Northern Ireland

We’ve compiled the best of the best in Northern Ireland - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Belfast Castle

    North Belfast

    In 1934, this spectacularly baronial castle, built for the Marquess of Donegall in 1865, was passed to the Belfast Corporation. Although the castle functions primarily as a restaurant, it also houses, in the cellar, the Visitor Centre, which provides information about the castle's history and its natural surroundings in Cave Hill Country Park. Tours are self-guided and take in the reception rooms built by the Earls of Shaftesbury. For a fine introduction to the castle and park, check out the excellent eight-minute video Watching over Belfast. In fact, the best reason to visit the castle is to stroll the ornamental gardens and then make the ascent to McArt's Fort. This promontory, at the top of sheer cliffs 1,200 feet above the city, affords an excellent view across Belfast. Take the path uphill from the parking lot, turn right at the next intersection of pathways, and then keep left as you journey up the steep-in-places hill to the fort. After your walk, the Castle Tavern is a great place for drinks, snacks, and meals.

    Antrim Rd., Belfast, Co. Down, BT15 5GR, Northern Ireland

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  • 2. Belleek Pottery

    On the riverbank stands the visitor center of Belleek Pottery Ltd., producers of Parian china; a fine, eggshell-thin, ivory porcelain shaped into dishes, figurines, vases, and baskets. There's a factory, showroom, exhibition, museum, and café. You can watch a 20-minute audiovisual presentation or join a 30-minute tour of the factory, where you can get up close and talk to craftspeople—there's hardly any noise coming from machinery in the workshops. Everything here is made by hand just as workers did back in 1857. The showroom is filled with beautiful but pricey gifts: a shamrock cup-and-saucer set costs about £59, and a Classic Connemara vase at £45. The company has a jewelry portfolio called Belleek Living featuring designs inspired by the Irish landscape. The most recent and somewhat unusual addition, which has found a new niche for a specialist customer in the U.S. market, is the production of a funeral urn. This is a bespoke Irish-themed urn, handcrafted as part of an elaborate process by casting a mold which is then cast in liquid clay, glazed and decorated with a shamrock.

    3 Main St., Belleek, Co. Fermanagh, BT93 3FY, Northern Ireland

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    Rate Includes: £6 for tour
  • 3. Bushmills

    Reputedly the oldest licensed distillery in the world, Bushmills was first granted a charter by King James I in 1608, though historical records refer to a distillery here as early as 1276. Bushmills produces the most famous of Irish whiskeys—its namesake—and a rarer black-label version, Black Bush, widely regarded as the best of the best. On the guided tour, discover the secrets of the special water from St. Columb's Rill, the story behind malted Irish barley, and learn about triple distillation in copper stills and aging (which happens for long years in oak casks). You begin in the mashing and fermentation room, proceed to the maturing and bottling warehouse, and conclude, yes, with the much anticipated, complimentary shot of uisce beatha, the "water of life." Try to join a less crowded early-morning tour. A one-hour tasting costs £30, and with a tour it is £37, which includes tasting six Bushmills whiskeys and two others for comparison (75 minutes). In 2017, the company launched its first new domestic whiskey for five years. Bushmills Red Bush was matured in first-fill, medium-char bourbon casks, which soften the spirit, producing a blend of single-malt and grain whiskey said to deliver a sweet and smooth taste, a steal at £24 a bottle. The following year saw the debut of Bushmills Distillery Exclusive, a single malt aged in acacia casks and priced at £74, which, according to connoisseurs, delivers "sweet vanilla and accentuated dried fruit flavors." The company has also launched its Steamship Collection, a range which includes sherry cask reserve, bourbon reserve, and rum cask variant. These were inspired by the SS Bushmills, a vessel which set out on a maiden voyage to deliver bottles of Bushmills to America in 1890. The bourbon reserve is the result of a long-standing relationship with master coopers from Louisville, Kentucky. Not content to rest on its success, the Bushmills site is currently undergoing a £60 million expansion. This work involves the building of a new distillery, cooling equipment, and a barrel store, as well as 29 additional maturation warehouses. The expansion is due for completion in 2023, but the work will not affect visits to the main distillery, which continue as normal. You can also have a light lunch in the Distillery Kitchen Restaurant or buy souvenirs in the distillery gift shop. During July coppersmiths and distillers carry out annual maintenance work and, while tours are still held, you may not be able to access all the production areas.

