I have in fact spent most of my life in Northern Ireland, given I was born here, so you’d think I would have covered a fair few of the below destinations and attractions in my lifetime. Yet ironically, it wasn’t until recent years, when living in Asia, that I ticked off most of the destinations below, when on return visits with Fanfan. As I really never appreciated my home country until seeing it through the eyes of a visitor. And this is why I have turned to fellow travel bloggers to share some of their own memorable visits to the emerald isle, with destinations and tourist attractions that really stood out for them during their visits to Northern Ireland. And these include various weekend destinations and day trips from Belfast. As you can literally reach any point on this small island on a day tour from Belfast, although many would be recommended to give a weekend or so. Anyway, below is a short list of some of the best weekends and day trips from Belfast in Northern Ireland and Ireland. Starting in the north, and moving down towards the southern shores of Ireland.
When to Visit Belfast?
People do complain (a lot) about the weather in Northern Ireland, but this is the same everywhere you go, and in Thailand (for example) locals complain constantly about the relentless heat. As it’s the whole ‘grass is always greener’ scenario’. And this is why I often favour the recommendations of tourists. And ironically, what I actually love about Northern Ireland these days, is the cycle of the seasons, with the spring blooms, the autumn colours, and the occasional snow falls in the winter months. Along with the celebrations and surprises in between. And while the long summer days will always be the best for sightseeing and exploring, I do love the atmospheric winter months in this part of the world. However daylight hours do change quite dramatically through the year, from as little as 8 hours in January, up to near 17 hours in June and July.
Northern Ireland Attractions
Admittedly Northern Ireland’s tourism has a slightly depressing past, as a country foremost famous for alcoholics, terrorism and a sinking ship. And Northern Ireland in the past was a country to avoid. But now I can honestly think of few more fascinating destinations to explore, where it’s a country rich in culture (albeit conflicting at times) and it has some of the most captivating scenery, and wild and rugged landscapes around. Which include many iconic landscapes from the settings of Game of Thrones. But for me Northern Ireland will always be the perfect road trip destination (although public transport covers most day trips from Belfast anyway) due to the close-knit nature of tourist attractions, as pretty much any place of interest in Northern Ireland can be reached in no more than an hour or two from Belfast. Then there are just the many fascinating rural scenes between. Anyway, check here for our own road trip itinerary for Northern Ireland.
Bangor Coastal Path
Found just a handful of train stops from Belfast is Bangor, which was once one of the most exciting destinations in all of Ireland, where boats from Scotland (Glasgow) and northern England would flood the town during summer months. And it was a bit like a mini Blackpool of sorts before cheap air travel jetted us off to the sunny beaches of Europe. So these days it is more popular with well-heeled sorts, where the town has the largest marina in all of Northern Ireland, as well as many of its better golf courses along the “Gold Coast” as its known locally. And the main attraction would be its coastline, where attractions in the centre of town include Bangor Marina, the Eisenhower Pier, and Pickie Fun Park (for the kids). As well as the North Down Coastal Path which begins at Bangor’s central seafront. And this would easily be one of the region’s most scenic seaside walks, where the coastline follows magnificent seascapes, as well as the train line between Belfast, so it’s easy to just jump off or on at stations along the way. And you can check out the scenery of the North Down Coastal Path: From Bangor to Holywood here.
By Jonny Blair of a Northern Irishman in Poland: Ards peninsula is one of Northern Ireland’s lesser ventured gems, which is why you need to head there soon to savour the beauty before the boom begins. From Bangor-bordering Groomsport all the way down to Portaferry, meander your way through towns, villages and farms so peaceful, so pure, so pretty on a land which mappily or bird eye-ily resembles a penis. Jokes aside, you could argue, the Ards peninsula towns are the epitome of a Northern Irish lifestyle. I challenge you to drive 10 miles in this area without encountering either a church, a pub or a cow and often, cows outnumber people as local farmers strive to produce not just milk but prime Ulster beef ready for the next batch of butchery in one of the bigger, nearby towns (e.g. Newtownards, Comber or Bangor). The views are sublime – across the bay, beyond the insatiable isolation of Copeland Island (itself the ‘Bali’ of Bangor) is the land of the tartan kilt. Yes, on a clear day you can see Scotland from the coast of the Ards peninsula. On a dull day, tune into local radio station Cool FM while gazing out at the crashing waves, watching the Ulster rain help the latest batch of potatoes grow their way through the delicious soil. (Jonny’s extensive guide to Ards Peninsula to come).
