Northern Ireland is full of famous landmarks that reveal elements of its rich cultural and natural history.
Tectonic movements started shaping the geographical landscape millions of years ago, creating natural landmarks like the spectacular Giant’s Causeway.
Since then, supernatural beings, fairies, and humans have all left their marks in the form of ancient burial mounds, historical buildings, and even a 350-year-old rope bridge!
Visiting the top attractions in this ancient landscape will not only take your breath away but also leave you with a sense of how Northern Ireland came to be the country we know today.
9 Must-See Natural Landmarks in Northern Ireland
#1 Giant’s Causeway
To the Irish, the Giant’s Causeway is the unofficial 8th wonder of the world and is surrounded by myth and legend. One of Ireland’s most famous and popular landmarks, attracting around a million visitors every year.
According to legend, it was built by giants, hence the name, but scientists suspect it was the result of lava oozing up through cracks in the Earth’s surface, creating 40,000 nearly perfect hexagonal columns.
Regardless of which story you choose to believe, the Giant’s Causeway is a sight to behold and offers one of the best views of the northern coast of Northern Ireland.
#2 Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
You need nerves of steel to tackle the 20-meter trip from Northern Ireland to Carrick Island via the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Suspended 30 meters above the rocks and raging seas of the Irish coastline, the bridge was built to give fishermen access to salmon that passed by the island during the breeding season.
The bridge was built in 1755 and given the name Carrick-a-Rede, which means “The Rock at the End of the Road”.
Once you’ve successfully arrived on Carrick Island, you’ll be treated to some breathtaking views that, on a clear day, reveal the Scottish Isles languishing in the distance.
#3 The Mourne Mountains
Hikers and climbers flock to the Mourne Mountains to test their mettle against the highest peaks in Northern Ireland.
Fortunately, you don’t have to climb the 850-meter-high Slieve Donard to enjoy the beauty and diversity of this section of County Down. Meandering through the foothills will reveal all sorts of wonders, along with spectacular views of both mountains and coast.
#4 The Dark Hedges
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you may recognize the Dark Hedges from the second series when Arya Stark fled from King’s Landing, but it became famous long before that.
The beech trees that line Bregagh Road were planted in the 18th century by the Stuart family, who owned nearby Gracehill House. The trees were designed to impress visitors and have certainly achieved their goal.
One of the most photographed places in Northern Ireland, the Dark Hedges is particularly atmospheric in the mist and fog of early autumn, when the ghost of the Grey Lady is said to drift between the ancient gnarled trees.
#5 The Cushendun Caves
The Cushendun Caves are one of Ireland’s oldest attractions, having formed around 400 million years ago!
Over time, crashing waves have eaten away at the rocks on the southern end of Cushendun Beach, creating the cavernous formations that caught the eye of the creators of the Game of Thrones.
The Cushednen Caves appear in several scenes of the iconic series, and many fans flock to the area to see the place where Jamie Lannister and Euron Greyjoy battle to the death.
#6 The Cave Hill Country Park
Wherever you go in Belfast, in the distance is the unmistakable outline of the iconic Cave Hill. The hill itself features several cliffs and caves, including a tall cliff called Napoleon’s Nose because it resembles the profile of the French Emperor, Napoleon.
The park is home to numerous sites of archeological interest, including ancient cairns and Stone Age ring forts. The stone throne that once stood at McArt’s Fort at the top of the hill was destroyed by “anti-Irish vandals” in 1896, but sections of the earth walls still remain.
#7 The Hill of Tara
Situated in the Boyne Valley, the Hill of Tara is the Irish equivalent of England’s Stonehenge. It lies at the heart of Irish culture, having been used as a meeting place and burial site for over 5,000 years.
The High Kings of Ireland were said to live on the hill and would also use the Lia Fáil, or Stone of Destiny, to announce their status as the rightful king of Ireland.
Before that, the ancient Irish viewed the Hill of Tara as a gateway for gods and supernatural beings to travel from their underground home to the mortal world.
#8 The Cliffs of Moher
One of the most popular attractions on the west coast of Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher offers breathtaking views over the Atlantic coast. On a clear day, you can see as far as the Aran Islands, although the cliffs are often shrouded in an atmospheric mist.
Millions of people visit the Cliffs of Moher every year to experience their rugged beauty and catch a glimpse of the puffins that nest on the cliff face.
Like many of Ireland’s natural landmarks, the Cliffs of Moher have appeared in several movies, including Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince and The Princess Bride.
#9 The Slemish Mountain
The Slemish mountain only stands around 437 meters high, but its notoriety comes from its cultural associations rather than its physical prowess. It’s believed that St Patrick worked on the mountain as a shepherd after he was brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16.
During his time there, St Patrick prayed constantly, hoping to combat his loneliness. It was allegedly on the Slemish Mountain that St Patrick found his faith, although it was some years before he returned to Ireland to share his beliefs.
7 Historical Landmarks and Buildings in Northern Ireland
#1 Dunluce Castle
The ruins of Dunluce Castle stand precariously on a promontory in County Antrim, not far from the Giant’s Causeway. The first castle was established there in the 13th century, but the present structure was only built several centuries later.
Once the home of the MacDonell clan, Dunluce Castle was more of a palace than a fortress, although it proved effective against numerous sieges and feuds.
Wind and storms eventually weakened the structure, causing a part of the castle to crumble into the sea in 1639. Since then, only the ruins have remained, and they fall foul of the natural elements any day now.
