15 Best Weekend Breaks in Northern Ireland in 2024

Northern Ireland is often overlooked when someone is planning a trip to Ireland, but there are some beautiful weekend breaks in Northern Ireland!

From coastal retreats and road trip destinations to mountains and forests, there is a short break on this list that’s perfect for you!

Ok, let’s jump right in!

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1. Tollymore Forest Park

Tolleymore Forest Park was my absolute favorite of the things that we did in Northern Ireland!

I’ve been fortunate to visit this park more than once, and it is truly a magical and romantic escape from the outside world.

When you enter the park, you’ll pass through a neat gatehouse, which is one of the most Instagrammable places in Northern Ireland!

Continuing on past the gatehouse, the drive is lined with ginormous European Yew trees on either side.

These are some of the coolest trees I’ve ever seen, and we had fun climbing around in them for different pictures.

Once you reach the parking area, there are multiple trails that you can enjoy.

I highly recommend hiking out to the stepping stones, which span across the river and can be fun to walk across.

This park is absolutely beautiful, and you can easily spend a few days exploring this special place!

The Tollyrose Country House is a quaint accommodation near the park, or you can drive a little further to Newcastle, where there is an abundance of hotels to choose from.

Take my word for it, and don’t skip adding Tolleymore Forest Park to your Northern Ireland bucket list!

A couple with outstretched arms stands in front of the whimsical gatehouse at Tollymore Forest Park, adding charm to a weekend break in Ireland.

2. Ballintoy

Ballintoy is a charming little village in Northern Ireland that feels like stepping back in time.

The name Ballintoy means ‘The Northern Townland’ in Irish. 

It’s a tiny place full of history and charm, with many interesting spots to visit along the Giant’s Causeway scenic drive in Northern Ireland. 

Take a walk around Ballintoy Harbour, where you can see small fishing boats bobbing in the water, and the whole place feels like it hasn’t changed in centuries.  

If you are a fan of “Game of Thrones,” you may recognize it as one of the show’s settings. 

You will even see a board with some information related to the show. There is a cute cafe for a quick lunch or delicious cakes. 

A short drive further south, you will find an even more enchanting spot along the Atlantic Ocean, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

It costs £10 to access the trail that takes you to the famous rope bridge, where you can get spectacular views, especially on a sunny day. 

It’s a short walk, about 1.5 miles out and back, and you will learn that salmon fishermen built the bridge in the 18th century to access the best fishing spots.

The rope bridge allowed them to reach Carrickarede Island and fish for Atlantic salmon, which migrate through the area’s waters. 

You can stay in one of those cute cottages in the area, such as the spectacular The Woods at Whitepark Bay, a very cozy one-bedroom cottage with a hot tub as an extra perk. 

Recommended by Isabella from Boundless Roads

The rugged Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge at Ballintoy stretches across the cliffside, offering an adventurous experience for weekend breaks in Ireland.

3. Rathlin Island

The remote beauty of Rathlin Island makes this gem off the north coast a wonderful place for a weekend trip!

The ferry from Ballycastle lands in the picturesque working harbor of Rathlin Island.

Visit the Boathouse Visitor’s Centre for fascinating artifacts and local history, and enjoy the antics of seals playing off the rocks in the harbor.

A must-see attraction here is the Sea Bird Center. You can walk, rent a bike, or take the Puffin bus to travel the 4.5 miles to the center.

Huge colonies of puffins, guillemot, kittiwakes, razorbills, and fulmars nest and raise their young here.

Volunteer guides provide information about this largest nesting seabird colony in Northern Ireland.

The West Lighthouse is one of three lighthouses on the island and is certainly the most unique!

Known as Northern Ireland’s only upside-down lighthouse, it is built directly into the cliff.

Descend to see the flashing red light at the lighthouse’s base, and the cliffside views are worth climbing down and up the stairs.

The Manor House, located on the harbor, is a cozy bed and breakfast, perfect for a weekend stay.

