Enjoy a packed calendar from January to December
There isn’t just one reason – or season – visitors should explore Northern Ireland. There are always wonders to discover; a constantly evolving selection of delights – from the Stars & Stones Experience at OM Dark Sky Observatory to the opening of the new Game of Thrones Studio Tour – to keep you entertained. Here are seven reasons to plan your visit today.
White Park Bay, Portstewart Strand, Benone, White Rocks… The famous beaches of the Causeway Coast will take your breath away. These family-friendly stretches don’t need the summer sun to attract the crowds – or the surfers. On Christmas Day expect to see children heading for the giant dune at White Rocks for an epic sledging session.
Top tip: Venture round to the east Antrim coast to places like Murlough Bay and Ballygally for a quieter beach experience. Let the fine dry sand crumble between your toes as you soak up the views.
The Northern Irish embrace an infectious mix of lyrical storytelling and rousing melodies in their music. No wonder then that Belfast has recently been named as a UNESCO City of Music – the first city on the island of Ireland to be recognised. And that celebration of all things musical stretches far beyond the capital. In April the City of Derry jazz festival embraces the city’s rich musical heritage, and then later in the year a mixture of new talent and established names come together for The Atlantic Sessions in Portrush. There is also the marvellous Open House Festival in Bangor; in 2019 it featured 163 events in 46 venues, over 31 consecutive days.
Top tip: Book a trip on one of the Belfast Traditional Music Trail guided tours to really immerse yourself in the city’s musical history.
Be it crafts, food or furniture, Northern Ireland’s artisans are always making something. Places like the Designerie in Bushmills and Belfast’s Vault Artist Studios are setting up creative hubs for some of the country’s best talent and a buzz is building. Zara McLaughlin’s ceramics are so popular now that they sell out almost immediately and people drive halfway across the country for cheese toasties from the legendary food truck Mini Maegden (the ladies are opening a new venture on the north coast this February, so watch their Instagram). We recommend trying, buying and then taking home as much as you can fit in your luggage.
Top tip: Try one of the many short courses offered by creatives all year round, such as Zoe Conville’s floral design or Frankie Creith’s painting workshops. That way you’re taking the experience home with you as well.
The outdoors life
The bays, forests and loughs provide the perfect backdrop for many of the outdoor activities that are so popular with the Northern Irish all year round. Cyclists love the hills and valleys of the country roads no matter the season, and surfing and mountain biking are almost national pastimes. For hikers, there’s the many mountains and trails, the loughs are an ideal place to learn to kayak, and coasteering and SUPing have both become a massive draw for tourists.
Top tip: Try out one of the latest outdoor trends while you’re here. Basalt Six’s Red Shark experience invites you to cycle on water and gives a truly unique view of the Northern Irish coastline. Bring your sense of adventure and have a go!
There’s nothing quite like a good drink to bring on the elusive sense of fun and well-being otherwise known as the craic – and Northern Ireland has plenty of it on tap. Not only does the country produce some of the best whiskey in the world – step up Bushmills – but there are also some stellar gin distilleries to sample too. Boatyard, Jawbox and Shortcross are all fan favourites, with Ninth Wave the world’s most awarded gin in 2020.
Top tip: Head to Belfast’s old brewing quarter to seek out the city’s first brewpub. At the Deer’s Head you can witness the Bells Brewery in action while trying flights at the bar. Want to support a local cooperative? Then Boundary Brewery’s IPA and stout collection is definitely worth a look.
Leatherback turtles in the summer, snow buntings in winter and red squirrels, killer whales, dolphins and otters all year round. It pays to keep alert when venturing through the Northern Irish countryside and round its coast. We recommend packing your binoculars when you visit.
Top tip: If you want to brag to your friends about seeing something truly special, travel to Rathlin to try and spot the elusive golden hare. These beautiful animals only live on the island and there are never more than five in existence at one time. If you’re there in summer, head down to the RSPB lighthouse as well. More than 250,000 seabirds flock to the cliffs to breed. Keep an eye out for the puffins.
And last, but not least, the people
It comes as no surprise to locals, but Belfast has just been voted the friendliest city in the UK by Condé Nast Traveller – and in general the Northern Irish do love a chat. Just accept that everything will take a little longer and embrace the fun. You’ll be welcomed with open arms.
Just some of the events to mark in your calendar for 2022
January: The Stars & Stones Experience at OM Dark Sky Observatory
February: The Game of Thrones Studio Tour opens
March: Ancient Sounds of Ireland, Create Calm Holistic Yoga Retreat
April: City of Derry Jazz Festival
May: North West 200, Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival
June: Bushmills Salmon & Whiskey Festival
July: Happy Days Samuel Beckett Festival, Belfast Whiskey Week
August: Auld Lammas Fair
September – The Armagh Food and Cider Festival
October: Belfast International Arts Festival, Taste Causeway, Glens Storytelling Festival, Halloween in Derry~Londonderry
November: The Atlantic Sessions, Belfast Film Festival, CS Lewis Festival
December: The Glenarm Christmas Experience, Belfast Christmas Market, The Vault’s Annual Makers Market
Visit the Tourism Ireland Trade site here and for more Northern Ireland travel ideas and inspiration visit: Northern Ireland: embrace a giant spirit | Ireland.com
Always check the latest travel and public health advice.