By Laurence of Finding the Universe: If you’re visiting Belfast for a few days, a fun day trip is to head out to The Gobbins Cliff Path for a guided hike. This can be found about a forty minute drive outside of Belfast. You can also take the train to Ballycarry which takes around 45 minutes from Belfast and from the train station it’s around a 20-minute walk from Ballycarry to The Gobbins visitor centre where the tour starts. The Gobbins Cliff Path has been a popular attraction since Edwardian times, although the route has been somewhat updated since it was first opened in 1902! The path here winds along the edge of the cliff, and as well as the spectacular rock formations, it offers the chance to see both bird and sealife, plus learn a bit about this history of the area, and changing tourism and cultural changes that led to this cliff walk becoming one of Ireland’s most popular attractions. The Gobbins Cliff Walk can only be visited as part of a guided tour, and the tour lasts around 2.5 hours. It does involve a bit of hiking on uneven terrain, so the correct footwear is essential. Advance booking is also recommended, as this is still, over 100 years after it first opened, one of Northern Ireland’s most popular attractions.
By Jessica Norah of Independent Travel Cats: The Causeway Coast driving route is a 120-mile scenic tourist route that winds along the coast from Londonderry (or Derry) to Belfast. Along the route you can see scenic views, castles, parks, historical attractions, and much more! Some of the most popular stops along the route are the Giant’s Causeway (below), Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle (below), and Bushmills whiskey distillery. There are also a number of possible stops located not far from the Causeway Coast Driving Route such as the Glenariff Nature Reserve and The Dark Hedges. The Dark Hedges are a picturesque avenue of beech trees planted in the 18th century that was featured in The Game of Thrones TV show. Most of the route is accessible to all drivers, but there is a narrow and windy section that is not recommended for those in larger vehicles and campervans, but this is clearly signposted. We have driven this route twice and there is definitely a lot packed into such a short route! (Check out our favourite Causeway Coast attractions here).
A great day trip from Belfast that you should not miss is a visit of the famous Giant’s Causeway – an UNESCO world heritage site! The area consists of hundreds of basalt columns on the coast which look very surreal and it’s actually hard to believe that this is a natural and not a man-made attraction! Giant’s Causeway is only an hour drive north from Belfast at the coast and therefore perfect for a day trip. There’s a steep coastline which offers you great views from the top, and you should also climb down to the shore – that’s where you can see the columns from up-close and even walk on them. Keep in mind that it might get a bit slippery and wet here, so make sure to wear good hiking shoes. Since Giant’s Causeway is also one of North Ireland’s most popular attractions, you’ll find many tour groups here and it can be a bit crowded at times. If you’re flexible, I highly recommend to arrive as early as possible in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.
By Inma Gregorio of A World to Travel: Spooky and a great spot for history buffs, I visited the now-ruined Middle Ages Dunluce Castle in Northern Ireland a few years ago, as I was road tripping the country clockwise with my partner in crime and photographer, Jose. Located on the edge of a cliff made of basaltic rock, the best way to visit it is to wander and get lost through its half-standing walls. Originally built in 1500 by the McQuillans, who came from Scotland in the 1200s; it also makes a perfect day trip from Belfast. If you are nearby, get there right before sunset, where it gets more dramatic. And please do not get put off by the weather, Dunluce castle is a great spot rain or shine. In fact, it might be even better to visit it after a storm as we did. That way you could get lucky and have it all for yourself as the crowds are usually gone after a storm. In any case, make sure to plan your visit to Dunluce on your Ireland itinerary. It is well worth it! Find more Ireland pictures that will make you visit the country on A World to Travel.
