While many Game of Thrones locations have become besieged by fans in recent years, Murlough Bay on the North Antrim coast is a sight bypassed by even the most die-hard. Tucked off a hairy byway along the Torr Head scenic drive, the stunning bay, which wows with views stretching to Scotland, will be recognised by fans as Slavers’ Bay from season five of the series. For further coastal adventures, grab a sea safari with the water activity firm Aquaholics and journey around Antrim’s headlands, starting from Ballycastle. Skirt the coast from there to the Giant’s Causeway, taking in sights from Ballintoy Harbour (another Game of Thrones hotspot) to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The attraction is out of bounds on terra firma, so the boat tour offers the best chance to get up close. Weather permitting, you’ll even be invited to take a dip in its shadows. You may be joined by company en route – season depending, nature buffs should keep an eye out for dolphins, puffins and more.
The Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede boat trip costs £35pp (aquaholics.co.uk).
Belfast’s sea-faring traditions run deep. And the city’s Maritime Mile is a must-charter for any Belfast excursion. It features a number of epic attractions, all backdropped by the vast Harland & Wolff cranes and dotted with family-friendly food trucks and coffee shacks. Recently reopened, the blockbuster Titanic Belfast stacks up against any global attraction, with lesser-known highlights including its fascinating Ocean Exploration Centre and the Shipyard Ride, which brings to life the sights and sounds of the Titanic era shipyard and rolls past a replica of the liner’s huge rudder. If you want to discover more, visit Titanic’s Dry-Dock or Titanic Walking Tours, while the SS Nomadic (a restored White Star Line ship) is another main attraction.
Admission to Titanic Belfast costs £19 for adults, £8.50 for children five-16 and is free for children under five. There’s a 60+ senior rate of £15.50 Mon-Fri (titanicbelfast.com).
Fermanagh’s lakelands are one of Northern Ireland’s truly uncharted wonders and offer a rustic escape for day-trippers seeking a few more miles on the clock. They’re worth the 80-odd mile road-trip from Belfast. Lough Erne Resort, a chateau-styled, five-star property on the lough’s scenic shores, makes an idyllic base to park-up. Afternoon teas, created with local gusto by acclaimed head chef Noel McMeel are the star event here. The “G & Tea” (see what they did there?) offering is served on Belleek pottery with tiers of sweet and savoury treats, from Armagh Apple crumble to Irish salmon on wheaten bread – all followed by an imaginative gin cocktail. Afterwards, day visitors can indulge in a treatment at the resort’s Thai spa, grab a paddle for a stand up paddleboarding session along the resort’s shores or, to keep spirits up, tour the Boatyard gin and vodka distillery just down the road.
Afternoon G & Tea costs £35, go booze-free for £25 (lougherneresort.com).
North Antrim horse riding
Exploring Antrim’s northern coast offers unbridled thrills by default, but galloping through the seascapes with a team of native Irish cob ponies takes day trips to the next level. Sheans Horse Farm, based outside the village of Armoy, is one of Northern Ireland’s most established off-road riding schools, offering visitors the chance to explore Antrim’s countryside – unplugged. Outings are available for all levels, including popular picnic treks (either BYOP or book one ahead), where you’ll ride from lowland pastures to heather-blanketed hills before enjoying your vittles while taking in panoramic views from Slieveanorra Forest. Most epic (and a little more grand prix budget-wise), are the coastal treks where you can take in sights from Mussenden Temple to local cattle meandering along the shoreline. Think a Wild West feel to Antrim’s wild north.
Trekking sessions from £12.50, with £45pp for the picnic ride and coastal rides from £155.
Castlewellan Forest Park
A wooded wonderland just 30 miles south of Belfast, Castlewellan Forest Park offers day-trippers a magical hybrid of landscaped gardens and some of the region’s best forest trails. The park, dramatically backdropped by the Mourne Mountains, centres around its eponymous lakeside castle, built in the Scottish baronial style and harking back to the 1850s. It looms over more than 400 hectares of horticultural heaven, not least the Castlewellan arboretum and the walled Annesley garden. You’ll be able to vary the pace by opting for either the pedestrian lakeside loop or hiking and biking on scenic trails. Rent an e-bike with Life Adventures on-site for a bit of a head start.
Admission to Castlewellan Forest Park is £5 per vehicle. Bike hire from £25 per bike.
Think of it as island-hopping, Northern Ireland style. Rathlin Island, the most northerly point of the Causeway Coast, lies close enough to Belfast to offer an adventure-filled day trip, but far-flung enough to guarantee a total mainland switch-off. Ferries leave the pier at Ballycastle from 8.30am but shooting for the 1pm crossing ensures a more leisurely drive north. Bookings must be made by phone, email or in person due to current restrictions. The express service across the Sea of Moyle takes 25 minutes – toast the coast at McCuaig’s Bar when you land before beginning your afternoon of sightseeing. Whether you opt for a mini-bus island tour or self-guided wandering, highlights are as eclectic as they are rugged. Visit the “upside down” West Lighthouse, Rathlin’s resident seal colony, the Breakwater art studio or head to the island’s Co-op shop to stock up on Rathlin kelp tapenade! Last ferry of the day returns to Ballycastle at 4:30pm – though there’s few finer places to be marooned.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the mini-bus tour and RSPB Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre are not currently available. Additional visitor information can be found at rathlincommunity.org/home. Adult return fares to Rathlin Island cost £12 (rathlinballycastleferry.com).
Come on over to Northern Ireland
Plan your visit to Northern Ireland with everything you need to know about things to do, where to stay and more at ireland.com/northern-ireland
Get advice about travelling to Northern Ireland, including the latest information on Covid-19 restrictions at nidirect.gov.uk/coronavirus