I recently travelled to Northern Ireland with the sole purpose of tracking down 24 amazing moments travellers can experience…one for each hour of the day.
My very first trip a few years back had been spent exploring Belfast and venturing up to the Causeway Coast on a day trip, but I had left barely scratching the surface. That’s why I was thrilled to be coming back to Northern Ireland, this time with plenty of time to spare and an itinerary that would take me across the country.
Northern Ireland History For Travelers
Northern Ireland is a destination that captures the imagination of travelers with its rich history and intriguing past. The region’s complex political and social dynamics have shaped its culture, landmarks, and attractions, making it a fascinating place to explore for history buffs and curious travelers alike.
One of the defining moments in Northern Ireland‘s history was the partition of Ireland in 1921. This event created a new political entity, Northern Ireland, which remains part of the United Kingdom to this day. This division was a response to the political unrest and violence that had plagued Ireland for decades, culminating in a conflict between those seeking independence and those who wished to maintain British control over the island.
The legacy of this division is still felt today, particularly in the tensions between the Protestant and Catholic communities. This divide has deep historical roots, with the Protestant majority community established through the settlement of English and Scottish settlers in the 17th century. This has created a distinct cultural identity in Northern Ireland, with a rich and fascinating history that is waiting to be explored.
The recent history of Northern Ireland has been marked by a period of violence known as “The Troubles”, which lasted from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. This was a time of intense sectarian violence, with paramilitary groups on both sides engaging in a campaign of violence to achieve their political goals. The Troubles had a profound impact on Northern Ireland’s society and economy, but the region has emerged from this period with a renewed sense of peace and stability.
Travelers visiting Northern Ireland can discover the country’s complex past through its landmarks and attractions. The Peace Wall in Belfast is an iconic symbol of the region’s troubled past, separating Catholic and Protestant communities, while the Bogside area of Derry provides insight into the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972. Museums such as the Ulster Museum and the Titanic Belfast museum provide a fascinating window into Northern Ireland’s history and culture.
Northern Ireland is a destination that offers travelers a unique and compelling travel experience. Its complex history, cultural landmarks, and stunning natural beauty make it a must-visit destination for those seeking to understand the region’s past and appreciate its present. Whether you’re a history buff or simply curious about this fascinating region, Northern Ireland is a destination that is sure to capture your imagination.
Northern Ireland in 24 Experiences
01:00 – Have cocktails at The Merchant Hotel
One of my favourite experiences in Belfast was having a cocktail at The Merchant Hotel. With an elegant and classy atmosphere that isn’t pretentious, and a jaw-dropping selection of cocktails, it’s easy to see why this cocktail bar was voted best in the world by Tales of the Cocktail. It’s a fun spot to either end the evening or kickstart the night depending on your style.
Location: Merchant Hotel – Address: 16 Skipper Street, Belfast
02:00 – Enjoy the nightlife at The Bullitt Hotel
Additionally, Belfast has legendary nightlife and after hitting up a few pubs I finished the night at Bullitt Hotel where there was a live DJ set. This was another lively spot with great cocktails, so come thirsty!
Location: Bullitt Hotel – 40a Church Lane, Belfast
03:00 – Bake some sourdough bread
Now for a rather unusual activity: if you’re an early bird, how about baking some sourdough bread?
I joined Dara at the Ursa Minor Bakehouse, where he is up at 3 am daily to make his famous sourdough bread. Furthermore, his bread picked up awards at the World Bread Awards in 2016, so even if you can’t rise early, swing by for a fresh loaf later in the morning to see what it’s all about.
Location: Ursa Minor Bakery – 45 Ann Street, Ballycastle [10am to 4pm (Tue-Sat)]
04:00 – Sleep in a Haunted Castle
If you dare muster up the courage, consider visiting the haunted room located at Ballygally Castle, which is home to the ghost of Lady Isobel Shaw.
The story goes that after being locked in her room and starved by her husband, she fell to her death from the window.
Mediums have been invited to spend the night at the castle and they’ve reported that there are more ghosts than actual guests.
Would you spend the night here?
Location: Ballygally Castle – Coast Road, Ballygally
05:00 – Watch sunrise at Giant’s Causeway
This was my second time visiting Giant’s Causeway, but this time around, I beat the crowds. Hence, if you don’t mind setting an alarm while on holiday, it’s worth getting up early and visiting for sunrise.
Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO Heritage Site that features no less than 40,000+ interlocking basalt columns as a result of an ancient volcanic eruption.
Legend has it that Irish giant, Finn MacCool, built the causeway across the North Channel to accept a fight from Scottish giant Benandonner.
When you visit this place for sunrise, it’s easy to imagine these tales to be true.
Location: Giant’s Causeway – 44 Causeway Road, Bushmills
06:00 – Take the Catch & Sea Tour
Did you arrive in Northern Ireland with your sea legs? If so, you can join the Catch & Sea Tour with experienced fishermen for their early morning catch.
Not only do you get to experience the dramatic coastline of the Causeway Coast; however, you can even catch your own breakfast.