The scenic town of Newcastle would be the gateway to the Mourne Mountains as well as the simplest starting point for rambles with a direct path leading directly to the highest summit in Northern Ireland at Slieve Donard. However, there are many alternative starting points, including Bloody Bridge, the Silent Valley, as well as my own personal favourite walking to the Hare’s Gap (pictured) from the Trassey Road. Although these alternatives will be much harder to reach without personal transport. So a road trip is again highly recommended for the Mourne Mountain region, where there are just so any contrasting mountain trails to explore, as well as other regional attractions that can be included on a wider itinerary. Including Tollymore Forest Park, one of the famous Game of Thrones filming locations, located next to the small town of Bryansford. Fun fact, the Mourne Mountains were the inspiration of Belfast born C.S Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series.
By Thais Satos of World Trip Diaries: For Game of Thrones fans, a visit to Winterfell (aka Castle Ward) is a must! It’s in County Down, Northern Ireland, and it’s pretty stunning. But, of course, it’s not the beauty we’re after. This is the place where Winterfell scenes, from the first seasons of the series, were filmed. Around the area, there are many other filming locations (like the Twin Towers) – you can do a self-guided tour, hire a guide, rent an iPad with all the locations and the behind the scenes stories or even meet the wolves! The best thing is, though, is taking an archery class right there, dressed up in costumes (complete with swords). The instructors are pretty good and they mix up Game of Thrones facts with the lesson to make it more fun. You can have a private or a group class. If you’re not into GoT, you can visit the Castle grounds only too!
Southern Ireland Attractions
Ironically the most northern part of Ireland (Malin Head, Donegal) is found in what is known often as Southern Ireland (the Republic of Ireland). Meaning Belfast is still the best base for many of the attractions on the opposite sides of the regional borders. Otherwise Dublin will often be the better travel hub for excursions in the southern parts, as the south of Ireland is really quite spread out with wider distances between attractions. But again this doesn’t matter on a road trip. So Dublin would be roughly 2 hours by bus or train from Belfast, and it can of course be taken on as a day trip from Belfast (my mum does it a lot on her pensioner travel pass). Otherwise I won’t go into Dublin City in great detail, as there’s a lot to sum up in just a quick blurb. However, I would suggest staying in the Talbot Street area for cheap accommodation and convenience, as it’s only a stone throw from the main bus and train stations (Busaras and Connoly), and it leads right up to the to the Spire at O’Connell Street). As well as Henry Street and ‘Dublin One’ shopping district. Then it’s not much further to cross the Liffey River to the Temple Bar area and this also finds the fancier areas of Dublin, like Grafton Street and Saint Stephen’s Green (check out our Christmas in Dublin).
By Teresa of Brogan Abroad: If you want to explore the wild side of Ireland while staying in Belfast, there is no better place than a day trip to Donegal. Bordering Northern Ireland, it is the most remote county of the Republic and it offers countless experiences and places to visit that will take your breath away. The highlights have to be anything along the Wild Atlantic Way of Donegal. With its rugged coastline, blue flag beaches and waterfalls, you can guarantee spectacular scenery wherever you go – from Malin Head, the northernmost point in the whole of Ireland, to Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in the country. If an active break is more your thing, Donegal has got something for you too. Go for a hike along the vertigo-inducing ‘One Man’s Path’ in Slieve League, a cycle along Lough Veagh in Glenveagh National Park, or a horse riding session on Dunfanaghy Beach. You will probably want to do much more than a day trip and even a weekend.
