This natural wonder is made up of thousands of interlocking basalt columns that were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago. Local legend has it that they were built by the giant Finn MacCool so he could walk across the Irish Sea to Scotland. You can follow in the footsteps of giants with a guided tour of the site, or simply explore it at your own pace.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
If you’re looking for a little thrill, you’ll find it in the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. It connects the mainland to the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede, and it’s thought that the first rope bridge was erected here in 1755 to facilitate salmon fishing.
Suspended around 25 metres above the sea, the 20-metre walk isn’t for the faint hearted – but those who do brave it will be rewarded with incredible views. On a good day, you can even see as far as Scotland!
Game of Thrones Filming Locations
If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to filming locations in Northern Ireland, but two of the best are Dark Hedges and Tollymore Forest Park.
The Dark Hedge, in County Antrim, served as the King’s Road in the show. This avenue of beech trees, planted in the 18th century, arches over the road to create a natural, atmospheric tunnel.
It’s become one of the most photographed spots in Northern Ireland, and since it was featured in Game of Thrones, it’s also one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions, particularly with fans of the show.
But beware if you do visit – it’s said that the Dark Hedges are haunted by the mysterious Grey Lady!
Tollymore Forest Park
This forest park can be found at Bryansford, near the town of Newcastle, at the foot of the Mourne Mountains. Within the park’s 630 hectares, you’ll discover four waymarked trails and incredible views of the nearby mountains.
It also happens to be another Game of Thrones filming location. It was used for the Haunted Forest, north of the Wall; the Wolfswood near Winterfell; and the King’s Road near Castle Black. Discover these locations for yourself, or take a guided tour to find all the Game of Thrones filming locations within the park!
High on the list of reasons to visit Northern Ireland is its beautiful countryside. From scenic waterside locations to rural, rugged mountains, Northern Ireland has a huge range of open and wild spaces where you can really get away from it all.
The Mourne Mountains are a range of mountains located in County Down, offering some of the best hiking in Northern Ireland with trails that range from easy to challenging. Slieve Donard is the highest peak in Ireland and can be found in the Mournes, standing at an impressive 852 metres tall.
Whether you have a couple of hours or a full day to explore, you’ll fall in love with the picturesque beauty of the Mourne Mountains. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has been capturing the imaginations of visitors for hundreds of years, including CS Lewis when writing The Chronicles of Narnia. The Mournes have also been used as a filming location for Game of Thrones.
Glens of Antrim
The Glens of Antrim, known locally simply as ‘the Glens’ is a series of nine glens in County Antrim, and another of Northern Ireland’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Each of the nine glens – Ballycastle, Cushendall, Cushendun, Glenarm, Carnlough and Waterfoot – have their own unique character, but each is as beautiful as the next.
The Celtic Titles Nature Reserve
Why not buy your own plot of Irish land that you can visit? The Celtic Titles Nature Reserve affectionately named Slievekirk Wood thanks to the fantastic views of Slievekirk Mountain makes for a fantastic day out. On your visit you can find your own piece of land for a quick photo for the ultimate Irish souvenir and spot some of the local flora and fauna such as Red Squirrels, Buzzards and Fallow Deer.
Things to do in Derry/Londonderry
Derry, like Belfast, has been home to conflict over the years, something which is even reflected in the city’s name. Officially called Londonderry, it’s more commonly known as Derry, and the debate between these two names intensified with the onset of the Troubles in the 1960s.
Derry is often overlooked by visitors to Northern Ireland, but to miss it off your itinerary would be a mistake. The second-largest city in the country has plenty to offer, and it’s well worth a visit. Here are just a few of the top things to do in Derry.
The walls are a historic fortification that surrounds Derry, built in the 17th entry to protect the city from attack. Today, they offer amazing views of the city and the surrounding countryside, and you can either take a guided tour of the walls or explore them at your own pace.
The Peace Bridge was opened in 2011, and it crosses the River Foyle, bringing together the communities of Waterside and Cityside, which have historically been Unionist and Nationalist respectively.
The bridge bridges the gap between these previously very divided communities and acts as a symbol of a more united Derry.
The Guildhall is one of the most recognisable buildings in Derry, built in 1890 in a neo-gothic style. You can take a guided tour of the building, where you’ll get to see the 23 stained glass windows that tell the story of the city’s history, as well as the Guildhall Clock, which was modelled on Big Ben.
