Top Northern Ireland Attractions: Comprehensive Guide to Northern Ireland
Updated On: August 08, 2022
Northern Ireland has an abundance of touristic sites, both historical and recreational. It’s a must-visit for those interested in history and also for families looking for a great family-friendly vacation.
We’ve listed here some of the places that you could find interesting, if you already live in Northern Ireland or if you’re planning a trip there soon. There is so much to be discovered on a trip to Northern Ireland that you don’t want to miss out on. Here are the top Northern Ireland Attractions to visit on your trip.
Where to go in Northern Ireland?
The Incredible Giant’s Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway spans around 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that were caused by an ancient volcanic eruption around 60 million years ago in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
The area’s uniqueness has resulted in the circulation of many legends over the years. According to one of these myths, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant, Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool).
Irish Legends Surrounding Giants Causeway
From Gaelic mythology, he was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Other legends claim that Fionn hides from Benandonner when he realises that his enemy is much bigger than he is. In an attempt to save her husband’s life, Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises him as a baby. When Benandonner sees the size of the ‘baby’, he reckons that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn would be unable to chase him down.
Other legends claim that Fionn mac Cumhaill was a hero with supernatural abilities. According to Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888), “the pagan gods of Ireland […] grew smaller and smaller in the popular imagination until they turned into the fairies; the pagan heroes grew bigger and bigger until they turned into the giants”.
Popular Tourist Spot
The Giant’s Causeway gained popularity among tourists as one of the Northern Ireland Attractions in the nineteenth century. Following the inauguration of the Giant’s Causeway Tramway. Visitors can enjoy a walk over the beautiful basalt columns lying right at the edge of the sea and enjoy the stunning panoramic views.
Visitors to the area can go on hiking tours or spend their day kayaking through the sparkling waters of the ocean. If you’re looking to relax, you can simply take pictures or enjoy the beautiful sunset.
Overall it’s a location not to be missed.
The Medieval Dunluce Castle
Dunluce Castle is a medieval castle in Northern Ireland, County Antrim. It is also considered to be one of the main Northern Ireland attractions. Its long history inspired many legends. A local legend revolves around Maeve Roe. She was locked away by her father in the castle’s north-eastern tower for refusing to marry her suitor. However, she managed to escape with her true love and fled to Mermaids Cave.
Where they fled by boat, but they were dashed against the cliffs. Maeve’s ghost is said to still sweep her prison tower. Another legend involves the MacDonnells, who after their expulsion besieged the castle more than once until their forces climbed into the corner towers and hanged the English captain. His ghost is said to haunt one of the towers.
Dunluce Castle’s Inspiration on Literary Works
The castle has actually inspired many literary works over the years, including Cair Paravel in C. S. Lewis‘s Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1954). It has also been featured in the HBO hit drama series Game of Thrones, doubling as the stronghold of Pyke on the Iron Islands. It is also said that the show’s Red Wedding scene was inspired by real events that happened between the McQuillans (the Starks) and the MacDonnells (the Freys).
Its majestic location and great panoramic views should not be missed by anyone planning a trip to Northern Ireland.
The Beautiful Mussenden Temple
This attraction is proclaimed to be one of the most photographed buildings in Northern Ireland. The Mussenden Temple offers breathtaking views of the North Coast and spectacular 18th-century ruins.
Downhill Beach is located to the West of and below the Mussenden Temple. Visitors can park at the bottom of the hill or drive to the beach under the tunnel.
Downhill Beach begins from below the cliffs of the Mussenden Temple all the way to the Causeway Coast. It offers a wide variety of entertaining activities for families and individuals alike, including water sports, such as windsurfing, in addition to horse riding, scenic walks, and all the necessary facilities.
Visitors will also find rocks that children are able to climb safely for fun. Which makes the beach a family-friendly environment. Downhill Beach is also popular for beach angling activities.