The Wild Atlantic Way is a revered road trip which follows the west coast of Ireland starting at the most northern point of Donegal, in Malin Head, before travelling to the southern coastlines of Cork, along the coastline of the Atlantic Sea. It is also a very simple route to follow, with vivid blue signposts following the entire route in both directions. And while there is a small airport in Donegal (serviced by Dublin) it makes better sense to start from Belfast which is only 2.30 hours out from Donegal’s coastlines. Maybe travelling via the Causeway Coast to make the most of it. Along the way, the route passes many of Ireland’s iconic destinations, many which have been outlined below e.g. the Cliffs of Moher, Galway City, and the Ring of Kerry. And I’d also recommend calling in to meet some sheep on Achill Island. And while the full length of the Wild Atlantic Way cover 1,553 miles (it could be covered in a week or so), it is still easy to just jump in at any destination along the way. Check here for our personal highlights having covered the entire route.
By Michael of the Time Travel Turtle: About 90 minutes drive south of Belfast is one of the most incredible ancient sites in the world. It’s called Newgrange and was built more than 5000 years ago. Newgrange is best described as an enormous burial mound with a tunnel that leads into a stone chamber. On the rocks, the ancient people who built this have carved mysterious artwork. But the most fascinating thing is the way that once a year, on the winter solstice, the sunrise shines directly through the tunnel and hits the central stone of the chamber. The only way to access the chamber at Newgrange is in a tour, with small groups regularly taken in by a local guide. You can easily join one if you arrive independently. There is also an excellent visitors centre in the area that has a lot of information about the history and provides some good context for what you’ll see at the site itself.
By Pamela Chieffallo of Travel like a Chieff: The biggest perk of visiting Ireland is that you get to see most of the country without travelling long distances. If you’re looking for the perfect day trip or weekend from Belfast, I highly recommend the Wicklow Mountains National Park. It is only a 3-hour drive from Belfast, and home to many attractions to suit all ages. You can visit the P.S. I Love you bridge, hike scenic trails, and get spectacular views of the mountains from Sally Gap. You’ll also find Lough Tay, nicknamed the Guinness Lake because it looks just like a pint of the Irish stout. Another popular attraction in the Wicklow Mountains National Park is Glendalough. Here you’ll find the ruins of a monastic settlement dating back to the 6th century. And finally, my all-time favourite activity; a sheepdog training demonstration. If you are an animal lover like myself, this is a must. For more on the Wicklow Mountains National Park, you can check out my full post on Travel Like a Chieff.
By Roxanna of Gypsy with a Day Job: Kildare Village is located along the M7 about 40 minutes southwest of Dublin, and offers one of the best day trips in Ireland. The main attraction is National Stud, Ireland’s premier racehorse training facility, and the nearby Curragh racing grounds. Such is the renown of National Stud that Queen Elizabeth has even made a visit. National Stud is a full day experience, and visitors can tour the stables and see training first hand. There is also a museum, and two renowned gardens, the St. Fiachra’s spiritual garden, and the Japanese Gardens, which was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Kildare is also known as being the home of St. Brigid, one of Ireland’s patron saints. Her Cathedral, round tower and eternal flame can be visited, along with two holy wells. Kildare also features a village Heritage Center, a charming town square and world-class outlet shopping.
By David Angel of Travel with Little One: Galway City is a great weekend or short break destination on the west coast of Ireland. One day is enough to see the main sights in the city, and the second day can be spent either driving around the stunning scenery of Connemara or taking a boat trip across to the Aran Islands. The place to start is Quay Street, where many of the city’s pubs and music venues are clustered. Tigh Neactain, also known as Naughtons, is one of our favourites, and we also caught some great live music across the street in The Dáil Bar. There are lots of medieval nooks hidden around the city, including the Spanish Arch, which is formed part of the city walls. The Galway Museum next door gives you more insight into the city’s history, and one of the best exhibits is the Galway hooker, a traditional fishing boat designed for the rough waters of Galway Bay. It’s a 90-minute drive to the mountains and coast of Connemara, one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland. The area is dominated by the Twelve Bens mountain range, and one of the best places to see them is from the village of Roundstone, which has fantastic views back across the bay. Otherwise it’s a half-hour trip to Rossaveal, the ferry port for the Aran Islands. They’re a world apart, wild, rugged rocky islands with amazing cliff scenery and ancient sites.
