Northern Ireland was one of the most atmospheric and beautiful places I’ve ever visited. There’s just something very special about Ireland, and Northern Ireland has an untouched and rugged beauty. The area has everything you would expect and more from a hip capital, an increasingly vibrant food and music scene, cool whiskey distilleries, a stunning unspoiled coastline, gorgeous national parks, ancient castles, cosy pubs heated by roaring log fires, and yep still very much visited former Game of Thrones sets. From my time spent exploring here are 20 of the most beautiful places to visit in Northern Ireland…
Causeway Coastal Route – if you do one thing in Northern Ireland definitely do this!
If you are out for a road trip then this is where you need to be, this is one of the most atmospheric and beautiful road trips I’ve ever been on. The road from Derry to Belfast is packed with sights to see along the way. It’s only 120 miles, but there’s that much to see that you should plan at least three days for your adventure. You’ll also find several of the attractions mentioned throughout this post.
Set out on the road from Belfast and head north, your journey will terminate in Londonderry. There is the odd detour on the route, depending on how much time you have, make sure you check out the following…
One of the best-preserved medieval structures in Northern Ireland.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
A unique, fun, and slightly scary suspension rope bridge over a 100ft drop to the sea.
A painter’s paradise and one of the locations used to film the Game of Thrones television, this place was used as the ‘Iron Islands’ You’ll a small harbour on a raised beach in a quaint fishing village.
Expect rough seas and stunning views over to the Mull of Kintyre.
A haunting castle with fabulous views and dramatic seascapes and another Game of Thrones set.
A natural and picturesque wonder that is both mythological and geological and one of the most beautiful places to visit in the world.
I loved this place and the tour is fun and interesting. Make it at the end of a day and maybe treat yourself to a sample of the good stuff.
A sweeping tranquil and sandy beach that is backed by some of the oldest dunes in Ireland.
This is a beautiful town topped with a castle which is the Eastern Gateway to the Causeway. Also a Game of Thrones location.
Mussenden Temple Castlerock
A striking and highly photogenic historical circular library that is over 200 years old, accompanied by beautiful sea views.
Hotels and Airbnbs in Causeway Coastal Route
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, County Antrim – a great attraction to visit in Northern Ireland
Are you ready to learn a little bit of Gaelic?
Ok Carrick-a-Rede actually means ‘rock of the casting’, and refers to the island, not the rope bridge which you will find here. Will you be brave enough to strut the 20 metres over the 100 ft drop below? If you are then you’ll have achieved something. There are many who’ve gone one way and lost their nerve, preferring instead to be picked up from the island by boat.
The original bridge was constructed as a way for fishermen to get to the best salmon spots, however now it is a popular tourist attraction enticing around half a million visitors per year. If you have got your glasses on and the weather is clear, you might just be able to spot the western coast of Scotland winking at you from over the horizon.
Hotels and Airbnbs in Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, County Antrim
Giant’s Causeway – one of the famously beautiful places to visit in Northern Ireland
If you’ve been to check out Carrick-a-Rede then you are only a short hop from Giants Causeway. This is one of the Island of Ireland’s most iconic landmarks and is a must-see visit. You’d be forgiven for thinking these pillars and columns are man-made. They are not. They are formed by layers of basalt which over countless millennia have tilted in their axis until you are actually seeing a cross-section of millions of years of different compacted sediments on their side.
Don’t get too bogged down in the Geology, just go and enjoy. You’ll find coastline laden with fables about giants, and a designated UNESCO world heritage site to boot. Depending on the time of day, the granite plinths change colour, from almost black, to warm and mellow brown. Make sure to take your camera.
Hotels and Airbnbs in Giant’s Causeway
Dunluce Castle County Antrim – one of the most iconic monuments to explore in Northern Ireland
If you love your history you are in for a treat. Granted Dunluce Castle might need a little work doing to it to make it liveable, but it’s full of wonder and sits like a broken tooth looking out to sea. The castle is over 500 years old.
After you have marvelled and wondered what it must have looked like back in the day, take a walk and see if you can discover the nearby town which the castle protected. There are archaeological digs and bits of ancient buildings all over the place. If you time it right and make your way down to the beach you’ll be able to take super brooding and atmospheric shots of the sunset.
This castle also doubled as Thrones castle in Game of Thrones.
