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Ireland Travel Guide

Best Places to Visit in  Northern Ireland

 
  Best Places to Visit in Northern Ireland    Overview Map   Detailed Map  

 

 

 

  

Best Places to Visit in Northern Ireland

 
Giants Causeway   Dunluce Castle  Legananny Dolmen     Castlewellan Maze    Belfast  Bushmills' Distillery  
County Donegal    County Sligo   County Leitrim          Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery  Ireland's North
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Read our recommendations on the best places to visit in Ireland.

The six counties of Northern Ireland offer a blend of attractions, although we think you will find the countryside most interesting.

Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, is less familiar to most tourists than the Republic of Ireland, although it can be a pleasant place to visit.

The "Troubles" of the past in Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom) and news reporting that overemphasized its extent caused many vacationers to avoid the area, thinking that a visit to the strife torn area could hardly be restful or relaxing.

Although, the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland have diminished to a murmur, they have not completely disappeared.  (See our introduction to Ireland page for more information on Ireland's troubled history.) From time to time, Irish Republic Army dissidents demonstrate their rejection of the peace process with violence.  In general, the tourist areas in Northern Ireland are safe to visit, but you should research local conditions to satisfy yourself about the risks of traveling in the destinations you plan to visit.

We recommend that you visit Northern Ireland (including the northern counties of the Irish Republic) on a second trip to Ireland or at the end of a whole island tour.

Northern Ireland

Many visitors to the North of Ireland are drawn to Northern Ireland, the six counties that opted to remain a part of the United Kingdom when the Republic of Ireland was established by treaty with the United Kingdom in 1921.  In the remainder of the 20th century, strife between groups in Northern Ireland who saw a different future for the country (i.e. those who wanted union with England and those wanting union with the Republic) resulted in the area being shunned by tourists.  Although the causes and blame for this tension seems to span a variety of organizations, groups, religions and causes, it appears that the "Troubles" were diminished and perhaps ended with the "Belfast" or Good Friday Agreement" in 1998, as implemented in the 2006 St. Andrew's Agreement.  Today there are still signs of controversy, but those who are visit Northern Ireland's tourist attractions will likely not see anything more troubling than suggestive graffiti.

Tourism is not as highly developed in Northern Ireland as it is in the Republic, although there a number of scenic areas and interesting attractions.  We present a modest selection of these sights below.

               

Giant's Causeway

By far, the leading attraction in Northern Ireland is the Giant's Causeway, a UNESCO world Heritage site.  Comprised of over 40,000 basalt columns rising from the sea at the edge of the Antrim Plateau, this unique landscape was caused by volcanic activity some 50 to 60 million years ago.  It is believed that the mineral composition of a basalt injection and the method of cooling interacted to produce multi-sided (often hexagonal) basalt columns.  Eventually this mysterious wonderland was exposed by wave action which revealed the surprising extent of the Giant's Causeway

             The Giant's Causeway in Antrim, Northern Ireland

 

Details of the basalt columns at the Giant's Causeway

The Giant's Causeway lies at the foot of the basalt cliffs along the sea at the edge of the Antrim plateau in Northern Ireland. It is made up of some 40,000 massive black basalt columns sticking out of the sea. The dramatic sight has inspired legends of giants striding over the sea to Scotland. Geological studies of these formations over the last 300 years have greatly contributed to the development of the earth sciences, and show that this striking landscape was caused by volcanic activity during the Tertiary, some 50-60 million years ago.  This is an area of spectacular scenery including bays, cliffs and the ever-present basalt columns.    See this official site for information on visiting  although you might also enjoy some of the photographs and details at this website.

By the way, this Giant's causeway was also named based on the legend of Finn MacCool who reputedly built it to reach one of his foes, a Scottish giant named Benandonner.  When he approached Benandonner's island, he realized that the giant was much bigger than "himself" and he beat a retreat home for a snooze.  While he was asleep Benandonner approached and seeing trouble brewing, Finn's wife Oonagh threw some blankets and a bonnet the recumbent Finn.  When Benandonner arrived she told him that Finn was not home and whatever he did  "...not to wake the baby!"  Seeing the size of the "baby" MacCool, Benandonner decided that Finn must be very large indeed.  His courage failing, Benandonner retreated and destroyed most of the causeway to avoid the possibility of any future confrontation with those enormous Irish giants!

For more information on the Causeway Coast and Glens, see this site  sponsored by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle in Atrim - see image at page top for more detail

 Dating from the 17th century, Dunluce Castle is one of those breathtaking sites that sears its image on the imagination.  Located on the Antrim coast, it was once the stronghold of the McDonnel's who ruled much of eastern Ulster.  There are remains of a much earlier fort, as this defensible location seems just the right place for a fortification.  The hazards of living in the castle were often hard to overlook, as late in the 16th century, while the castle was occupied the 2nd Earl of Antrim, part of the kitchen fell into the ocean. 

Visitors must pass a narrow footbridge to enter the property.  For more information on the history of the site and details on visiting, try the official website.

Legananny Dolmen

You will also find an assortment of dolmens in Northern Ireland similar to those found in the Republic.  Pictured to the right is the granite Legananny Dolmen in County Down, south of Dromara.  Legananny is reputed to be one of the most photographed dolmens in all of Ireland, due to its size and balanced proportions.

Located near the village of Leitrim, this dolmen is thought be at least 5,000 years old and was probably the grave a clan chieftain. Originally covered by earth to the capstone, portal tombs such as these were once thought by locals to be druid altars or, perhaps, tombs of giants.

Castlewellan Peace Maze

While in the area of the Legananny Dolmen, if you are a collector of "record" sites while you travel, you might be interested in visiting Castlewellan Forest Park near Castlewellan and the Mourne Mountains.  The Park contains the Peace Maze, which according the Guinness Book of World Records is the largest hedge maze in the world.  The Park's arboretum is quite pleasant and we recommend a visit.

 

               

Belfast

Many tourists are attracted to Belfast because of its notoriety. Known for its role as the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast is primarily an industrial town.  Although it is the second largest town in Ireland, it has little of the charm or interesting history of Dublin.

In 2012 Belfast will commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the  sinking of the RMS Titanic, which was constructed in the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast.  An exhibition hall called TItanic Belfast will open in March 2012 that is located on the slipways where the Titanic was built.  By all accounts the new center is spectacular, as are its exhibits.  See the official website  for more details. There is also a TITANICa exhibition on the TItanic and her sister ships being held in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum about  seven miles from the Belfast city center.  See the museum's official website for details on the artifacts that are on display.

In addition, you might be interested in seeing the Custom House, City Hall, Belfast Cathedral and Belfast Castle, which are among the most popular of the city's landmarks.  These attractions is are not particularly noteworthy, nor do they have any great historic significance.  For example, although there have been historic castles at the Dublin Castle site (in the 12th and 16th centuries), the modern Belfast Castle was constructed in the 19th century.  The building and grounds were later deeded to the city of Belfast and a renovation was initiated.  The castle reopened in 1988 after a ten-year refurbishment and the gardens are worth a look if you have some time.  See this site for more information and to determine your interest in visiting.

If you like music, you might want to consider attending the Annual Belfast Festival At Queens University, usually held in autumn of the year.

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency  protects many of the important heritage site is Northern Ireland and provides interesting commentary about them as well as details on visiting.  For  information on other sites in Northern Ireland, visit NIEA here.

Bushmills

Visit the town of Bushmills if you are interested in touring the Bushmills Irish Whiskey distillery.  The Bushmills tour is the best distillery tour in Ireland, so be sure to see it if you are interested in Irish Whiskey. Production takes place from Monday through Friday lunch and it is best to plan a visit while the activity is in operation.  In addition, the plant is closed for Easter and during July for holidays.  Children under 8 cannot join the tour, although they are welcome at the site.  Details can be found at the Bushmills' website. 

For more information on touring Northern Ireland, see the  website Discover Northern Ireland  produced by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.

 

 

 

 

 

Click the symbol above to  navigate to our blog and then click  "Northern Ireland travel" in the top right column titled "categories" for information on the latest Northern Ireland travel news.

 

 

 

 

 

 
Dublin and Vicinity

The Southwest
Cork, Killarney, Ring of Kerry, Dingle, Blarney Castle and more

The West
Galway, Connemara, Burren, Cliffs of Moher, Aran islands and more.

The Southeast
Waterford, Rock of Cashel, Jerpoint Abbey and more.

The North and Northern Ireland
Donegal, Sligo, Giant's Causeway, Dunluce Castle, Belfast and more.

Introduction to Ireland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dublin and Vicinity

The Southwest
Cork, Killarney, Ring of Kerry, Dingle, Blarney Castle and more

The West
Galway, Connemara, Burren, Cliffs of Moher, Aran islands and more.

The Southeast
Waterford, Rock of Cashel, Jerpoint Abbey and more.

The North and Northern Ireland
Donegal, Sligo, Giant's Causeway, Dunluce Castle, Belfast and more.

Introduction to Ireland

 

 
Northern Ireland including Giant's Causeway Rail Tour from Dublin

From Viator Tours

 

More Places To Visit In Ireland

Click the jump bar on the right-hand edge of this page for information on other scenic areas in Ireland.

Or, click the jump bar at the bottom of the page to return to any of the areas in the north of the Emerald Isle that were of interest of you.

If you need information about another travel destination, try our Destination Guide Index or Googling ThereArePlaces.


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* At the top of this page we show the map of the Republic of Ireland. The lack of a flag for Northern Ireland is not a mistake or a slight.  Northern Ireland has not had its own flag since 1973.  During official functions the Union flag of the United Kingdom is used.

     
 County Donegal    County Sligo    County Leitrim          Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery Ireland's North
Giants Causeway   Dunluce Castle     Legananny Dolmen   Castlewellan Maze    Belfast   Bushmills' Distillery
   
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