There are heaps of things to do in Northern Ireland, yet many never look beyond Belfast and the Causeway Coast.
Which is a shame, as many of the best places to visit in Northern Ireland rarely make it onto the cover of shiny tourist guidebooks!
In this guide, we’ve packed in a mix of off-the-beaten-track hidden gems (like Torr Head) along with the attractions in Northern Ireland that tourists love (like the Antrim Glens). Dive on in!
The best things to do in Northern Ireland
The six counties of Northern Ireland (Antrim, Armagh, Down, Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh) are an explorers paradise – here’s our favourite attractions!
Note: There’s some key differences between Northern Ireland vs Ireland for those of you that have never visited before (currency, metric system, road signs, etc.).
1. The Causeway Coastal Route
Although you can drive it in one day, we recommend giving yourself at least two to three days to take in the sights, ramble around some quaint villages, and tackle some of the various hikes and walks.
2. Tollymore Forest Park
Tollymore Forest Park sits at the foot of the Mourne Mountains. It spans over 1,500 acres, with amazing views of the surrounding mountains and the Irish Sea.
The park is packed with things to do and see, with four way-marked trails, and several interesting buildings and historical features.
For a short easy walk, choose the Blue Arboretum Path, a 0.8km trail that wanders through one of Ireland’s oldest arboretums (a botanical garden exclusively for trees).
Make time to visit the Barbican Gate, and admire the ornate Stone Bridges, and the mystical Hermitage. This is one of the best places to visit in Northern Ireland for good reason!
3. The mighty Mourne Mountains
The range’s raw beauty and dramatic landscapes were an inspiration for C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, and are a walker’s paradise!
There’s a clatter of trails on offer here from Slieve Doan and Slieve Binnian to the mighty Slieve Bearnagh. The trails vary in length and difficulty (find an overview of each in our Mourne Mountains walks guide).
If you’re looking for active things to do in Northern Ireland, you could easily spend a weekend in Newcastle and tackle several of the walks over the course of a few days.
4. Belfast Black Cab Tours
If you’re wondering what to do in Northern Ireland that’ll give you a good insight into its turbulent past, look no further than the Belfast Black Cab Tours.
This is an incredibly unique way to explore the city and a must for anyone visiting Belfast! It’s no secret that Belfast has had a turbulent past, and the Black Cab Tours (which are given by long-term residents) can give you an in-depth understanding of what it was like to live in the city during those times.
There are several companies offering Black Cab tours (see them here), and depending on which you choose, they may have slightly different tours/routes on offer.
5. Castles galore
There are endless castles in Northern Ireland for those of you looking to step-back-in-time for a bit.
Carrickfergus Castle is arguably Northern Ireland’s most famous castle. Dating back to 1177, the castle is in pristine condition and it boasts a postcard-worthy location right on the water.
If you’re looking for a castle fit for a Disney Princess, then Belfast Castle is a must. With beautiful turrets and lovely grounds, it’s definitely one of the most picturesque castles in Ireland!
6. The Torr Head Scenic Route
One of the more unique things to do in Northern Ireland is the mighty Torr Head Scenic Route (a slight detour off the Causeway Coast).
However, if you’re up for the challenge, you’ll be rewarded with breath-takings vistas. On a clear day, you’ll see Scotland off in the distance!
7. The Giant’s Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway is one of the most popular places to visit in Northern Ireland and, while it’s well worth a visit, large crowds, pricy parking and bad weather can make or break your experience.
The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage site that was formed between 50 and 60 million years ago due to volcanic activity.
We recommend parking in the Causeway Coast Way Car Park, a 10-minute walk from the site. It costs £10 per car, but it’s miles cheaper than buying “Visitor Experience” tickets which include parking at the visitor centre.
8. Kodak Corner
A ramble up to Kodak Corner at sunrise is another of the top things to do in Northern Ireland. This is a glorious spot with breathtaking views over Carlingford Lough and you’ll find it in Kilbroney Forest Park in Down.
There’s a lovely 4.1km looped walk to reach the viewpoint known as the Cloughmore Trail via Fiddler’s Green.
Start the walk in the Kilbroney upper car park. From there, follow the trail to the “Big Stone”, which according to Irish folklore, was thrown from across the lough by giant Fionn mac Cumhail.
After the stone make a detour down along the dip to the left of the stone, and follow the trail to Kodak Corner! Afterward, you can either go back to the stone and follow the rest of the loop or walk back to the car park.