Hotels and Airbnbs in Dunluce Castle County Antrim
Dark Hedges – a beauty spot that famously appeared in Game of Thrones
Do you want to go back to a time when things were simpler, made sense and people weren’t filled with bitter disappointment? We are not talking true history of course, oh no. We mean season two, episode one of Game of Thrones, yes before Hodor died, John Snow was plain old ‘John’ and Theon was still in the good books.
If you pay this road a little visit you may feel it’s slightly familiar. That’s because it was one of the filming locations for Game of Thrones. Ok so there isn’t all that much to see, but it’ll pass an hour. The road is eye-catching because it lined by a twisted series of 200-year-old Beech trees that twist and lean creating a natural tunnel. It is seriously spooky especially if you go towards twilight.
Tollymore Forest – the first state forest park in Northern Ireland
If you go down to the woods today, you are sure of a big surprise. As curiosities and hidden gems go this is one of the best locations in Northern Ireland. It’s a little eclectic, but that’s what makes it great. You’ll find a barn that looks like a church, quaint grottos and rocky outcrops, all mixed with a quirky architecture that is a blend of different influences and styles.
Again, there’s a link to the titanic here, as most of the wood used in its construction came from this estate. Put on your walking boots and enjoy one of the colour coded river walks, where you will follow babbling streams and encounter picturesque stone bridges.
Belfast City Hall – one of Belfast’s most iconic buildings
Belfast is an increasingly cool and hip city and is one of the best places to visit in Northern Ireland. When exploring make sure you visit here. At over a hundred years old this eye-catching centrepiece speaks of a time of prosperity and forward-thinking. If you have the time, it’s really worth taking a tour inside as it has one or two hidden secrets.
The interior of the City hall was designed and furnished by the very same people who built the Titanic, and as a result, you can see a lot of common features specific to the age. Walk amongst huge halls, marble staircases and try and imagine men in top hats and women with umbrellas strolling amongst the white columns.
Gleno Waterfalls – one of the lesser-known hidden treasures in Northern Ireland
There’s little better than a nice walk with something beautiful to see once you get to the end. It all makes it worthwhile. I can think of no better example than the Glencoe waterfall.
Dappled glens and a winding paths will eventually take you to a picturesque cascading 30-foot waterfall that looks like something out of a Tolkien novel. It is a little steep so might not be for little legs or those with mobility issues. However, if you are feeling up for it, it’s well worth a visit.
Roe Valley Country Park – a scenic and tranquil park to explore in Northern Ireland
Green, lush, and utterly gorgeous. The Roe Valley Country Park will present you with plenty to do whilst being surrounded by natural beauty. Think of chattering streams, twigs crunching underfoot, and leafy trails to explore.
Whether you enjoy a spot of angling, rock climbing, canoeing or just getting out and breathing in wonderfully fresh air there’ll be something for you here. Located on the outskirts of Limavady the Roe Valley Country Park also boasts a museum, visitor centre, and several buildings giving a nod to its former industrial heritage.
Cliffs of Magho – a beauty spot offering truly stunning vistas
For drives through breath-taking forests and windswept vistas look no further. You’ll be able to take in glorious views of the nearby Lough Erne and even be able to see the Atlantic Ocean.
The climb up to this limestone escarpment can be pretty steep so take some sturdy footwear and perhaps something cool to drink for along the way. The base of the cliffs can be a little tricky to get to, so take your time and stop to ask for directions if you need to.
Craft Village Derry – a pretty place that provides an eclectic mix of artisan craft shops
If you want to see a place where the old and new blend seamlessly then Derry Craft Village is for you. Located in the heart of the city you’ll find whitewashed cottages and thatched roofs sitting shoulder to shoulder. They are stuffed with trinket shops, coffee houses, artisanal crafts, and the odd restaurant.
It’s like stepping back in time whilst enjoying all the benefits of modern civilisation. Shop ‘til you drop and then take the weight off with a nice brew.
Bangor Castle – a stunning country house to explore in Northern Ireland
This is one of those situations where if you take something’s name too literally, it can all get a little confusing. However, provided you are in fact in Northern Ireland, and not Wales you should be alright. That said this isn’t actually a castle in the traditional sense of the word. It is in fact a council office that was built around 150 years ago. All that said it is still rather lovely.
