The past year has been a learning curve for all of us and as society opens up again, we are more aware of the little things in life — and there seems to be a greater appreciation for experiencing the beauty and culture on our own doorsteps rather than always dreaming of escaping to foreign climes.
So, as we excitedly pack our bags for weekend breaks, visits to family and friends, or even days out closer to home, we have compiled a list of a few attractions which offer more than the obligatory scenic view.
Finnebrogue Woods just outside Downpatrick has something for all the family — whether you are simply looking to escape the busyness of the city for a few hours, learn some survival skills which may come in handy at some point in the future or enjoy a bit of adventure.
Located just 40 minutes from Belfast, visitors can enjoy an authentic wilderness experience or take things a step further by signing up for bushcraft skills, foraging and an overnight stay in the woods.
Created and led by ‘Bushman’ Rob Hill, participants can learn how to make a fire, build a shelter, and identify wild food and fauna. The overnight stay will involve cooking meals over a campfire, reconnecting with nature, watching the sun set and sleeping either under the stars in a hammock or closer to the sky in a tree tent.
The Bushcraft Day experience costs £60 for adults and £30 for children (who must be accompanied by an adult). A ‘Wild night in the Woods’ costs £120 for adults and £80 for children (age 7+).
We can’t forget…
The Game of Thrones experience is a must for anyone who is a fan of the show and there are several options available across Northern Ireland. Tour guides will have been on the show as extras so are well-placed to share inside information on the film locations and behind the scenes knowledge.
Locations include the Winterfell Trek from Belfast, Iron Islands, Giants Causeway and Rope Bridge, also starting from Belfast. If you fancy the high life, an aerial tour across stunning filming locations may well be the experience of a lifetime. Fly like a dragon over Portstewart Strand (Coast of Dorne), Binevenagh (Dothraki Grasslands) and many more.
The Northern Ireland Game of Thrones Territory Filming Locations Map is available in six languages and can help plan your journey with detailed information on all 26 filming locations and the 10 Doors of Thrones, carved from the Kingsroad trees that were felled in a storm.
There’s even a dedicated walking trail throughout Belfast, dotted along the Maritime Mile plus, the first of its kind Game of Thrones Studio Tour, just outside Banbridge, will open its gates for visitors later this year. It will comprise of breath-taking imagery, captivating sets, original props and costumes, and other behind-the-scenes items from the series.
Drink in a masterclass
Hinch Distillery at Ballynahinch, Co Down, has just opened its booking system for its 30,000sq ft distillery tours where trained guides will bring visitors on an interactive journey which gives insight into the unique distilling process behind its Hinch whiskeys and Ninth Wave gin, tastings and the chance to make your own gin.
The inaugural gin tour will start on August 1, with whiskey tours (lasting approximately one hour) available during this month and beyond. The Classic Whiskey Tour (£18) concludes with a duo of whiskey tastings while the Premium Whiskey Tour (£27) will incorporate a tasting of four Hinch whiskeys. Gin Tours last 1.5 hours and cost £45 including a 50cl bottle of a personally blended gin to take home. Additional bottles can also be ordered for gifting.
And anyone feeling peckish after the tour can visit the Hinch Brasserie restaurant, where head chef Leo Small serves up a menu of Irish fusion dishes.
More info on hinchdistillery.com
The Old Bushmills Distillery in Antrim may be dedicated to producing a drink aimed wholly at adults, but the distillery tour is something all the family will enjoy. Following the process involved in making the famous tipple, from beginning to end, is a fascinating experience and involves walking through the distillery and learning the step-by-step process.
It culminates in the obligatory tasting in the on-site bar which will delight whiskey lovers, but there are also plenty of soft drink options for younger family members and those choosing not to imbibe.
For the food lovers
Taste and Tour NI, Belfast is just the experience for any food lovers out there and as the island of Ireland has long been known for exceptional quality of food, this is not likely to disappoint — particularly as nothing takes you to the heart of a place like its food and experiencing it through local eyes, is even better.
Taste and Tour NI promises to take you ‘off the eaten’ track on a fun and four-hour walk-through Belfast’s city centre in the company of a very knowledgeable local guide to experience the true flavours of the city.
Causeway Foodie Tours on the Causeway Coast is another must for food lovers, where Wendy Gallagher offers a range of experiences to showcase the best of the region’s artisan produce, including the unique ‘Catch and Sea’ tour.
This will also appeal to anyone looking for a bit of adventure as it involves setting sail at dawn, to catch a glimpse of the extraordinary Causeway coastline from a new angle and catch your own breakfast — after working up an appetite on the boat, your haul will then be expertly cooked for you back on dry land.
Aunt Sandra’s is set in the heart of east Belfast on the Castlereagh Road and is a must for anyone with children or indeed with a sweet tooth of their own. Established in 1953, the shop has been making handmade treats ever since and also offers candy and chocolate workshops which have the added bonus of the self-satisfaction which comes from making something and the reward of eating it afterwards.
The Tayto Factory at Tandragee Castle, Tandragee, Co Armagh, is a great day out for all the family. The factory is over 500 years old and has a long and colourful history. It was taken over by the Duke of Manchester in the 1800’s and then in 1955, it was bought by local businessman Thomas Hutchinson, who decided to make a new-fangled product called crisps and so the humble bag of Tayto was born. Today, The Visitor Experience, allows crisp lovers to meet Mr Tayto and see how the famous snack is made — tours are currently suspended because of Covid but we guarantee that visitors will be impressed when they restart.
The Enniskillen Taste Experience in Co Fermanagh is a unique guided walking tour as it involves taking refreshing pit-stops along the way to sample seasonal fare from local food producers and businesses. Among them, Joe the Baker’s sourdough, Pat O’ Doherty’s famous black bacon, Tickety Moo Ice Cream, Boatyard Gin, Sharon’s mouth-watering scones and Innishmacsaint beer.