Northern Ireland is home to many famous people and landmarks: The Titanic, Rory McIlroy, George Best and of course, Castle Black to name but a few. Last year I embarked on a family road trip up to Northern Ireland for a family weekend away together. With so much to see and do it’s hard to fit everything into one short weekend trip. Below are the highlights of our trip and the sights recommend you prioritize in Northern Ireland.
The Titanic Museum
It’s impossible to visit Belfast without taking a trip to see the Titanic experience. Located on the historic Harland and Wolf shipyard, the museum is just a short walk out from the city. Admission to the museum is expensive, costing £17.50 (around €22). Despite this costly fee, the museum experience is excellent and in my opinion, worth every penny.
The building itself is massive. Extending an impressive 38 meters high, the same height as the hull of the Titanic ship. The building’s design replicates the hull of a ship. However, if you ask the locals they’ll say it ironically looks more like an iceberg.
Nine galleries extend over eight stories in the building. Each gallery offers a different experience, using a combination of interactive exhibitions, drawings, cable-cart rides, scale models and show rooms. Everything about the experience simulates the scale and grandeur of the iconic ship.
Top tips: Don’t bother paying for the extra bonus ticket. Honestly, it is so well laid out that you can walk around freely and learn as much as you need without paying the extra cost. One of the highlights of the tour is definitely the cable cart ride which brings you on an interactive tour around the shipyard of the Titanic.
Give yourself plenty of time. We spent 4 hours walking around and I would have spent more if we had known to go earlier. Don’t forget to see the SS Nomadic too, it’s the last remaining White Star Line vessel today. It is located in the bay just outside the museum.
For more information visit Titanic Belfast.
Belfast City Black-Cab Tours
This is by far the best (and safest) way to see and learn about the political history of Belfast city. The tour takes you to all the political sites scattered across the city including the Shankill and Falls Road and the peace wall. To book you simply ring the Black-Cab offices and a driver will pick you up at your door. The tour lasts about 90 minutes.
Our driver brought us to all the infamous locations where bright and colourful murals are painted across the houses and walls. We learnt all about the unrest and the struggles that local families still endure to this day on either side of the Peace Wall. Well worth doing if you have an interest in political history.
Belfast City Hall
Belfast’s City Hall is one of the most iconic buildings in the city and offers free walking tours to the public. Tours operate from 1st June to the 30th September and run hourly from the main reception. The tour takes an hour and brings you all around the beautiful building.
Our tour guide was excellent. She was very clear in her explanations of the building, its architecture and its history. We saw the council rooms, ceremonial staffs and even got to sit on the thrones of the council’s chairperson. A highlight of the tour is where you get to wear the ceremonial robes of the council members.
The Giant’s Causeway
Located at the very top of Northern Ireland on the coast of County Antrim, the Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Created by thousands of basalt columns, the causeway is a magnificent site of natural beauty and mythical legend. There is a visitor centre built at the entrance to the causeway with extra information available about the site.
The causeway itself is free to visit and if you want, you can pay to enter the visitor centre. To access the causeway simply walk around to the back of the visitor building and follow the road down along the shore. The road down to the causeway is about a twenty-minute walk but there are shuttle buses available for just two pounds if you wish.
Top tip: Visit the causeway early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid the crowds. We visited in the evening when the sun was setting over the horizon, leading to some spectacular images of the sunset.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Heading east from the causeway, along the coastline is the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Located just a short way away from Ballintoy, the bridge is one of the hallmark attractions of Northern Ireland. Entry to the bridge is just six pounds and there are discounts available for groups and children/elderly.
There is a short, coastal walk from the entrance to the bridge with stunning views of the coastline. Along the way are several vantage points that give you excellent views of the bridge itself, the landscape, flora and fauna.
For those of you brave enough to cross the bridge you’ll be rewarded with unique views of the caves underneath and the boat house for which the bridge was originally built. On a clear day, you can see the shoreline and cliffs of Scotland across the sea. Well worth checking out if the weather is good.
The Dark Hedges
Made famous by Game of Thrones, The Dark Hedges is a collection of beech trees along either side of an avenue in County Antrim. The trees were originally planted during the 18th century by the Stuart family to impress guests as they arrived at the entrance to their Georgian home. The exact location of the hedges is along the Bregagh Road near Ballymoney.
My advice is to visit early in the day when the crowds are quiet. If you can, try to avoid driving or parking on the road itself. The road is narrow making passing difficult but also no one wants cars in the background of their photos. The Hedges Hotel is located less than 50 meters away and you can park there for free instead.
Tips and Hints
Plan your route. The Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the Dark Hedges are all within a short drive of each other. Plan your route to incorporate all three in one easy loop.
Game of Thrones fans: As well as the Dark Hedges, there are numerous filming locations across Northern Ireland where Game of Thrones was filmed. The studio is right beside the Titanic museum and you can visit several filming locations including Winterfell and the Iron Islands. For more information visit GameofThronestours.com or GameofThronesWinterfellTours.com for a mapped location of all the different filming spots.
Bushmills Whisky: Located along the northern coastal route is the Bushmills distillery. The old Bushmills distillery is the oldest functioning distillery in Ireland. Stop in to learn about its history and even try your hand at whisky tasting if you like.
Queens University Belfast: If you get a chance, the grounds of Queens University are absolutely stunning. From the gothic style Lanyon building at the front entrance to the Botanic gardens and sports complex at the rear of the college, the campus has plenty to see and explore.
Thanks for reading,