20 Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland

Belfast Travel Guide: Top 20 Must-See Attractions in Northern Ireland

For such a small place, Northern Ireland is one of the most popular and visited tourist destinations in Europe. Northern Ireland offers some of the most beautiful and exciting places you will find anywhere on earth! Northern Ireland’s dramatic landscapes are so spectacular they beg to be photographed.

From the stunning North Antrim Coast and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Giant’s Causeway to city attractions like Titanic Belfast, Crown Liquor Saloon, Crumlin Road Jail, Peace Wall, City Hall, Belfast Castle, and many more. Here’s our pick of the best sights to see and explore on your visit to Northern Ireland.

Belfast is the capital and largest city in Northern Ireland, and there are so many tourist attractions to visit in Belfast / Northern Ireland. Belfast is a beautiful vibrant city with a thriving nightlife scene it is a popular holiday destination, but it has a chequered past. For over 35 years the city was enthralled in a bloody civil war. Fought between the mainly nationalist catholic community and mainly loyalist protestant community.

Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Sightseeing Tour

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Hall is the civic building of Belfast City Council located in Donegall Square, Belfast. It faces North and effectively divides the commercial and business areas of the city centre and It is a listed building. The home of Belfast City Council, City Hall was designed by the architect Sir Alfred Brumwell Thomas and completed in Portland stone in 1906.

Guided Tours – The Official Guided Tour allows you an extraordinary glimpse into areas not usually accessible to the general public within the beautiful Baroque Revival building. Ascending the Grand Staircase, Your guide will lead your group through a series of rooms including the Irish-oak paneled Council Chamber and Italian and Greek marble-clad Rotunda highlighting stunning civic regalia and historic portraits along the way. The Tour lasts approx 45 minutes.

Botanic Gardens

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Botanic Gardens

Botanic Gardens is a public garden in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Occupying 28 acres of south Belfast, the gardens are popular with office workers, students and tourists. They are located on Stranmillis Road in Queen’s Quarter, with Queen’s University nearby. The Ulster Museum is located at the main entrance.

First established in 1828, the gardens have been enjoyed as a public park by the people of Belfast since 1895. There is an extensive rose garden and long herbaceous borders and the tree enthusiast can seek out the rare oaks planted in the 1880s, including the hornbeam-leafed oak. Situated near Queens University Belfast, the Botanic Gardens is an important part of Belfast’s Victorian heritage and a popular meeting place for residents, students and tourists.

Charles McKimm came to the Royal Botanic Gardens in 1874, and was eventually appointed as Head Gardener. His enthusiasm caused many improvements to be made and the gardens were transformed. Belfast Corporation purchased the Gardens and renamed it as the Belfast Botanical Gardens Park. In 1903 McKimm was appointed to a newly created post of General Superintendent of Parks for Belfast.

Palm House history
Designed by Charles Lanyon, the Palm House is one of the earliest examples of a curvilinear cast iron glasshouse. Its construction was initiated by the Belfast Botanical and Horticultural Society in the 1830s. The two wings were completed in 1840, and were built by Richard Turner of Dublin, who later built the Great Palm House at Kew Gardens. The cool wing houses all year round displays of color and scent using plants such as geranium, fuchsia, begonia, and built displays. Construction of the Palm House began in 1839, and the Tropical Ravine, or Fernery, completed in 1889, is a fine example of horticultural Victoriana.

Titanic Belfast

Titanic Belfast and Belfast City Tour

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Titanic Belfast

Top Things to do in Belfast

No ship is more famous than the luxurious Titanic and nowhere on earth is better equipped to tell its story than the Titanic Quarter of Belfast. Titanic Belfast museum is a must-see attraction. The visitor attraction opened in 2012, a monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard in the city’s Titanic Quarter where the famous RMS Titanic was built. It tells the stories of the Titanic, which hit an iceberg and sank during her maiden voyage in 1912, and her sister ships RMS Olympic and HMHS Britannic. 

Visitors can also explore the berths of the famous Nomadic, the last remaining White Star Line ship on earth. Travelers are transported more than 100 years back in time after boarding the newly restored ship.

Titanic’s Dock and Pump-House

This historical site is the first and last dock of the world-famous Titanic. In April of 1912, the massive cruise-liner shored up to set sail from the Belfast port and never returned. Today, visitors can explore the shipyard where this behemoth of a boat came to life. The dry dock and pump-house are perfectly preserved and expert guides unlock a mystical world where engineers built an “unsinkable” ship and the well-to-do embarked on a journey from which they would not return.
Explore the Titanic Quarter with the Belfast city tour.

