Planning out a Northern Ireland itinerary is an excellent option for those who want to see more of this area than a simple day trip along the Causeway Coastal Route or a day or two exploring Belfast.
If you have 3, 4 or 5 days to dedicate to exploring Northern Ireland, you can see a lot of the country and experience some of the island of Ireland’s most incredible scenery and learn about the heartbreaking recent history.
If you’re planning on visiting Northern Ireland and are curious about what to see and do here, this route will help you map out up to five days of exploring this corner of the United Kingdom.
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How Many Days in Northern Ireland?
Before jumping into this route, you’re likely wondering how many days to spend in Northern Ireland. This can really depend on what kind of trip you’re after, however, if you’re interested in spending time in the city along with seeing the iconic natural sites, then plan to spend at least 3 days in Northern Ireland.
With 3 days, you will have the time to explore Belfast and learn about that city while also having time to get to take in the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway and some of the other highlights of the Antrim Coast.
However, if you have 4 days in Northern Ireland, you will have more time to take your time on the Causeway Coast and to spend time at attractions other than the Giant’s Causeway.
For those who want quite a holistic experience, then plan to spend 5 days. This will allow you to add on a visit to the city of Derry and learn about the history here.
Getting To & Around Northern Ireland
There are a range of options available for you when it comes to arriving in Northern Ireland. First and foremost, Belfast is home to its own international airport that connects it to a number of destinations within the UK, Europe and further afield.
Though flying into Belfast is certainly an option, you will find that there are far more flight options going into Dublin airport. Dublin is located only about a 2-hour drive from Belfast and there are also lots of stops along the way. The two cities are also well-connected by bus or train.
It’s worth noting that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and it is likely you won’t even notice that you’ve crossed. However, if you are driving, keep in mind that speed limits in Northern Ireland are listed in miles per hour while they’re listed in kilometres per hour in the republic.
Once in Northern Ireland, you’ll be wondering how to get around whilst there. In Belfast and Derry, you can certainly plan to get around on foot and via public transport – in fact, it’s probably easier than planning on driving.
Those venturing outside of the cities have a couple of options. The easiest and most convenient option to get around is by having your own vehicle as it will give you the flexibility to visit where you want when you want without having to reckon with bus timetables and routes. Doing a Northern Ireland road trip is easygoing, fun and incredibly scenic and generally the most recommended option.
And if you’ve decided that a Northern Ireland road trip itinerary is the choice for you, you can browse car hire options on Rentalcars.com to compare prices across major companies.
However, you can also get around regional Northern Ireland by bus and train, where applicable. For instance, there is a regional bus system connecting the sites along the coastline so it is possible to travel independently in this area even if you don’t drive.
3, 4 or 5 Days in Northern Ireland Itinerary
Without further ado, here is how to spend 3 to 5 days exploring Northern Ireland. This route is meant to be built upon each day so if you’re only seeing Northern Ireland in 3 days, then plan to spend the first 2 in Belfast before heading onto the Causeway Coast. And if you’re spending 4 days, it’s best to leave a visit to Derry for another time.
Day 1 – Belfast
Begin your time in Northern Ireland in the capital city of Belfast. Though this city has a bit of a dark reputation and something of a rough-around-the-edges vibe, it’s very much worth exploring and it has a lot to offer visitors – especially for those interested in learning more about its recent history.
On your first day in Belfast, make sure to learn as much about the history of the city as possible by embarking on a black cab tour. On these tours, you can learn about the Troubles from knowledgeable guides and also get a good feel for the geography of this divided city.
After your tour, head to Belfast City Hall and then visit the historic Crumlin Road Gaol before rounding out your day.
Where to Stay in Belfast
The Warren Belfast – Those looking for luxury will love this plush, centrally-located hotel in the heart of Belfast. They have several luxe rooms to choose from, great amenities, breakfast each morning and an unbeatable location in the Queen’s Quarter
Central Belfast Apartments: Citygate – If you’re looking for a self-catering option while visiting Belfast, then these apartments are the perfect choice. Centrally located, they have many fully-furnished flats available along with free parking for guests.
Vagabonds – Budget and solo travellers will love this cool, highly-rated hostel in Belfast. Offering both private rooms and dorms, there are also clean facilities and great common areas making it easy to meet other travellers.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Belfast hotels!
Day 2 – Belfast
On day 2, it’s time to visit one of the Northern Irish capital’s top museums – the Titanic Belfast. The infamous ocean liner was actually constructed in Belfast before it embarked on its fateful 1912 journey across the Atlantic.
This iceberg-shaped museum will take you through a range of exhibits explaining all there is to know about the Titanic and the history surrounding both the construction of the ship itself and also some information about the crash and its repercussions. It’s truly a great experience to have while in Belfast. You can book tickets in advance here.
Spend the rest of your day in Belfast exploring some of the sites that you didn’t make it to the first day. For instance, you can grab a bit to eat at St George’s Market, get the views from the Victoria Square Dome or even head to CS Lewis Square to take in some statues dedicated to the late children’s author and theologian.
Day 3 – Causeway Coast
On day 3 of this trip, it’s time to head out of the city and make your way to the north of the country – to the iconic Causeway Coast. We highly recommend leaving Belfast as early as possible to make it to the Giant’s Causeway before the tour buses arrive – it takes about an hour to drive here from the capital.
The Giant’s Causeway is the name for a collection of roughly 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns that were likely formed as part of an ancient volcanic eruption.
