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Where to eat, sleep and explore on an epic Northern Ireland road trip


There’s just something exciting about packing up the car and heading off on a road trip. It’s carefree, spontaneous and usually, a lot more fun than a super scheduled break.

Unlike other holidays, going on a road trip allows you unlimited freedom. You can stop when you want, drive when you want, and change your plans as you go.

Northern Ireland is the perfect place for a DIY road trip adventure. It’s got great attractions, wonderful accommodation and stunning scenery to boot.

This year, Discover Northern Ireland is inviting you to share in its giant spirit and to awaken your own by exploring the best things the area has to offer from warm welcomes to awe-inspiring adventures.

So, if you fancy a road trip with a difference, add NI to the top of your list this year. Here’s where you should eat, sleep and explore.

Hillsborough Castle and Gardens

Explore: Hillsborough Castle is a real hidden gem. This beautiful Georgian mansion was built in the 1770s by Wills Hill, first Marquis of Downshire and was later remodelled in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Today, it is a working royal palace functioning as the official residence of the royal family when they are in Northern Ireland, and it has been the home of the Secretary of State since the 1970s.

Hillsborough is the perfect place for a day out. Spend a day exploring 100 acres of stunning gardens, book a tour of the Georgian house, and marvel at the many wonderful works of art. Downton Abbey eat your heart out.

Eat: Grab some grub at Hillside, Hillsborough. This rustic pub first opened its doors in 1753 and is still a popular spot for locals to have a pint or enjoy a hearty meal. Friendly staff and a cosy atmosphere make it the perfect place to relax after a long day.

Sleep: Continue living like a lord and spend the night in your very own castle. Narrow Water Castle in Co Down has been the private home of the Hall family since 1670. Today, guests can pay to stay in the castle’s luxury self-catering apartment which is in the original hub of the building (Mount Hall).

The apartment is everything you would expect for such a grand setting with an elegant, open plan living room and dining room with an open fire. What could be better?

The River Foyle, Derry

Explore: The River Foyle is the main focal point in Derry. The winding river is usually viewed from the Peace Bridge but did you know that you can also experience it by kayak? Adventure company, Far and Wild, run moonlight kayaking adventures on or around the full moon which will allow you to experience nature at its most quiet.

Another great way to experience this city is on a Martin McCrossan City Tour. Tours take in many of the main attractions in the region, such as Derry’s Walls, The Bogside, and The People’s Gallery.

Eat: Browns in Town is one of NI’s most loved restaurants. With a nice relaxed atmosphere, an excellent location and scrumptious food it really is a winning combination. If you’re a veggie, don’t worry! Their dedicated vegetarian menu comes highly rated.

Sleep: To continue your history education, why not stay at Beech Hill Country House? This gorgeous hotel was originally built alongside the Derry walls back in the 17 century. During WW2, the house was home to 750 US Marines when it became the European basecamp for the US Navy.

Today, it is a popular hotel for weddings and romantic getaways and it’s not hard to see why. Set in a 32-acre estate, Beech Hill is the perfect hideaway, despite the fact it is just a short distance from the city centre.

Belfast Trad Trail

Explore: Belfast has a rich musical history and the best way to experience it is on the city’s Trad Trail. This wonderful excursion takes you around some of the city’s oldest and liveliest pubs and bars.

At each stop, local musicians share stories and perform traditional pieces using an array of instruments including uilleann pipes, accordions and tin whistles.

This immersive tour allows you to learn about the instruments, find out more about the history of trad music in the city and even give the genre a go yourself. Whether you just clap your hands or maybe a sing a few bars, you won’t be able to resist getting involved.

Eat: The Muddlers Club is one of Belfast’s most popular restaurants. This bustling eatery was awarded their first prestigious Michelin Star in October last year and it’s not hard to see why.

Head chef and owner Gareth McCaughey hand picks ingredients daily from the best of home-grown Irish produce and the open plan kitchen gives diners a behind-the-scenes look into a busy kitchen. For a real treat try the tasting menu.

Sleep: Rest your tired head at Ten Square Hotel, one of Northern Ireland’s most luxurious hotels. Based in the heart of the city, this stylish hotel has 131 guestrooms ranging from chic standard rooms to new executive accommodations. Many of the guestrooms offer impressive views of Belfast city centre and the hills beyond.

Rathlin Island

Explore: Rathlin Island is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Just six miles long and one mile wide, this ‘L’ shaped island is home to about 150 people. But don’t be fooled, there’s lots to see on this little outcrop.

To get to Rathlin, hop on the ferry at Ballycastle harbour. This scenic journey takes about 25 minutes and you can even bring your dog on board. During the crossing keep your eyes peeled for some of the island’s many seals.

A short walk from the harbour is the Boathouse Visitor Centre, where visitors can discover some of the exciting history of the place. Or if you’re feeling more adventurous, you can rent a bike and explore the surrounding areas.

Without a doubt, the best time to visit is April to July as this is puffin season. Thousands of the little birds flock to Rathlin making it the ideal place to view these unique creatures.

Eat: Anzac restaurant is a popular choice in Ballycastle. This bustling eatery mainly focuses on steak and seafood but don’t worry as there are veggie options too. If you visit, make sure that you try their seafood chowder for a real treat.

Sleep: Finish your busy day at The Salthouse, a luxury eco hotel in Ballycastle. The Salthouse has 24 stylish bedrooms and suites as well as a spa and laid back bar and restaurant offering a variety of local food.

However, the best thing about this hotel has got to be the stunning ocean views that you can enjoy from the restaurant while eating your freshly prepared breakfast. Absolute bliss!

Plan your short break now from £99 B&B on the Discover Northern Ireland website.

Online Editors