If you live or have travelled through Ireland recently, you will have heard of the Wild Atlantic Way, the world’s longest defined coastal driving route. But did you know this incredible driving route continues on further than the reaches of Donegal?
It curves its way around to the right and merges into the Causeway Coastal route, one of the most spectacular road trips on the island of Ireland. Having toured this route no less than 3 times, with smaller trips to discover other gems up north, I’ve compiled this list of the most unique things to do in Northern Ireland, a must-visit travel destination for 2020!
Unique Things To Do in Northern Ireland
If you’re planning to go down south, this post about unique places to visit in Ireland should help! It’s also possible to include Northern Ireland in a much bigger trip around Europe. For some help planning your trip, this Europe Itinerary should be useful.
27. Visit Dunluce Castle
This medieval castle is one the most spectacular castles in all of Ireland and a must visit attraction in Northern Ireland. I found this castle so incredible that I has to go back 3 times, determined to photograph this rocky outcrop at all times of the day. If you do have a bit of free time, I highly recommend returning at sunset, it really is one of the most incredible sunsets I’ve ever seen.
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26. See the Giant’s Causeway at sunset
While this is obviously a tourist hot spot, it’s popular for a reason! The Giant’s Causeway is a true natural phenomenon and not only one of the top places to visit in Northern Ireland, but one of the top natural sites to visit in the world.
The site is managed by the Natural Trust who have done a fantastic job or planning out the area, conservation and even creating a visitor centre that blends into the surrounding hills and isn’t obvious to the naked eye at first glance. The Giant’s Causeway is best visited in the morning, before the crowds arrive, or in the late evening as the sun is setting – this is when you will get the best photos without bus loads of tourists ruining your shot!
GET THE LOOK: What To Pack For Ireland
INSIDER TIP: Panning on booking an Airbnb? Here’s 40 euro FREE credit for your first stay!
25. Go cliff jumping in Ballintoy
If you are looking for one of the most unique things to do in Northern Ireland, cliff jumping down in Ballintoy should be top of your list. It doesn’t matter if you’re experience or a beginner, they will take good care of you and let you jump (or not jump!) off a whole range of cliffs of varying heights. This video should help persuade you to sign up….
WANT TO JUMP? Sign up for a tour with Coasteering NI. For a group of 13+, a trip costs £35 per person, a group of 1-4 people costs £45. Keep an eye-out for the Groupon deals too!
**TURN ON THE SOUND** Home to one of the most scenic driving routes in the world, stunning coastline, castles, picturesque towns and the world-famous Giant's Causeway, here's why you REALLY need to visit Northern Ireland. This video was shot and edited by Journalist On The Run writer Oisin Feeney Photography. Special thanks to Visit Causeway Coast and Glens, Blackrock House B&B Portrush, Portrush Surf School.Com and CoasteeringNI.Music credit: Slainte
Posted by Journalist On The Run on Wednesday, April 19, 2017
24. Whiskey tasting in Bushmills
Founded in 1608, and known to be one of the oldest whiskey distilleries in the world, no visit no Northern Ireland would be complete without stopping off in the picturesque town of Bushmills to visit the whiskey distillery of the same name. Whiskey tasting at Bushmills is a fun experience as you get a full tour of the distillery and then get to try some very unique whiskeys…you might even get to taste a 21 year old whiskey – usually priced £160 a bottle!
If you check in to The Bushmills Inn, one of the top luxury hotels in Northern Ireland, the bar there also has a fine selection of both local and international whiskeys for you to taste after a long day sightseeing.
COST: prices from £4.50 for a child to £8.00 for an adult. See website for further prices. To book a tour phone 028 2073 3218 or email [email protected]
23. Stand up paddle boarding in Portballintrae
The sheltered bay down in Portballintrae is perfect for all types of water sports, from sailing to kayaking to stand up paddle boarding. On a hot, summers day the small pier and slip way is crowded with locals relaxing in the sun, jumping into the water or trying out a new water sport with Surf Sup NI. My friend and I had a fun filled afternoon stand up paddle boarding around the bay and could not believe how easy it was to pick up and also how stunningly clear the water below us was.