9. Glenariff Forest Park
Glenariff Forest Park boasts over 247 acres of woodland, lakes, and waterfalls. It’s a great spot for a short ramble or a longer walk with several scenic trails on offer.
The park is fantastic for a group or family day out, with a tea house, picnic area, and barbecue facilities. For first-time visitors, the 3km waterfall walk is a must.
For something easier, try the 1km Viewpoint Trail which passes through the ornamental gardens and has lovely views.
A visit here during the off-season when crowds are smaller is one of the best things to do in Northern Ireland, in our opinion, as there’s a surprise around every corner.
10. The Game of Thrones filming locations
Northern Ireland played a big role in the filming of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and all in all, a whopping 25 locations were used! The Dark Hedges is one of the more iconic locations, used for the road from King’s Landing.
But, if you’re firmly team Stark, you may be more interested in Castle Ward which was used to film Winterfell, and Tollymore Forest Park, used for the Wolfswood near Winterfell, the Haunted Forest North of the Wall, and more.
11. Crumlin Road Gaol
The Crumlin Road Gaol is an old jail in Belfast that dates back to 1846. It was a fully operating jail for 150 years before closing in 1996. During its time, the jail was home to a wide range of prisoners from suffragettes, to republicans and loyalists.
The gaol is not only open for tours but it’s also a concert venue and has a licensed restaurant, the Cuffs Bar & Grill. To get a real insight, either take a self-guided tour (usually 60 – 90 minutes) or a fully guided tour (90 minutes).
Attractions include the tunnel from the goal to the courthouse, the holding cells, and the chilling Hangman’s Cell. If you’re wondering what to do in Northern Ireland when it’s raining, this is a great shout.
12. The Slieve Gullion Scenic Drive
The Slieve Gullion Scenic Drive is a gorgeous 10km drive through winding mountain roads and forests. Start in the Slieve Gullion Lower Car Park, and follow the one-way tarmacked road around the southern and western border of the mountain back to the car park.
At the top of the drive, there’s a parking area where you can enjoy the views and stop for a picnic, or hike to Slieve Gullion’s summit (the highest point in County Armagh at 576 metres). The Peak has two Bronze Age cairns and spectacular views. It’s 1.5km back and forth from the upper car park.
This is another good option if you’re looking for the best things to do in Northern Ireland when it’s raining, as you can enjoy the views from the comfort of your car.
13. Cuilcagh (Ireland’s Stairway to Heaven)
The Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail (nicknamed Ireland’s Stairway to Heaven) is an 11km walk in County Fermanagh that weaves its way through Northern Ireland’s largest patch of blanket bog.
You can either park in the Cuilcagh Boardwalk car park (it costs £6 and should be pre-booked) at the entrance to the trail, or at Killykeegan Nature Reserve car park (free) 1km past the trail entrance.
The walk is moderately tough, taking most people between two and three hours to complete, but you’ll be rewarded with the most stunning views of the bog and of the boardwalk meandering out of sight!
As this is one of the more popular active things to do in Northern Ireland, it can get very busy at the weekends!
14. The Old Bushmills Distillery
The Old Bushmills Distillery is the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery. Few tourists attractions in Northern Ireland draw thirsty crowds like this place!
It’s been operating for over 400 years producing triple-distilled single malt whiskey using 100% malted barley. Located just off the Causeway Coastal Route, it’s a great little detour and the chance to tour a working distillery!
Tours are around one hour long, with the chance to learn about the distilling process and see the copper stills, barrels, and casks. The tour ends in the 1608 bar, where you’ll get to taste one of the most iconic Irish whiskey brands.
15. The Sperrins
The Sperrins are one of the most overlooked places to visit in Northern Ireland, but they’re well worth considering during your visit.
Located on the border of counties Tyrone and Derry, the Sperrins are a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and one of the country’s largest upland areas.
In the southeast of the Sperrin Mountain range, you’ll find the Beaghmore Stone Circles, a circle of seven stones that date back to the Bronze Age.
For a truly unique experience, head to the Dark Sky Observatory in Davagh Forest. The lack of light pollution makes it perfect for stargazing and there’s an outdoor viewing platform.
16. The Cave Hill hike
A challenging 7.2km loop, people usually start at Belfast Castle and follow the green way-marked arrows.
Start by climbing the path from the car park, when you reach the top, turn right and continue through the woodland. Go up through the trees to the plateau for some amazing views of Belfast!
