How to Spend 2 days in Northern Ireland
Mention Northern Ireland to many, and it likely evokes not so distant memories of political violence, dangerous territory and news coverage of bombings and worse. However, these are all things of the past now as much has changed for the better in the last couple of decades. Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland is presently a sought-after travel destination.
I know a few travellers, actual family members that skipped visiting Northern Ireland because of the stigma associated with “The Troubles”. If this is how you feel about the North, trust me, step out of that comfort zone, why not stay 2 days in Belfast, a perfect base to explore Northern Ireland, you won’t regret it.
With 48 hours many day trips from Belfast are at your disposal, you can drive the scenic causeway’s coastline, visit Game of Thrones filming locations, or choose from any number of additional local activities and highlights like a tour the shipyard made famous by the RMS Titanic.
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Table of contents
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You could spend weeks exploring the many incredible things to do in Northern Ireland but I’ve put together my the best of what to do in Northern Ireland with your valuable time here.
The Difference between the Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland
Confused about the difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland? Don’t worry you’re not alone.
In essence what most travellers refer to as ”Ireland’’ is technically the Republic of Ireland. Ireland is part of the European Union and therefore uses the euro as currency, the metric system for a measure and in this case, Gaelic as an official language.
Northern Ireland, on the other hand, is part of the United Kingdom and uses the Sterling Pound. It’s also important to note that England still uses miles on roads although everything else is on the metric system. There are no borders that divide Ireland and Northern Ireland and you can travel freely between them without having to clear customs.
Touring Northern Ireland with a Car
I love road trips and the freedom that having your own vehicle gives, but to do so in Ireland, you need to keep in mind certain factors. For starters, you’ll be driving on the left side of the road. That in itself isn’t so bad. But consider renting an automatic instead of a standard, manual transmission since you’ll need to handle the stick shift with the left hand! Unless you’re a leftie, this can prove to be quite challenging.
If you rent your car in Ireland (the Republic) make sure you are covered to drive in Northern Ireland. Rental Car Insurance coverage can be quite expensive and most credit cards don’t cover the CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) in Northern Ireland. Rental companies make a fuss about this, a situation that can easily be resolved with a bit of planning.
Verify your CWD coverage for Northern Ireland prior to your arrival. If you are indeed covered with your card policy, get them to email you a proof of coverage form, print it and take it with you, you’ll need to hand it over to the car rental agent upon booking.
City Highlights and Day trips from Belfast
You’ve made it to Belfast, you’re ready to explore the top things to do in Northern Ireland. Make the best of it with some city highlights and venture out with fun day trips from Belfast.
Get into the Heart of Belfast’s History
The Titanic Belfast Experience Architecture is meant to replicate a ship hulls
The Titanic Belfast Experience
Looking for some fun things to do in Belfast for adults? Head over to the Belfast Titanic Quarter District, home of the Harland & Wolf shipyard, famous for building the infamous ship for which the quarter is named for. The freshly rejuvenated harbour front district, one of the biggest worldwide, is where you’ll find Titanic Belfast, the world’s largest Titanic visitor centre & attraction.
Recognized as an outstanding tourist attraction, the building’s impressive design impresses at first sight with its bold stature. Visiting the Titanic Belfast Exhibition will transport you through the ship’s history, from its birth to its final fatal moments. The visitors’ experience features many interactive aspects, 3d projections and even includes a pretty cool automated conveyer ride which simulates a visit through the shipyard during the construction of the Titanic.
Game of Thrones fans will appreciate the surrounding views of the actual filming studios that are located adjacent to the exhibit… Get a good look from the panoramic all glass windows that give way to the actual dock slips that were used to build Titanic and Olympic side-by-side.
Multi-Media 3D projection makes the whole experience insightful
This model puts the actual emplacement where the ship was built in relation to the present building
Black Cab Political Tour
In order to really understand Northern Ireland, you need to dive deeper into its complex political past. To do so, a Black Cab Tour in Belfast is a great way to do exactly that. By choosing a political Black cab tour you will better understand “The Troubles,” a period that has divided (and still does in many respects) the population.
The cabbie, your driver is the actual tour guide. The circuit explores many key sights that have been an integral part of this city’s troubled past. You’ll drive on Shankill Road located in an apparent Loyalist area. Tour the many murals depicting heroes or martyrs and get up close to the Peace Wall as you get a better perspective of what was and still is going on in this somewhat tense area.
The 20-foot-tall structure erected to separate conflicting neighbourhoods of Nationalists and Loyalist is proof that “The Troubles” were dangerous times indeed. The many remnants and contrasting environments strongly attest to this fact.
I requested a pickup at the Titanic Experience Museum, right after lunch. This provided us with safe underground parking, knowing that all of our luggage and gear was in the car (having just driven from Dublin), and this also gives you time to pre-purchase our time-allocated tickets to avoid queues for the Titanic exhibit visit we planned to do on our return, later that afternoon.
You can organize your tour online, there are many companies to choose from.
Life carrying on as usual
Proud Loyalists displaying their colours
Did you know that you can rent Authentic Northern Ireland Accommodations – Cottages, Bungalows and even book Glamping on the National Trust’s website? Check out their Latest Rates Here
Day 2 in Northern Ireland
Now that you’ve covered some of Belfast’s top attractions, it’s time to get out of the city and explore Northern Ireland.
You can pick and choose, combine any of the following recommendations to create your own personalized day trips from Belfast.