Recommended by Karen from Outdoor Adventure Sampler

Dramatic coastal cliffs of Rathlin Island provide a breathtaking view for nature enthusiasts on a weekend getaway in Ireland.

4. Bangor 

Bangor, affectionately known as Bangor-by-the-Sea, is Northern Ireland’s newest city after being awarded city status during the late Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee in 2022. 

It is located just 20 minutes by train from Belfast and makes for a sunny seaside alternative to the Northern Ireland capital.

The main tourist draw in Bangor is the seafront with a busy marina, the Eisenhower Pier, and Pickie Fun Park for kids and families. 

There is also free parking in the Queen’s Parade Car Park.

The seafront also marks the start of Northern Ireland’s North Down Coastal Path, which is a scenic coastal walk that follows in both directions to connect many local beauty spots, including Ballyholme Beach, Strickland’s Glen, Crawfordsburn Country Park, and Helen’s Bay.

For cultural and historical interests, Bangor Castle and Castle Park are found opposite the central transit hub with a museum, a Victorian Walled Garden (seasonal openings), and the ancient Bangor Abbey (558AD) within nearby forest grounds. 

All offer free entry to explore. 

More recently, a Premier Inn was built in the city center of Bangor opposite the main train and bus station, but I recommend the better/seaside views from the guest houses and B&Bs dotted along Prince Town and Seacliff Road. 

Recommended by Allan from Sunny Bangor

Aerial view of the tranquil marina in Bangor, Northern Ireland, perfect for a relaxing weekend break by the sea.

5. Ballymoney 

Located in County Antrim in Northern Ireland, Ballymoney is within the Causeway Coast. 

This charming town boasts a rich blend of history, culture, and outdoor activities, which makes it an ideal destination for a weekend getaway.

If you are planning a trip to Ballymoney, start your journey by visiting the Ballymoney Museum, which features historical artifacts. 

Some exhibits and displays showcase the town’s historical heritage, and there is no admission fee for visiting this museum.

Your trip will only be completed with its most visited attractions – the popular Dark Hedges

This stunning avenue of beech trees has become famous for its appearance in popular television shows and films. 

Stroll along this enchanting tree-lined road and capture some stunning Instagram photographs of this natural wonder.

These activities are just a glimpse of the many things to do in Ballymoney, and this is an ideal destination for travelers seeking outdoor adventures in Northern Ireland. 

It is best to stay for a day or two to explore more of Ballymoney and its nearby attractions on the Antrim Coast. 

Recommended by Christine from Ireland Travel Guides

The Dark Hedges in Ballymoney create an enchanting tunnel of twisted trees, a mystical setting for weekend breaks in Ireland.

6. Ballygally Castle

A relaxing visit to Ballygally Castle can be a perfect weekend break in Northern Ireland. 

This stunning castle was built in 1625 and sits on the sea along the Causeway Coastal Route. 

While Ballygally Castle has tons of history, perfect for any history buff, it’s also a functioning luxury hotel. 

There is no entry fee to visit, but staying at least one night is recommended to experience this 17th-century gem and its surroundings. 

Things to do at Ballygally Castle include exploring the beach outside, taking a walk in nearby Carnfunnock Country Park, having a fine lunch in the castle, or visiting the infamous ghost room. 

The ghost room at Ballygally is located up in one of the turrets, reached only by an old spiral staircase. 

Visitors who are brave enough to climb those steps will be faced with stories of the ghost’s tragic past in the room where she met her demise. 

A weekend break at Ballygally provides a unique Northern Ireland experience, complete with a beach, excellent dining, and even a ghost story. 

Recommended by Olivia from the Girl With Blue Sails 

A quaint room in Ballygally Castle, inviting guests for a cozy stay during their historical weekend break in Ireland.

7. Killinchy 

If you’re looking for a weekend break in Northern Ireland that is off-the-beaten-path, you should travel to the south and visit Killinchy. 

