With characteristics of both the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, visiting Northern Ireland is an experience like no other. In a compact space, you can explore Belfast’s city highlights yet be in delightful countryside or shoreline almost anywhere in the country in just a short drive.
Visting Northern Ireland is ideal for travellers who want the choice of more rural destinations, but still like to experience the amenities and facilities that cities offer, all within close proximity.
How to Get to Northern Ireland
Belfast International Airport or George Best City Airport is where most travellers arrive into Northern Ireland – you can take internal flights from London, Manchester, Birmingham and other major UK cities to reach it, or fly from popular European destinations like Malaga and Amsterdam.
If you have a car, one of the best ways to reach Belfast is to take the 8-hour ferry from Liverpool. You can choose between a day or a night crossing. If you are a foot passenger, you can take the ferry for just £10 one way!
Or take the ferry from Cairnryan in Scotland to Belfast, which takes only 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Top 5 Things to Do in Belfast
A city of contrasts, Belfast is a fascinating place to explore for a day or two. There are plenty of attractions to give you a real feel for the city, as well as delicious places to dine, and of course, destinations to let your hair down in and enjoy a couple of drinks at the end of the night.
The largest museum in the region, the Ulster Museum has displays from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and beyond, and educates visitors about the history of this small yet dynamic nation. The museum is in two parts – one focuses on the social history of Northern Ireland, and the other is a transport museum. It costs £11 for an adult to enter both parts of the museum.
Taking part in a Belfast Black Taxi Tour will help you see the city from an entirely new perspective. Most guides have more than two decades of experience and love to tell guests snippets from Belfast’s past, present and future. They really provide one of the most authentic insights into Belfast and “the troubles”.
If you want to know the full Titanic story, the Titanic Experience is Belfast’s premier tourist attraction. There are exhibitions from Belfast at the time, real life replicas of parts of the ship, the voyage of Titanic and its tragic fate.
The Botanic Gardens herald from 1828, created by the Belfast Botanic and Horticultural Society. It has lots of tropical plants, and is home to the Palm House and Tropical Ravine. There are walking routes through the gardens. A great option for backpackers in Belfast, the Botanic Gardens are free except during special events.
A great way to explore the city and a popular thing to do for those who want cover the city and are short on time. The Belfast walking tour will show you the highlights of this beautiful city. It will take you to paces like Docklands, the Lagan River, Cathedral Quarter, Albert Clock, the Big Fish, Belfast City Hall and the City Laneways. You could also take part in a political tour – very important to learn the need to knows in Northern Irish politics, a topic that has dominated the news for decades– and a Belfast pub tour.
Top 5 Things to do in Northern Ireland (outside Belfast)
Many of the best things to do when visiting Northern Ireland take place on the Causeway Coastal Route. This spectacular drive is one of the world’s most scenic, and one of the main reasons so many visit Northern Ireland.
An attraction that makes Northern Ireland famous, Giant’s Causeway is one of the most special places to visit in Northern Ireland. It is one of Europe’s best coastlines, featuring around 40,000 basalt columns; the product of volcanic activity 50-60 million years ago. It is called ‘giant’s causeway’ due to legend – said to be formed so because of an argument between two giants. Legend has it that the causeway stretched across to Scotland, but because of the Giants’ argument, it was ripped apart, leaving just what stands now.
Another thing that makes Northern Ireland famous is the world-class TV show, Game of Thrones. The Dark Hedges are possibly the most iconic sight from the series– they are beech trees close to Armoy in County Antrim. Other famous locations are Tollymore Forest Park, which is the Haunted Forest. Winterfell is Castle Ward in Country Down and Runestone in the Vale of Arryn is located in Glenariff, County Antrim.
Beckoning to a long-spanning history, Dunluce Castle is one of the most popular historical attractions to visit in Northern Ireland. It has a history spanning over 500 years, when it was built by the MacQuillan family and then seized by the MacDonnell family. Visitors to the castle can take some stunning photos of the building and its scenery, and enjoy learning about the spectacular history of the castle.
The adrenalin-pumping Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge will showcase you some of the best sights of the Causeway Coastal Route – if you can calm your nerves enough to pause and look around, that is! When you reach the other side, you’ll see the spectacular vistas of the surrounding cliffs, and on a clear day you can see all the way to Islay Island in Scotland. Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is also home to some fantastic birdwatching.
Twinning nature with amazing Irish history, the Causeway Coastal Route spans from Belfast to Derry/ Londonderry. It features most of the attractions mentioned above, but a road trip along the Causeway Coastal Route is somewhere to visit in its own right. It’s a great place to visit for the beaches – with lots of fishing villages, clifftop paths and gorse valleys. The dramatic coastline is a sensory delight, and is perfect for both a road trip and country walks. Many people even consider it to be the prettiest drive in the world.
Budget Eats in Belfast
Eating out in Northern Ireland provides a wide range of cuisines and dining experiences. Here are some of our favourite places to eat in Belfast on a budget.
City centre spot, The National, is trendy, and an easy place to save some money. It has cheap drinks and delicious dishes available most days.
Maggie Mays is a popular student hangout – it serves hearty grub for very cheap prices. Think bangers, chips and beans, fry ups, and stews.
Boojum is a Mexican-style burrito bar. Established in 2007, it offers different style dishes (burrito, tacos, fajita or a salad), different fillings and sauces in a city centre location.
Lavery’s is a famous Belfast pub, but it has burgers and other traditional pub dishes for cheap rates.
St Georges Market, which is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, offers delicious street food options and a wide range of home made options as well as unique gifts.
How to Get Around Northern Ireland
If you have brought your own car on the ferry, then it’s easy to get around Northern Ireland. The roads are maintained well and it is easy to reach nearly anywhere in the country on a day trip from Belfast.
Taxis are easily accessed in most towns and cities. One point to note, is that you cannot hail a taxi from the roadside in Northern Ireland unless its a black cab, all other taxis do need to be booked in advance. The two largest taxi groups are ValueCabs and Fonacabs. Taxi drivers in Northern Ireland are typically friendly and knowledgeable about the local area.
Within Belfast, the Metro dayLink card is perfect. It offers purchasers unlimited daily travel on the rail network from 3.50.
Translink is Northern Ireland’s public transport provider. Offering value tickets, the rail service leaves from Belfast to major towns in Northern Ireland.
The Rambler Bus Service is targeted to tourists, and wants to make some more ‘off the beaten path’ destinations accessible to tourists.
Staying Safe in Belfast
Belfast is a super safe destination – in fact, it has been voted the safest city in the UK and Northern Ireland has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe. It is important to be aware of political tensions and to avoid provoking anyone in areas that might be nationalist or unionist. Tourists are, however, unlikely to get into trouble.
Where to Stay in Belfast
If you’re after a comfortable night’s stay while exploring Belfast, why not join us at Maranatha House? We offer ensuite rooms at very reasonable prices, so you can sleep well and wake up refreshed to a hearty breakfast, ready to explore the city.
All rates include en-suite bathrooms and a delicious breakfast – the perfect fuel you will need to explore the city the next day. Click here for rates and more information about the rooms that we offer.