If you are planning on visiting the UK, include a couple of days to spend in Northern Ireland and you won’t regret it. Experience glorious beaches, stunning rolling green hills, sand dunes and walk where Celts, Vikings and Christian monks have gone before you. Past tragedies have not dampened the welcoming spirit and charm of the residents of Northern Ireland. If Northern Ireland is in your vacation, GetAway Travel advisors can assist in your planning.
Belfast offers homage to Titanic, museums, castle tours
Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland was once the home of shipbuilding giant White Star Line. The company built the ill-fated RMS Titanic. Titanic Belfast is a star-shaped building which mimics the logo of White Star. Inside, interactive exhibits chronicle the Titanic from construction to its demise. The museum underwent a “refresh” in the beginning of 2023 and re-opened in March.
There is a restaurant, cafe and gift shop on site.
The Ulster Folk Museum lets visitors experience Ulster life back 100 years. (An aside: Ireland was originally four provinces, Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht/Connaught. When the country was partitioned into two states in 1921, six of the nine counties of Ulster became Northern Ireland)
The Ulster Folk Museum has more than 30 historic or faithfully restored buildings. Staff, dressed in period attire, will answer questions about trades, from carpentry to weaving, and you can watch them work.
Don’t skip a visit to the Transport Museum. Climb on a real steam engine and stroll among the extensive collections of trams, fire engines, motorbikes, vintage autos and horse-drawn carriages.
The Belfast Botanic Gardens are a colorful and lively spot. They are set on a park along with a museum and a sports complex. Palm House has exotic vegetation and hanging plants and flowers. It is one of the first glass houses of its kind, built in the 19th century to show how to preserve plants. The Tropical Ravine has bananas, cinnamon and orchid plants.
The Ulster Museum on the grounds, has amazing collections of artifacts dedicated to art, history and natural science. You can view dinosaur bones, a slice of a meteorite, Egyptian mummies and extensive collections of pottery, ceramics and glass, silver and metalwork. There’s jewelry from a ship from the Spanish Armada and the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Mairead Corrigan.
Belfast City Hall was built in 1906 from white-grey limestone quarried on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, England. The facade is elegant with columns, arches and domed towers. The green domes of the building are proud symbols of the capital. The inside is just as spectacular as the outside. There’s a grand staircase and marble features. Outside, the Titanic Memorial Garden is a tribute to those who were lost with the sinking of the Titanic. The garden is a serene place with sculptures and plantings.
Belfast Castle is actually considered Scottish baronial architecture. You can wander the castle and grounds. The permanent exhibits help you learn about what life was like for castle inhabitants. Enjoy a traditional Irish meal in the cellar restaurant.
You can tour the Carrickfergus Castle near Belfast. The fortress is intact and you can walk on the battlements.
One of the most photographed sites in Northern Ireland is actually a pedestrian avenue near Belfast called Dark Hedges. Here, beech trees planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century drape what was once the entrance drive to the estate. They are so closely entwined they form a living tunnel. Does Dark Hedges look familiar? It should if you watched “Game of Thrones.” In the show it was known as “King’s Road.”
Londonderry, causeways and giants
Londonderry or Derry, is the second largest city in Northern Ireland. The walled city sits on the banks of the River Foyle. It is one of the world’s best preserved walled cities, the walls of Derry have never been breached!
You can walk on the ramparts and check out the cannon placements.
Guild Hall is neo-Gothic and Tudor Revival architecture. Inside, admire the stained glass and study the exhibition which details the history of the city, The city’s history is also laid out in the 12 large paintings in the Bogside Neighborhood. The Free Derry Museum highlights the turbulent years of the city from the 60s to the 90s.
You can review a more in-depth history of the city in the Tower Museum. It is in an historic tower in the Derry City walls and it also offers great views of the River Foyle and the city.
Peace Bridge is a 21st century landmark which spans the River Foyle from Ebrington Square to the city center.
Feeling the need to shop? Craft Village in the old center of the city has artisan craft shops, restaurants and cafes in quaint Georgian houses. There’s usually Irish dancing and music and you can browse for bargains and buy glassware, knitted items, crystal and candles.
There is no scarcity of fabulous scenery in Northern Ireland.
The Derry-Coleraine Railway takes visitors on a 31-mile trek from Derry east to Coleraine. It has been dubbed one of the most beautiful rail trips in the world with riders enjoying lush, green landscapes, basalt hills and the surprisingly gold sands of Benone Strand.
Northern Ireland’s World UNESCO site is the Giant’s Causeway. More than 40,000 polygonal-angled rocks were created by a volcanic eruption years ago creating an area of outstanding, breathtaking beauty. Three different periods of eruption created the Lower, Middle and Upper Basalts. Sadly, the eruption explanation is not nearly as compelling as the folklore explanation for the area. As the story goes, the area was carved out by a giant named Finn McCool. The causeway has a visitor center which offers more insight on how nature created the area.