COST: An introductory lesson is £40 for 2 hours or you can just hire a board and paddle by yourself for 2 hours for just £35.
22. Stay in a historic hotel
Don’t make the mistake that many others have done before you and think you can see all of Northern Ireland, and all the gems it has to offer, on a day trip from Dublin. This unique travel destination deserves at least a few days of your time, and you will not regret staying overnight when you see the high quality of hotels available, as listed in this post.
My top recommendations if you only have a few nights would be The Bushmills Inn (with a secret library and private cinema for those rainy days!) along the Causeway Coast and Bishop’s Gate Hotel in Derry (located on the most historic part of Derry, inside the old city walls).
21. Cross the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge
While the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge is the top of most people’s Ireland bucket lists, for me it is actually the views of the surrounding area that make this trip worth it. The bridge is fun, and most certainly unique, but it isn’t until you get to the other side and look back at spectacular cliffs winding their way along the North coast that you truly appreciate the beauty of the area.
On a clear day you can even see Islay island in Scotland, another place famous for its whiskey! Carrick-a-rede island is a top place for birdwatching, with up 8 types of birds to be found on a good day, such as Shag, Razorbill, Buzzard, Peregrine, Fulmar and Guillemots.
20. Walking food tour of Ballycastle
Looking for the best way to get to know one of the small towns along the west coast and to try as much local produce as possible? Signing up for a North Coast Walking Tour with Caroline Redmond is by far the best way to find the best cafes and restaurants and to get a taste of every type of food produced by local farmers, bakers and fishermen! These early morning tours include a bite of breakfast, delicious freshly-baked pastries, seafood chowder or maybe even some crab claws and a behind the scenes insight into the local food culture, meeting locals as you go. This tour is led by an energetic, passionate and animated guide who will make you fall in love with each and every small town along the North Coast!
COST: a North Coast food tour only costs £40 but feeds you for a day! See website for prices of the Ballycastle and Rathlin Island Tours. To book phone 07718276612 or email [email protected]
19. Go surfing in Portrush
Portrush is a hive of activity on hot summers days, and is a peaceful retreat in the colder winter months. Rain or shine, the surf is nearly always up in Portush and its a fantastic place for novice surfers to try their hand at this fun water sport. Sign up for a surf lesson with Portrush Surf School and you will be catching waves in no time!
18. Visit the puffins on Rathlin Island
Puffins, puffins, puffins! They are by far the cutest birds in the world and as they are quite rare you should grab any opportunity that comes at you to see these beautiful seabirds up close. They are to be found in a few spots along the south and west coast of Ireland, but the two biggest Puffin colonies are located on Skellig Michael off the coast of Kerry and Rathlin Island here in Northern Ireland.
The island is a great place for a day trip, if the weather is good, and there are lots of lovely cliff walks to do and historic ruins to explore once on the island. Feeling peckish? Head to The Harbour Cafe for a bite to eat before heading back to the mainland! There aren’t too many places to stay, but it’s well worth spending a night or two.
17. Do a boat trip along the North coast
A unique way to see the Causeway Coast is to view it from a boat rather than a car! If you are feeling super adventurous, (and have your passport with you!) you can even do a boat tour with Aquaholics Sea Safari over to the Scottish island of Islay for some whiskey tasting! If you want to stay a little closer, they also offer tours to Rathlin Island and Giant’s Causeway or a Game of Thrones locations tour by boat – now that would be something different!
16. Historical walking tour of Derry
Even if you are just passing through Derry for a day (you should REALLY stay a night or two though, there’s so much to see and do here!) a historical walking tour along the old walls is a must. I did a tour with Martin McCrossan / Derry City Tours and thought it was one of the best walking tours I have done in a long time and definitely for the smallest price – just £4!!
Our guide, Charlene, took us on a one hour tour of the historical Derry walls, giving us a brief history of the city up until modern day, the history of the wall, the troubles and some great personal anecdotes to take home with us. All you need is a spare hour to get an introduction to this beautiful and historic city.
You can find the top places to stay in Derry here.