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Belfast Castle

Belfast Castle

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Belfast Castle

A 19th century Scottish Baronial style castle with unrivaled views of the city

Belfast Castle is situated in the north of Belfast city on the slopes of Cavehill Country Park. The castle sits 400 feet above sea level offering stunning views of the city and Belfast lough. The castle has an antique shop and visitors centre. You can explore the beautiful garden with its range of unique plants and flowers. On a sunny day, it is the best place to sit, relax and enjoy the view with your afternoon tea and freshly baked scones served with fresh cream, jam, and pure Irish butter.

Belfast Castle is a magnificent sandstone building offering a wealth of history and grandeur. The building was officially re-opened to the public on 11 November 1988 after a major refurbishment programme by Belfast City Council It is now managed by the council.

The Beginnings of Belfast Castle

The first ‘Belfast Castle’ was built by the Normans in the late 12th century. In 1611, Sir Arthur Chichester, Baron of Belfast, built a stone and timber castle on the same site. This was burned down almost 100 years later, leaving only street names, such as Castle Place, to mark the location. Read more about the Castle’s history and journey through time.

Crown Liquor Saloon

Crown Liquor Saloon

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Crown Liquor Saloon

This pub in Great Victoria Street is one of the best known in Northern Ireland popular with locals and Tourists. The Crown Liquor Saloon is a short walk from Europa bus stations, and only a stone throw from the Grand Opera House, Europa Hotel, and Glengall Street. Discover a traditional pub of unique character, Famous for its range of real ales and its delicious pub grub, which are served, as they should be, with a generous measure of famous Irish hospitality.

Dating back to the 1880s, The Crown is a gem of the Victorian era. Formerly known as The Liquor Saloon in Great Victoria Street, Belfast. This pub is one of the oldest in Belfast and was one of the mightiest Victorian Gin Palaces in the city. It Still boasts many of its original features, including gaslighting. Mosaics, carved wooden swans, mirrors, a red granite bar with a heated foot rest – it will spoil you for sodden beer mats and pokies for ever more.

This temple to the art of conviviality was actually made by Italian craftsmen who were in Ireland to make Catholic churches. The owner of the Crown convinced them to do some work on the side for him. The result? Somewhere St Peter would be happy to take a tipple.

Refurbished in 1885, and at least twice since, The Crown is a grade A listed building owned by the National Trust and is a truly stunning example of a traditional Victorian gin palace.

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Crumlin Road Gaol / Jail

Crumlin Road Gaol

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Crumlin Road Jail

Crumlin Road Gaol is a former prison situated on Crumlin Road in north Belfast, Northern Ireland. Since 1996 it is the only remaining Victorian-era prison in Northern Ireland. It is colloquially known as the Crum.

Crumlin Road features two imposing structures of Belfast’s criminal justice system, the Crumlin Road Gaol (Jail) and Courthouse. The jail opened in 1845 and the courthouse five years later, though neither has been in service since the late 1990ss.

The Crumlin Road Gaol is a black basalt and red sandstone structure of four wings branching out from a central circle. The jail has been the site of numerous breakouts, bombings, and protests over the years.

There were a number of successful escape attempts, the first in 1866. It has housed such notable inmates as Ian Paisley, Eamon de Valera, Michael Stone, and Lenny Murphy. Gallows were not included in the original design, meaning executions took place in public view. In 1901, an execution chamber was built and utilized until 1961, when hangings stopped.

The Crumlin Road Courthouse stands opposite the jail and has been derelict since its closure. It has a tunnel underground that connects the jail to the courthouse. and was once used to transport prisoners from prison to court. The site is now a very popular tourist destination where visitors can tour the facility. It is also used by locals for weddings and functions. The Jail also has a Restaurant, Bar, Café, and Souvenir shop.

Belfast Peace Wall

Titanic Belfast and Mural Tour

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Belfast Peace Wall

The peace lines or peace walls are a series of separation barriers in Northern Ireland that separate predominantly Republican and Nationalist Catholic neighborhoods from predominantly Loyalist and Unionist Protestant neighborhoods. The first peace wall or Peace lines were built in 1969, following the outbreak of the 1969 Northern Ireland riots and the Troubles They were built as temporary structures meant to last only six months, but due to their effective nature, they have become wider, longer and more permanent.

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Belfast international wall Murals

Northern Ireland Attractions

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Belfast international wall

Belfast Murals Tour

Murals in Northern Ireland have become symbols of Northern Ireland, depicting the region’s past and present political and religious divisions. Belfast and Derry contain arguably the most famous political murals in Europe. It is believed that almost 2,000 murals have been documented since the 1970s. In 2014, the book, The Belfast Mural Guide estimated that, in Belfast, there were approximately 300 quality murals on display, with many more in varying degrees of age and decay. 

