The Best of Northern Ireland (UK)

A country foremost famous for alcoholics, terrorists and a sinking ship. Northern Ireland, my home country, has a slightly depressing past. It is a country I completely failed to appreciate or admire in my time living there. It wasn’t until a short trip back as a tourist when I realised how much my home country actually has to offer. A country rich in culture albeit conflicting. Depressing stuff aside Northern Ireland is a truly amazing country; even more so from a tourist perspective. To me it makes the perfect fly and drive country with short distances, easy roads and many best bits hidden between attractions. World-renowned scenery, landscapes, local life and culture. On my return to Northern Ireland with Fanfan by my side (April 2013) we take in my Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions. I (now) love my wee country.

Groomsport Harbour Lighthouse, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI Countryside Sheep Mourne Mountains Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions Dark Hedges Ballymoney Antrim Coast Top 10 Northern Ireland Attraction


1. Best City in Northern Ireland – Belfast City

Without a doubt Belfast. A city easy to navigate, a central hub for transport and the ideal vantage point for exploring Northern Ireland. On a world scale however it is tiny so don’t hold up much time for exploring. Belfast (for most) could be covered in a day or two. The Belfast Bus Tour in the morning and Belfast bars at night. In April we join the Belfast Bus Tour. It was ok… It didn’t quite compare to Rome the previous week (snigger). As expected the tour focuses on the country’s troubled past and current struggles to keep them there. Most tours work as a figure 8; split into 2 halves. The first half covers central Belfast and the peace line; murals and conflict areas. The second half pushes further to the Titanic Quarter, Parliament Buildings (Stormont) and returns through more conflict areas. My personal interest on this trip was the rejuvenated city. I was skeptical of it  but it does exist. Mostly riverside by the Lagan where you are welcomed by the Beacon of Hope and other bright new signs to the city.

For further info on the Belfast City Tour check the Discover Northern Ireland website.

Allen's Belfast City Tour Bus, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI Stormont Flags Flying, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI Laganside Big Fish, Belfast Tour, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions


2. Best Coastline in Northern Ireland – Causeway Coast

Sandy beaches, cliff edge castles and a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Causeway Coast is home to many of Northern Ireland’s iconic landscapes and attractions. It is also well covered by Tour Buses leaving Belfast so is easily accessible. The obvious attraction here the volcanic basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway the Unesco World Heritage site. Other attractions on the typical Tour Bus itinerary are Cushendall Villages, Dunluce Castle, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and my personal favourite Bushmills Distillery. If travelling independently to Bushmills Distillery don’t drink and drive – guaranteed to be pinched leaving the car park.

For further info on the Causeway Coast check the Discover Northern Ireland Website.

Dunluce Castle Causeway Coast, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI Unesco Site Giants Causeway Coast, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions Bushmills Distillery Causeway Coast Top 10 Northern Ireland Attraction


3. Best Mountains in Northern Ireland – Mourne Mountains

In April we trek through snow covered mountains; a rare sight at any time of year in Northern Ireland. Amazing scenery. We take on my preferred trek from a quieter entrance leading to the Hare’s Gap (Trassey Track) located a short drive from Newcastle. Not such an easy starting point for visitors however. For tourists the easier entry point to the Mourne Mountains is the seaside town of Newcastle. From Newcastle treks leave to Slieve Donard Northern Ireland’s highest peak and a number of less strenuous danders. Quick fact, Belfast born C.S Lewis was inspired by the Mourne Mountain when writing the Chronicles of Narnia.

For further info on the Mourne Mountains check the Discover Northern Ireland Website.

Mourne Mountains in Snow, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI Mourne Mountains, Hares Gap Area, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions Mourne Mountains Newcastle, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI


4. Best Forest Park in Northern Ireland – Tollymore Forest Park

Perfect for the adventurous with walking trails, rapid rivers and a whole lot of trees and wildlife. Found at the foot of the Mourne Mountains the two attractions are best visited on the same itinerary. Make a weekend of it. For the less adventurous there are parks, gardens, picnic and camping areas located next to the main entrance at Tollymore Forest Park. The entrance is found at Bryansford Village located a short drive (or bus) from Newcastle.

For further info on Tollymore Forest Park check the Discover Northern Ireland Website.

