About The Best of Northern Ireland
Rolling hills, rugged coastlines, unspoilt landscapes and vibrant cities are yours to discover on this comprehensive fly drive of Northern Ireland.
Activity code: NIFD03
Duration: 13 days
This fairly leisurely fly drive allows you to explore the varied landscapes and history of Northern Ireland: the North Antrim coast, home to the Giant's Causeway, the picturesque Glens of Antrim and some magnificent coastal views; Derry~Londonderry, Northern Ireland's second city and the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland; Upper & Lower Lough Erne in County Fermanagh; the gentle rolling hills of rural Tyrone; Armagh and its connections to St Patrick; County Down with its stately homes, Mourne Mountains, forest parks and Strangford Lough; Belfast, its vibrant capital.
If you would like to spend longer, or reduce the time, at each destination please let us know and we can adjust this accordingly.
Arrive into Belfast Airport (Belfast International or George Best Belfast City Airport) in the morning, pick up your hire car and drive up to Larne to join the world-famous Causeway Coastal Route, voted the Number One Region in the World to visit by Lonely Planet in 2018.
Enjoy the expanse of sea views as you wend your way past the stunning Glens of Antrim, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, up to the north coast. Depending on time you might like to stop off for a walk at Glenariff or perhaps pop into the characterful village of Cushendun, which was designed for Lord Cushendun in the style of a Cornish village by the architect Clough Williams-Ellis.
Your home for the next three nights will be the Bayview Hotel in Portballintrae, an excellent base from which to explore the North Antrim Coast.
Today is at leisure so you may wish to visit the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland's only UNESCO World Heritage site. Plenty of walking opportunities here and an interesting and comprehensive visitor centre. Learn about the formation of the 40,000 basalt columns and of course about our giant who built the causeway to Scotland!
If you have spare time you may like to pop down to Ballintoy harbour, one of the locations used in Game of Thrones.
Today there is a choice of places to visit and things to do, depending on your preference!
Bushmills is home to the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world, dating from 1608. Tours of the distillery are available during the day (check website for details and pre-booking is recommended).
If you are a Game of Thrones fan (even if you aren't) then you might like to drive to the Dark Hedges near Armoy, a beautiful avenue of beech trees planted in the 18th century.
Just along the coast is the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Not for the faint-hearted!
If it's a fine day you might consider driving to Ballycastle and taking the ferry to Rathlin island. This island is only six miles long & one mile wide and has a small resident population. Discover the island's history at the visitor centre and enjoy a walk along the shore to Mill Bay where you may see some of the resident seals!
Departing your hotel after breakfast you'll cross from County Antrim into County Londonderry. On the way you may like to stop off to visit (or just make a quick photo stop) at Dunluce Castle, one of Northern Ireland's iconic sights. The remains of this castle are perched precariously on a cliff edge - much of the castle fell into the sea during a storm in 1639.
Just past Coleraine on the coastal route we would heartily recommend a stop off at Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple, perched above a stunning 11km beach, also featured in 'Game of Thrones' (as are quite a few places in Northern Ireland!). Downhill is an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) and is also a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) offering opportunities for nature walks and sightings of bird life amongst a backdrop of cascading waterfalls, extensive sand dunes, and the prominent Mussenden Temple, one of the most photographed buildings in Northern Ireland. The Temple offers breathtaking views of Donegal and beaches on the North Antrim coast.
Arrive into Northern Ireland's second city, Derry~Londonderry for a two night stay. Your hotel will be on the outskirts of the city.
Spend your day exploring this fascinating and friendly city. Walk or take a guided tour around the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland.
Saint Columb’s Cathedral, was the first Cathedral built after the 16th century Reformation. It's the city’s most historic building containing displays of artefacts from the Siege of Derry in the 17th century.
You could also take a bus tour of the city which covers the major sights and there are boat cruises on the River Foyle.
If you are a fan of the hit comedy Derry Girls search out the fabulous mural in the city, dedicated to the main characters!
Depending on the route you choose to take to Enniskillen today you may pass through Strabane, which is close to the Sperrin Mountains and the lovely Glenelly Valley.
Sion Mills is south of Strabane and is a pleasant tree-lined industrial village particularly rich in architectural heritage. Significant features among others include the Church of The Good Shepherd (based on the design of a church at Pistoia, near Florence), the contemporary St. Theresa’s Church, the old flax mill, and collectively, the simple single and two storey cottages built originally to house the mill workers.
