Northern Ireland, our Destination of the Month for December, is home to some world-class tourist attractions including the Giant’s Causeway and Belfast’s Titanic Museum. But what to do if you’re wanting to avoid the tourist trail and discover something new? We’ve found some things to do in Northern Ireland that may be a bit off the beaten track – read on for more info…
Headhunters Barber Shop and Railway Museum
Uncover one of Northern Ireland’s largest collection of railway memorabilia at Headhunters Museum in the centre of Enniskillen. Step into the reconstructed booking office and discover thousands of items including timetables, tickets, uniforms, signs and photographs. Bizarrely the museum also contains a working barber shop, also full of railwayana. Admission to the museum is free and haircuts are optional.
Accessible only by ferry from Ballycastle, Rathlin Island lies 6 miles off the Antrim coast and is the most northerly point of Northern Island. Rathlin has a fascinating history; it was raided by Vikings in the 8th century and sheltered Robert the Bruce in the 14th century.
According to legend, the fugitive king of Scotland was hiding in a cave on the island where he saw a spider repeatedly trying and failing to spin a web. When the spider finally succeeded, this gave Robert the Bruce the inspiration to continue the fight for Scottish independence. Today the island is popular with birdwatchers, Rathlin’s towering cliffs being home to thousands of seabirds including puffins, guillemots and razorbills.
Larrybane and Ballintoy
The beautiful Antrim coast will probably be familiar to fans of Game of Thrones as the show has filmed several scenes here down the years. Larrybane Quarry was used as the location for Renly Baratheon’s camp in the Stormlands, featuring the memorable first appearance of Brienne of Tarth.
Ballintoy Harbour, further up the coast, doubled as Pyke in the hit TV show and was used to film Theon Greyjoy’s return to the Iron Islands and Euron Greyjoy’s ‘baptism’. Combine your visit with a walk across the nearby Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. If you can bear to look down, you’ll see ancient caverns and beautiful green water plus great views back to the cliffs at Larrybane
Ulster American Folk Park
Located just outside Omagh in County Tyrone, the Ulster American Folk Park tells the stories of three centuries of Irish emigration. Visitors can explore traditional cottages, shops and farm buildings to see what life was like in Ireland before boarding a life-sized replica of a 19th century sailing ship. This will give an idea of the grim conditions faced by emigrants as they completed the hazardous journey to the New World.
There are also buildings showing the way of life for people once they reached America including log houses, a general store and a plantation house. There are costumed characters throughout the park, telling stories, practicing traditional crafts and even making tasty food to try.
The Armada Tree
Growing in the churchyard of St Patrick’s Church in Cairncastle, County Antrim, this chestnut tree has a fascinating legend attached to it. The story goes that as the Spanish Armada was struggling home past the coast of Ireland, a sailor’s body was washed ashore at Ballygally. Locals buried the body in an unmarked grave in St Patrick’s churchyard. Some time later a tree began to grow from the exact spot where the sailor was interred; it is believed the tree sprung from chestnut seeds in his pockets. The tree has been analysed and dates to the late 16th century, giving this popular legend some scientific credence.
Built as a monument to the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry in 1859, this 41-metre-tall tower gives great views from the top. The tower is located just outside Newtownards, about 10 miles from Belfast and is built on top of Scrabo Hill meaning the top of the tower is some 160 metres above sea level. As well as views of Newtownards and Strandford Lough, on a clear day you should be able to see the Scottish coast, the Isle of Man and the Mourne Mountains.
There’s never been a better time to visit Northern Ireland. Book a 3 night break in Belfast during December and you’ll receive a free 24 hour sightseeing bus ticket worth £12.50 per person.