Highlights along the way are McArt’s Fort, the Devil’s Punchbowl, and of course, more magnificent views.
17. Titanic Belfast
Titanic Belfast is the world’s biggest Titanic visitor experience, with nine interactive galleries. There are two tours available, the self-guided Titanic Experience and the guided Discovery Tour.
During the Titanic Experience, you’ll be able to wander the galleries such as the Shipyard Ride, The Maiden Voyage, and The Sinking.
It also includes admission onto the SS Nomadic, the ship that ferried first and second-class passengers to the Titanic from Cherbourg.
The Discovery Tour is a one-hour walk outdoors with a tour guide and roaming headset. During the tour, you’ll learn about building the ship, its last hours, and the “easter eggs” in the Titanic Belfast building.
18. The Marble Arch Caves
The Marble Arch Caves are a series of limestone caves and underground rivers at the foothills of Cuilcagh Mountain. Although only 1.5km are accessible during tours, the cave and river system extends 11km underground.
A visit to the caves is the ultimate subterranean adventure, with a 60-minute guided tour on offer. On the Owenbrean River – Walking Cave Tour, you’ll discover pools, and hidden tunnels, and follow the river’s journey as it carves a path through the stone.
Those lucky enough to visit when the underground water levels are high enough will be automatically upgraded to the Martel Tour (an extra 15 minutes), which adds a short boat ride!
If you’re wondering what to do in Northern Ireland this weekend, tackle the Cuilcagh hike, first, and then explore the caves after!
19. Portstewart Strand
Portstewart Strand is an gorgeous Blue Flag beach managed by the National Trust. Stretching for 3.2km, the beaches’ fine golden sand and abundant wildlife make it extremely popular.
The beach is backed by 6,000-year-old sand dunes which are home to native wildflowers and butterflies, with some dunes reaching a whopping 30 metres high!
The Portstewart Strand – Sand Dune & Estuary Trail is the perfect way to stretch your legs, with lovely coastal views during the easy 5.6km trail.
A part of the Causeway Coast, Portstewart Strand is another G.O.T filming location, and a great spot for a swim, a surf, or a family picnic.
20. Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge
Few places to visit in Northern Ireland are as photographed as our next attraction. The Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge dates back to 1755 when salmon fishermen built the bridge to connect Carrick-a-Rede to the mainland.
Luckily, over the years it’s been upgraded, and today, it’s a thrilling (yet sturdy) 20-metre walk across, suspended 30-metres above the water!
Once you’re on the island, take time to admire the lonely white-washed cottage, a reminder of the island’s fishing legacy which came to an end in 2002.
21. The Ards Peninsula
The Ards Peninsula in County Down is a lovely corner of Northern Ireland full of interesting attractions and rolling green hills. There are several towns and villages on the peninsula, including Donaghadee, Newtownards, and Ballywalter.
The peninsula borders Strangford Lough, a highly biodiverse area, and the largest sea lough in the United Kingdom. The lough is a fantastic for birdwatching, with three-quarters of the worldwide Brent Geese population migrating there over winter.
Some must-sees on the Ards Peninsula are Scrabo Tower in Newtownards, Grey Abbey, a 12th-century Cisterian abbey ruin, and Portaferry, a quaint harbour village.
22. Murlough Beach
Murlough Beach is an expansive 6.4km-long beach in County Down that sits in the shadow of the mighty Mourne Mountains. The Blue Flag beach is managed by the National Trust, with a summer lifeguard service and on-site parking, although it’s a short walk over the dunes.
The extensive dune system behind the beach, Murlough Nature Reserve dates back 6,000 years! It is home to a diverse range of animals and plants and became Ireland’s first nature reserve in 1967.
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Northern Ireland this weekend, hike Slieve Donard, first, and then grab food in Newcastle followed up with a ramble on the sand!
23. St. Patrick’s Cathedral(s)
There are two St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh, one for the Roman Catholic Church and one for the Church of Ireland. Both are beautifully built and whilst they’re not to be confused, they are interlinked.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral (Church of Ireland) is built on a site that dates back to a stone monastery founded by St. Patrick in the 5th century.
The church played a significant role in the Catholic Church of Ireland until the 16th century when it was taken over by the Church of Ireland during the Irish Reformation.
This led to the founding of the other St. Patrick’s (Roman Catholic), which was built between 1840 and 1904, a historically and politically important venture.
24. The Divis Summit Trail
The Divis Summit Trail is a 4.5km loop walk across Divis Mountain. It has magnificent views of Belfast, Lough Neagh and the Irish Sea.
