Discover Belfast’s doorstep without a car
Belfast city is known for its food, heritage and culture, but it’s also a great base to explore some of Northern Ireland’s most thrilling experiences. And you can do it all without a car!
Thanks to Northern Ireland’s compact size, many of its most famous attractions are just a short trip from Belfast’s hustle and bustle. You’ll find plenty of organised tours departing the city that can whisk you away on a sightseeing adventure. And if you want to do it your way, just hop on a bus or train and start exploring!
Venture north from Belfast city and you’ll discover world-famous rocks, dramatic clifftop castles and landscapes that may look very familiar to Game of Thrones®️ fans.Explore Day 1
Take it easy on a guided tour
If you want to take in some of the best sights Northern Ireland has to offer, you should make your way to the Causeway Coastal Route – an epic touring route that follows the coast from Belfast to Derry~Londonderry.
There’s a LOT to see and some sights are a bit off the beaten track. Our advice? Take a guided day trip – a great option if you’re looking for a hassle-free sightseeing experience and you don’t want to spend a lot of time on the road.
Causeway Coast highlights
For many, the star of the Causeway Coast is the Giant’s Causeway – a remarkable geological feature that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you want to see the Causeway’s 40,000 legendary hexagonal basalt columns, you’ll find plenty of tour operators running regular trips, including City Tours, Paddywagon Tours and McComb’s Coach Travel. Most of them will also visit other nearby spots including Dunluce Castle, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the Dark Hedges, so you can be sure you won’t miss anything.
Discover Game of Thrones®️ territory
Game of Thrones®️ fans may already be aware that Northern Ireland was a stand-in for the wild and rugged land of Westeros. If you want to uncover the fantastical landscapes that brought the show to life, The Iron Islands and Giant’s Causeway tour takes in the Glens of Antrim and the Dark Hedges – where key scenes from the hit HBO series were filmed.
Guided tours are great but sometimes you just want to follow your own path. Now it’s time to grab a train or bus to discover some terrific spots within easy reach of Belfast city.Explore Day 2
Castle tales and an Ulster fry
Translink, Northern Ireland’s main public transport service, offers a range of tickets for bus and rail services and you can download apps to help you plan your journey and buy tickets online.
The historical town of Carrickfergus is just a 20-minute train ride from Lanyon Place Station and there is also a regular bus service. It’s a place that is steeped in heritage, and in its museum, you can see artefacts that unearth the town’s dramatic medieval history.
But the must-see attraction here is Carrickfergus Castle, a forbidding Norman fortress that has stood on the shores of Belfast Lough since the 12th century. You can take a guided tour through the fascinating structure that survived multiple sieges over its 800 years!
If you want to grab a bite to eat, pop over to Ownie’s Bar near the castle. You can have your first Ulster Fry of the trip or try out some Strangford mussels to set you up for the next stage of your journey!
Cliff paths and tasty seafood
Hop back on the northbound train heading towards Larne. Your next stop is the village of Ballycarry and the nearby Gobbins Cliff Path. The cliff walk here is one of the signature experiences of the Causeway Coast. The 2.5 hour guided tour will take you on a path that winds its way around the coastal cliffs – an experience that must be seen to be believed.
Country rambles in Carnfunnock
Just north of Larne, is Carnfunnock Country Park which is a 30-minute bus journey away – grab the 162 towards Carnlough at the Larne Bus station. Carnfunnock is a perfect chance to stretch those legs and get some fresh air – it’s got woodland trails, gardens and even a maze, as well as great views of the coast – the perfect way to while away the afternoon. Catch the 162 bus and continue on north for the final stop of your day – Glenarm Castle!
Immerse yourself in Glenarm
Glenarm Castle is a country estate with a rich history and a huge amount to see and do. Guided tours of the castle are available (pre-booking is essential) but a real treat is to explore the gorgeous grounds.
A relaxing stroll through the lush gardens is a must-do during any season, while the Woodland Walk will introduce you to the ground’s other residents: robins, rabbits and red squirrels! Make sure to note the time, as many of Glenarm’s attractions close at 5pm.
Feeling peckish? Grab a snack in the Tea Room, or even sample the wood-fired sourdough pizzas in the Pizza Pavillion.
If you’re planning to head back to Belfast city for the evening, grab the 162 bus back to Larne, then get the train to Lanyon Place Station. But if you’re staying in Glenarm, the Ocean View pods are a nice option. With gorgeous views of the nearby coast and simple yet luxurious accommodation, they are the perfect way to wrap up a busy day!
For our final day we’re heading south to County Down to enjoy some of the island’s rich heritage and glorious sights…Explore Day 3
A little retail therapy!
Our base camp is the lively city of Newry. If time is of the essence, grab a train from Belfast’s Lanyon Place Station – the trip should take less than an hour. Buses depart on the hour from Europa Bus Centre, but take a little longer.
Once you’ve arrived in Newry, it’s time to shop. Newry has a reputation as a shopping paradise, with everything from shopping centres to niche retailers to choose from. When you’ve had enough, grab some lunch and recharge.
If you want something fun and funky, try out the cleverly titled Art Bar Funkel. This spot emphasises food for sharing – it’s all about big, tasty platters of tender babyback ribs, spicy signature chicken wings and addictive nachos – all the fun stuff. For more classic fare, pop over to Rice’s Hotel Bar and Restaurant where you’ll find good hearty pub grub. Now that you’ve refuelled, it’s time to explore…
Enjoy epic mountain views
The 240 bus will take you from Newry to Downpatrick but if you hop off early, you can check out Castlewellan Forest Park. Take in the picturesque views around Castlewellan Lake, or if you’re up for a challenge give the Slievenaslat walk a go. It’s fairly steep, but you’ll be rewarded with glorious views of the nearby Mourne Mountains and the surrounding landscape.
Ice cream and seaside strolls
Another great option on the same bus route is one of the most charming seaside towns in Northern Ireland: Newcastle. If the weather is fine, grab a few scoops of indulgent gelato from Nugelato, and have a stroll along Newcastle Beach.
Or if you fancy a pint, pop into Quinn’s nearby. Once you’ve taken in Newcastle’s sights, it’s back on the bus for the final stage of your trip – Downpatrick!
Discover St Patrick’s legacy
Downpatrick is rich in history and packed with fascinating attractions that tell the story of the town’s namesake (and Ireland’s patron saint). The Saint Patrick Centre hosts a sprawling IMAX cinema presentation, narrated by Northern Ireland actor Ciaran Hinds, that brings St Patrick’s history to life. You can also visit Down Cathedral and see St Patrick’s final resting place, marked by a gigantic granite boulder.
If you’re hungry for more history, check out the Down County Museum. Located in an old gaol, the museum showcases the history of the area through galleries and digital archives.
A final supper
To wrap up your day, and your trip, you have two options. If you want to head back to Belfast, the 515 bus line will take you to the city in just over an hour – where you can finish with a fine meal and restful night’s sleep in one of the city’s many restaurants and hotels.
But if you fancy staying in Downpatrick, you won’t be disappointed. Denvir’s is a particular highlight. As the oldest surviving coaching inn on the island of Ireland, this spot feels like stepping back in time. It offers simple, comfortable, unfussy bedrooms. And if you fancy some food and a few drinks, the restaurant and snug bar will be happy to provide. Settled beside the restaurant's huge 17th century fireplace, with a chargrilled steak or baked salmon, is a pretty special experience – and the perfect way to cap off a wonderful trip.