Barbican Gate, Tollymore Forest, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions Tollymore Forest Park River, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI The Hermits Cave Tollymore, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI


5. Best Island in Northern Ireland – Rathlin Island

My first ever trip to Rathlin Island was in April. I am clueless to why. This island is a must for a visit to Northern Ireland. A little tricky to reach but well worth the effort. Countless bird colonies, unique island life, rugged coastal views, scenic walks, cute seals and a local bar for the boozy. As a bit of a  bird nerd I was excited to meet the Rathlin puffins. No luck I’m afraid. For puffins the summer months are best. Either way the panoramic coastal views, rugged cliffs and thousands of nesting Kittiwakes fail to disappoint. Kittiwakes nest just meters from the viewing platform. For travel to Rathlin Island take the Rathlin Ferry from Ballycastle Ferry Terminal. The island is found 40 minutes from the Causeway Coast.

For further info on Rathlin Island check the Discover Northern Ireland Website.

Rathlin Island Birdwatching, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI Seals on Rathlin Island, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI Nesting Kittiwakes Rathlin, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI


6. Best Castle in Northern Ireland – Carrickfergus Castle

Sorry Tayto lovers my number one Castle in Northern Ireland is Carrickfergus Castle. Admittedly not the most exciting of attractions. Also slightly off track with not much of interest nearby. If planning to visit Carrickfergus Castle the best option is to join the Causeway Coast tours which include it in the itinerary (first stop).

For further info on Carrickfergus Castle check the Discover Northern Ireland Website.

Carrickfergus Castle Carrick, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI


7. Best Beach in Northern Ireland – Portstewart Strand

Chances are you won’t be visiting Northern Ireland for the beaches. Sandy shores and pristine waters mean little when it’s too cold to leave the car. That’s where Portstewart Strand comes in handy. This lengthy stretch of sand serves as a drive-on beach. Grab a fish supper from nearby Portstewart and enjoy beach views from the comfort of your car. 

For further info on the Portstewart Strand check the Discover Northern Ireland Website.

Portstewart Strand Beach, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI


8. Best Lough in Northern Ireland – Strangford Lough

This coastal bay is undoubtedly one of the most scenic areas of Northern Ireland. Picturesque villages to abundance of wildlife. It is also well off the beaten track so is best taken in on a fly and drive. If planning to cross the lough there are regular boats leaving Portaferry en route to Strangford and vice versa. The photo below was taken from Scrabo Tower near the town of Newtownards (note Newtownards not worth visiting).

For further info on the Strangford Lough check the Discover Northern Ireland Website.

Scrabo Tower Strangford Lough, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI


9. Best Seaside Town in Northern Ireland – Bangor

Slight bias here. My beautiful hometown of Bangor, Northern Ireland. While sweet ol’ mum pressures me to promote “Aurora the new Olympic sized swimming pool, the Walled Garden, and Pickie Fun Park”, these attractions are more geared towards domestic tourism in Northern Ireland (happy mum?). That being said Bangor is definitely worth a mention. Found by a quick train journey from Belfast and offering some of the most scenic coastal paths in Northern Ireland. Not so much a fishing village these days as trawlers have been replaced with an expensive Marina and fancy yachts. Bangor has always been a tourist town. A place for coastal walks, seaview restaurants and youthful nightlife. For a glimpse into local and Northern Irish heritage Bangor Castle and North Down Heritage Museum are well worth a visit (opposite the train station).

For further info on the Bangor check the Discover Northern Ireland Website

Bangor Marina Seafront, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI Bangor Town Hall Castle, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI Crawfordsburn Beach Bangor, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI


10. Best Bar in Northern Ireland – The Crown, Belfast

Or to be specific the Crown Liquor Saloon in Belfast; a beautiful Victorian pub decorated in impressive mosaic, tiling and stain glass. Not so expensive either. The Crown is the perfect place to sample some of Northern Ireland’s lesser known booze with many locally produced beers and ciders sold on tap. Get in early and you can steal into a snug, an enclosed room for more private sessions. The Crown is easy to locate opposite Great Victoria Street Train Station and the Europa Hotel (the world’s most bombed hotel).  

For further info on the Crown Bar Belfast check the Discover Northern Ireland Website

Crown Bar Belfast Best Pub, Top 10 Northern Ireland Attractions NI

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