It’s a moderate walk up to the 478-metre summit where you’ll be able to enjoy the panoramic views of the city and beyond.
The red way-marked trail starts at the upper car park, although there is a lower car park a short stroll away.
25. Mussenden Temple
Mussenden Temple in County Derry is one of the more picture-perfect places to go in Northern Ireland.
This is a scenic spot in the Downhill Demesne. The temple sits on the edge of a tall cliff, with amazing views of the ocean and Downhill Strand.
The circular building dates back to 1785, and although it sits on a cliff today, it used to be possible to drive a carriage all the way around it!
We recommend taking a stroll along the Downhill Demesne Walking Trail, an easy 3.2 km dog-friendly trail that passes through a pretty walled garden, along cliff edges, and by the Mussenden Temple.
26. The Gobbins
The Gobbins is a thrilling coastal walk that’s unlike any other in the country! A word of warning, it’s a long and challenging 5km walk with lots of stairs, and a height restriction of four feet. The walk takes most people two and a half hours.
The cliff path opened in 1902 and was an immediate hit. It’s easy to see why, with its dramatic cliff-side bridges, exciting walkways, and tunnels.
The Gobbins has opened and closed several times, but last opened in 2016, with an ambitious addition of 12 new bridges and six paths.
It’s one of endless things to do in Northern Ireland along the Antrim Coast, but maybe save a visit for when the weather’s good!
27. The Binevenagh hike
The Binevenagh Hike is a 4.5km loop through the Binevenagh forest and up to the Binevenagh summit. From the summit, there are spectacular views of the Roe Valley, Lough Foyle, and even Scotland’s west coast!
The route passes by Binevenagh Lake, an artificial lake that is popular with anglers. It’s worth taking a detour from the main route to the Devil’s Thumb, an incredible rock formation with breathtaking vistas over the lough.
Start the hike on Leighery Road, where there’s a small parking area just before the trailhead (see parking here on Google Maps).
28. Colin Glen
It’s home to the country’s first Alpine Coaster, longest zipline, and heaps of other attractions. The 200-acre park is full of trees, has a river flowing through, and even a 9-hole golf course.
Some must-try activities are the Black Bull Run, a 565-metre roller coaster through the Colin Glen Forest, the Gruffalo & Stickman Guided Walk (great for young kids!), and the SKYTrek ropes course, a 50ft high course with a 90-metre zipline.
Colin Glen is widely regarded as one of the best things to do in Northern Ireland with kids for good reason.
29. Belfast (and the benefit of the doubt)
Belfast gets a bad rep. Usually from people that have never visited (or from those who visited for a weekend on the beer and who never took the time to explore).
However, once you have a decent itinerary, the NI’s capital is a fine spot to spend a weekend. For beautiful architecture, a visit to the Cathedral Quarter is a must.
There’s also some excellent restaurants in Belfast to kick-back in after a long day of exploring).
What places to visit in Northern Ireland have we missed?
I’ve no doubt that we’ve unintentionally left out some brilliant things to do in Northern Ireland from the guide above.
If you have a place that you’d like to recommend, let me know in the comments below and I’ll check it out!
FAQs about what to do in Northern Ireland
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What Northern Ireland tourist attractions are good for families?’ to ‘What things to do in NI are good for a date?’.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
What are the best things to do in Northern Ireland?
In our opinion, some of the best tourist attractions in Northern Ireland are the Mournes, the Antrim Coast, Tollymore Forest, Glenariff Park and the Belfast Black Cab Tours.
What are some unique places to visit in Northern Ireland?
The Gobbins, Carrick-a-rede, Torr Head, Rathlin Island, the Marble Arch Caves and Mussenden Temple are some very unique things to do in Northern Ireland.
I’m wondering what to do in Northern Ireland when it rains?
Some good rainy day attractions in Northern Ireland are Crumlin Road Gaol, The Old Bushmills Distillery, the GoT Studio and the Marble Arch Caves.
Keith O’Hara has lived in Ireland for 34 years and has spent most of the last 10 years creating what is now The Irish Road Trip guide. Over the years, the website has published thousands of meticulously researched Ireland travel guides, welcoming 30 million+ visitors along the way. In 2022, the Irish Road Trip team published the world’s largest collection of Irish Road Trip itineraries. Keith lives in Dublin with his dog Toby and finds writing in the 3rd person minus craic altogether.