We suggest stopping off at the Ulster American Folk Park, near Omagh an outdoor museum exploring the story of 18th and 19th century Irish emigration to the New World. Highlights include reconstructed Ulster and American streets, American frontier log cabins and costumed characters.
Into Fermanagh then and there really is so much to see in this scenic county so Enniskillen will be your base for three nights. You can choose from a hotel in the centre or on the outskirts. In this still-traditional town independent shops sit alongside larger ones and a visit to the Buttermarket Courtyard is a must. Its early 19th century buildings have been beautifully restored and house such diverse crafts as pottery, ceramics, handmade jewellery, textiles, picture framing and original art, making it one of Ireland's premier craft centres.
Today, depending on the weather, you could consider a boat trip on Lough Erne, the jewel in Fermanagh's crown. These three hundred miles of freshwater are dotted with islands, once home to the Celts, Christian monks and Vikings.
Devenish Island on Lower Lough Erne has a 6th century monastic site, which was raided by Vikings. It was rebuilt though and rose to prominence again in the Middle Ages.
Boa Island sits at the top end of the lough and is named after a goddess of war. In the graveyard you'll see two of the most remarkable statues in the country. Between them they have three faces and, while the larger statue was originally thought to be Roman representing Janus, experts believe that it may actually portray a Celtic goddess.
A choice of places to visit today......
Leaving Enniskillen and County Fermanagh behind you'll pass through several delightful rural villages and towns in County Tyrone.
The more scenic way to County Down is via the recently-designated city of Newry and into the Kingdom of Mourne with the majestic Mourne Mountains at its heart.
You will travel via Armagh City renowned for its Georgian heritage and where the legacy of our famous St. Patrick is still strong. This is where he established his church in Ireland in the 5th century, in fact Armagh has two churches dedicated to the saint, one Church of Ireland and one Roman Catholic. Outside Armagh is Navan Fort where Ulster's ancient kings once ruled. It is a highly recommended visit.
From Armagh you can either go straight to Newcastle or the more scenic way via Warrenpoint at the tip of Carlingford Lough, and then along the coastal road passing the fishing villages of Kikeel and Annalong into Newcastle.
Your accommodation for two nights will be at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle. This magnificent 115 year old building, formerly a railway hotel, is a neighbour to the world-renowned Royal County Down golf course. The hotel overlooks a long, sandy beach and the views are simply gorgeous, after all Newcastle is where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.
Today is at leisure to do as you please.....
You might like to take a scenic drive or a walk in the Mourne Mountains - the highest, Slieve Donard, inspired Belfast-born C. S. Lewis to pen the Chronicles of Narnia.
Nearby Tollymore Forest Park is Northern Ireland's first Forest Park and is another of the locations in Game of Thrones.
On Newcastle's doorstep is the unspoilt scenery of Murlough Nature Reserve - Ireland's first nature reserve, home to 6000 year old sand dunes. If you're down this way why not call into the imposing Norman castle at Dundrum (another de Courcy construction!). The views from the castle over Dundrum Bay are well worth the short detour.
Continue your exploration of County Down this morning by driving via Downpatrick, home of the St Patrick Centre and the National Grave of St Patrick. Discover why St Patrick is famous throughout the world.
There are several ways to drive to Belfast but we would recommend the route via Strangford Lough - there is a car ferry which plies the short distance between Strangford and Portaferry. At Strangford you could stop off to visit Castleward, a fabulous stately home and gardens on the shores of the lough, made famous in the first series of Game of Thrones as the location for Winterfell.
Once on the Ards penisula you can choose to drive up the east side (sea views) or west side (lough views) and into the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast, to your city centre hotel for two nights to explore all the city has to offer.
Belfast was voted one of the world's top destinations in 2012 by the National Geographic Traveller magazine which called the city a "treasure" with an "incredible atmosphere". It is a compact city and easy to explore on foot.
in Belfast there is superb shopping, a vast choice of restaurants to suit every taste and budget, pubs galore including the oldest landmark in Belfast (Crown), the award-winning Titanic Centre, scientific exhibitions and literary inspirations. After all, this is the city that inspired the Chronicles of Narnia and Gulliver’s Travels.
We recommend a hop-on hop-off bus tour of the city which gives you a comprehensive overview of the city and its recent history.
Depending on your flight time you may have more time to explore the city today.
Drop off your car at the airport in time for your flight home.