Northern Ireland — Attractions
Northern Ireland has a diverse collection of attractions, ranging from cosmopolitan Belfast to enchanting towns and villages. People expect it to be somewhat dull and industrial, but it is as green as Ireland proper, boasts a dramatic coastline—think the Giant’s Causeway—and is easy to get about by public transport or hire car.
Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland and the main hub of travel. It is smaller and easier to get around than Dublin—you can do downtown on foot—and has a good spread of attractions. There are grand sights of Empire, like City Hall, and castles and churches, as well as the Belfast Zoo and some great museums. Despite years of turmoil, known as ‘The Troubles’, Belfast is a thriving and safe place to visit today.
Address: Belfast, County Antrim/County Down
Northern Island’s most popular natural attraction is a must-see even for the most ardent city person. It resides up on the north coast—an easy trip from Belfast and other centers—and features mostly hexagonal, basalt formations. There are thousands of them, some going as high as 40 feet, and tourists are permitted to walk across them. The Giant’s Causeway is classed as a National Nature Reserve as well as a World Heritage site and comes in several sections: the Camel, Granny, Wishing Chair, Chimney Tops, Giant’s Boot, and the Organ. You can do all six on a walking tour. Also be sure to take in the snazzy visitor center, as well as the town of Coleraine, which is good for shopping and theater.
Address: 44 Causeway Road, Bushmills, County Antrim, BT57 8SU
Londonderry, or Derry, is Northern Ireland’s second city and is especially noted for its old city walls. It sits up in the northwest of the ‘province’ on the Foyle River and also has several worthy city attractions, including the Guildhall, the Tower Museum, and St Eugene’s Cathedral. The early 17th century walls are the main attraction, though; they are the best preserved of the entire island. It is easy to walk the walls as they’re only a mile around. Derry is 70 miles northwest of Belfast along the M2 and A6, about a 90-minute drive.
Address: Londonderry, County Londonderry
The town of Armagh is home to both the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland and its Anglican Church. The main sight is Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, which is several hundred years old and best seen on a guided tour. The history of the city is best learned at the Land of Lilliput, or with Armagh Guided Tours. The city is also home to a 2,000-year old fort, Navan Fort, and several interesting museums. If out and about at night, be careful how you word questions on Northern Ireland politics. Apart from car hire, the Ulsterbus comes in regularly from Belfast.
Address: Armagh, County Armagh
Enniskillen is a picturesque town right over in the west in County Fermanagh. Best known for the expansive Lough (lake) Erne, the town makes a great base to explore the lake and the lakeland scenery in this region in general. The fishing here is especially good, as are water sports. It is easy to get about Enniskillen on foot and there’s lots of parking. The 18th century Florence Court is one of the town’s most popular sights, with the Erneside Shopping Centre the main place for shoppers.
Address: Enniskillen, County Fermanagh
The standout building in Belfast is right in downtown and hails from the early 1900s. A grand building of British Empire, the Classical Renaissance-style structure is not unlike that of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, with its central dome. It houses the council chambers and offices of the city and is a place of arches, a fabulous staircase, and intricate furnishings and fittings. Free tours are offered daily, while the grounds have a statue of Queen Victoria and a memorial marking the Titanic’s victims. The grounds are best enjoyed on a warm summer’s day.
Address: Donegall Square, Belfast, County Antrim, BT1 5GS
The free Ulster Museum is a must for anyone interested in learning more about the ‘real’ history of ‘The Troubles’ and history in general of Northern Ireland. The museum is situated in the south of the town on the edge of the stunning Botanic Gardens and also includes interesting exhibits on the marine life of Northern Ireland and an impressive collection of the region’s art. Some visitors baulk at the retro-style extension.
Address: Botanic Gardens, Belfast, County Antrim, BT9 5AB
The refurbished Belfast Zoo is a popular attraction for families visiting Northern Ireland. It features a decent variety of animals, such as lions (including a Barbary lion cub), tigers, silverback gorillas, and elephants, and has well set out enclosures. The prairie dogs are particularly interesting as they have a vast network of tunnels. The zoo is north of town at Cave Hill Country Park and is open daily. Take bus #1 from downtown Belfast.
Address: Antrim Road, Newtownabbey, County Antrim, BT36 7PN
Titanic Boat Tour
Among a myriad of other marvelous vessels, the Titanic—albeit a British boat—was built in Belfast, a fact for which the city takes great pride. Boat tours go around the area of the old Harland & Wolff shipyards, which are being redeveloped and will be called the Titanic Quarter. Tours are an hour long and tickets can be had at Donegall Quay, or online. Private tours are also available.
Address: 66 Donegall Quay, Belfast, County Antrim, BT1 3NG