Photo Credit~ Discover Northern Ireland
Carrickfergus Castle (12 miles North on A2)
This 800-year-old Norman Castle sits right on the water’s edge of the Antrim Coast protecting its important port. We didn’t get to visit this imposing castle but witnessed its imposing grandeur first hand while driving through from Belfast to the Giant’s Causeway. The castle, said to be the best-preserved medieval castle in Northern Ireland, offers many historical displays ranging from the 17th to the 19th century.
Ramparts, dungeons and numerous dark corners are just waiting to be explored.
You can book guided group tours by contacting Carrickfergus Castle T: 028 9335 1273.
For more information about the castle or visitor information contact the Visitor Centre
T: 028 9335 8222 or E: [email protected]
Photo Credit~ The Gobbins Cliff Path
The Gobbins Cliff Walk (20 miles North on A2)
This incredible structure was built by fearless Irishmen over a number of sea cliffs and claims to be the most dramatic walk in all of Europe. The initial concept launched in 1902 was the vision of Berkeley Deane Wise, the Chief Engineer of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway Company. He meant to put to good use the recently expanded railway line to attract visitors to this amazing part of Ireland. Judging by the spectacular pictures and videos, the series of bridges and tunnels are without a doubt an experience not to be missed.
Closed for almost 50 years, as of 2014, the site is now reopened to visitors. This looks like an outstanding thing to do in Northern Ireland, we’ll make sure to add it to our to-do list on our next visit as we missed out on this amazing activity during our short stay in the region.
Watch this breathtaking video of the Gobbins Cliff Path
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge (65 miles on A2)
This rope bridge spans a 15-meter gap between two rocky coastal cliffs. Get there early or later in the day to avoid the crowds. Sadly the wait was over 90 minutes when we got there at 10 am, add to that a fee of £7 to cross the bridge and you get two disappointed Canadians who didn’t do this activity. ?
It takes about 20 minutes to hike to the bridge, and the views are said to be stunning in each direction. Even without getting ‘’in’’, the entire area is very scenic and provides gorgeous vistas to be taken in and photographed. For Games of Thrones fans, take note that the parking, a former quarry, was used for the filming of the scene in a season 2 episode in which Catelyn Stark meets Renly Baratheon.
The Giant’s Causeway (75 miles NW on A2 or 60 Miles via M2/A26)
Explore Northern Ireland’s coast from Belfast to Giant’s Causeway. This Unesco World Heritage Site is a 60-million-year-old basalt rock geo-formation wonder. The hexagonal shape phenomenon was formed by a volcanic eruption which inspired many folklore stories. One of them entails an enraged giant named Finn McCool throwing chunks of the Antrim Coast in the ocean. The rock formations throughout the park offer whimsical names, rooted from old folklore with names like The Camel, The Giant Boots or the Wishing Chair.
Try to get from Belfast to Giant’s Causeway early. This major attraction is well sought after and fills up after 10 am with lots of visitors and, of course… Paddy Wagons. Although it can get pretty crowded, the site is beautiful to visit and shouldn’t be missed.
We followed a good tip, one which was provided to us by a local coach driver… Unless you plan to use audio guides for £8.50, you can skip the visitors’ centre and walk straight into the park through the arched viaduct. The parking fee on site is also £8.50 or do as we did, opt to park down the small hill for free and walk 10 minutes to the entrance.
Want to explore the Giant Causeway without the crowds?
Stay at a nearby hotel so you can start your visit of the stones at dawn or explore at dusk.
Bushmills Distillery (2 miles from the Giant’s Causeway)
While on your exploration of the Giant’s Causeway from Belfast, you may want to head 2 miles up the road to the nearby village of Bushmills for a good fish & chip lunch. After indulging, stop at the Bushmills distillery, Northern Ireland’s most iconic whiskey distillery. Bushmills claims to be the World’s Oldest Whiskey Distillery. It’s said that King James I granted a license to distil to Sir Thomas Phillips, dating as far back as 1608!
Book a tasting experience and get a chance to savour a range of their many select malt whiskeys produced on site.
The Dark Hedges (10 miles South of Bushmills)
Driving back home, why not include “The Dark Hedges,” one of the most popular Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland. Along this unpretentious country road, known as the Kingsroad for GoT fans, is a fabulous natural phenomenon featuring lined up mature beech trees. Undeniably impressive, this short detour is worth it even if you’re not a fan of the TV series.
Surrounded by farmer’s fields on either side, the location is stunning and from the smiling tourists you come across on your walk down the road, it doesn’t leave anyone indifferent.
Tip: The coordinates are in most GPS units, just enter “Dark Hedges.” Or Hop on a Guided Bus Tour of Game of Thrones and Giant’s Causeway Tour from Belfast
Photo credit ~ Discover Northern Ireland
Londonderry (70 miles on A6)
The second-largest city in Northern Ireland, Londonderry, more commonly known as Derry, is a medieval walled city steeped in history that dates back many centuries. With its borders lying close to the Republic of Ireland, the not quite mile-long walls served to protect the city from the many turmoils during periods of the Plantation of Ulster, the 1641 Rebellion and the Siege of Derry to name a few.
Associated mostly with Bloody Sunday and known as well for its many murals.
We didn’t get a chance to visit this pretty city, but it comes highly recommended.
Photo credit ~ Discover Northern Ireland
This rounds up our top recommendations for the best things to do while spending 2 days in Northern Ireland.
Makes sure to include this fabulous region in your plans when visiting the Emerald Isle.
Have you been to Northern Ireland?
Please share your experiences with us, comments or questions below…
Please share your experiences with us, comments or questions below…