Talk about nature at its finest, and Northern Ireland is the queen. Frankly, I entered this country without doing any homework so I had no expectations. By the end of my day trip, I was blown away and speechless! Northern Ireland instantly became one of my most favourite destinations.
Northern Ireland boasts of some undeniably scenic landscapes. While pictures and endless praises do no justice to the unsurpassing beauty of this place, I hope to inspire you to add Northern Ireland to your bucketlist since my experience was something out of the world, and I wish you feel that too.
Northern Ireland’s Geography
Although geographically connected to the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland is a separate country. While Ireland is a part of the European Union, Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom, along with England, Scotland and Wales.
Best time to visit Northern Ireland
If you’re looking for awesome weather : May through September. Since its the late spring and summer season, the weather is at its absolute best. Neither too hot, nor too cold. The daylight hours are longer too, thus you are not restricted to time limits while visiting any of the attractions. I visited Northern Ireland towards the end of May, and thoroughly enjoyed the pleasant climate.
If you want to stay away from the crowds : May through late July. Anytime later than this can get tricky since schools shut down for the summer holidays, and a majority of locals as well as tourists visit during this time. Who likes pictures with hundreds of people photobombing anyways? Also, as it is the peak season, accommodation rates could get super pricey.
If you want some awesome deals (but with a price to pay) : November through March (except during the Christmas – New Year season). It is off season, the temperature could get unbearably low, you might get plenty of rain, and daylight is limited to a few hours. Thus, hotels tend to be comparatively cheaper at this time. While prices might be super attractive, keep in mind that bad weather could lead to closed attractions or limited hours. What a bummer!
Note : Irrespective of the time you wish to travel to Northern Ireland, remember to pack warm clothes as it always cool and windy. Furthermore, it is advisable to keep an umbrella handy at all times as you never know when it could rain. (Did you know that Northern Ireland could have up to 225 days of precipitation!)
Game of Thrones Shooting Location
Bonus points if you’re a Game of Thrones fan! Northern Ireland is home to quite a few GoT shooting locations, and it is absolutely normal to dress up as your favourite character while visiting these spots. Just don’t be disappointed if the location doesn’t look exactly the same as it does on the show. Special effects added to blend with the show’s theme are next level and might have you thinking whether you are actually at the same shooting spot.
For those of you who do not watch GoT, it is alright. Neither do I! But don’t skip these locations and miss out on their beauty, historical significance and a great photo opportunity.
The Causeway Coastal Route
Fancy a good roadtrip? In that case, Northern Ireland’s famous Causeway Coastal Route, which is regarded as one of the world’s greatest road journeys, should top your bucketlist.
Running for 190 kilometers (120 miles) between Belfast and Londonderry, parallel to the Atlantic Ocean, this scenic route displays an assortment of landscape. Right from sandy beaches and steep cliffs to ancient castles and whiskey distilleries, the Causeway Coastal stretch is unmissable!
Here’s a list of must-see places in Northern Ireland :
The Dunluce Castle, used as Pyke Castle, House of Greyjoy in Game of Thrones, has quite the dramatic setting. A medieval stone castle, abandoned and lying in ruins, seated on the edge of a cliff against the backdrop of beautiful blue waters, and connected to the mainland by a stone bridge. Can you picture that?
History of the Dunluce Castle
The Dunluce Castle was built in the 13th century by the McQuillan family, but it’s earliest written record dates back only to 1513. In 1565, the Clan MacDonnel captured the castle and it was used as the chief’s home since.
It wasn’t until a tragic incident in 1639 that the castle’s notable cliffside location proved deadly. It’s kitchen fell into the sea on a stormy night. Legend has it that none of the cooks survived that night barring one kitchen boy who actually saw the kitchen vanish from his sight. This lead to the abandonment of the castle. However, this story seems to be just another myth since the kitchen is still intact.
Around 25 metres below the castle is a huge cave known as Mermaid’s Cave. It’s a steep walk down, and the cave might be slippery, but the breathtaking view of the sea is worth it.
GoT Episode Guide : Season 1, Episode 2
Get ready to witness something so unique and striking, you won’t believe that this was all the doing and magic of Mother Nature. But before that, gear up for plenty of walking. The trek is very long and tiring, however walking alongside the picturesque sea with cool winds hitting your face, evens the score.
What is the Giant’s Causeway all about?
The Giant’s Causeway is an area consisting of around 40,000 interlocked basalt columns sticking out of the sea, of which almost all are perfectly hexagonal in shape, and this was all the result of a volcanic eruption about 60 million years ago! Wow, now that’s the beauty of nature.
