Northern Ireland is well known for a series of both natural and man-made attractions it boasts. Shunned by travelers for years, Northern Ireland made a strong comeback following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and power-sharing contract that promoted peace. Since then, Northern Ireland (also known as Ulster) has rebounded culturally and economically to become one of the world’s top destinations.
Even before 1998, this corner of Ireland had maintained its status as a destination for sightseeing. The legendary natural attractions including the mystical Giant’s Causeway still remains one of the more popular destinations for many travelers. Other new arrivals such as the Belfast Titanic quarter are also high on the list.
The Giant’s Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway remains to be the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ireland, famed for its columns of layered basalt. The natural polygonal-shaped features were created over 60 million years ago by a volcanic eruption. Today, Allen’s Tours to the Giant’s Causeway remains to be the prime choice for many travelers in this area of outstanding natural beauty. The birth of the Lower, Middle, and Upper Basalts occurred in three different periods of volcanic action.
The famous amphitheaters of columns shaped like hexagons are formed by the Middle Basalt rock. Although this is the science, the legend on the area says that it was carved out by a mighty giant called Finn McCool, who left his home for a battle with one of his foes named Benandonner across the waters in Scotland. There are various names that bear a testament to the myth including the Giant’s Boot, The Camel, The Giant’s Granny, The Wishing Chair, and The Organ seen high on the cliffs. You can also see Scotland at a distance with good weather. Giant’s Causeway tour is open daily from 9 am-7 pm.
The Causeway Coast
Normally, most visitors will stop along this scenic coast towards experiencing the Giant’s Causeway. The surrounding coastline is magnificent and should not be bypassed. There are beautiful dunes, beaches, and rolling waves at Portrush and Portstewart.
At Portrush, you can also enjoy a world-class golf course. The ruined medieval Dunluce Castle is just a ten-minute drive to the west, through the scenic village of Bushmills. Visitors will also enjoy perching precipitously on the edge of the cliff. Many centuries ago, the kitchen plunged into the flail of waves on one night. The kitchen boy was the only survivor, perching on the windowsill, and was later rescued.
The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is another of Ulster’s must-sees and it’s just 15 minutes east of Giant’s Causeway. This vertiginous bridge is used by fishermen to a nearby tiny island, where they catch salmon.
The Glens of Antrim
If you have seen enough of the north Antrim coastline, the nine Glens of Antrim exude their own charm. If you drive from Ballycastle towards Larne, plenty awaits along the way from tumbling waterfalls, serene lakes, rolling hills, and forest trails. The Glenariff is the most famous and the Queen of the nine Glens. Along the way, you will notice the Glendun Bridge which is an excellent man-made feature that makes an excellent example of the innovative designs and construction in Northern Ireland. Visitors will also enjoy the scenic views of the Ballypatrick Forest Park, with over 10 kilometers of the loop drive around Carneighaneigh Mountain.
The Titanic Belfast
Tracing Belfast’s maritime history and as an honor to Titanic’s story, this star-shaped building is a striking landmark representing the White Star Line logo. As part of history, Belfast used to be the powerhouse of British Empire shipbuilding. There are also nine other interactive exhibitions to enjoy including the spot where the infamous and ill-fated Titanic was built. This is truly a world-class destination. Titanic Belfast is open daily June-August (and April) 9 am – 7 pm, in May and September 9 am-6 pm, October-March 10 am – 5 pm.
The town and port of Carrickfergus is just a 20-minute drive from Belfast and is home to Carrickfergus Castle. This is one of the best and most well-preserved medieval structures to see in Ireland, the Norman castle has been in use for over eight centuries to see off foes. The castle dominates the town and is perched near the shore, with its banqueting hall being one of the best treats for kids visiting the area. You can explore the battlements and the interior with a guide from the vision center and enjoy them at your leisure. Andrew Jackson Centre is a nearby re-imagined ancestral home to the 7th president of the USA. Carrickfergus Castle is open daily from Monday – Saturday 10 am – 4 pm and on Sundays from 12 noon to 4 pm.
The Dark Hedges
This is one of the most iconic and recognizable locations in Northern Ireland. The Dark Hedges is a collection of beech trees planted by the Stuart family along the road leading to their manor house, Gracehill House. The trees have created an enchanting avenue and provide a perfect backdrop for photographers. It’s also been featured in many popular TV shows like Game of Thrones making it a must-see attraction among fans of the show. The Dark Hedges is open all year round with free admission as it is on public land.
Bonus: The Ulster American Folk Park
Another unique attraction that cannot be missed while visiting Northern Ireland is the Ulster American Folk Park located just outside Omagh. This living history museum allows visitors to trace the ancestral roots of millions of people who left Ireland during the ‘Great Hunger’ period between 1845-1850. You can explore over 30 buildings that tell stories about both sides of the Atlantic including houses from back home in Ireland and life in America. There are also demonstrations and activities for kids to enjoy. The Ulster American Folk Park is open daily from 10 am – 5 pm. This is a great educational opportunity for both adults and children that should not be missed!
That concludes our guide to some of Northern Ireland’s top attractions! We hope you’ve enjoyed our list and that it has helped you plan your trip to Northern Ireland. Whether you’re looking to explore the beautiful countryside, take in some of its history and culture, or get your selfie with a Game of Thrones backdrop, there is something for everyone. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start exploring!