Murals commemorate, communicate and display aspects of culture and history. The themes of murals often reflect what is important to a particular community. A mural, therefore, exists to express an idea or message and could generally be seen as reflecting values held dear to that community.

Belfast Black Cab Tours

The Black Cab tours of Belfast are one of the most popular things to do in Belfast for tourists. The use of taxis in Belfast grew during The Troubles when the cabs were used to transport locals and visitors during the Troubles as they were considered much safer than city buses which were sometimes bombed or attacked by snipers. Also, many buses were stolen, burned, and used for barricades in certain parts of the city, resulting in limited public transit.

The road hugs the coastline giving incredible seaside views, passing unspoiled beaches, sheltering under rugged cliffs, and many beautiful villages. You may even see Scotland on a clear day.

Queen's University

Queen's University

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Queen’s University

Located in the capital city of Northern Ireland, Queen’s University Belfast is steeped in heritage yet benefits from world-class, state-of-the-art facilities.. Queen’s University Belfast is a public research university in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The university received its charter in 1845 as “Queen’s College, Belfast” and opened four years later. 

Queen’s offers academic degrees at various levels, with approximately 300-degree programs available. The university has a rich heritage and a renowned history of producing Nobel Laureates, leading global academics, and national and international leaders over the last 170 years.

Locations: Queen’s University Belfast University Road Belfast BT7 1NN

Carrickfergus Castle

Carrickfergus Castle

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Carrickfergus Castle

Carrickfergus Castle is a Norman castle in Northern Ireland, situated in the town of Carrickfergus in County Antrim, on the northern shore of Belfast Lough.

At more than 800 years old, Carrickfergus Castle is one of the best-preserved medieval structures in Ireland. Located in the town of Carrickfergus about 10 miles north of Belfast, it was built between 1177 and 1195 by the Norman lord John de Courcy. Additions to the castle were made in 1216 and again in 1226 when the walls were extended to completely encircle all of the rock where the castle stood. Over the centuries, the castle was used as protection against attacks from the Scots, Irish, English and French. Later, it was used as a garrison during the First World War and as an air-raid shelter during World War II.

Ownership of the castle was transferred from the army to the government of Northern Ireland in 1928, and at that time, many additions to the castle were removed in order to restore it to its original appearance. Exhibits in the castle today attempt to show what life was like during medieval times.

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Antrim Coast and Glens of Antrim

Causeway Coast Whitepark bay

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Causeway Coast

Gaze at the wave-tossed sea, white cliffs and green hills that flank the Antrim Coast Road on a 90-minute drive to Glenariff Forest Park, a 2,928-acre nature preserve of almost unimaginable beauty. Your first glance at this slice of paradise confirms Ireland’s moniker as the Emerald Isle; there are said to be 40 shades of green represented in the foliage. Wide wooden trails snake through the woodlands, lakes, wildlife refuges and recreation areas that comprise Glenariff Forest Park. Bisecting the park are the Inver and the Glenariff rivers, which feature magnificent tumbling waterfalls, serene pools, long expanses of sparkling water, and rocky gorges. Guests will have ample time to explore the awe-inspiring park independently before regrouping at a lovely café for morning or afternoon tea or coffee with homemade scones. The world-famous Glens of Antrim is an area that has attracted visitors for more than a century. Glenariff is considered the fairest of the nine glens, or valleys, because of its wild beauty. Like all of the glens, it was created by a glacier in the Ice Age, and it has evolved into a tranquil, safe and welcoming destination. After touring the glen, return via an inland route to the port. 

Cushendun caves - Game of Thrones

Cushendun caves - Game of Thrones

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Cushendun caves

Cushendun is a small picturesque coastal village in Northern Ireland, nestled just off the coast road between Ballycastle and Cushendall. It has a stunning sheltered harbour and lies at the mouth of the River Dun and Glendun, and is also known as one of the stunning 9 Glens of Antrim.

Despite its rather picturesque appeal and stunning views of the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland 15 miles away across the North Channel, which easily seen on clear days. It holds some sinister secrets.

In 1567, the Irish King Shane O’Neill was brutally murdered by his enemies – The Macdonnell’s. His home, Carra Castle, can be seen lying in ruins to this day. He was decapitated and his head sent to Dublin Castle, to the representatives of Elizabeth I. His headless, vengeful spirit is said to be seen haunting the nearby coastline and caves.

Several tour companies operate tours from Belfast and Dublin, exploring all the major Game of Thrones Filming Locations.