Downhill Beach is quite an iconic location nowadays as it was used in the filming of Game of Thrones (Season 2). The location was transformed into Dragonstone, where Melisandre burned the Seven Idols of Westeros.
A Trip to Bushmills Town
Bushmills is a village on the north coast of County Antrim in Northern Ireland. It owes its name to the River Bush and to a large watermill that was built there in the early 17th century. The village is best known as the location of the Old Bushmills Distillery. While you are here why not take a tour of the Distillery and learn about its history and even try some whiskey?
In 1883, the world’s first hydroelectric railway began operating from Bushmills to the seaside resort of Portrush.
Take a trip down memory lane and visit this quaint and beautiful village on your travels and we guarantee you won’t regret it.
The Exciting Titanic Quarter
Another one of the best Northern Ireland Attractions is the Titanic Quarter; a large-scale waterfront project, comprising historic maritime landmarks, film studios, education facilities, residential apartments, and an entertainment district. And the world’s largest Titanic-themed attraction is located right in Belfast Harbour.
A lot of activities and tours are available in the Titanic Quarter, such as the Paint Hall Studios which features 6 stages, including the Titanic Studios. You can take a tour where famous films, like Scrooge (1951) and A Night to Remember (1958) were filmed, in addition to major TV series such as Game of Thrones.
You can also visit the Slipways and Memorial Garden where the Titanic and Olympics were built and first launched into the water.
The Journey of the Titanic
The Plaza takes visitors to the outdoors to track the Titanic’s journey from Belfast across the Atlantic to New York on the map through the light tiles that basically represent the sea and the dark tiles which represent the land.
The Morse Code exhibition is featured through a series of wooden benches that encircle the building and are spaced in Morse code sequence as they read “This is Titanic’s call sign” – which is the exact distress message that Titanic sent after hitting an iceberg.
Also, if you look at the doors when you enter Titanic Belfast from the car park, you’ll also find in Morse code “Welcome to Titanic Belfast”.
What to Uncover on the Titanic Experience
The Titanic Experience comprises of nine interactive galleries to help visitors explore the shipyard. As well as go all the way down into the depths of the ocean, in the city where it all began.
Visitors can take a tour back in time in order to learn about the thriving industries and exciting design innovations that led to the creation of the RMS Titanic before passing through the original Harland & Wolff gates to the Shipyard and the dark ride that uses special effects to recreate the process of shipbuilding in the early twentieth century.
The Titanic Museum is a six-floor building dedicated to the story of the ill-fated ship. The museum’s interactive exhibits reveal unknown facts about the ship. Along with the events that led up to its unfortunate end. The myths and legends that went hand in hand with its tragic demise in the Atlantic ocean.
The Historic Belfast City Hall
Until 1613, Belfast was considered to be a small settlement, then a Royal charter gave Belfast its town status. After which it continued to expand rapidly, becoming an important port and manufacturing centre. By the second half of the 19th century, Belfast had become a major industrial powerhouse. Known for its numerous industries, including shipbuilding, rope-making, engineering, tobacco and textile. In 1888, Queen Victoria gave Belfast the title of city and hence a new city hall was needed to reflect this change in status.
The New City Hall
The new hall was built by local firm H+J Martin, following a design from Alfred Brumwell Thomas, who won a public competition with his classical Renaissance design.
The Belfast City Hall was inaugurated on 1 August 1906. The building now stands as a testament to Belfast’s great economic success.
Floodlights have been added to City Hall to light up the building in different colours for special occasions. The lights were installed using the same technology employed at the Empire State Building in New York.
The exterior of the building is made up of Portland stone and is designed in the Baroque Revival style. The building features towers at each of the four corners, with a copper dome in the centre.
Statues, Memorials and More at Belfast City Hall
The statues of Queen Victoria by Sir Thomas Brock can be found within the City Hall grounds, as well as a granite column commemorating the American Expeditionary Force, who was based in Belfast prior to D-Day. The grounds also contain a memorial that is dedicated to Sir Edward Harland. He was the former head of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, which was sculpted by Thomas Brock, in addition to Northern Ireland‘s main war memorial, The Garden of Remembrance and Cenotaph.