    2 Distillery Rd., Bushmills, Co. Antrim, BT57 8XH, Northern Ireland

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    Rate Includes: Tours from £8; children under 8 not permitted on tour
  • 4. Carrick-a-Rede

    Adrenaline junkies love the rope bridge—off the coast at Ballintoy in Larrybane—which spans a 60-foot gap between the mainland and tiny Carrick-a-Rede Island. The island's name means "rock in the road" and refers to how it stands in the path of the salmon that follow the coast as they migrate to their home rivers to spawn. The bridge is open to the public daily, weather permitting. More than 480,000 visitors cross it (or at least take a look at it) each year, looking down on heart-stopping views of the crashing waves 100 feet below. For an exhilarating clifftop experience, the rope bridge walk is hard to beat. The island's small two-roomed Fishermen's Cottage, where they mended nets and kept materials, has been restored and opened to the public on selected dates on weekends once a month. The whole area is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of its unique geology, flowers, and fauna. The area has also been identified as a dark-sky discovery site and with the absence of any light pollution is the ideal place to view the stars. If you need warming up after your walk, the Weighbridge tearoom serves snacks and hot drinks. Guided tours, costing an extra £3.50 and lasting 45 minutes, are also available at 3:30 pm each day. From May until August the rope bridge increases its evening opening hours—check the website for details. It is strongly advised to book in advance online; there may be up to a three-hour wait at peak times.

    119a White Park Rd., Ballintoy, Co. Antrim, BT54 6LS, Northern Ireland

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    Rate Includes: £9
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  • 5. Carrickfergus Castle

    Built atop a rock ledge in 1180 by John de Courcy, provincial Ulster's first Anglo-Norman invader, Carrickfergus Castle is still in good shape and has sparked renewed visitor appeal with the opening of its dungeons. Apart from being captured briefly by the French in 1760, the castle—one of Ireland's largest—stood as a bastion of British rule until 1928, at which time it still functioned as an English garrison. It is the longest continually used castle of its type. During 2020 work was completed on a huge £1 million conservation project replacing the roof of the Great Tower with a new double-pitched roof. Built using medieval construction designs and techniques, it was made of Irish oak timber from trees which came down in a storm and have been oak-pegged in place without the use of nails or metal fixings. Externally it is finished with Cumbrian stone slates and lead. Walk through the 13th-century gatehouse into the Outer Ward and continue into the Inner Ward, the heart of the fortress, where the four-story keep stands, a massive, sturdy building with walls almost 8 feet thick. Make sure you venture down the steps into the dark stone dungeons along with an ammunitions room. The town's tourist information center is also here in the reception area.

    Marine Hwy., Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, BT38 7BG, Northern Ireland

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    Rate Includes: £6
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  • Recommended Fodor’s Video

  • 6. Castle Ward

    With a 500-acre park, an artificial lake, a Neoclassical temple, and a vast house in Bath stone magically set on the slopes running down to the Narrows of the southern shore of Strangford Lough, Castle Ward must have been some place to call home. About 3 km (2 miles) from the village of Strangford, off the road to Downpatrick, this regal stately home was designed around 1760 in, rather famously, two differing styles. Bernard Ward, 1st Viscount Bangor, could rarely see eye to eye (gossip had it) with his wife, Lady Anne, and the result was that he decided to make the entrance and salons elegant exercises in Palladian Neoclassicism, while milady transformed the garden facade and her own rooms using the most fashionable style of the day, Strawberry Hill Gothic. His white-and-beige Music Room is picked out in exquisite plasterwork, while her Boudoir has an undulating fan-vaulted ceiling that conjures up the "gothick" medievalisms of King Henry VII's chapel at Westminster. Tours are held every hour. There are walking and cycling trails of the grounds from where you can look out over the lough shore and see the location of Winterfell used for the TV series Game of Thrones. Regular Game of Thrones archery experiences are held throughout the year. In the spring and summer months sea safaris, as well as high tea and sea voyages around Strangford Lough, are organized at Castle Ward and leave from the pier at Strangford; these should be booked directly through Clear Sky Adventures (