The Giant’s Causeway Legend
While scientists say that the Giant’s Causeway was formed as the aftermath of a volcanic eruption, the Irish locals believe that it was indeed created by an Irish giant, Fionn mac Cumhaill (also known as Finn McCool) when he was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant, Benandonner. Fionn built a land bridge by placing chunks of the Antrim coast to cross the ocean and meet his rival. Unfortunately, Benandonner turned out to be much larger than Fionn. So he ran back to Antrim where his quick-witted wife, Oonagh, disguised him as a baby. Upon seeing the size of the baby, Benandonner couldn’t help but wonder how huge the baby’s father would be. And the Scottish giant quickly fled back to his home country.
Which theory do you believe in? I’d go with the Irish legend! It sounds too awesome to be made up, right?
Regardless of the theory you wish to believe, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is sure to make your heart stir! The hexagonal columns form stepping stones and it’s so fascinating to just walk on them. Some of these adjoined columns even form tiny hill-like structures, it truly is an impressive sight. To top it off, the sea crashing against the black coastline and the mighty strong winds that could literally knock you down, made the experience even memorable! I would highly recommend every globetrotter to visit The Giant’s Causeway atleast once in their lifetime.
The Dark Hedges
Originally known as Bregagh Road, this stunning tree tunnel was used in Game of Thrones as Kings Road when Arya Stark escaped from the King’s Landing, disguised as boy. GoT fans, here’s your chance at an Instagram perfect shot. Don’t forget the costumes! Yet, if you don’t watch the show, this sight is so impressive, there’s no way you should miss out on it!
How did they come to be?
Back in 1775, the wealthy Stuart family wanted to impress guests as they approached their Gracehill House mansion. Hence, they planted around 150 beech trees along the path that led up to the entrance of their home.Today, this tree tunnel has gained so much fame that it has become an unmissable tourist attraction and also made it’s way to our TV screens!
Damage by Storms
While there were initially 150 trees planted by the Stuarts, today only around 90 of them remain standing. These beech trees gave in to the terrible storms that took place over recent years. Storm Gertrude in January 2016, Storm Doris in February 2017, Storm Hector in June 2018 and Gale force winds in January 2019 have all played the bad guy in uprooting several trees.
GoT Episode Guide : Season 2, Episode 1
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Adventure aficionados, this is where you need to be! The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a 20-metre suspension bridge that connects the County Antrim mainland to the Carrick-a-Rede island.
But here’s the thrill : As you hang 98 feet above the blue-green waters of the Atlantic Ocean and swing along with the strong breeze, nothing could get more exhilarating and uplifting than that! Soak in the freaky combination of icy winds and tingles travelling down your spine as you make your way to the Carrick-a-Rede island. If you’re gutsy enough, take a sneak peek of the view below your feet and feel the adrenaline rush through your veins! Finally upon crossing the bridge, walk up to the edge of the cliff and get your cameras out. A postcard perfect view awaits…
The Story Behind the Rope Bridge
The bridge was first erected in 1755 by local fishermen to approach the Carrick-a-Rede island, a salmon paradise. These fishermen would catch almost 300 fish each day during the salmon season, from June to September. But things took a sad turn as over the course of time, the fish’s migratory patterns changed and river pollution lead to the depletion in the salmon population in that region. The last fish caught here was in 2002.
The Bridge : Then v/s Now
While crossing the bridge was no cake walk back in the day, today you need not question the safety. Over the years, the bridge has undergone multiple renovations and today, it is one of the finest modern rope bridges. From simply consisting of a single handrail and wooden slats with large gaps in the 1970s to being replaced by wire ropes, a Douglas fir deck and double handrails in 2008, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge has come a long way!
The bridge is now a major tourist attraction, owned and run by the National Trust, a charity and membership organisation that works to preserve and protect environmental and historical places in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
You can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment as you reach the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede. As your heartbeat gets back to normal, take in the splendid views of the rugged Irish coastline and Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland’s northernmost point. On a clear day, you might even see all the way up to Scotland!
Barring an old fisherman’s cottage, there’s nothing else to see on the island; so lie down on the grass, watch the blue-green waters, and listen to the rhythm of the seabirds and the waves as they crash against the shore.
An amazing day? That’s an understatement. My heart was so full! Northern Ireland is an underrated destination, waiting to be explored by all.
Did I just make your bucketlist bigger? Drop your thoughts in the comments section.