15. Beer tasting at Walled City Brewery
Oh Walled City Brewery, how I love you so! During my trip around Northern Ireland, stopping for dinner and drinks at this award-winning brewery was definitely a highlight. I don’t have enough words to describe how amazing this place is, from the quirky beer-themed decor, very unique cocktail menu, hilarious beer names and mouth-wateringly delicious food on offer. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a good meal at a brewerr before, which made it quickly clear why this place is so popular with locals and visitors alike.
EAT: Be sure to order either their MASSIVE burger or their pulled pork bap. DELICIOUS!
DRINK: You can’t come here without trying the Derry Milk chocolatey delight or the Cherry Londoncherry beer.
14. Skateboarding lesson in Derry
Sticking around Derry for a day or two and want to do something a little different? Adventure company Far and Wild has recently started doing long boarding tours of Derry. Unlike a normal skateboard, these long boards are easy to use and the guides can have you up and skating with confidence in less than half an hour.
You can either choose to get a one or two hour lesson in the park, or once you’ve got the basics they take you on a mini tour of Derry, crossing the stunning Peace Bridge and allowing you to test your skills outside the famous Guild Hall.
I was apprehensive about this tour before signing up but after seeing how passionate our guide was, and how easy it was to pick up, I think I’ve actually found myself a new hobby. By far (and wild!) one of the coolest things to do in Northern Ireland! They also offer a range of other fun activities, which you can check out on the Far and Wild site here.
13. Do a Belfast Political tour
Northern Ireland is a beautiful place to visit, and as you can see there are many unique and fun things to do in Northern Ireland to keep you occupied for a few days. It is also important, however, to understand the current political climate in Northern Ireland and to learn about the trouble past of the city of Belfast, and many other cities in Northern Ireland, to fully appreciate how far Northern Ireland has come in the last few decades.
A great way to immerse yourself in the history of this city is by signing up to a Belfast Political Tour, where you will hear first hand accounts from both sides of this conflicted region – stories you won’t read in the history books!
12. Photograph the Northern Lights
Did you know you can see the spectacular Aurora Borealis from many coastal destinations in Ireland throughout the year. If you can find a spot with little light pollution and be there on the right day at the right time (Aurora Watch will let you know when that time is!) you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights dancing in the sky over Dunluce castle or the Giant’s Causeway! A memory you won’t be forgetting…
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Northern lights at Ballintoy, on the north coast of Ireland, taken last night. Pic by @paulmoanephotographer #northernireland #auroraborealis #north #lights #colours #instatravel @tourismireland @irelandaily #nightsky #ballintoyharbour #ballintoy #outdoors #canonuk #sigmalens #green #stars #landscapephotographer @milkyway_scientists @stormhour #northcoast #discoverni #northernlights #northernlightsireland #nightsky #ireland #timelessuniverse
11. Walk Gobbins cliff trail
The recently opened Gobbins cliff trail is one of the most unique things to do in Northern Ireland and probably one of the most unique coastal cliff walks in the world. This challenging pathway, located at Islandmagee in County Antrim, runs across bridges, past caves and through a tunnel, alongside The Gobbins cliffs and is not for the fainthearted! The bridges bring you over wild and crashing waves and past sheer cliff faces that make for incredible photographs.
10. Do a Game of Thrones tour
Ahhh Game of Thrones, possibly the most watched TV show in the world with millions of fans keen to know each and every detail. What you might not know is that a lot of this incredible TV show was, and still is, filmed in Northern Ireland. In fact there are so many filming locations along the North Coast that you can sign up to do a multi-day Game of Thrones tour around the region.
From tours of the movie set, to dressing up and shooting bow and arrows at Winterfell, or exploring The Haunted Forrest or walking down The Kingsroad, this is a dream destination for hard core Game of Thrones fans!
9. Hike through the Glens of Antrim
Beaches, cliffs and islands….is it possible to get sick of this spectacular coastline? Probably not, but if you fancy something a little different you should so some hiking in the majestic Glens of Antrim.
Start your adventure in the charming town of Larne and from here you can start exploring the nine deep green glens of Antrim, each with its own unique character, that break up the rugged cliffs that stretch up the North coast. These scenic, glacier-gouged valleys make for some incredible hiking, be it for a few hours or even a few days if you’re a very keen explorer!