Also, once you make it back to land, the catch is cooked up for breakfast along with a lovely assortment of baked bread, cheeses, chutney, butter and freshly brewed coffee. The perfect way to start the morning!
Location: Babushka – S Pier, Portrush
07:00 – Visit the Dark Hedges
Any Game Of Thrones fans out there?
Eat your heart out at the Dark Hedges where you’ll find the famous tree-lined avenue with an opportunity to dress up in costume while wielding a sword on horseback.
Ensure that you bring extra batteries for your camera. The atmospheric tunnel is a major tourist attraction so arrive early to beat the crowds.
Location: Dark Hedges – Bregagh Rd, Stranocum, Ballymoney
Contact: Sheans Horse Farm – Armoy, 38 Coolkeeran Rd, Ballymoney
08:00 – Walk the Gobbins Cliff Path
To experience the best of rugged Northern Ireland, you can walk the Gobbins Cliff Path.
This is a complete sensory experience where you can hear the churning of the sea, feel the cool breeze blowing on your face, and admire the native seabirds that call this place home. There are some incredible views to be had here.
Bring a windbreaker because it can really pick up here!
Location: The Gobbins – 77-83 Gobbins Road, Larne
09:00 – Cross Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
Bring your hiking shoes and a pinch of courage to cross Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, which links the mainland to the small island of Carraig a’ Ráid (Rock of the Casting).
Be warned that this is not for the faint-hearted as there have been instances where visitors have had to be taken off the island by boat because of intense fear of walking back across the bridge.
The suspension bridge, made of Douglas fir and wire, offers some of the best vantage points for landscape photos.
My one tip: keep your eyes fixed straight ahead.
10:00 – Titanic Belfast (Belfast)
If for some reason you only have time for one major attraction in Belfast, without any hesitation visit Titanic Belfast.
Voted the World’s Best Tourist Attraction at the World Travel Awards in 2016, the iconic building shaped like the bow of a ship, offers mesmerizing interactive experiences where you learn about the lives of the workers who built the Titanic along with the passengers and crew who made the fateful voyage.
Location: Titanic Belfast – 1 Olympic Way, Queens Road, Belfast (10 am to 5 pm daily)
11:00 – Have an Ulster Fry at St George’s Market
Whether you’re looking for a great local food experience or a tasty souvenir to take back home to friends, St George’s Market in Belfast is your best bet.
Come in the morning and have an Ulster Fry for brunch featuring soda bread, potato bread, back bacon, fried eggs, fried mushrooms, sausages, baked beans, hash browns and toast.
You’ll most likely want to skip lunch! 😉
12:00 – Take the Belfast Food Tour
With a burgeoning food scene that is impossible to conquer in mere days, the Belfast Food Tour is a great way to sample some of the best bites and drinks the city has to offer.
Their 4-hour guided walk takes you to some top food and drink spots around Belfast City Centre, plus they also offer gin and whisky tours if boozy tours are more your thing!
Location: Taste and Tour NI – A1.01 Portview Trade Centre, 310 Newtownards Road, Belfast
13:00 – Have the fish at Harry’s Shack
Located on the beach, Harry’s Shack is THE spot for local seafood and fish. I had a hankering for fish and chips and it was the best I’ve had in Northern Ireland. Come for the food but consider the views, atmosphere and friendly service the cherry on top.
Location: Harry’s Shack – 116 Strand Rd, Portstewart (Lunch & dinner hours vary Tues-Sun)
14:00 – Winterfell GOT Experience
The Dark Hedges wasn’t the only GOT destination I visited. Game Of Thrones fans will be glad to know that you can visit Castle Ward to experience Winterfell by dressing up in costume and putting those archery skills to the test.
Location: Winterfell Castle & Demesne, Old Castle Ward, Park Road, Downpatrick
15:00 – Belfast Street Art Tour
I’ve visited many cities around the world with fascinating street art but nothing quite compares to Belfast. Join a tour with a local artist to discover the significance and meaning of various works of art as you stroll around Cathedral Quarter.
Location: Visit Belfast – 9 Donegall Square N, Belfast
16:00 – Belfast Gin Gaunt
I’ve become a big fan of gin in recent years and if you want to tickle your tastebuds, I’d suggest taking the Belfast Gin Gaunt to work your way around some of the best bars and pubs in the city.
In total, you visit 5 spots sampling 7 different gins including 3 that are locally made.
Location: Taste and Tour NI – A1.01 Portview Trade Centre, 310 Newtownards Road, Belfast (Mon-Fri 9 am to 5 pm)
17:00 – Boom Board Tour (Derry)
Ever heard of boom boarding before? I hadn’t until visiting Derry.
Long-boarding originated in Hawaii when surfers wanted to take to the streets on wheels; today it’s also a fun way to tour Derry.
The 2-hour tour starts with a lesson in St Columb’s Park and then takes you to the streets and winds up at the famous Walled City Brewery where you can sample local brews coming out of the microdistillery.
Location: Far and Wild – St Columb’s Park House, 4 Limavady Rd, Londonderry
18:00 – Enjoy a craft beer tasting
If you’ve done even a quarter of what I’ve suggested in this article you’ll have worked up a ridiculous appetite at some point. To satisfy your hunger I suggest heading over to the Walled City Brewery in Derry for burgers and craft beers.