    Downpatrick, Co. Down, BT30 7LS, Northern Ireland

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    Rate Includes: £10
  • 7. City Hall

    Central District

    Built of Portland stone between 1898 and 1906 and modeled on St. Paul's Cathedral in London, this Renaissance revival–style edifice—the cynosure of central Belfast—was designed by Brumwell Thomas (who was knighted but had to sue to get his fee). Before you enter, take a stroll around Donegall Square to see statues of Queen Victoria and a column honoring the U.S. Expeditionary Force, which landed in the city on January 26, 1942—the first contingent of the U.S. Army to arrive in Europe during World War II. A monument commemorating the Titanic stands in the grounds, and in 2012, a granite memorial was unveiled in a Titanic memorial garden opened for the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking. The memorial, on the east side of the grounds, lists the names of everyone who died in the tragedy. Enter the building under the porte cochere at the front. From the entrance hall (the base of which is a whispering gallery), the view up to the heights of the 173-foot-high Great Dome is a feast for the eyes. With its complicated series of arches and openings, stained-glass windows, Italian-marble inlays, decorative plasterwork, and paintings, this is Belfast's most ornate public space—a veritable homage to the might of the British Empire. After an £11 million restoration, the modernized building has been brought into the 21st century and is home to the Bobbin café. A permanent self-guided interactive exhibition on the history of Belfast spanning 16 rooms covers six theme zones including cultural heritage, sporting celebrities, and laureates of the arts. Look out for the exhibit of ceremonial keys presented by visiting dignitaries from 10 U.S. towns and cities, reflecting the close ties between Northern Ireland and America. In the courtyard a 60-jet fountain has been dedicated to Belfast City Council members killed during the Troubles. Free, one-hour guided tours of the building are available or you can rent headphones for £3.50. Tours are held weekdays at 11, 2, and 3, and weekends at noon, 2, and 3.

    Belfast, Co. Down, BT1 5GS, Northern Ireland

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    Rate Includes: Tours free
  • 8. Crown Liquor Saloon

    Golden Mile

    Belfast is blessed with some exceptional pubs, but the Crown is one of the city's glories. Owned by the National Trust (the U.K.'s official conservation organization), it's an ostentatious box of delights and immaculately preserved. Opposite the Europa Hotel, it began life in 1826 as the Railway Tavern and is still lighted by gas; in 1885 the owner asked Italian craftsmen working on churches in Ireland to moonlight on rebuilding it, and its place in Irish architectural pub history was assured. Richly carved woodwork around cozy snugs (cubicles—known to regulars as "confessional boxes"), leather seats, color tile work, and an abundance of mirrors make up the decor. But the pièce de résistance is the embossed ceiling with its swirling arabesques and rosettes of burnished primrose, amber, and gold, as dazzling now as the day it was installed. The Crown claims to serve the perfect pint of Guinness—so no need to ask what anyone's drinking. When you settle down with your glass, note the little gunmetal plates used by the Victorians for lighting their matches as well as the antique push-button bells for ordering another round. Ageless, timeless, and classless—some would say the Crown is even priceless. If you wish to eat, choose the upstairs dining room, which has a much wider and better selection of food.