Located near the Strangford Lough, you’ll be awed by the views over the water, the landscapes of the moors stretched out before you, and the charming small-town vibes! 

Some of the best things to do near Killinchy are to visit Sketrick Castle, stroll along the main street of Killinchy for shops and quaint restaurants, and try a meal at the Baloo House- a local pub. 

But the number one thing to do here is visit Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen!

This is one of the most authentic Northern Ireland experiences; visit Tracey, a local, and learn to bake the ever-popular Irish soda bread with her in her farmhouse kitchen! 

Tracey was so warm and welcoming, the soda bread was amazing (with fresh butter and homemade jam!), and it felt like something out of a storybook to sit along the fire in Tracey’s kitchen, enjoying good food and great company. 

You’ll need about a day to fully enjoy the Killinchy area. 

We visited for a longer afternoon as we were headed to Belfast for the day

Enjoy a night at the charming Mulberry’s B&B for the full Northern Ireland bed and breakfast experience! 

Recommended by Taylor from Traverse With Taylor

A charming patio of a Killinchy cottage, an ideal spot for a peaceful retreat during a weekend break in Ireland.

8. Derry 

Derry, often called Londonderry, stands out as one of the best weekend breaks in Northern Ireland, offering a rich blend of history, culture, and scenic beauty. 

You can easily get here from Belfast City Center and Belfast International Airport in under 2 hours. 

For those flying into Belfast City Airport, the easiest way to reach Derry is to go from the City Center.  

Derry offers a more relaxing city break than Belfast but still has plenty of things to do. 

One of the best things to do is walk the city walls. You can explore the ancient walls surrounding Derry alone, but booking a tour is highly recommended. The Peace Bridge is another great activity to do. 

This bridge, spanning the River Foyle, provides a serene and picturesque walk, connecting the historic city with the modern Ebrington Square.

For fans of the television series “Derry Girls,” a guided tour retracing the footsteps of the beloved characters and locations where the series is filmed is worth adding to your Northern Ireland Itinerary. 

Recommended by Lowri from Many of the Roads

The ancient architecture of St. Columb's Cathedral in Derry stands majestically, reflecting the city's rich history for visitors on a weekend break in Ireland.

9. Newcastle 

One of the best weekend breaks in Northern Ireland is to Newcastle, County Down. 

Most people will head further north for a getaway, but take advantage of the southern part of N.I.!

Newcastle in County Down is the definition of “it has a little bit of everything.” 

It’s your typical charming seaside town, but what makes Newcastle even more impressive is that it’s by the Mourne Mountains, the largest mountain range in Northern Ireland.

You can enjoy views of beaches while simultaneously enjoying mountain views. 

A weekend is the perfect amount of time to spend in Newcastle. 

There are so many things to do in such a small place – though admittedly, most of the best things aren’t within the town itself.

In and around Newcastle, you can spend time on beaches, hike Slieve Donard (tallest of the Mournes), walk with alpacas in Cranfield, spend too much money on 2p coin pusher machines, and enjoy some seaside food. 

The best place to stay is the 5-star hotel, Slieve Donard Resort, one of the best spa hotels in Northern Ireland.

It’s expensive but an incredible experience – especially if you want to relax. 

Recommended by Josh from A Backpacker’s World

Hikers alongside the stone wall trails of Slieve Donard in Newcastle, offering panoramic views for active weekend breaks in Ireland.

10. Belfast 

What better way to spend a weekend in Northern Ireland than in the nation’s lively capital – Belfast!

Your first stop should be the Titanic Museum, a fascinating ode to one of Belfast’s finest exports. 

The museum underwent major renovations in 2023, increasing the size and depth of the exhibitions dedicated to the infamous doomed ship. 

Entry starts at £21 per adult. 

Next on your Belfast weekend itinerary should be the Crumlin Road Gaol (Jail) – the grade-one listed prison that housed political prisoners during the Troubles. 

