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The beauty of Northern Ireland is enough to fulfil quite a number of trips. This article describes a 3-day itinerary that will give you a sense of what this glorious place has to offer.
Day 1: Belfast and the Mourne Mountains
They say good things come in small packages, and Belfast proves it. With its impressive Titanic Quarter, 19th-century Botanic Gardens, thriving gastropub scene, and magnificent architecture, Northern Ireland’s capital exudes unmistakable grandeur.
Take the Belfast Traditional Music Trail, discover the city’s artistic heart at the Metropolitan Arts Centre, and visit The Muddlers Club, a delightful industrial-style restaurant offering innovative tasting menus, wine pairings and cocktails.
A short drive from Belfast will take you to the Mourne Mountains. Upon entering the Mournes, a sweeping range of grand peaks is evident: this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty truly deserves this title.
Make sure you stop near the Bloody Bridge. Despite the name not exactly suggesting tranquillity, it is a lovely spot for a picnic with a view before you get back in the car.
Day 2: Cushendun Caves, Dunluce Castle and the Giant’s Causeway
The Coffee House Bistro at 126 Stewartstown Road in the Belfast suburbs makes it a great fuel-up point to get you rolling. This tucked-away little cafe is a local’s favourite for its ample breakfasts and wallet-friendly prices.
After a hearty breakfast, head north, but do not follow the GPS onto main roads. Although the windy coastal road is slower, it pays off with stunning views.
Make a tiny village of Cushendun your first stop. Take a right after crossing the bridge, coming to a dead-end road that meets a field. Since there are no yellow lines or ticket machines, you can park there free of charge.
Leave your car, walk over the bridge, continue along the residential road, and take the second turn left. Keep an eye out for private property at the very end of the road with a “Public access to caves” sign — it’s easy to miss! Get down there and duck into the spectacular Cushendun Caves for as long as you wish.
Afterwards, you will find The Corner House family cafe next to where you parked, offering ice creams and home-cooked meals.
Within a 50-minute drive along Antrim coastline, you’ll see the ancient ruins of Dunluce Castle which bear testimony to Ireland’s dramatic history.
Once you have explored Dunluce Castle, head to the main jewel of Northern Ireland. You’ll reach the Giant’s Causeway in a flash.
Scientists believe that this geological wonder was formed by volcanic activity more than sixty million years ago. Yet the myth that it was built by warring giants persists to this day. Regardless of your preferred version, the Giant’s Causeway is an immaculate sight you cannot miss.
Where to park at the Giant’s Causeway for free. The entry fee for the visitor centre includes parking in the National Trust’s car park. However, even if you’re taking the free route, there’s a simple solution. Just minutes away is a pub called The Nook. The address is 48 Causeway Rd, Bushmills BT57 8SU. If you buy some food or drink, you are welcome to use their decent-sized parking lot for free.
In the area around the Giant’s Causeway, food and accommodation options are abundant. The closest place to stay in is Bushmills, while Portrush and Portstewart have a wider selection of nice hotels and cosy B&Bs.
Day 3: The Dark Hedges
On the third day, take a hearty breakfast and then make your way straight to Larrybane, a sheer-faced quarry right by the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge’s entrance.
Consider making a quick stop at the Dark Hedges, the stunning avenue of beech trees you’ve seen in HBO’s most epic series. Surprisingly, it looks just as impressive in real life.
Both the Dark Hedges and Larrybane are free to visit and open to the public at any time. This means you have full flexibility in terms of what to see first.
Seven hidden wonders of Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland boasts tucked-away attractions that even the locals may not be aware of.
- The Gobbins Cliff Path. A dreamlike coastal cliff path just outside the village of Islandmagee on the Causeway Coastal Route. The Gobbins features sunken caves and a unique tubular bridge, a fin-de-siècle marvel of engineering.
- Headhunters Barber Shop & Railway Museum. Located in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, and run by the Johnston family, this is probably the only place in the world where you can get a haircut and dive into the golden age of steam travel at the same time. Learn more!
- Blackhead Lighthouse. It is a listed lighthouse located near Whitehead in County Antrim. The Irish Landmark Trust renovated the keeper’s houses while retaining the original whistle pipes. These houses now serve as holiday accommodation available for booking.
- Rathlin Island. The northernmost point of Northern Ireland and its only inhabited offshore island, it is home to tens of thousands of seabirds, such as guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins, and razorbills. Get on a ferry that travels just six miles across the Sea of Moyle and let your mind wander to discover a sense of ultimate peace and tranquillity.
- Gray’s Printing Press. Located behind an 18th-century shopfront in the heart of Strabane, once the famous printing town of Ulster, this quirky museum tells the fascinating story of ink, galleys, presses, and emigration. For opening hours, please see the website.
- Armagh Robinson Library. In 1771, the Archbishop of Armagh opened this Georgian library to share his private collection with the general public. The books here are arranged by size, rather than alphabetically, with the biggest ones on the bottom shelves and the smallest on the top. Swift’s own copy of Gulliver’s Travels, with margin notes, is one of the library’s crown jewels.
- Boa Island. Explore the ancient ring fort and cairns on Boa Island and make sure to pay your visit to two mysterious statues in Caldragh Cemetery. The larger one is called a Janus Figure because it has two faces and resembles the Roman two-headed deity. However, historians are still unsure of who it depicts or what it represents.
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Now that the world is preparing to reopen in 2021, we are here to keep you dreaming and planning for your next adventure – whether that’s a short staycation trip or flying off to parts unknown. Until then, we’ve got the latest COVID-19 travel advice and the interactive ‘Where you can go’ map to keep you up to date.