Broke and suffering from wonderlust? Most of us yearn for that perfect getaway that won’t break the bank or result in the age old argument at the family dinner rearing it’s ugly head again of, if you stopped jetting off here there and everywhere you might just not have to ask for help to pay the rent.
What if I told you you could disappear through the back of the wardrobe into the forests of Narnia, walk through Westeros on the Kings Road, and give you views such as this:
All for under £250?
Let me introduce you to the beautiful, and still relatively undiscovered by tourists, jewel that is Northern Ireland.
Ireland doesn’t conjure up the best images of sandy beaches and hot weather, but if you pick the right time of year (May-October), and you have a group of good friends, Northern Ireland is guaranteed to be one of your best holidays this year.
The Planning Phase
Northern Ireland has fully embraced Air BnB, and there are a lot of fantastic houses you can rent throughout the country, coming to no more than £130 for seven nights. That works out to just £26 per night per person based on a five person house share (and this house could sleep up to seven).
Flights from London – which was the most expensive airports to fly from – was £60 return.
I would advice then hiring a car. Northern Ireland is a tiny country – if you stay in the middle the longest journey you will have to suffer is two hours, which for most of us is a breeze. Again these rates were amazing and cost us £30 per person for a rather luxurious five person car (with air con!). Petrol for all of our journeys – which I’ll get onto in a minute – was around £20 each. With food as well, that brings you to around £250! As long as you have wheels, you can pretty much do everything else for free.
Sound good so far?
Things To Do
Of course it is not all about finding cheap tickets and accommodation to stay in. Part of the appeal of any country is of course the things you can see there. So here are some of the highlights from my trip a few weeks ago.
Suggested time here: Whole Day
Giants Causeway is a stunning piece of the northern cost of Northern Ireland. There is an estimated 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic explosion, that make up this natural phenomenon. If you’re a geographer this has probably already sold you on Northern Ireland, I don’t know apparently it is a rather big deal, but despite it being explained to me several times what exactly this meant I was way more interested in the folklore explanation of this beautiful piece of coast.
Back in the old days, when the lands were ruled by Giants, one of the Giants of Northern Ireland was taunted by a Giant from Scotland – which he could vaguely see in the distance. Angered at the taunting, the Irish giant threw a series of rocks to great a bridge between the two countries – creating the causeway – but upon getting closer to the giant, he realised the Scot was a lot bigger than him. The Irish giant ran home in fear to his wife, but the Scot had spotted him and started chasing him. The wife, naturally annoyed with her husband being a damn idiot, made him pretend to be their newborn son.
Meanwhile the Scottish Giant has shown up at their door, demanding to be let in. The wife opens the door, feigns innocence in having seen her husband and invites him in to wait. The Scot graciously accepts, downs a pint, and waits it out. However, as time ticks on, the Scottish Giant hears a noise from behind a curtain. Jumping up in triumph, thinking he would find the husband, he pulls back the curtain to see what he thinks is a baby. Now this ‘baby’ is of course the Irish giant, but the Scot doesn’t know that and freaks out at the size of the baby, thinking my God if this is his son how big is he, and pegs it back to Scotland, destroying the bridge as he goes.
I don’t know about you but Giants sound way more fun than volcanoes.
Suggested time here: 1 – 3 hours
Dunluce is considered the most romantic castle in the whole of Ireland, though we never did find out why whilst we were there. It is however a delight for anyone who is a fan of history. It’s an old medieval castle that was owned by the clans of Northern Ireland and eventually fell into ruin during Cromwells take over of Ireland. It then sadly fell into ruin. However, you can still make out the amazing tactical advantages it provided against attacks from the Vikings by sea.
