The Best of Northern Ireland
by Katie McCabe | @awelltraveledpair | May 9th, 2019
Northern Ireland is known for its breathtaking natural wonders, ancient castles, lively music scene, and rich history. As John and I were mapping out our Ireland and Scotland road-trip, I knew that we had to spend at least a couple days exploring this fascinating area. To be honest, we weren't sure what to expect. After all, this is an area that had much political unrest up until the late 1990's dubbed "The Troubles." To this day, protests still continue. However, during our short time there, the energy was perfectly peaceful. We saw beautiful sights, enjoyed the lovely weather (not a drop of rain!), and met some of the friendliest folks. If you're thinking of visiting Northern Ireland, and I highly suggest that you do, below are eight sights you don't want to miss.
Belfast is quite a melting pot of art, music, and history. Known for producing some of the music industries biggest stars, such as Van Morrison and Snow Patrol, Belfast is also where Led Zeppelin preformed "Stairway to Heaven" for the very first time. The Oh Yeah Music Centre's Belfast Music Exhibition houses all sorts of memorabilia and is a fantastic place for every music lover to visit.
If art is more of what you're after, there's plenty of it right on Belfast's streets. Local artists took their paint brushes to the streets to portray the divide that was felt in Northern Ireland during the English takeover. Murals can be found all around the city and include everything from messages of peace and unity to memorials of the fallen.
For all you history buffs, a trip to the Titanic Museum should definitely be on your list. The famous ship was completed in Belfast in 1912 and set sail that same year for its maiden and fateful voyage. Today, the museum's interactive features help visitors experience the famous ship's decks, journey, and even its remains from the bottom of the Atlantic. It is quite a moving experience.
Tip: Admission to the Titanic Belfast is £19 GBP / $25 USD for Adults, £8.50 GBP / $11 USD for Children (Ages 5-16), FREE for Children under 5. Hours vary.
The Oh Yeah Music Centre
Titanic Belfast Museum
The iconic ruins of Dunluce Castle sit high on a basalt cliff overlooking the dramatic Antrim Coast. First built in the 13th century, the castle's seemingly protected surroundings were conquered by the MacDonnell clan in the 16th century. Years later, numerous storms destroyed parts of the castle little by little. Today, a hearty amount of ruins still remain and are one of Northern Ireland's most visited sights.
Tip: Parking and grounds are FREE! Entrance to the castle is £5 GBP / $6.50 USD for Adults, £3 GBP / $4 USD for Children/Seniors, FREE for Children under 5. Hours vary.
The Giant's Causeway is hands-down the best sight in all of Northern Ireland. Over 40,000 basalt rocks decorate the shoreline and create a atmosphere like nowhere else in the world. This famous World Heritage Site dates back almost 60 million years when Ireland and Scotland were connected by land. It's said that a volcanic eruption separated the land with boiling lava and then cold river water helped form the breathtaking columns. It's a solid theory, however, many locals prefer to believe the legend of how the Giant's Causeway was formed. As legend has it, giant Finn McCool picked a fight with a much larger Scottish giant named Benandonner. Even though Finn was much smaller than Benandonner, he agreed to build a bridge to connect Scotland and Northern Ireland so the two could meet for a fight. Finn got tired from building all day and laid down to take a nap. When Finn was sleeping, Benandonner decided to walk over to Northern Ireland to fight Finn once and for all. Finn's wife saw the much larger giant coming and quickly covered Finn up with a blanket and baby bonnet. Once Benandonner arrived, Finn's wife shushed the giant and told him not to wake the baby. Benandonner thought if this was the baby then Finn must be enormous. He ran back to Scotland, destroying the bridge along the way ensuring that he and Finn could never fight, and creating the stunning Giant's Causeway.
Tip: It is FREE to visit the Giant's Causeway! Park at the Causeway Hotel (for FREE) and simply walk down to the site. If you want to park at and access the Visitor Center then there is a fee of £12.50 GBP / $16 USD for Adults, £6.25 GBP / $8 USD for Children. Hours vary.
The Dark Hedges
The Dark Hedges is a stunning tree lined tree made famous from the TV series Game of Thrones. Visitors from all over the world come to see the now-famous road and stroll underneath the towering beech trees. Admission is FREE and parking is very cheap - £2 GBP / $3 USD at the nearby Hedges Hotel. Please do not park along the Dark Hedges road.
Kinbane Castle is probably the most underrated sight in all of the Coastal Causeway. I was so captivated by its beauty and I was shocked with the lack of tourists. John and I practically had the whole place to ourselves. Kinbane means "White Head" and refers to the white limestone that the castle is built on. It is so spectacular and if you're lucky, you'll experience it with barely anyone else around.
Tip: Admission and parking is FREE!
During your long day of sightseeing, I highly recommend stopping in the town of Bushmills for lunch. Located between Dunluce Castle and the Giant's Causeway, this adorable town is home to some delicious Irish restaurants/cafes and the Old Bushmills Distillery. Grab some perfectly fried fish and chips at The Cod's Way and then sample or purchase some aged whiskey at the popular distillery before heading back out to Northern Ireland's best sights.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
The first time I visited Ireland in 2015 I was so bummed when I found out the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge was in Northern Ireland and not on our itinerary. I vowed to myself that the next time I was in Ireland I was going to cross the hair-raising bridge. When I was planning a 2019 visit, I knew it was time to see this amazing place. It was a gorgeous, sunny April day when John and I visited and it was also PACKED with people. This is one of the most popular sights in Northern Ireland and is definitely worth a visit, that is if you don't have a fear of heights. The bridge dangles 100+ feet over the ocean's rocky waters and sways while people are crossing.
Tip: Be sure to purchase your tickets ahead of time! They do sell out! Adults - £9 GBP / $12 USD, Children - £4.50 GBP / $6 USD. Parking is FREE!
Dunseverick Castle remains may be small but its history and surroundings surely pack a punch. Located on a gorgeous, green peninsula, the castle was once visited by St Patrick in the 5th century to baptize Olcan, a local man who went on to become a Bishop of Ireland. The grounds are so breathtaking that shows such as Game of Thrones were filmed here. A lot of people prefer to use Dunseverick as a starting point along the North Antrim Cliff Walk. Starting at Dunseverick and ending at the Giant's Causeway, visitors walk 5 miles along rugged and wild coastline all while taking in some of the most epic scenery in all of Ireland.
Tip: Parking and admission is FREE!