18 Places You Won't Believe Are Actually In Northern Ireland
Neolithic burial grounds, pretty gardens, and country houses.
1. White Park Bay, County Antrim
A three mile beach with white sands, a bitterly cold sea, and cliffs so rugged they could give Tom Hardy a run for his money. But the weirdest thing about this beach is that you share your sunbathing spot with cows. They roam freely between the green and the sand, which is currently under the care of the National Trust.
How to get there from Belfast: The Ulsterbus 376 and 252 (summer only) both stop here if you ask your bus driver.
2. Beaghmore Stone Circles, County Tyrone
These stones were only discovered in the '40s, but there are suspected links to the Neolithic era and the ceremonial purposes they might have served.
How to get there from Belfast: The stones are 10 miles west of Cookstown, so it’s easiest to drive. Follow the M1 to get to Cookstown or Gortin.
3. The Navan Fort, County Armagh
In Irish mythology, this is said to be the earliest capital of Ulaid. Whilst it’s now a banking marked out by dry-stone walls, archaeologists believe that there were once round-house style buildings on the site (think GoT camp style mud huts) dating back to the Bronze Era. You can see a reconstruction in the Navan visitors centre, but you’re much better off letting your imagination run wild with you on this one.
How to get here from Belfast: Follow the M1 to Portadown, and keep going until you reach the signs for the fort.
4. Loughinisland Churches, County Down
The Loughinisland Churches used to be shared by both Catholics and Protestants (this is way back in the medieval era). But, on one rainy Sunday, the Catholics didn't want to leave the church to make way for the Protestants. Naturally, the Protestants weren't very happy, so they dismantled the church and built a new one in Seaforde. Now, we're left with the ruins of 3 medieval churches on an island in the middle of Loughinisland Lake.
How to get there from Belfast: Take the M1 to Lisburn, then take the A49 to Loughinisland.
5. Guildhall, County Londonderry
The Guildhall in Derry is an amazing example of 19th century architecture, but the hall was originally built many years before, prior to being destroyed in the Siege. It's where Derry's city council members meet, but you can also get married in this historic monument.
How to get there from Belfast: The 33 bus goes straight to Derry (via the airport).
6. Tyrella Beach, County Down
Tyrella Beach is two kilometres long, and it's really popular for horse riding. Don't fancy the hack? It's backed by 25 hectares of heathered sand dunes, perfect for morning walks.
How to get there from Belfast: Follow the signs for Newcastle A24 until you reach the village of Clough, keep going through the village until you reach Blackstaff Road and the signs for Tyrella Beach.
7. Castle Coole, County Fermanagh
Not all NI's castles are ruins. This neo-classical mansion is hidden in County Fermanagh, and it's managed by the National Trust. It used to be inhabited by the Earls of Belmore, but now you can go and take a sneaky peak around these royal living quarters on a tour of the castle.
How to get there from Belfast: Follow the A4 to Enniskillen. After that, just follow the signs from Castle Coole.
8. Mount Stewart, County Down
This is an 18th century house and garden, full of that Jane Austen charm. Take a picnic and have a day out here, strolling round the gardens. Autumn and spring are the best times to see the colours change. Oh, and you can’t leave without squeezing in a visit to the Tea Room.
How to get there from Belfast: Catch the 10a, b, or c bus from Belfast to Portaferry, and get off at the gates.
9. Hillsborough Castle & Lake
This is the Queen's crashpad for her visits to Northern Ireland, and it's a pretty nice one at that. This royal residence comes with 98 acres of beautifully manicured gardens, a state room and a throne room - all of which you can see on a tour of Hillsborough Castle. If you'd prefer to stay outside, the lake is a perfect place for a picnic!
How to get there from Belfast: Catch the 238 and alight at Hillsborough. The gates are just off the main street. It's only a 12 mile drive from Belfast to Hillsborough, too.
10. Whiterocks Beach, County Antrim
Whiterocks Beach was recently awarded the Blue Flag award for it's pristine sands, but if you want to try something different go surfing off the coastline. Not something you associate with NI (especially when it's chucking it down), but the breaks off Portrush are pretty swell.
How to get there from Belfast: Drive north on the M2 following the signs for Coleraine and Portrush, or catch the train from the town centre.
11. Giant's Causeway, County Antrim
The honeycomb shaped columns have always inspired writers and artists, and they're more than likely to leave you scratching your head too. This is just one feature of the Giant's Causeway Coastal Path, a route that actually follows the Antrim coast up to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Do it all in one day, and make sure to stop by Bushmills to put a little fire in your belly afterwards.
12. Slieve Bearnagh, County Down
Crisp snow, divine views and crystalline skies - winter truly does the mountain justice, however, you'll be much more comfortable doing this trek in summer.
How to get there from Belfast: Drive south on the A49, following the signs for Newcastle.
13. The Argory, County Armagh
This county estate comes with 130 hectares of grassland surrounding it. It was first built in the early 19th century, and the interiors reflect that 18th century style too. Make sure you look round both the grounds and the house - they're both worth exploring.
How to get there from Belfast: Catch the bus from Belfast to Portadown, then catch the Portadown to Dungannon bus, get off at Charlemont, then it's 2½ mile walk from there.
14. Florence Court, County Fermanagh
This is the former house of the Earls of Enniskillen, dating back to the 18th century. Take the whole family and walk between the summer house, the walled gardens, and the fine interiors of the house as they did too.
How to get there from Belfast: Catch the Ulsterbus 192 Enniskillen to Swanlinbar, get off at Creamery Cross, and it's a 2-mile walk from there.
15. Rowallane Gardens, County Down
This is one of NI's best picnic spots. The garden has been in County Down since the 19th century, and since then it's grown to include many different plants from around the world. But really, it's just quite a lovely place to be when Northern Ireland does get a bit of sunshine.
How to get there from Belfast: Catch the bus to Downpatrick, or walk from Saintfield village (it's only 10 minutes).
16. Cushendun Caves, County Antrim
Cushendun Caves have recently experienced their 15 minutes of fame, thanks to GoT's melisandre having her evil shadow baby in one of the caves. However, the coastal path isn't that sinister, and the caves look amazing around sunset too. Grab some fish 'n' chips from one of the nearby chip shops in Cushendun too.
How to get there from Belfast: Follow the A2 up the Antrim coast for a scenic route, follow the M2 to get there a little faster, and follow the signs for Cushendun.
17. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, County Antrim
Whilst you're on the Antrim coast, this rickety little bridge is well worth a visit. The bridge links the main land to Rocky Island, first erected by local fishermen hundreds of years ago. On clearer days, you're able to see Scotland - but even if it's a little foggy, you get cracking views of Antrim's cliffs.
How to get there from Belfast: The Ulsterbus 252 (summer only) or the 376 both stop in Carrick-a-Rede.
18. Dunluce Castle, County Antrim
This castle was first built in the 13th century, so it's impressive that it's still standing. You can access the precariously balanced medieval fortress by a bridge to the side of the castle: but watch out for the drops - they're very, very steep.
How to get there from Belfast: Follow the A2 Eastbound out of Portrush. You can also catch the 376 or the 252 up to Dunluce.