    46 Great Victoria St., Belfast, Co. Down, BT2 7BA, Northern Ireland
  • 9. Crumlin Road Gaol

    North Belfast

    Designed by Charles Lanyon, and opened in 1846, this jail held more than 500 prisoners at its peak; today it is one of Belfast's hottest tourist tickets. Throughout its 150-year lifetime, around 25,000 convicts passed through its doors. During the worst years of the Troubles, between 1969 and 1996 (when the prison closed), it held some of the North's most notorious prisoners, including many involved in paramilitary violence. The building has undergone a £10 million restoration, and, with its cream-walled corridors and black railings, has been transformed to reflect the way it looked in Victorian days. The engrossing 75-minute tour takes in the holding, punishment, and condemned cells—the latter where the prisoners were held before being taken to the gallows for execution. The highlight is the execution chamber, hidden behind a moving bookcase where the guide explains the gory details of how the long-drop method was used to break the prisoner's neck. Exhibits in the museum include handcuffs, a flogging rack with the birch used for punishment, photographs, and maps. The jail is said to be one of the most haunted buildings in Belfast, and paranormal tours, ghost, and historical evening tours are held occasionally. A British army Wessex helicopter which patrolled the skies during the Troubles has been added to the display. The helicopter was retired from service in 2002 and has been restored. It was given to the museum by the Royal Air Force in 2019. The Crum Café sells daytime snacks, while Cuffs Bar and Grill is open for evening dining.

    53–55 Crumlin Rd., Belfast, Co. Down, BT14 6ST, Northern Ireland

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    Rate Includes: £12
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  • 10. Cushendun

    Off the main A2 route, the road between Cushendall and Cushendun turns into one of a Tour-de-France hilliness, so cyclists beware. Your reward, however, is the tiny jewel of a village, Cushendun, which was designed in 1912 by Clough Williams-Ellis (who also designed the famous Italianate village of Portmeirion in Wales) at the request of Ronald John McNeill, Baron Cushendun. Up sprang a series of cottages and a village square of seven houses, all done up in the Cornish taste courtesy of the Penzance-born wife of the baron. To top it all off, the baron had Glenmona House built in the regal neo-Georgian style. From this part of the coast you can see the Mull of Kintyre on the Scottish mainland. Hikes along the beachy strand have inspired poets and artists, including John Masefield. Glenmona House is now used for community and social events and next door to it in Church Lane---barely visible through the trees---the former Church of Ireland, built in 1840 and deconsecrated in 2003, reopened to the public as an arts, heritage, and information center in 2019. They hold concerts, talks, and stage exhibitions and it is worth calling in to see how the former place of worship has been transformed by the Cushendun Building Preservation Trust. The Ulster History Circle has also erected a blue plaque on the building to Moira O'Neill, a poet and novelist from Cushendun famed for her book Songs of the Glens of Antrim. The Old Church Centre is run by volunteers and is open mostly from noon to 4 pm, Friday--Sunday.

    Old Church Centre, Church La. off Bay Rd., Cushendun, Co. Antrim, BT44 OPS, Northern Ireland
  • 11. Dark Hedges

