The Giant's Causeway, County Antrim
Northern Ireland is a magical mix of stunning scenery, fascinating history and culture and lively nightlife.
Its compact size makes it easy to travel from mountain views to cityscapes in a blink.
You can spend a morning delving into its colourful past, an afternoon set-jetting around film locations and an evening enjoying the fruits of its restaurant renaissance.
1. City sightseeing
Get an overview of the dynamic city of Belfast in one day with a hop on, hop off bus tour that will reveal the city’s complex past and rejuvenated present. With 20 stops, this is a ticket to explore Belfast’s backbone, right from the grandeur of Parliament Buildings and Queen’s University to the famous murals of North Belfast.
2. Titanic experience
Hop off at the 2016 World’s Leading Tourist Attraction, Titanic Belfast, and immerse yourself in the tragic tale of the doomed liner. For a fascinating glimpse into maritime history, step on board HMS Caroline nearby, where a museum commemorates one of the greatest big gun sea battles in history, the Battle of Jutland.
3. Upmarket lunch
Bustling St George’s market is the perfect lunch stop. On Fridays, the Variety Market has almost 250 stalls selling the freshest fruit and vegetables, the widest range of fish in Ireland and a unique assortment of antiques, books and clothes. Or get off at the Belfast City Hall stop and combine a tour of the historic building with a sophisticated lunch at the Michelin-starred Deane’s Eipic just around the corner.
4. Murals and the clink
Back on board the bus, continue your Belfast journey, sweeping past the gorgeous Gothic façade of Queen’s University and on to the compelling murals of the Falls and Shankill roads. The penultimate stop is Crumlin Road Gaol, where, if time permits, you can take a tour of the 150-year-old building and hear the intriguing tales of its inmates.
5. Cobblestones and cocktails
The historic and atmospheric Cathedral Quarter is the tour’s last stop and lands you neatly in the heart of the city’s bar and restaurant scene. Choose from a host of restaurants of every culinary style, including House of Zen, Made in Belfast, Coppi, Mumbai 27 and 2 Taps Wine Bar, and join the crowds spilling out of the bars onto the cobbled streets for an al fresco drink.
6. Drive the Causeway Coastal Route
After a hearty Ulster fry, get on the road early and head for the Causeway Coastal Route, regarded as one of the world's great driving journeys. Winding its way along the rugged coastline of County Antrim and into County Londonderry, it has spectacular views and many unmissable stopping-off points. Spend the morning in the beautiful Glens of Antrim or explore the Walled Garden at historic Glenarm Castle before heading to the peaceful harbour village of Carnlough (pictured above) for lunch at the Londonderry Arms.
7.Rocks and rope bridges
Continue up the coast to some of Northern Ireland’s most visited sites. First up is Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, daring you to cross over the crashing waves to the fisherman’s island. Then stop at the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ – the enigmatic Giant’s Causeway. Marvel at the geology and delight in the mythology. This part of the world is also Game of Thrones territory and fans can visit a number of filming locations along the way including picturesque Ballintoy Harbour (Iron Islands) and the Dark Hedges (King’s Road).
8. Whiskey and ruins
The Causeway Coastal Route will also lead you to the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland, the Old Bushmills Distillery, where guided tours reveal trade secrets learned over 400 years. Sample the handcrafted golden liquid after the tour, or just stop in and enjoy a whiskey by the open fire. Back on the road, the route passes the impressive ruins of medieval Dunluce Castle standing on the coastal cliffs. Stop off and explore the tumultuous history of the castle through a guided tour or download the Dunluce Castle app.
9. Party in Portrush
If you want to make a night of it, park up in Portrush, dine in one of the town’s excellent restaurants such as The Tides or The Ramore Wine Bar, and then head to the Harbour Bar for an evening of live music. Or continue on to Derry~Londonderry, where the Causeway Coastal Route ends, and enjoy an evening in the thriving Walled City. If all that driving seems too much like hard work, there are many tour companies who will do the driving for you.
10. Head for the hills
If time and energy allows, make for the beautiful Mourne Mountains in County Down for hiking with fabulous views. Tackle the highest summit, Slieve Donard, or follow the less arduous circular routes.
11. Magnificent Mount Stewart
If a more leisurely Sunday is preferred, take a drive down the Ards Peninsula enjoying the beautiful views over peaceful Strangford Lough. Visit the magnificent 18th-century Mount Stewart House and Gardens. A tour of the stately home can be followed by a stroll in the gardens, considered to be among the top 10 in the world.
12. Wildlife and islands
For a fabulous lunch in elegant surroundings, loop around the top of Strangford Lough and head for the Georgian House in Comber. Then drive south to Castle Espie Wetland Centre and get up close to Ireland's largest collection of native and exotic waterbirds, bats and migrant birds while enjoying a woodland stroll. Further south you can leave the main road to explore some of Strangford Lough’s many islands, including Mahee Island where the ruins of fifth-century Nendrum monastery lie.
13. Wine and dine time
Drive across the narrow causeway to tiny Sketrick Island, where Daft Eddy’s bar and restaurant sits behind castle ruins – the perfect spot for a pint with outstanding lough views. Nearby the award-winning Poacher’s Pocket Inn offers top-notch pub grub. Or spoil yourself with a meal in Michelin-rated Balloo House.