By Soumya Nambiar of Travel, Books And Food: Dingle is on the Wild Atlantic Way, around an hour away from Killarney and takes approximately 5.5 hours by drive from Belfast. Ireland has no dearth of colourful fishing villages but Dingle was definitely my favourite among all of them. You can spend all day wandering around the cute colourful alleys. One of the main attractions of Dingle is that it is home to Fungie, the playful dolphin that lives off the coast of Dingle. Most people who come to Dingle take a boat out to sea hoping to catch a glimpse of Fungie. You are also assured a refund if you don’t get to see Fungie. He is quite playful in his natural habitat. Also, don’t forget to have a scoop of sea salt ice cream from the famous Murphy ice cream shop while you are in Dingle. The drive to Dingle along the Wild Atlantic Way is a picturesque one as well.
By Alana of the Great Big Globe: The Ring of Kerry is a circular driving route in southwestern Ireland and a part of the Wild Atlantic Way. This drive can easily be done in one day and offers some of the most amazing views and scenery in all of Ireland. Visitors will want to rent their own car so they go out a pace that best suits them. The absolute highlight of the drive is a stop at the Kerry Cliffs. The grounds are beautiful and views of the Irish coast are what postcards are made of. On clear days, you can even see the famous Skellig Islands (where Star Wars was filmed)! Continuing on you’ll want to make a point to drive off the main route and visit Skelligs Chocolates. This chocolate factory offers a ton of free samples, so you can pick your favourite and purchase some for the rest of your drive! Back on the main route you’ll find numerous more stops to take in the beautiful Irish countryside.
By Priyanko of The Constant Traveller: Dear traveller, are you looking to add eloquence to the things you seek from Ireland? Well, Blarney Castle promises to do just that in its own kitschy style. See, you climb the castle walls, lie on your back and inch towards the castle walls and plant a kiss on the rocks. In return, you get the gift of eloquence, Irish style. Not a bad deal eh? Even if that isn’t your sort of thing (are you sure about that?), the environs around Blarney are guaranteed to soothe any jumped nerves. You can walk around the small forested area in the castle grounds that together make up 60 acres of greenery and mini waterfalls. You can even stumble upon the Poison Garden next to the castle’s main entrance where various dangerous plants sit idly by. Of course, don’t touch and pluck them. Blarney is located just off Cork. You can get to Cork from Belfast and then join the sightseeing bus that will bring you straight outside the gates. There are regular buses from Cork that stop at Blarney village as well. If you’re short on time, there are plentiful taxis that will drop you here. Now go, add eloquence to your sightseeing itinerary – only in Ireland!
Waterford is a contrasting county, where it has the largest city (outside of Dublin) on Ireland’s Ancient East, as well as a coastline that spans both the east and south coastlines of Ireland. Right up to, but unfortunately not including, the Wild Atlantic Way. However, for us, Ardmore is like the finish line of the Wild Atlantic Way, and the Cliff House hotel is the winning trophy, marking the end of this rather magnificent coastline, before the return to civilisation. So the Cliffhouse Hotel is just a masterpiece of architecture perched over rugged coastline, which reminds me a bit of Tony Stark’s mansion, or maybe a Bond villain’s lair. Only much friendlier. And I can think of no other hotel, in all of Ireland, with better views than here. Anyway, I always find that the views of Ireland’s coastline are more enjoyable when watched over from the comforts of 5-star luxury. Especially when there are blistering winds, and wild Atlantic waves, crashing on the rugged rocks below. As really this a recommended escape from anywhere in Ireland and is just 4 hours south of Belfast.