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Heading to Belfast or beyond? Here are the best things to do in Northern Ireland

Jun 13, 2023 by Emily Houston

If you’re wondering why you should visit Northern Ireland, here are a few reasons to add it to your travel list. For outdoor adventurers, nothing tops cliff-walking along Giant’s Causeway. City-lovers will delight in Belfast’s culinary and music scenes. As for Derry’s streets, they offer a peek into the past that will enthrall all history buffs. Set off on any of our Belfast tours and fill your days with these top things to do in Northern Ireland.

Best cities in Northern Ireland to visit

With a slew of cool things to do in Northern Ireland, you’ll want to know where to set your home base so you can experience it all. Here are the top cities in Northern Ireland. 

  • Belfast. Capital and cultural heart of the county, this is one of the must-visit cities on our Northern Ireland tours.
  • Derry. Northern Ireland’s second-largest city is home to historical sites and even a few filming locations from the hit show Derry Girls
  • Bushmills. Home to Giant’s Causeway, the natural landscapes here are what shine brightest.
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Ireland and Northern Ireland

Top tours of Northern Ireland

“I recently attended an event put on by Northern Ireland’s tourism board,” said staffer Shannon. “The big draws are Belfast and the natural landscapes, but according to current trends, the country is extremely underrated.” Long story short: Northern Ireland deserves far more attention than it’s getting, and the landscapes alone will wow you! Find the tour that shows you the sides of Northern Ireland you’re most passionate about seeing.

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Titanic Memorial Belfast

Best things to do in Northern Ireland

Whether you want some tips on the best things to do in Belfast, Northern Ireland, or you’re wondering how to fill your free time while traveling outside of the capital city, here are some activities that will wow you.

Uncover the history of the Titanic

Visiting the Titanic Belfast Museum is touted as one of the best things to do in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The museum is located in a former shipyard where the RMS Titanic was built. An expansive upgrade to the museum recently opened to the public, which means now’s the best time to visit.

“The museum really tries to tell individual stories and give life back to some of the victims, which makes visiting it one of the most captivating things to do in Belfast, Northern Ireland,” said staffer Shannon. “The museum is built at the head of the slipways, which was where the ship was built. Travelers can walk along the slipways, which have an outline of the Titanic’s promenade deck, and feel like they’re walking on the actual ship”

Feel like royalty at Hillsborough Castle

When you’re looking for the best things to do in Northern Ireland, make sure you take some time to get outside of the city. We recommend signing up for our Castles of Northern Ireland & Afternoon Tea excursion offered on our Grand Tour of Ireland.

You’ll head to the countryside to visit Hillsborough Castle for a guided tour of the State Rooms and gardens. The royal residence, which was built in the 18th century, sits on 100 acres of sprawling green space and is an example of Georgian-style architecture. Then, sit down to a traditional afternoon tea complete with unlimited tea, sweet and savory pastries, plus the region’s renowned scones served with clotted cream and jam.

Take a trip to Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland

Discover the history of the Troubles through street art

One of the best things to do in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is hear about the city’s history from someone who experienced it. On our Belfast tours, you’ll stop at sites connected to the Catholic-Protestant conflict and listen to expert commentary from your guide who grew up during the Troubles.

“The most interesting part of my guided tour of Belfast was seeing the murals that tell the stories of the Troubles,” said staffer Emily. “The art was such a visceral, emotional expression of the people who lived through it. Seeing these murals is one of the most moving things to do in Northern Ireland, as they serve as a memorial to those impacted by the conflict.”

Embrace outdoor adventure at Giant’s Causeway

Here’s a Northern Ireland fun fact for you: Giant’s Causeway, a rugged landscape of 40,000 naturally formed basalt columns, inspired the tourism board’s motto, “Embrace a Giant Spirit.” The hexagonal columns, which you can walk on, are 60 million years old and originated as volcanic lava.

A colorful local legend says that mythical giant Finn McCool built the walkway so that he could cross the sea to Scotland. On a clear day, you can see Scotland and a stretch of the beautiful northern Irish coastline. Join the cliff walk on our Ireland: The Wild Atlantic Way tour to soak in spectacular views of the causeway and coastline. It’s easily one of the best things to do in Northern Ireland. 

Explore Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland

Step into the filming locations from your favorite TV show

“Screen tourism and shows like Game of Thrones and Derry Girls are all drawing crowds to this part of the world,” said staffer Shannon. One of the fun things to do in Northern Ireland is seek out the filming locations from your favorite show.

Head to St Mary’s University College and Hunterhouse College in Belfast to see where the school scenes in Derry Girls were shot. Then, order fish and chips at John Long’s Fish and Chip Restaurant, which served as Fionnuala’s chippy in the show. Many of the Game of Thrones filming locations are spread across the more rural areas of the country. But you can travel 40 minutes outside of Belfast to visit Winterfell, called Castle Ward in real life, during your free time.

Celebrate Belfast’s musical heritage

Of all of the best things to do in Belfast, Northern Ireland, getting into the musical groove may be the most fun. “Belfast was awarded UNESCO City of Music status in 2021,” said staffer Shannon. Musical legend Van Morrison hails from Northern Ireland, as do members of indie pop band Snow Patrol. Spend a night exploring central Belfast, where many pubs have live music throughout the week. “For anyone who’s already been to Galway, Belfast is a great next spot,” said Shannon.

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Northern Ireland

Dig in to the food culture

“Belfast was honored as the ‘best food destination’ in 2019, which is something people don’t typically envision when they think of the UK or Ireland,” said staffer Shannon. Whether you’re looking for ciders, beers, farm-to-table cuisine, or a good old-fashioned Ulster Fry (a traditional breakfast) Belfast will deliver. There are countless foodie spots throughout the city, so be sure to research restaurants to visit in your free time. If you want to treat your tastebuds even more, join our Ireland: A Feast of Culinary Flavors & Local Traditions and add an independent pre- or post-tour stay in Belfast.

Head west for a guided tour of Derry

Belfast may get a lot of the glory, but Northern Ireland’s second-city will wow you, too. Derry, also called Londonderry, is famous for its 400-year-old city walls. These walls are prominently featured in Derry Girls when the main characters walk to and from school. Plus, just like Belfast, Derry’s another city where you can hear more about the Troubles. The city is located on the border of Ireland, and was one of the areas that was greatly impacted by the conflict.

Take a peek at all of our Northern Ireland tours, which take you to Belfast and beyond!

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About the author | Emily Houston
Emily loves the simple travel moments—like watching hours pass by in minutes while sharing a meal and a laugh (or many) with her friends and family. Outside the office, you'll find Emily listening to anything and everything John Mayer, attempting to cook a New York Times recipe, or dreaming up her next trip.

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