A country house perfectly situated amongst well-manicured gardens. The house was a regular stopover for the wordsmith CS Lewis who described it as “heaven”. If it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for us.
Donaghadee – Northern Ireland’s closest point to Scotland
If you are a regular reader of the site, you’ll know that we love a pretty coastal village. This harbour town is rather good looking and even affords you views across the Irish sea towards Scotland.
Go for a scenic walk along the marina, head out to the bright white lighthouse on the causeway and watch the fisherman and, if you want a little history, go and check out the prominent ‘Motte’ which dominates the town and was built over 1000 years ago to repel the pesky Norman raiders.
Mourne Mountains – the highest and most dramatic mountain range to explore in Northern Ireland
The mountains of Mourne does sound a little bit ‘Lord of the Rings’ don’t you think? But that said they have views to match. They are bedecked by jutting Granite tors (which is a posh name for massive boulders).
They are striking and eerily beautiful to be fair. If you decide to embark on a ramble amongst the numerous trails and paths you’ll be struck by the sense of drama and foreboding which seems to ooze from the hills themselves. Time it right and you’ll feel like the only person in the country.
Castlewellan Forest Park – a place of outstanding beauty to explore in Nothern Ireland
For a great day out make your way to Castlewellan Forest Park. There’s absolutely zero chance of being bored, that’s for sure. As you’d expect there are numerous colour coded trails for you to follow that, depending on which route you take, will give stunning views towards the foot of the Mourne Mountains.
The park even has routes for those who are slightly less mobile. Along the way, you’ll find an Arboretum, a Moorish tower, and a children’s play area if you have energetic company.
Portbraddon – one of the prettiest villages in Northern Ireland
Quaint fishing villages are all good and well, but sometimes you want a bit more than nets and whitewash. Well here is the answer and a small surprise…Quite literally. Portbraddon is home to the smallest church in Ireland.
There’s a few conspiracy theories as to how it came about, as it was only built in the 1950’s, and rumour has it that it was actually a cleverly disguised cowshed. Either way, it’s a spot of interest. Aside from the church, you’ll find this village quiet, it’s got a population of about 20 (regular sized) people.
Silent Valley and Ben Crom – an absolutely stunning valley to explore in Northern Ireland
The Silent Valley and Ben Crom walk takes place in the heart of the Mourne Mountains. The best bit is that because it’s along a dam, it’s relatively flat, making it accessible for almost everyone.
All of the fun of the mountains without having to have legs like a mountain goat! At 6.2 miles it’s a good few hours walk, but that said you don’t have to do all of it. You’ll find the usual fare along the way, including a gift shop and visitor centre, a café, and some amenities.
Carnlough Harbour – home to one of the most beautiful ports on the Antrim coast and another Game of Thrones location
So, if you lived in Antrim it’s fair to say there are a fair few interesting things around. One of which is Carnlough Harbour. Aside from being pleasing on the eye, it is another location that was used in the filming of Game of Thrones…You’ll recognise the stone staircase leading from the water’s edge, it’s where Arya escaped after being stabbed and went on to become a plot-ruining ninja (we aren’t bitter).
Bitter endings aside there are a number of small ‘quirks’ to this town. See if you can find the memorial to Paddy the Pigeon, whose record-breaking English Channel crossing in World War II earned him a medal and a plaque.
Cave Hill Country Park – stunning cliffs and gorgeous countryside
Just to the North of Belfast, you’ll find Cave Hill Country Park. You’ll get bits of everything that makes a good walk if you embark upon one of the many trails. Craggy cliffs, rolling meadows, and views that justify the sweat you’ll have on by the end.
The country park is actually an iconic part of the Belfast landscape and can be seen throughout most of the city. Its green bosom also provides a home to Belfast Castle, whatever you do, make sure you don’t fall down Napoleon’s Nose! Google it!
White Park Bay – one of the most beautiful beaches to visit in Northen Ireland
It would appear that County Antrim gets all the luck! A huge white sandy beach is what dominates this area, backed by high sided dunes. It can be a little windswept and rugged, but that’s part of the charm.
The beach is three miles long so even on busy days you’ll be able to pick your own spot. For a bit of interest see if you can catch sight of the cows which occasionally wander down onto the beach from the fields surrounding it. Enjoy your beautiful trip to Northern Ireland!