Cushendun Caves – Game of thrones
The caves are where Sir Davos Seaworth and Lady Melisandre landed ashore in Season 2 and are also where Melisandre gave birth to a terrifying shadow baby. The caves also featured again in season 8 with the famous battle between Jaime Lannister and Euron Greyjoy. The caves are on the daily tour route on the Game of Thrones tour.

The Dark Hedges | Game of Thrones

ireland 684552

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – The Dark Hedges

Fifty miles northwest of Belfast, off the Antrim Coastal Road, you will find one of the most unique and most photographed attractions in Northern Ireland: a row of trees known as the Dark Hedges. The stunning tunnel of trees along the Bregagh Road was planted in the 18th century by the Stuart family, owners of the Georgian mansion, Gracehill House. It was designed to impress the Stuarts’ visitors as they approached their estate.

Why are they called the Dark Hedges? The treelines are supposedly haunted: The Grey Lady (a lost spirit from a long-abandoned graveyard) is said to appear at dusk amongst the trees.

Game of Thrones Filming Locations

The Dark Hedges, which have long been one of the most photographed attractions in Northern Ireland, was propelled to even greater fame by HBO’s cult television series, Game of Thrones. The trees represented the King’s Road in the first episode of the second season of Thrones, as Arya Stark, who had escaped from King’s Landing disguised as a boy, traveled through the Hedges with other characters to join the Night’s Watch. And ever since, the Dark Hedges has proved to be a magnet for followers of the series from right around the world, including Japan, China, America, and Scandinavia.

Several tour companies operate tours from Belfast exploring all the major filming locations of Game of Thrones.

Notable highlights include Winterfell castle, the cave where Melisandre gives birth to a dark spirit, Renly’s Camp in the Stormlands, and the Iron Island’s beach.

Tours from Belfast available with multiple tour companies. Private tours are available with Game of Thrones Tours. If you would prefer to do a self-guided tour, then check out our Game of Thrones Tour.

Things to do in Belfast: Day Trips from Belfast

If you are looking for a day trip or quick overnight trip, our top recommendations depending on your interests would be to drive along a section of the Causeway Coastal Route and visit the Giant’s Causeway, do a whiskey tour, explore Saint Patrick Country, do a Game of Thrones tour of filming sites or visit a few of the many castles and historic homes in Northern Ireland.

Discover the magic of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Giant’s Causeway on a full-day trip from Belfast. The Causeway Tour from Belfast allows visitors to enjoy some of the most beautiful coastal scenery our country has to offer. 

Your journey begins at your pickup location, where you meet your guide/driver. Then travel through Northern Ireland’s spectacular countryside arriving at the Giant’s Causeway to climb the fascinating stones and admire the scenic splendor of the surroundings.

We visit the only UNESCO World Heritage site in Northern Ireland the famous Giants Causeway.  The Giants Causeway is made up of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, most of which are hexagonal in shape as a result of an ancient volcanic eruption.

On this Private Giants Causeway Tour from Belfast visit attractions like Dunluce Castle, Old Bushmills distillery, and Summon your courage to cross the nail-biting Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.

We make our way back to Belfast along the Causeway Coast and Antrim Coast Road where we can see fine views of Rathlin Island, and on a clear day, we may even see the Scottish coast 13 miles away. The views along this coastline are spectacular, no wonder it is one of the most visited destinations in Europe!

The site is managed by the National Trust, and there are a number of visitor services here including parking, a shuttle bus, an exhibition center, a gift shop, and a cafe. 

The Giants Causeway

Giants Causeway and Titanic Belfast Tour 2

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – The Giants Causeway

Botanic Gardens is a public garden in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Occupying 28 acres of south Belfast, the gardens are popular with office workers, students and tourists. They are located on Stranmillis Road in Queen’s Quarter, with Queen’s University nearby. The Ulster Museum is located at the main entrance.

Dunluce Castle Medieval Irish Castle on the Antrim Coast

Dunluce-Castle

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Dunluce Castle

The iconic ruin of Dunluce Castle bears witness to a long and tumultuous history. First built on the dramatic coastal cliffs of north County Antrim by the MacQuillan family around 1500, the earliest written record of the castle was in 1513. It was seized by the ambitious MacDonnell clan in the 1550s, who set about stamping their mark on the castle under the leadership of the famous warrior chieftain Sorely Boy MacDonnell during an era of violence, intrigue, and rebellion.

In the 17th century, Dunluce was the seat of the Earls of Antrim and saw the establishment of a small town in 1608. Visitors can explore the findings of archaeological digs within the cobbled streets and stone merchants’ houses of the long-abandoned Dunluce Town. The dramatic history of Dunluce is matched by tales of a banshee and how the castle kitchens fell into the sea one stormy night in 1639.

Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge

Northern ireland top attractions 2 Full day Tour

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge

Considered one of the world’s scariest bridges, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is not for the faint of heart. Spanning a chasm that is almost 100 feet deep and nearly 70 feet wide, this Northern Ireland bridge connects Carrick-a-Rede Island to the mainland and attracts a quarter of a million visitors every year. The original structure was built by fishermen more than 300 years ago, and as recently as the 1970s, the bridge had only one handrail and large gaps between the slats.

The current bridge is less than 10 years old and is made of wire and Douglas fir. There is no record of anyone falling off the bridge, but it is not uncommon for visitors to get cold feet after crossing once, requiring a boat to bring them back to the mainland. Aside from the treacherous structure, the surrounding area is designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest due to its unique flora and fauna.

Ballintoy Harbour

Game of Thrones and Titanic Belfast Tour

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Ballintoy Harbour

The small fishing harbour can be found at the end of a small narrow steep road down Knocksaughey Hill, which passes by the entrance to Larrybane and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. The village itself, which is just one kilometer from the harbour, has a charming array of small shops, two churches, including the quaint white Ballintoy Parish Church on the hill above the harbor, as well as tourist accommodation, restaurants, commercial and social facilities.

Ballintoy Harbour is still a working harbor for local fishermen, who are well regarded for their skills as boatsmen due to the dangerous waters. Due to its location and natural defenses, Ballintoy Harbour is one of the best locations to see the fury of Atlantic storms up close. Watching the basalt islets that abound in the area allow you to see the areas of the most dangerous swells and tidal currents.

For those looking to capture a true sense of Irish rural life, it is an ideal stopover whilst touring the coastal route.

It has been used as a filming location in HBO’s epic series Game of Thrones. This stunning harbor location has been used for exterior Pyke shots and as the Iron Islands. Go to www.discovernorthernireland.com/gameofthrones to find out about other Game of Thrones Filming Locations in Northern Ireland.

Featured Scene: This picturesque coastal nook is where Theon Greyjoy arrives back in the Iron Islands and where he later admires his ship, the Sea Bitch. This is also where he first meets his sister Yara.

For those of you looking to enjoy a one-day Game of Thrones road trip while also enjoying the beauty of the Causeway Coast Northern Ireland’s most scenic drive check out our Full Day Game of Thrones Tour From Belfast.

Old Bushmills Whiskey Distillery

old bushmills distillery

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Old Bushmills Whiskey Distillery

Go Whiskey Tasting Tour

Old Bushmills Distillery is a very popular place to visit and you can take a tour of the distillery to see how and where the whiskey is made, do a tasting, visit the gift shop, and/or have a meal here. Public tours are on a first-come, first-serve basis unless you are in a group of 15 or more so we recommend arriving at least 20 minutes before you want to do a tour. The distillery is about a 1.5-hour drive from Belfast city center

History

Bushmills Distillery is the oldest working distillery in Ireland. Founded in 1608, it has been known as the Old Bushmills Distillery since 1784. A fire destroyed the distillery in 1880, but it was rebuilt, and the 1890s proved to be a heyday for the company as it won numerous prizes, including the only gold medal for whiskey at the 1889 Paris Expo.

Visitors to the distillery can take a guided tour and then leave with a bottle of Distillery Reserve 12-year Single Malt Whiskey, only available from the gift shop. Tours start at the mash house, where the distilling process begins, and continue on to the still house, where whiskeys are distilled three times. The tour concludes in the bottling hall, where whiskey is bottled before being sent all around the world.

Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne

Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne

Must-Visit Attractions in Northern Ireland – Mussenden Temple

Go Whiskey Tasting Tour

Mussenden Temple is located in the beautiful surroundings of Downhill Demesne near Castlerock in County Londonderry. It perches dramatically on a 120 ft cliff top, high above the Atlantic Ocean on the north-western coast of Northern Ireland, offering spectacular views westwards over Downhill Strand towards Magilligan Point and County Donegal and to the east Castlerock beach towards Portstewart, Portrush, and Fair Head.

The temple was built in 1785 and forms part of the estate of Frederick Augustus Hervey, Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol (or the Earl Bishop). The temple was built as a summer library and its architecture was inspired by the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, near Rome. It is dedicated to the memory of Hervey’s cousin Frideswide Mussenden.

Both the Temple and the surrounding views are among the most photographed scenes in Ireland. Over the years the Temple itself was under danger of being lost to the sea due to the erosion of the cliff which brought Mussenden Temple ever closer to the edge. In 1997 the National Trust then carried out cliff stabilization work to prevent the loss of this lovely building.

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