Looking for more beautiful green spaces to visit? Check out these top gardens throughout the UK!
8. Afternoon tea at Thyme and Co
Thyme and Co must be one of the only vegetarian cafes on the North Coast, and it is a gem of a find if you are looking for some healthy lunch options that are bursting with taste. Besides one of the best ranges of super food salads I’ve seen in a long time, this cafe in Ballycastle is also known for their melt-in-the-mouth pastries and unique scones – if you’re a traditionalist, this might not be for you! ;-)
7. Explore the North coasts best beaches
Northern Ireland is home to some of the most stunning, untouched stretches of sand on the entire island of Ireland. From Downhill Beach next to Mussenden Temple to the spectacular White Park Bay near Ballycastle, driving the Causeway Coastal Route will take you to some stunning white sand beaches, many of which you will have all to yourself. Other tops spots include Ballycastle Beach, Cushendall Beach and the small beach at the Giant’s Causeway itself.
6. Photo shoot at The Dark Hedges
The Dark Hedges are to be found on a narrow road just off the Causeway Coast driving route, a hauntingly beautiful avenue lined with intertwined beech trees, planted in the 18th-century. It is also a Game of Thrones filming location and officially one of the most photographed places in all of Ireland. Try get here either early in the morning or late evening to avoid the tour buses!
5. Eat breakfast at Ursa Minor
Of all the cafes, restaurants and bars I visited in Northern Ireland, Ursa Minor in Ballycastle stands out the most. This small cafe and bakery comes with an interesting story, and the passion the owners have for this little business of theirs can be seen and even tasted through their perfectly baked break and pastries.
Owned and run by Dara and Ciara O Artghaile, this cafe opened thanks to the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign and many local supporters. Inspired by the cafe culture in New Zealand, the couple returned from their travels with the goal to open their own cafe where they would bake fresh, seasonal bread and sweet treats for locals in Northern Ireland, choosing the small town of Ballycastle as their base.
Be it for breakfast, a mid morning treat and an afternoon tea, this place is a must-visit cafe in Northern Ireland.
4. Do a traditional pub crawl in Belfast
You can’t go to Northern Ireland and not check out some of the best pubs in Belfast. From quiet “old man” pubs to gastropubs, trendy bars and tourist hot spots, there is something for every taste in Northern Ireland’s biggest and most vibrant city. If you’re afraid of walking into the wrong type of bar, of just want local to show you around, then your best bet is to sign up to a Belfast Pub Crawl where you’ll no doubt meet some likeminded travellers to have a few pints with!
3. Explore Rathlin Island by bike
Besides birdwatching or taking a long walk, a great way to get to know remote Rathlin Island and the history of the island is to step into the Boathouse Visitor’s Centre or rent a bike for £10.00 for the day explore the island for yourself. The locals are always friendly and welcoming and proud to share their island with their visitors. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting in the summer you might be lucky enough to see the Rathlin Festival, complete with raft race in July or catch one of their regular model yacht races!
2. Shopping in St George’s Market
St George’s Market in Belfast is a covered Victorian market and is one of the oldest attractions in Belfast, dating back over 120 years. Before the current building, there was a Friday market in the same location dating back to the 1600’s. Open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, this market displays some of the best local produce available in Northern Ireland and is by far the best place to stop for lunch if passing through Belfast. besides delicious, local food, the building itself is very beautiful and is quickly becoming an attraction in itself. For more tips, read this post on things to do in Belfast.
1. Visit The Bogside Murals in Derry
Some walking tours in Derry will bring you down to The Bogside, but if they don’t be sure to walk around the area yourself. The people living here are super friendly and there are some amazing pieces of art to look at, interpret and photograph. The Free Ferry Museum is also located here and is well worth a visit. Allow for about 45 minutes to walk through it and take everything in. it’s a great introduction to the troubles in Northern Ireland, what things were like in the past and how much the city has progressed since then. All murals in this area have been painted by a talented trio, comprising of local man Tom Kelly, his brother William Kelly, and friend Kevin Hasson. The collection of murals in The Bogside is called “The People’s Gallery”, and depict the key events in the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’.