This museum is located in a historic tower located within the city walls, and tells the history of Derry. You’ll also find an open-air viewing facility in the heart of the city centre with stunning panoramic views of the city and River Foyle – the perfect thing to do on a sunny day in Derry!
Unusual Things to Do in Northern Ireland
If you want to venture slightly off the beaten path on your trip to Northern Ireland, give these hidden gems a go.
Visit the Mussenden Temple
If you’re visiting Derry or traversing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, be sure to take a detour to the Mussenden Temple. Both are roughly 40 minutes from this impressive temple, located near Castlerock in County Londonderry.
It’s perched on a cliff edge with a 120-foot drop below and is modelled on the Temple of Vesta in Italy. As well as admiring its architecture, and the incredible views over the Atlantic Ocean, you can also explore the Walled Garden, Downhill Demesne (an amazing 18th-century mansion), and explore cliff-top walks.
Take a Black Cab Tour in Belfast
See Belfast from a different perspective when you take a taxi tour. There’s a range of different companies offering these tours, but the premise is generally the same: you’ll be driven around the city in a taxi, with the driver explaining the history of the city and the country, and taking you to key sights along the way.
Over the course of an hour or two, you’ll get a deep insight into Belfast’s troubled past – and get a glimpse of its bright future.
Fun Things to Do in Northern Ireland for Couples
Taking a trip with your beloved? Here are some of the best things to do for couples to make your holiday a memorable one.
Take a Stroll at the Antrim Coast
The coast of County Antrim, which runs between Larne and Ballycastle, is one of the most scenic areas in Northern Ireland. There’s plenty to see and do along the coastline, from incredible scenery to charming towns and villages like Larne, home to the Ulster-American memorial commemorating the first Irish immigrants to America in 1717, and Ballycastle – as well as the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.
Have a Picnic at Lough Erne
Lough Erne, located in County Fermanagh, is two interconnected lakes, the Lower Lough and Upper Lough, that are joined in the middle by the River Erne. The lakes have featured heavily in Irish mythology and folklore throughout the centuries, so you’ll be enjoying a picnic surrounded by myth, legend and incredible beauty.
Attend a Traditional Irish Music Session
Head to any pub in Northern Ireland in the evening, and you’re sure to find a local band playing. Listen to traditional tunes, enjoy the craic and spend quality time with your partner – what could be better on date night?
Things to Do in Derry with Kids
Northern Ireland is an extremely child-friendly country. You’ll find plenty of family attractions in Northern Ireland, including lots to see and do in Derry.
Play in the Foyle Arena
If your little ones need to blow off some steam, head to the Foyle Arena. This state-of-the-art centre has something for everyone, including a 25-metre swimming pool, a children’s play pool, and an indoor climbing wall.
Explore the Jungle NI
Just 45 minutes from both Derry and Belfast, The Jungle is an incredible woodland that kids of all ages are sure to love. It opened in 2005 as Northern Ireland’s first paintball centre, and has since grown to be the biggest outdoor activity centre in the country. Choose from a tree top adventure, archery, clay pigeon shooting, quad biking, llama trekking, and much more.
Reasons to Visit Northern Ireland
If you haven’t been tempted by all of the amazing Northern Ireland attractions we’ve listed above, there are plenty of other reasons to visit the country.
Not only will you find some of the most spectacular scenery in the UK, from rugged mountains to breathtaking coastlines, but you’ll also discover a country with a rich history and culture.
Learn about Northern Ireland’s tumultuous history, from its Gaelic past to its formation in 1921 and the Troubles, as well as its culture – past, present and future.
Finally, Ireland is world-renowned for its seriously friendly people, and Northern Ireland is no different. You’re sure to be greeted with super friendly hospitality wherever you go, from Belfast to Derry and everywhere in between.
What To See In Northern Ireland
You’ll be spoiled for choice during your Northern Ireland trip – in fact, the most difficult part will be narrowing down what you want to do! Whether you want to experience the buzz of Belfast and Derry, or discover the incredible scenery Northern Ireland’s countryside has to offer, there’s something for everyone.
Ready to plan your own visit to Northern Ireland?
Sign up to Celtic Titles and get a discount on your very own piece of land! You can even visit it on your trip.
When you buy a small plot of land in Northern Ireland, you’ll be helping to fund the creation, improvement, and management of nature reserves, to keep Northern Ireland beautiful.