#2 Belfast Castle
Belfast Castle stands in the shadow of Cave Hill and enjoys similarly spectacular views over the city. A castle has stood in this location since the 12th century, although the present building was only completed in 1870. It was once home to the influential Donegall family but is now open to the public and is a popular wedding venue.
#3 The Bushmills Distillery
The Old Bushmills Distillery is an unmistakable landmark and is also a testament to a long tradition of distilling the finest Irish whiskey. Although the distillery itself was only built in 1885, the license for making whiskey was issued in 1608.
The distillery produces triple-distilled whiskeys made using local barley and water from the nearby River Bush.
Interested to learn more about Northern Irish Whisky? Consider visiting these 8 Northern Irish Whisky distilleries.
#4 Belfast City Hall
Belfast City Hall marks the center of the city and provides a useful landmark for people like me who lack a coherent sense of direction! This iconic building was constructed in 1906 to celebrate its new city status.
#5 The Titanic Belfast
One of Ireland’s fastest-growing tourist attractions, the Titanic Belfast is built on a 185-acre site that was once home to the Harland and Wolff shipyard, where the iconic Titanic was built.
This modern landmark houses the largest museum in the world dedicated solely to the history of the Titanic. Its exhibitions take you from its conception in the 1900s to its tragic demise off the coast of Greenland in 1912.
The Titanic Belfast’s distinctive silhouette resembles a ship’s bow and was inspired by the ships built on the ground where it now stands.
#6 The Ulster Museum
From the outside, the Ulster Museum is a curious mix of old Belfast brick and smooth grey concrete – a combination that reflects the museum’s constantly evolving role in Irish society. Inside you’ll discover a combination of art, history, and natural science collections that shed light on Ireland’s past and try to make sense of its present and future. If you are into museums, you can also check out our article about free museums in Dublin.
#7 The Derry Walls
The walls enclosing the city of Londonderry have been protecting its inhabitants since the early 17th century when Protestant settlers from England and Scotland feared attacks from Irish raiders.
8 Other Landmarks and Local Attractions in Northern Ireland
#1 St. George’s Market, Belfast
This covered Victorian market hasn’t changed much since it was built in the 1890s and continues to win awards for its high-quality produce and buzzing atmosphere. It’s been the hub of local arts and crafts for generations and is a great place to find specialty foods, listen to live music and soak up the city’s atmosphere.
#2 The Belfast Murals
There are hundreds of murals decorating walls and buildings around Belfast, giving visitors a glimpse of some of the political and religious struggles that have shaped the country. There are also murals commemorating significant historical events, like the Great Famine, while others incorporate figures from Ireland’s rich mythology.
#3 The Cathedral Quarter, Belfast
The Cathedral Quarter is the place to be if you’re looking for vibrant nightlife, quirky cafes, and local musical talent. Traditionally the center of the city’s trade district, the area features many historical buildings and quaint cobbled streets.
#4 The Causeway Coastal Route
The Causeway Coastal Route runs between Belfast and Londonderry, following the rugged coastline and taking you past some of Northern Ireland’s most famous landmarks.
If you start in the bustling city of Belfast, you can visit some of the country’s most important cultural landmarks before heading north towards the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.
The route ends in the walled city of Londonderry, where you can visit the ancient walls and soak up the cosmopolitan atmosphere.
#5 The Game of Thrones Filming Locations
The Game of Thrones captured people’s hearts and imaginations with its complex characters and intriguing plots. The stunning landscapes featured in the series so inspired viewers that many have traveled around the world, seeking out the locations featured in their favorite scenes.
Many of these are in Northern Ireland, where the rugged coastline and ancient castles provided the ideal setting for the larger-than-life characters.
Go hunting for White Walkers in Tollymore Forest Park, or visit the Greyjoys in the Iron Islands of Ballintoy Harbour. All you need is a map and a bit of imagination.
#6 The Armagh Planetarium
The Armagh Observatory and Planetarium opened in 1968 and is the best place to view the night skies and even catch a glimpse of the northern lights.
#7 The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum
This living history museum takes you back 100 years to rural Ireland, bringing to life the traditions that shaped the heritage of our ancestors.
#8 The Botanic Gardens, Belfast
Situated in the Queen’s Quarter of Belfast, the botanic garden is a 28-acre public park and home to both the Ulster Museum and the Palm House.
Before You Go
Wherever you go in Northern Ireland, you’ll be delighted by rugged landscapes, areas of outstanding natural beauty, and architectural surprises.
Whether you choose to walk in the footsteps of giants with a trip to Giant’s Causeway or discover the complete history of the Titanic at Titanic Belfast, Northern Ireland’s most famous landmarks will inspire in you a sense of the country’s complex history and geographical evolution.
I did a whistlestop tour of Belfast during COVID-19 and still regret not having more time to explore the local landmarks and see some of the locations made famous by the series Game of Thrones.
There’s so much to see and so much culture to soak up that you need several days to appreciate all that Belfast has to offer before you even contemplate taking on the rest of Northern Ireland. If you enjoyed this article, you might also like our article about 14 famous landmarks in Ireland.
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"Like many so-called Brits, I have a bit of Irish and a bit of Scottish in my blood, which is possibly where the red hair comes from. I’ve been fascinated by the history of Ireland for years, since I discovered the story of the Irish Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley.