A holiday at home is the only option for many this year, but you do not need to book a week off to enjoy a change of scenery.
Luckily for us, there are plenty of amazing destinations for a road trip right on our doorsteps, with Northern Ireland’s natural beauty, historic stately homes and rugged landscape providing the perfect backdrop.
Pack up the kids or a few friends and take the car on a day away to enjoy all the benefits of a mini-break without having to compete for an Airbnb or holiday rental. There is something for everyone in our list of the 10 best destinations for a Northern Ireland roadtrip.
One of only two World Heritage Sites in Northern Ireland, the majesty of the Giant’s Causeway isn’t exactly a secret, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit.
It consists of up to 40,000 black basalt columns jutting out into the sea and never fails to have the wow factor when it comes into view, whether you have just rounded the corner from the visitor centre (£13 per adult or £32.50 per family, parking available) or parked for free in Portballintrae and walked the stunning coastal headland route, starting on Runkerry beach. Comfortable shoes are required for this route. With picnic benches at regular intervals, there’s plenty of space to stop for lunch. You could also visit the nearby Mini Maegden cheese toastie van or try the Causeway Hotel Restaurant and Bar.
The highest and most dramatic mountain range in Northern Ireland features a wide network of paths and tracks. While it might seem daunting for the uninitiated, we have all had plenty of walking practice in lockdown, so it is definitely worth a go. Having been voted the Best Walking Destination by WalkNI, there are amazing opportunities for exploration whatever your ability, but don’t forget to wear suitable clothes.
Set off from Donard car park in Newcastle. If a packed lunch isn’t your thing, you could always try the Sea Salt Cafe on the Central Promenade to refuel with a coffee, brunch or sandwich while giving your weary feet a rest. There is also the Carrick Cottage Cafe in Annalong, which has a front-row seat to the beautiful landscape, along with freshly baked scones and cakes.
Northern Ireland’s only inhabited island is gradually reopening, and it might provide the best option for travel without going too far this summer. It’s home to a large seabird colony, as well as the community living on the island. The popular Rathlin ferry service also provides the perfect opportunity to see other forms of wildlife and explore the island.
Booking is essential to secure your place on the ferry. Call 02820769299 or email email@example.com.
On the island, the Nine Glens Walking Tour is back up and running, as is the Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre, where you will get a great view of tens of thousands of birds. For hospitality, McCuaig’s bar is always popular. While it is currently unable to serve food, visitors can bring their own lunch to enjoy with a pint.
Mussenden Temple and Dunluce Castle
The stunning landscape of Downhill Demesne provides a breathtaking backdrop for Mussenden Temple and Dunluce Castle, with magnificent clifftop walks providing the perfect vantage point of the rugged landscape. There is even the chance of spotting dolphins and whales as you look down on Downhill Beach. This National Trust property has plenty of nearby car parking at Lion’s Gate which can be paid for by phone.
Mussenden Temple is just a stone’s throw from Benone and the aforementioned Downhill beaches. You could head to Portstewart or Portrush for an ice cream after a day out. If you want to stay closer to your destination, Al’s Coffee or Temple Cove couldn’t be closer to hand, or visit Coffee Hut in Castlerock for sandwiches, soups, traybakes and scones, as well as delicious coffee, all coming with a spectacular view.
Seamus Heaney HomePlace
HomePlace has now reopened. It improved its already impressive offering during the long months of lockdown with a new library and digital archive. If the literary scene isn’t your thing, the centre has proved very popular with visitors of all interests. It is situated in beautiful surroundings in the heart of Bellaghy in Londonderry. It is the place and the people who so inspired the great poet, something which is reflected in the personal stories and artefacts, as well as photographs, video recordings and stories. It’s a special treat to hear the voice of the poet himself reading his own words.
HomePlace also has a sensory garden and crafting available for children. You can buy tickets via the website at £7 per adult or £19 for a family. There is a cafe providing meals, coffee and cake. Parking is also available.
It would be easy to spend a week around the waterways of Fermanagh, but for a day trip, why not try a canoe to explore some 150 islands? Between the monastic ruins on Devenish Island and the early Christian carvings on White Island, there is no shortage of things to see.
The Marble Arch Caves are also nearby, with tickets available through the website at a cost of £10 per adult for a tour and £25 for a family of four. There is also car parking and a cafe.
Another option is the mansion at Florence Court, formerly home of Earls of Enniskillen, the Cole family, which reopens for guided tours on today. The parkland and gardens are already open to visitors. Tickets are £8 for an adult of £20 for a family. You can find the famous Florence Court Yew, which is reputedly the parent of all Irish yew trees.
Boasting spectacular views of Strangford Lough, Castle Ward had a facelift, including new pathways and more accessible parking, during lockdown. It is now welcoming visitors again. The shore trail, woodland and adventure play areas are always a popular choice for families. Many visitors are drawn to the National Trust property because it was used as the location for Winterfell in Game of Thrones.
Parts of the estate, including the shore car park, will be closed between June 4 and 18 and fully closed to the public on June 15 as filming takes place. Every day except the 15th, the house, shop and trails will remain open. Tickets are £10 per adult or £15 for an adult and two children. The tearoom serves hot drinks, takeaway snacks, sandwiches and ice-cream. It is recommended to book tickets before you visit.
Ulster American Folk Park
The Ulster American Folk Park reopened on May 25, along with the Ulster Museum and the Ulster Transport Museum. We will have to wait a bit longer for the Ulster Folk Museum to reopen on June 12, but until then, visitors can take a journey back in time to the Ulster of old and the new world.
There is no time limit for a visit to the the open-air museum outside Omagh, which features thatched cottages and a full-scale emigrant ship, as well as American log cabins. For food and snacks, the Loaf cafe is open during set hours hours and offers a selection of light bites and refreshments, but with reduced capacity and social distancing measures in place. Tickets cost £8.66 per adult or £24.05 for two adults and three children.
Hill of The O’Neill and Ranfurly House
The Hill of The O’Neill in Dungannon was most recently the backdrop for Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill’s Covid press conferences, but as a former key stronghold of the O’Neill dynasty, it is also one of the most important places in the history of Ireland. The centre has a multimedia exhibition on the hill’s importance.
Staff at Ranfurly House have gone to great lengths to create a safe and comfortable environment for their visitors. They ask that all tickets be booked in advance by calling 02887728600 or through their website. Parking is available in a number of town centre car parks and there’s a coffee shop on site. Tours are £3.50 per adult or £2.50 for a concession ticket.
The largest freshwater lake in the British Isles, Lough Neagh is said to have been formed by the mythical giant Finn MacCool. Visit the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre at Oxford Island, which is based on the south-eastern shore, for tourist information, bird-watching facilities, woodland, ponds, wildflower meadows and picnic and play areas, plus other facilities. On a good day, it is hard to find a better location for a day out.
There is also the Loughside Cafe, or you could try Made in Antrim at Antrim Lough Shore Park, where you can find breakfast baps, bao buns, tacos and loaded fries. With car parking provided, it’s a great base from which to explore Antrim Castle Gardens.
Check out Saturday’s Weekend magazine in the Belfast Telegraph for 50 events that will keep you entertained through the summer.