However, in Irish myth, it is said to have been formed when an Irish giant built a causeway in order to fight a Scottish giant — there are similar rock formations on the island of Staffa just off the Hebridean Isle of Mull in Scotland.
Note that the Causeway is free to enter, however, it is not free to park at the visitor’s centre or go inside unless you’ve paid for that. If you’re up for a bit of a (beautiful) walk, we recommend parking at the Salmon Rock Beach car park in the town of Portballintrae and walking to the Giant’s Causeway – that way you can visit entirely for free!
Plan to spend a couple of hours at the Giant’s Causeway as there is more here than just the rock formations. Take the time to walk on all of the trails and really take in the views of this gorgeous place. It’s a truly spectacular experience and an essential inclusion on any Northern Ireland road trip itinerary.
After visiting the Giant’s Causeway, you can take the time to take in some other sites on the Northern Ireland Coast. Head over to the town of Bushmills and tour the Bushmills distillery. You can also make your way over to some viewpoints and maybe even go on a few more walks.
If you’re only spending 3 days in Northern Ireland and want to maximise your time here, you can take in some of the other sites in this area, such as the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, Dunluce Castle and the Dark Hedges. However, if you are planning a 4- or 5-day itinerary, then you can take your time more at go at a slower pace.
End your day in the town of Portrush. This makes a great base in the area and the town itself is a popular seaside resort complete with its own amusement park and lovely beach. There are also plenty of pubs and restaurants to unwind in at the end of the day with a pint of Guinness and a good meal.
Where to Stay on the Causeway Coast
Anvershiel House – Located in the town of Portrush, this bed and breakfast is an excellent mid-range option for those exploring this part of Northern Ireland. They offer several clean and bright rooms, an excellent breakfast available in the mornings, and a location within walking distance of the beach and town centre.
Elephant Rock Hotel – Those looking for a luxury hotel while on the Causeway Coast will love this chic hotel in Portrush. Centrally located, they have a range of lovely rooms to choose from, an on-site restaurant and bar along with plenty of other great amenities.
Causeway Hotel – If you’d like to stay within a stone’s throw of the Giant’s Causeway and see it without the tour buses, then this hotel is a great option. Located adjacent to the visitor’s centre, booking a night here will also grant you free entry to the centre along with plenty of other perks.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Causeway Coast hotels!
Day 4 – Causeway Coast
Those who have more time to devote to the Causeway Coast will be energised to hit the road early and start exploring again.
Start your day by touring the lovely and striking Dunluce Castle. This ruined castle is perched on striking cliffs not far at all from the town of Portrush and it makes for an excellent place to visit.
Next, you can make your way over to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. This place was used as a filming location for the HBO series Game of Thrones and it is now very popular amongst visitors – so make sure to book your tickets online in advance and also to arrive relatively early if you want to beat the crowds.
You can spend a fair amount of time hiking around here and it’s worth doing this on your second day so that you don’t feel rushed.
Of course, no visit to this area of Northern Ireland is complete without heading to the Dark Hedges. Again, this was used as a filming location for Game of Thrones and it is an incredibly popular tourist attraction. It’s simply a country laneway that is lined with intertwining trees.
Keep in mind that it is definitely a lot more beautiful in the late spring and summertime when there are leaves on the trees and it can seem a bit lacklustre in the winter to about mid-May.
Day 5 – Derry
If you’ve got five days to devote to your Northern Ireland road trip, then make sure not to miss the city of Derry (Londonderry). As Northern Ireland’s second-largest city, Derry can be overlooked by visitors here, however, it has a lot to offer visitors and can provide important cultural context.
Though the city has been popularised as a destination because of the sitcom Derry Girls (you can even tour filming locations), it doesn’t get the same amount of attention as Belfast.
Derry is a small city and you can certainly take in the majority of the sites and points of interest within the confines of a day. Take the time to walk the city walls – Derry is, in fact, the only walled city in Ireland and this is a great thing to do here.
Of course, no visit to Derry is really complete without taking the time to learn about the city’s more recent history and what life was like during the Troubles. You can visit the Bloody Sunday memorial to learn more about the 1972 massacre and you can also opt to take a walking tour of the Bogside murals with a knowledgeable local guide.
Those who want to learn even more about the city’s history will also find the Free Derry Museum interesting.
Another top Derry attraction is the Peace Bridge. The pedestrianised bridge connects the majority Unionist east side of the city to the majority Republican west side of the city and was meant to be an emblem of bridging the gap of a centuries-long political divide.
Have More Time?
If you have more time after this Northern Ireland itinerary, why not continue on from Derry into the Republic and visit County Donegal?
If you’re coming from Northern Ireland and only have a day, then driving the Inishowen 100 is an excellent way to explore this part of northwestern Ireland. However, you could easily spend more time exploring this area, as well.
You can reach the town of Muff in County Donegal in about 15 minutes or you can drive north and take the ferry across Lough Foyle to the town of Greencastle. The latter option would also give you the opportunity to make a stop at Mussenden Temple.
For those who want to tour more of the Emerald Isle, then consider heading further south and enjoying some of (or the entirety of) the Wild Atlantic Way. County Donegal is absolutely gorgeous, but other highlights include Benbulben in County Sligo, Achill Island in County Mayo, Connemara in County Galway and more.
When planning a trip to Northern Ireland, you may not realise just how much this small country has to offer visitors. From vibrant and historic cities to some of the most spectacular natural scenery there is to offer in this world, spending a few days exploring Northern Ireland is never a bad idea.
Are you planning to visit Northern Ireland? Have any questions about this route? Let us know in the comments!