Other memorials located within the grounds include those dedicated to James Magennis VC, the only Northern Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross during World War II. A memorial in honour of Belfast footballer George Best. The Imjin River Memorial commemorates Irish troops who perished in the Battle of Chaegunghyon during the Korean War.
The interior of the building has a number of notable features including The Porte-Cochère and Grand Entrance, and The Grand Staircase. The Great Hall was destroyed during the Belfast blitz and then rebuilt once again.
The building also features Carrara, Pavonazzo and Brescia marbles and stained glass windows with the Belfast Coat of Arms, portraits of Queen Victoria and William III and shields of the Provinces of Ireland.
Various memorials are located within the building honouring Frederick Robert Chichester, Earl of Belfast, Sir Crawford and Lady McCullagh and the 36th (Ulster) Division.
The Stunning Belfast Castle
Belfast Castle is one of the most striking buildings in Belfast that welcomes hundreds of visitors throughout the year. Visitors usually enjoy afternoon tea in the Castle Tavern or take a leisurely stroll around the gardens.
The Donegall coat-of-arms is situated right above the front door of Belfast Castle. A section of the Shaftesbury crest is also situated on the exterior staircase, which has now become a popular spot for wedding photography. The castle boasts a six-story square tower and the entrance faces the steep slope of the hillside and has a porch with decorative Doric columns.
More on the History of Belfast Castle
In 1894, the principal rooms were connected to the terrace below by an Italian-style serpentine outside staircase that was a gift from the 9th Earl of Shaftesbury to his mother.
The original Belfast Castle was built in the 12th century by the Normans in the town of Belfast itself in what is now Belfast city centre. The castle was home to the 1st Baron Chichester (Sir Arthur Chichester), but unfortunately, it was burned down in 1708. The Chichesters decided to forgo the original site and rebuild their new residence in the suburbs, right where today’s Belfast Castle is located.
Designed in the Scottish baronial style by Charles Lanyon and his son, the new castle was built during the period from 1811 to 1870 by the 3rd Marquess of Donegall. After Donegall’s death and the family’s financial demise, The 8th Earl of Shaftesbury oversaw the completion of the construction process.
The castle boasts an antique shop, a restaurant, and a visitors centre and it is a popular venue for conferences, private dining and wedding receptions.
A Visit to the Ulster Museum
Considered to be the largest museum in Northern Ireland, Ulster Museum is located within the Belfast Botanic Gardens and takes up around 8,000 square metres of display space. It features a wide variety of artefacts, including fine art and applied art, archaeology, ethnography, treasures from the Spanish Armada, local history, numismatics, industrial archaeology, botany, zoology, and geology.
Admission to the Ulster Museum is free of charge and memberships are offered in different packages with prices that vary from £ 30-75.
The Ulster Museum was founded as the Belfast Natural History Society in 1821 and began showcasing different exhibits in 1833. Originally named the Belfast Municipal Museum and Art Gallery, its location was changed to its present site in Stranmillis in 1929 and was designed by James Cumming Wynne.
Among the exhibits at the museum are the Modern History Gallery; Takabuti, the Egyptian Mummy; The Fairy Fountain (c.1900-1); Morpho rhetenor; Edmontosaurus Dinosaur; Peter the polar bear; St. Christopher Carrying the Christ Child by Jacob Jordaens; Francisco Goya: The Disasters of War; and the Re-imagined Painting Features Game of Thrones Themes.
All that Northern Ireland has to Offer
These are just some of the interesting and exciting attractions that you can check out when visiting Northern Ireland. But the list is endless of places for you to explore in Northern Ireland. Not forgetting the famous Peace Walls, the Glens of Antrim or the Carrick-a-rede Bridge. Whether you are into history or just looking for some fun places to visit, Northern Ireland has got it all for you.
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