    A narrow single-track road lined by twisted beech trees whose numbers are steadily being diminished by gales and climate change, the Dark Hedges is a bit anticlimactic even for fanatical Game of Thrones--location tourists hoping for a classic selfie. The avenue of trees was originally planted in the early 1770s by the Stuart family, wealthy local landowners. Tours have been suspended since 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions; for further information visit   Since its role as Kingsroad in Game of Thrones, the Dark Hedges has become the most visited of the Irish sights linked to the TV series, attracting tens of thousands of visitors annually. With its foreboding atmosphere, the road—more an unprepossessing single-track lane with a few twisted beech trees—has become a backdrop for Instagram antics. It has also been filmed for scenes in Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), which has added to its movie-buff status. In the early 1770s when the Stuart family built their house called Gracehill, they lined the avenue with two rows of 150 beeches to impress visitors. The road now comes with a preservation order in a place that is so crowded with "location tourists" that it is closed to all but local traffic; few would have guessed some years ago that their narrow country lane would be so popular with film and TV directors that it would become a victim of overtourism. Parking on either the Bregagh Road (the Dark Hedges road itself), which is off Ballinlea Road, is prohibited. The surrounding fields are privately owned and not open to the public; visitors are asked to respect the trees and not to deface or mark the bark. The road is prone to flooding in the winter so the best time to visit is in spring when, if you catch the right day, the area is alive with birdsong and the melodic warbles of finches, tits, robins, and blackcaps. Get there early in the morning or leave your visit until later in the day when it is quieter. There is parking (£2 per car) at the Dark Hedges Experience visitor center, open 10 am--3 pm, Monday--Friday and 10 am--4 pm on the weekends; parking is free if you are a customer of the hotel. You can find information in the center on the history of the site, alongside merchandise from the Game of Thrones series such as T-shirts, hoodies, candles, and fridge magnets. Tours are held, but times vary and it is best to check with the center or with the Causeway Coast and Glens tourist office in the main street of the village of Armoy, a 10-minute drive. The center and car park is a 5- to 10-minute walk from the Dark Hedges road.

    Bregagh Rd., Ballymena, Co. Antrim, BT53 8PX, Northern Ireland

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    Rate Includes: Free
  • 12. Derry City Walls

    West Bank

    Established under a charter by James I in 1613, Derry is among a small but distinctive coterie of places throughout Europe that have preserved their ancient ramparts, which are Northern Ireland's largest state monument and an enduring backdrop to daily lives. Built between 1614 and 1618, the walls today allow you to get a feel for Derry's deep history by strolling along the parapet walkway and pausing on a platform at Grand Parade where the cannons date from 1642 and are inscribed with the name of the London company which commissioned them. Pierced by eight gates (originally four) and as much as 30 feet thick, the gray-stone ramparts are only 1½ km (1 mile) all around. In 2019 the Royal Bastion (a projecting section) and Plinth were redesigned and adapted for educational purposes. This area is accessible to visitors but may be entered only by using the key available from the Siege Museum, just a few meters away in Society Street. On your walk, take a break at a strategically placed café or simply drink in the local atmosphere. In summer when the walls are awash with tourists, "ambassadors" are on hand to point you the right way.

    Derry, Co. Londonderry, Northern Ireland
  • 13. Down County Museum

    With the transfer of the 1,100-year-old Mourne granite High Cross as the centerpiece of an elaborate extension, this museum, housed in an 18th-century jail, has gained serious cachet. The Downpatrick High Cross had stood in front of nearby Down Cathedral since the late 19th century, but had suffered deterioration through weather damage—never mind the Viking pillagers—and has been moved permanently indoors. The original location of the intricately patterned cross, carved around AD 900 as a "prayer in stone," is believed to have been the early medieval monastery on the Hill of Down. The extension houses a display, Raising the Cross in Down, alongside two new galleries reflecting the maritime and agricultural history of the area. Elsewhere, look into the small cells in the jail along a narrow whitewashed corridor. The other main exhibition is Down through Time, while frequent photographic exhibitions and artwork are on display in other rooms. Behind the building, a short signposted trail leads to an example of a Norman motte and bailey known as the Mound of Down or "Dundalethglas." A large egg-shape enclosure, this is one of Northern Ireland's most impressive earthen fortifications and may have been a royal stronghold of the Dál Fiatach, the dynasty that ruled this part of County Down in the first millennium AD. The Cathedral View Tearoom serves homemade lunches and snacks.