I came hungry and left feeling more than satisfied.
Just look at that burger!
Location: Walled City Brewery – Ebrington Square & Parade Ground, 70 Ebrington Street, Derry-Londonderry BT47 6FA, UK (+44 28 7134 3336)
19:00 – Visit Lough Navar Viewpoint
For a walk in the woods check out Lough Navar Forest where you’ll find numerous points of interest including views over Lower Lough Erne, Sperrin Mounts and the west coast of Donegal.
Location: Lough Navar Forest – Glennasheevar Rd, Derrygonnelly, Enniskillen
20:00 – Relax with an Outdoor Spa Experience
After that action-packed schedule, I was feeling ready to unwind and Finn Lough Resort proved to be the perfect spot. You can’t go wrong with a natural outdoor spa in a scenic backdrop.
Location: Finn Lough Resort – Letter Road, Leggs, Enniskillen BT93 2BB, UK (+44 28 6838 0360)
21:00 – Watch sunset over Lough Erne
After my spa experience, I went over to Lough Erne where I enjoyed nightfall over the lake, warmed up my toes over the fire pit, and munched on cheese while sipping on wine. It was a magic moment to wind down the day.
Location: Finn Lough Resort – Letter Road, Leggs, Enniskillen BT93 2BB, UK (+44 28 6838 0360)
22:00 – Go to Cathedral Quarter for nightlife
The cobbled streets of Cathedral Quarter in Belfast are your best for nightlife when the plethora of bars and pubs become packed on a weekend night. Here you can party the night away while enjoying live music on the streets and raising a pint with friendly locals.
Location: Royal Avenue and the Dunbar Link
23:00 – Have a late night dinner at Love Fish
For a seafood feast of feasts, head over to Deanes Love Fish which serves a seafood platter for the ages. My plate was loaded with tasty bites from the sea and I couldn’t help but indulge in a little bit of everything.
Location: Deanes Love Fish – 30-36 Howard Street, Belfast
24:00 – Moonlight Kayaking (Derry)
Last but not least, to wrap up this Northern Ireland itinerary, consider a moonlight kayaking experience. Not only is it a good workout but you’ll also have an opportunity to spot wildlife you wouldn’t otherwise see during the day. Some of the highlights include Peace Bridge in Derry, Magilligan Fort and the Roe River under the Binevenagh Mountain.
Location: Far and Wild – St Columb’s Park House, 4 Limavady Rd, Londonderry
Where To Stay In Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is a land of natural beauty and rich history, making it a popular destination for travelers from all over the world. With its stunning landscapes, charming villages, and vibrant cities, there is no shortage of places to stay in Northern Ireland to suit every taste and budget.
The vibrant capital city of Belfast offers an array of accommodation options, ranging from luxurious hotels to budget-friendly guesthouses. The iconic Europa Hotel, located in the heart of the city, is one of the most popular options for travelers seeking a luxury stay. Known for its grandeur and history, the Europa has hosted many famous guests over the years, including Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama.
For a more contemporary feel, the Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast is a stylish option, boasting modern amenities and stunning views of the city. On the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty of budget-friendly options, such as the Lagan Backpackers Hostel, which offers affordable accommodation in a central location.
Beyond Belfast, Northern Ireland offers a wealth of charming bed and breakfasts, guesthouses, and country retreats. The Causeway Coast and Glens region, situated on the north coast of Northern Ireland, is a popular destination for travelers seeking stunning natural scenery and a slower pace of life.
The Bushmills Inn, located in the quaint village of Bushmills, is a luxurious option with a cozy, traditional feel. Its original features, such as open fireplaces and stone walls, add to the ambiance of this charming country inn. The nearby Ballycastle town has a plethora of bed and breakfasts, such as the Glenmore House, which offers guests a warm welcome and stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
The seaside town of Portrush is another popular destination in the Causeway Coast and Glens region. The Portrush Atlantic Hotel is a modern option located right on the coast, offering stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. For a more traditional experience, the Adelphi Portrush is a family-run guesthouse, known for its friendly hospitality and convenient location.
For travelers seeking a unique experience, Northern Ireland has a range of accommodation options that are a little out of the ordinary. The Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort, located in Ballymena, offers luxurious treehouses nestled in the surrounding forest. These treehouses offer guests a unique and tranquil escape, with stunning views of the River Maine and surrounding countryside.
Alternatively, the Culloden Estate & Spa, located just outside Belfast, offers guests the opportunity to stay in a 19th-century palace. The estate is set in 12 acres of landscaped gardens and boasts stunning views of Belfast Lough.
Overall, Northern Ireland has a wealth of accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets. Whether you’re seeking a luxury city break, a charming countryside retreat, or a unique and quirky stay, there’s something to suit every traveler in Northern Ireland.
Have you been to Northern Ireland?
What are some of your favourite experiences there?
The trip was brought to you as part of the #lovegreatbritain campaign, created and managed by iambassador in partnership with Visit Britain and Discover Northern Ireland.