I would also 100% recommend the little cafe there. Everything is homemade, cheap, and tastes amazing. Plus the guy who owns it gave us one of his adorable spoons which he hand made.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Suggested time here: 3 – 4 hours
This is a beautiful piece of the Irish coast and is worth the visit just for that. For a little bit of extra money however, you can cross the rather perilous medieval rope bridge. The bridge connects the mainland with a little island fishermen used to store their boats and catch the best fish from. For anyone afraid of heights this will take a bit of convincing to do. As someone who feels like crying when they go up a ladder, this was a bit of challenge for me. The whole time across I felt like Donkey in Shrek when they’re crossing that boiling pit of lava.
But once you get across it is like a little oasis of calm. Totally worth the minute of heart attack inducing fear there and back.
Suggested time here: 20 – 30 minutes.
A lot of people will drive down the road and wonder why on earth people are climbing into the follow trees or pretending to throw a sword around. For the nerds amongst you however, you may recognise this as being the Kings Road from Game of Thrones. The set locators actually compiled a list of sexy trees to feature in the series, and of course the Dark Hedges here were top of the list. It takes about 10 minutes to walk the full length and back, but it’s a really nice stop on your way back from any of your coastal day trips.
Marble Arch Caves
Suggested time here: One Day
Marble Arch Caves are one of the finest show caves in Europe and features an under water cave straight out of Lord of the Rings, and a series of limestone formations that made all the geographers in our group make a similar noise to the one I make when I see an adorable puppy. If you are touring around the island on a weekday you should be fine with just turning up to book onto a tour, but if you are going in peak time, then I would phone in advance.
It’s situated in a wonderful forest with plenty of woodland trails. About five minutes down the road, situated in the same forest, is also Florence Court, which is a Georgian mansion house. So there is something for everyone in this rugged part of Northern Ireland.
Suggested time here: One Day
That’s right – why not turn your trip into two holidays?! There’s a soft boarder between Northern Ireland and Ireland which means you won’t get stopped for your passport details as you cross over (though I would recommend taking it just encase). Dublin is a fantastic city rich in history and buzzing nightlife. Some of my main recommendations, and bare in mind I am a historian, are the General Post Office – where you can see the Irish Bill of Independence – and Dublin Castle, which was once called the worst castle in all of Christendom. This is especially funny when you take into account it was considered one of King John’s greatest achievements. Awkward.
In terms of nightlife there are a lot of live music performances to catch at the multiple bars and clubs. Dublin also love their comedy performances, so be sure to check out their version of Time Out for what’s on in the local area.
Game of Thrones Tour
Suggest time here: One Day
If you are a fan of the HBO series Game of Thrones, then it seems natural to book onto one of the many Game of Thrones tours they have to offer. You’ll meet your guide in Belfast, and he’ll then take you across the Narrow Sea to the land of Westeros. On the way you’ll see Winterfell, The Twins, Robb’s Camp, Beyond the Wall, the bridge under which the Starks found their Direwolves, and actually get to meet the puppies! Well, two of them, and they are a lot bigger now.
As well as being somewhere to get your nerd on, it’s also a great way to see a large part of Eastern Northern Ireland in a day, without making your driver do it. Tours cost you around £50 with lunch included, and there is a chance to dress up and run around with a sword for a bit.
It’s like they know what we really want to be in life.
Suggested time here: One Day
No trip to the green isles is complete without a visit to the capital. Much like Dublin, it has its own rich and wonderful history and nightlife. I would highly recommend taking one of the hop on hop off bus tours which is a great way to get an over view of the cities history and main attractions in the space of two hours. You can then hop off and explore them in greater detail if you so wish. Of particular interest, which you might want to check out, are Belfast Castle and the Titanic Centre. Oh and there’s a giant colourful fish that if you kiss, grants to knowledge of everything.
Again I would recommend checking Time Out for the nightlife scene and big events happening in the city.
So that’s Northern Ireland for you. Hopefully I’ve given you the beginnings of your own amazing road trip across this beautiful country, and something to throw in the next persons face who criticises you for your addiction to travel.
Happy adventures, travellers.
From Northern Ireland, with love xox