    English St., Downpatrick, Co. Down, BT30 6AH, Northern Ireland

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    Rate Includes: Free
  • 14. Florence Court

    Less known than some showier estates, this three-story Anglo-Irish mansion was built around 1730 for John Cole, father of the 1st Earl of Enniskillen. Topped off about 1760 with its distinctive two flanking colonnaded wings, the central house contains a surfeit of Palladian windows, keystones, and balustrades—thanks to, as one architectural historian put it, "the vaingloriousness of a provincial hand." Even more impressive is its bucolic, baroque setting, as the Cuilcagh Mountains form a wonderful contrast to the shimmering white-stone facade. Showstoppers in terms of design are the rococo plasterwork ceilings in the dining room; the Venetian Room; and the famous staircase—all ascribed to Robert West, one of Dublin's most famous stuccadores (plasterworkers). For a peek at the "downstairs" world, check out the restored kitchen and other service quarters. You can browse a gift shop and secondhand bookstore; holiday accommodations are available at the Butler's Apartment. Two greenhouses have been renovated and produce from them is available to buy in the shop and the historic 2-acre Kitchen Garden, which has been undergoing a £375,000 face-lift, is due for completion in 2022--23 when it will be returned to full horticultural production. A visitor center, opposite the walled garden, with an outdoor shop sells takeaway snacks.

    Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, BT92 1DB, Northern Ireland

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    Rate Includes: £12.65 for house, park, and grounds
  • 15. Giant's Causeway

    Northern Ireland's only UNESCO World Heritage site, the Giant's Causeway is a mass of almost 40,000 mostly hexagonal pillars of volcanic basalt, clustered like a giant honeycomb and extending hundreds of yards into the sea. This "causeway" was created 60 million years ago, when boiling lava, erupting from an underground fissure that stretched from the north of Ireland to the Scottish coast, crystallized as it burst into the sea. As all Ulster folk know, though, the truth is that the giant Finn MacCool, in a bid to reach a giantess he'd fallen in love with on the Scottish island of Staffa (where the causeway resurfaces), created the columns as stepping-stones. Unfortunately, the giantess's boyfriend found out, and in the ensuing battle, Finn pulled out a huge chunk of earth and flung it toward Scotland. The resulting hole became Lough Neagh, and the sod landed to create the Isle of Man. In the peak summer months it can be very busy—get here early or leave your visit until late afternoon, when it's generally quieter. To reach the causeway, you can either walk 1½ km (1 mile) down a long scenic hill or take the Causeway Coaster minibus. A popular option with many visitors is to take the 20-minute walk downhill to the main causeway and catch the shuttle bus back uphill (£2 return). A good place to start is the Giant's Causeway Visitor Experience, made of locally quarried basalt from the very same lava flows that formed the causeway. The glass front ensures spectacular coastal views, and the building is sunken into the ground, blending so effectively into the landscape that the indigenous grasses on the roof restore the natural ridgeline and provide a habitat for wildlife. Inside the building, a stunning exhibition, complete with the 21st-century commercialization of Finn MacCool, is made up of five parts: coastal map, geological history, people and their stories, natural life, and the power of the landscape. Exhibition panels along with 3D displays showcase detail on the geological and scientific nature of the area. Guided one-hour tours of the stones are included in the admission price, and visitors are issued a hand-held device with recorded snippets of oral history. Tours leave every hour during the day. Kids love the center, so make sure you allow enough time on your visit to let them take in everything. Outside, be aware that not all stones are created equal. Be sure to take a seat in the "Wishing Chair" and also look out for the "Giant's Boot," "Camel," "Harp," and the "Giant's Organ Pipes." Heading west, keep an eye out for Port-na-Spania, the spot where the 16th-century Spanish Armada galleon Girona went down on the rocks. The ship was carrying an astonishing cargo of gold and jewelry, some of which was only recovered in 1967. Beyond this, Chimney Point is the name given to one of the causeway structures on which the Spanish fired, thinking that it was Dunluce Castle, which is 8 km (5 miles) west. You can park at the center—the fee is included in the admission price—or use the park-and-ride service between Bushmills and the causeway. Visitors who opt for the park and ride, or who arrive by public transportation, save £1.50 on the standard adult admission price (£3.75 per family) as part of a Green Travel Admission Ticket. Booking online in advance is recommended and saves you £1.50 on the adult admission price.

