I have just returned from Northern Ireland and settled back into Sydney life again. It was amazing to be home and catch up with family and friends. It was also great to see how much Northern Ireland is changing for the better and continues to offer so much to the locals and tourists alike. There’s a reason Northern Ireland was named the top place to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet!! I would like to write about a few different things that I undertook whilst being in Northern Ireland that maybe aren’t the usual run of the mill tourist things to do or places to see. Most people who have heard of Northern Ireland will know about the Giant’s Causeway, the newly built Titanic Centre or the many murals on the peace walls to see. However, there are other places to see that also show case Northern Ireland in a great light. There are so many but I will just mention the ones that I was able to see or do.
1 : Manannán mac Lir – Celtic sea god 🌊
I was recommended by a friend to see this statue of the mythical Celtic god of the sea. It overlooks Lough Foyle, found near Limavady at the North Coast of Northern Ireland. According to legend, Manann mac Lir is the Irish equivalent of the Roman sea god Neptune (or Greek Poseidon) and is said that his spirit is released in fierce storms. It really is a marvel to see first hand. You also have great views looking over Magilligan Point towards Donegal. People often visit here for the views alone but the statue definitely adds a bit of character to the area. We visited on a very cloudy day, therefore we couldn’t see any of the views unfortunately. However, the cloud cover did add to the eeriness of the statue. Definitely worth a visit and found using good old google maps 😅.
2 : Olive Bizarre – Afternoon Tea ☕️🍰
If you’re looking for somewhere extremely quaint for lunch or a cup of tea then this is the place for you. This is an amazing little cafe found in Newcastle, Co. Down, on the main road as you head out of the town towards Kilkeel. The walk to here from Newcastle town is really something else. You have the sea to your left with the Mourne Mountains to the side. It’s not often you get to view the sea and mountains together and it’s a really stunning scene. Olive Bizarre is warm and cosy and would put you in mind of sitting in your grandmother’s living room. The afternoon tea we had was exquisite, plentiful and tasty. The staff were especially friendly and for that reason the experience was made even better. Smiles all round and nothing was a bother to them.
3 : Kinbane Head – Kinbane Castle 🏛
This is a hidden find that not many tourists will know about. It is a long, narrow limestone headland projecting into the sea with an old castle ruin still situated there. This can be found on the way to Ballintoy, about 5km from Ballycastle. It would be about 1 km off the Causeway Coast route. This place is tricky to find being off the main road and hard to access for coaches. You can park at the top of the cliff but you will have to walk down quite a few steps to reach Kinbane Castle. The castle is pretty good to see but it’s the views that are outstanding. They are truly magnificent. You can walk around the area and along the headland but this is not for the faint hearted. You are raised quite a bit from sea level and there are no hand rails. I am so glad that I have been able to see this spot a couple of times now.
Many places in Northern Ireland have been used as Game of Thrones locations and this would 100% put you in mind of one of those spots. I’m guessing they didn’t use here as it is hard to access 😬.
4 : The Grand Opera House Belfast 🎭
This theatre HAS to be checked out when you visit Northern Ireland. It is steeped in history, having been built in 1895 and designed by the famous architect at the time, Frank Matcham. It has been through many changes over its time and survived through world wars and a few bombings during the troubles. The interior is magnificent, with the auditorium maintaining its oriental theme and vision of opulence. It is quite possible one of the nicest theatres in the UK (from what I have witnessed). We were fortunate enough to watch Evita when it was showing – spectacular! There are a variety of shows to suit everyone’s needs, from musicals, to ballet and opera or drama and local comedy. It would be a shame to not step into this incredible vicinity. Even if there isn’t a show that you want to see at the time, you can take a tour of the theatre or simply have a drink in one of its bars.
5 : Golflinks Hotel Portrush – The Deerstalker Bar & Bistro 🍖
Up in the North Coast is the popular tourist destination of Portrush. Most people who visit Portrush will already know that the harbour area has a good few restaurants owned by the Ramore group. This area has become increasingly popular here over the last few years and the restaurants here are fantastic. There are 6 in total, each offering different cuisines. However, when in Portrush I was able to try another restaurant that may get overlooked. On the other side of Portrush on Dunluce Road, you will find the Golflinks Hotel, famous also for Kelly’s nightclub (a very popular nightclub in Northern Ireland, people will come from all over the country!!). We went here for my birthday dinner and boy was it good. The food was delicious, service was great and it had a really relaxed ambiance. I would highly advise to check this place out for somewhere different.
6 : The Merchant Hotel 🏫
Now this hotel is something else. Built originally as a bank, it boasts an imposing image of grandeur. Visually impressive and steeped in history, this 5 star hotel lies in the heart of the historic Cathedral Quarter, a real hub for tourists and locals alike. It had always been a desire of mine to spend a night in this hotel and experience the rooftop hot tub that they have on offer. Both did not disappoint. The room was exceptional and the hot tub remarkable whilst providing great views over Belfast. In addition, the staff were extremely friendly and the breakfast we had the next morning was out of this world. If you want to treat yourself while in Belfast, this is the hotel to make you feel a bit special 😬.
Hopefully I have provided you with a few different things to do if and when you visit Northern Ireland. It really is a great little country and has a lot to offer everyone.
Thanks for reading!