3 unusual attractions in Northern Ireland that you did not know about

Have you been to Northern Ireland a few times and are now looking for somewhere new to go to? Spending more than 3 days in Northern Ireland and want to do something different? This article is for you.

But if this is your first time in Northern Ireland, I would recommend going to the usual, most popular tourist spots first. They are famous for a reason! Here is just a short list of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland: Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Bushmills Distillery and Titanic Experience! The easiest way to visit them would be join a day tour from Belfast!

1. Mussenden Temple

Sitting at the edge of a cliff, Mussenden Temple was built as Earl Bishop’s library. It is part of the Downhill Demesne (more commonly known as “Downhill House”). Earl Bishop was a cultured man. He had travelled to many places and had a fine appreciation of art. Rumour has it that he also had an eye for the ladies. Looking at the ruins and imagining what the whole estate looked like, I would not doubt any of the above. He was definitely a man with taste.

I have been there 2 times myself. And I won’t say no to a third time. The place is breathtaking. Earl Bishop picked the best place possible to build his estate. The library, now referred as the Mussenden Temple, is a bit further from the main estate. From the car park, you will have to walk through the ruin of Downhill Demense and towards to the ocean. On your way to the temple, you can feel the breeze from the ocean. Refreshing and relaxing at the same time. If it was still a library, I could totally sit there and read all day.

Once you get to Mussenden Temple, you can look down and see the Downhill Beach. It was rumoured that the Earl Bishop once made his clergy run a leapfrog race on the beach to see who would win the best area. We would never know whether that had happened but you can surely go down to the Downhill Beach and run around yourself. Downhill Beach is actually a beautiful beach. A scene from the Game of Thrones TV show was actually filmed here.

See this video below from the official Game of Thrones YouTube Channel talking about the scene. Pause at 0:12 and you can actually see the temple on the top right!

If you want to know more about Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland, you can join a Game of Thrones tour or read more about them here on Visit Belfast website.

How to get to the Mussenden Temple? How much is the entrance fee for the Downhill Domesne?

Address for Mussendem Temple / Downhill house is Mussenden Road, Castlerock, Coleraine BT51 4RP, United Kingdom

Entrance to the Downhill House and the Mussenden Temple is free.

Parking used to be free but National Trust has now made some changes and you now have to pay. At the moment, you can only pay via an app, online or by calling them. If you are travelling from abroad and don’t want to waste your data or international minutes on this, book and pay in advance. National Trust members can park for free. More updated information available on National Trust website.

If you are planning to take a bus, take bus 134 from Coleraine. Bus number or route might change, which is why if you check the National Trust website, they have bus 234 listed (well, at least at the moment when I’m writing this article). Go to Translink website for the most updated information. Type in “Downhill, Mussenden Road” as your destination when you use the journey planner. Or, use the old way, go to Coleraine bus station and ask a staff member. The Coleraine bus station is right next to the Coleraine train station.

2. Derry / Londonderry

If you have watched the TV show “Derry Girls”, you will be shocked to see how accurate it has portrayed the lives of people in Derry / Londonderry. You will find all the iconic places, e.g. Guildhall and Dennis’s Wee Shop, appearing in the show looking almost exactly same in real life.

Derry / Londonderry is also the only completely walled city in Ireland / Northern Ireland. A walk on the top of the wall gives you an idea of how the original town was like, while giving you a panoramic view of the city today. There are many things you can do in Derry / Londonderry. Go to Visit Derry website for more ideas!

Why is Derry / Londonderry a walled city? What happened in Derry / Londonderry? Why does Derry / Londonderry have two names? Short answer is – for political and religious reasons, but I am not going into details here. All I can say is a lot has happened in this city, from the Siege of Derry in 1689 to the Bloody Sunday in 1972. Why not visit this place yourself and find out!

How do you go to Derry / Londonderry?

From Belfast, you can take a train or a bus. Derry / Londonderry is not that big, you will be able to find your way to the city centre easily. Derry / Londonderry bus station is in the city centre. As you get off, you should already be able to see the walls (or ask the bus driver!). If you are taking the train, you will have to walk a bit. As you get out from the train station, look behind you and you will see the River Foyle and the bridge. Walk along the river, cross the bridge and then turn right, you will be in the city centre. Again, don’t be shy to ask people for directions!

If you are driving, on-street paid parking is not that difficult to find. From my experience, the city is busy but not that busy. Drive around for 10 – 15 minutes and you should be able to find a spot. You can also have a look at the Bishop Street Car Park first. Obviously you can also pre-book on JustPark, which is the official app recommended by the District Council.

3. Ballintoy Harbour

Made famous by the HBO TV show Game of Thrones, Ballintoy Harbour is more than just a picturesque fishing harbour. The name Ballintoy comes from the Irish “Baile an Tuaigh”, which means “The northern townland”.

Ballintoy is a small village between Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and Giant’s Causeway. You can easily add Ballintoy Harbour onto your itinerary for the day trip to the Northern Coast. If you are coming from the Giant’s Causeway, go on the Coastal route, Ballintoy Harbour is the road on the right just before you get to Ballintoy. There are signs everywhere as well.

From the main road, drive down the steep winding road. It can get quite busy in summer so drive slow and carefully as you go down. There could be hikers or sheep (yes, sheep!) around the corner. Once you are down, you will understand why this place was used in the Game of Thrones. The entire harbour looks like it has not been touched in 200 years. In fact, the crew did very little CGI when they were filming here.

What Game of Thrones scenes were filmed in Ballintoy Harbour?

It has been used 4 times! They are: when Theon Greyjoy returns to Iron Islands the first time, when Theon gets baptised, when Euron Greyjoy is drowned and made king of the Iron Islands, and when Melisandre is burning Stannis Baratheon’s bannerman. You can join a Game of Thrones tour to find out more!

Can you go to Ballintoy Harbour by bus?

Yes, you can. The bus stop is on the main road, right before or after (depends on where you are coming from) the small road going to the Harbour. Note that buses do not automatically stop at each bus stop. Given that Ballintoy Harbour is not that popular, you might want to tell the bus driver beforehand. Again, go to translink for the most updated bus number and timetable. Enter “Ballintoy, Ballintoy Harbour” for destination.

If you are driving to Ballintoy Harbour, Google Maps might tell you to stop your car at the beginning of the windy road and then walk down. In my opinion, most people will be fine driving down with a normal-sized car. The road is quite windy and narrow. And if there are two cars trying to pass each other, sometimes one car might have to stop or reverse to give the other one some space, but that’s just normal Irish / UK country road for you. To be honest, I would be more worried that the car park down there is full already. Because in that case, you will have to drive back up and then walk down again.

Written by: Ms K

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Finn McCools Tours. If you would like to like us to publish your article, send us an email! 

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