    44 Causeway Rd., Bushmills, Co. Antrim, BT57 8SU, Northern Ireland

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    Rate Includes: £13, Parking £5
  • 16. Glenariff Forest Park

    The best-known and most accessible of Antrim's glens opens on to Red Bay at the village of Glenariff (also known as Waterfoot). Inside the park are picnic facilities and some easy hikes. Bisecting the park are two lovely rivers, the Inver and the Glenariff, which help sculpt the rocky gorges here and culminate in the famous 5½-km (3½-mile) Waterfall Trail, marked with red arrows, which passes outstanding views of the Glenariff and its three small waterfalls. Its higher expanses are a less charming mix of bare moorland, scarred by the remnants of commercial conifer forestry. There's an abrupt transition back to a patchwork of trim fields as you head back toward the coast. Escape from the summer crowds by taking one of the longest trails, such as the Scenic Hike (9 km [5½ miles]) or the shorter Viewpoint Trail and the Rainbow Trail, both half a mile. Pick up a detailed trail map at the park visitor center, which also has a small cafeteria.

    98 Glenariff Rd., Glenariff, Co. Antrim, BT44 OQX, Northern Ireland

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    Rate Includes: Vehicles £5
  • 17. Grand Opera House

    Golden Mile

    Fresh from a dazzling £12 million face-lift and just in time for its 125th anniversary, Belfast's opera house, which regularly hosts musicals, plays, and concerts, has been restored to its original 1890s glamour with a new auditorium and ornate boxes. Visitors can now appreciate the beauty of the plasterwork alongside repairs and repainting of decorative features such as elephant heads and the glorious ceilings devised by the renowned theater architect Frank Matcham in 1894. New purpose-designed seats have replaced the old cinema-style ones in use since the 1960s and stalls, circle crush bars, sound, lighting, sets, and scenery were all upgraded. An impressive new permanent display reflects many of the famous names who have taken to this stage including Laurel and Hardy and Luciano Pavarotti. The building, which had already achieved listed status for its architectural merit and is Northern Ireland's only remaining Victorian theater, now takes its place among the city's premier attractions.

    2 Great Victoria St., Belfast, Co. Down, BT2 7HR, Northern Ireland
  • 18. Guildhall

    West Bank

    The rejuvenated Victorian Guildhall is an outstanding example of the city's ornate architecture. It has been refashioned as a visitor center with interactive exhibits telling the story of the Plantation of Ulster and the construction of the walled city, and how these events shaped present-day Derry. Touch-screen displays explain the building's special features, like the elaborate ceilings, baronial wood paneling, and a magnificent organ. For children, hands-on displays include a puzzle of a 1598 map of Ulster, and a wheel they can spin to find out about the different London companies and how land was divided. Kids can also build a bawn, stone house, or castle using wooden blocks, or dress up in the clothes of Planters or Irish people of the period. Look out, too, for the delightful scale model of the city in 1738 showing just a few thatched cabins outside the perimeter wall. A conserved page (a folio) from the Great Parchment Book of 1639 detailing the account of the Plantation is also on display. Other highlights include the 23 superb stained-glass windows in the reception area, up the stairs, and in the first floor main hall reflecting the siege of 1689 and other aspects of the city's history. With the gleaming restoration, one of the most famous of all Derry's local sayings, "You've more faces than the Guildhall clock"—not a compliment—has renewed resonance. Enjoy an alfresco coffee in the Guild Café at the harbor square entrance overlooking the Foyle, an ideal spot to catch the riverine light and reflect on 400 turbulent years of history.

    Guildhall Sq., Derry, Co. Londonderry, BT48 6DQ, Northern Ireland

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    Rate Includes: Free
  • 19. Hillsborough Castle and Gardens

    This Georgian palace—the only royal residence in Ireland and that for 50 years was the official home of the governor of Northern Ireland—opened its doors to the public for the first time in 2015, and has since become a leading attraction involving a £24 million investment. It was built in the 1770s by Wills Hill, the 1st Marquess of Downshire, Ireland's largest landowner and secretary of the American colonies. Benjamin Franklin's five-day stay here is said to have contributed directly to the American War of Independence, such was the animosity between Franklin and Hill. Other visits included that of President George W. Bush and the historic meeting in 2005 between the Queen and Mary McAleese, then president of Ireland. The building was the location for talks during the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement and the more recent Northern Ireland peace process, and is still the current home of the secretary of state for Northern Ireland. On busy days up to four guided 45-minute castle tours are held hourly from 10 am to 4 pm. Visitors are brought through eight elegant state rooms, still used by the royal family, including the throne room, which comes with three magnificent Dublin teardrop crystal chandeliers and graceful drawing room where paintings from Irish artists including Derek Hill, James Dixon, David Crone, and Gareth Reid are on display. A highlight of the red room is 40 Henry Bone miniature portraits of sovereigns and their consorts; these small, exquisite, enamel-on-copper paintings were commissioned by Prince Albert in 1843. Look out, too, for impressive royal portraits and paintings by Old Masters such as Gainsborough and Van Dyck. Separate guided tours focusing on art, politics, royalty, and gender identity are also held on selected dates. The Hillsborough Castle café opened in 2019, which means that for the first time in the castle's 250-year history the public can enjoy snacks, lunches, or afternoon tea (£29.95) in royal surroundings. From the visitor center to the main house, where the Stable Yard Tea Room opens in the spring and summer, it is a 15-minute walk, although a shuttle bus also operates. Explore the 100 acres of beautiful gardens, tended by 17 full-time gardeners, by following signposts through peaceful woods, waterways, and neatly manicured lawns. It is worth taking time to wander around the walled garden or Pinetum and take the yew tree walk to Lady Alice's Temple. Be aware that some of the paths have steps and steep slopes which are slippery in wet weather. If time permits after your castle visit, you can stroll around or join a guided walking tour of the town. An attractive place with Georgian architecture, Hillsborough boasts a fort dating from 1630, and an 18th-century church all cheek by jowl with boutiques, gift shops, and a selection of genteel cafés and gastropubs such as the Hillside, the Plough, and the Parson's Nose, all serving food at lunchtime and early evening. Details and times of the walking tours with qualified guides are available at Hillsborough Visitor Information Centre in the former courthouse in the Square right beside the entrance/exit to the castle from the town ( 028/9628–9717).

    The Square, Hillsborough, Co. Down, BT26 6AG, Northern Ireland

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £9.90, Castle open only for group visits, minimum 15 people, £13.10 each. Castle normally closed Jan. and Feb.
  • 20. James Connolly Visitor Centre (Áras Uí Chonghaile)

    West Belfast

    The fascinating story of James Connolly, from his birth in 1868 to his execution in Dublin for his part in the Easter Rising in 1916, is told in this £1 million interactive visitor center, opened in 2019 by the Irish President Michael D. Higgins and funded largely by American labor unions. The bilingual exhibition—in Irish and English—explores Connolly's crucial role as a pioneer of the early trade union movement, his travels throughout America, and his work closer to home. A laborer, docker, engineer, and salesman, Connolly was also a soldier, political activist, and writer. In 1902, he went on a five-month tour of America, later emigrating to the States. A huge map charts his journey which involved traveling by train to Colorado and New Mexico to address workers. In the ground-floor exhibition, excerpts from Connolly's letters and his quotations are brought to life through an audio library of poetry, music, and an interview with his daughter. Visitors hear stories of the citizen army he founded to protect workers, his influence on the text of the Easter Proclamation, his leadership in the Rising, his subsequent court-martial and death sentence. A display cabinet contains his pistol and the knocker from the GPO in Dublin, the headquarters of the uprising's leader.

    374--76 Falls Rd., Belfast, Co. Down, BT12 GDG, Northern Ireland

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £7

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