At only £14.50 per person, if you buy your tickets online, ‘The Crum’, as locals know it, offers a great insight into Northern Ireland’s recent struggles. 

Round off your weekend in the city with food from Trade Market Belfast, an outdoor street food market, before heading to the Cathedral Quarter to check out some of Belfast’s pubs.

I recommend staying at the Merchant Hotel in the heart of the city. It is the perfect base for your weekend break and one of the best boutique hotels in Belfast.

Recommended by Ben from Ticket 4 Two Please

The modern, angular design of the Titanic Belfast museum under a cloudy sky, a must-visit landmark for a cultural weekend break in Ireland.

11. Ballycastle 

Ballycastle is an excellent location to visit in Northern Ireland. 

This quaint seaside town has many fun adventures tucked away along the breathtaking Causeway Coast.

The famous Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a must while visiting Ballycastle. 

This bridge extends over the wild Atlantic waters, 20m above the sea, and connects to a small island. 

During peak season, the cost to travel across the bridge is £15.50. 

Be aware that crossings can be shut down on short notice due to wind conditions.

Rathlin Island is another unforgettable adventure while visiting Ballycastle. 

This island is beautiful, with rugged landscapes and a cozy lighthouse, and it is also home to a thriving bird colony of puffins and other bird species. 

A ferry to the island costs £16.00 roundtrip and takes around 30 minutes.

One of my all-time favorite things to do in Ballycastle is to hike the Causeway Coast Way

This spectacular trail begins in Ballycastle and extends to Portstewart, passing by seaside villages and ancient ruins and providing endless coastal views. 

I’d recommend spending an evening or two in Ballycastle before embarking on your journey! 

For a bit of luxury, consider staying at The Salthouse Hotel.

Recommended by Deirdre from Build & Board Travel

A serene view of the coastal path at Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, overlooking the turquoise sea, an idyllic scene for weekend breaks in Ireland.

12. Boa Island 

Boa Island is a tiny hidden gem in the northwest corner of Fermanagh in Lough Erne. 

The lake has several beautiful and mysterious islands, including Boa Island, Lusty Beg, Lusty More, Devenish, and White Island.

Boa is a long, narrow island connected to the mainland by a road bridge.

On the island is an old cemetery called Caldragh, where you will find Ireland’s most famous carved stones that are over 2000 years old! 

The biggest statue is a Janus figure, which means two-faced. 

The east side is carved with a phallus and is considered the male side, and the west is called the female side. 

The smaller figure is known as “the Lustyman” because it was found on the nearby island Lusty More and moved to the cemetery in 1939, but it may well be a female figure.

The smaller figure appears to have only one eye fully carved, which has allowed historians to develop the theory that it represents the “divine hag” or Boa and, like the sky-god Odin of the Norse, was blind in the left eye. 

You can stay on Boa Island, and there are various accommodation options, including budget hotels, quaint cottages, and a luxury chalet. 

Recommended by Faith of XYU and Beyond

An ancient carved stone figure on Boa Island, steeped in history and mystery, a unique sight on a cultural weekend break in Ireland.

13. Giant’s Causeway

Giant’s Causeway, found on the rugged coast of County Antrim in Northern Ireland, is a geological wonder steeped in myth and legend.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site, run by the National Trust, is famed for its distinctive hexagonal basalt columns, formed years and years ago by volcanic activity. 

There are several activities to enjoy at the Giant’s Causeway. 

Firstly, exploring the natural beauty of the interlocking basalt columns and the dramatic coastal scenery is a must!

Additionally, visitors can embark on guided walks to learn about the geological history and mythical tales associated with the site. 

The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre also provides informative exhibits and interactive displays.

While there is no entrance fee to access the Giant’s Causeway, the car park is reserved only for those buying tickets for the Visitor Experience. 

To fully appreciate the area, spending at least half a day exploring the site and its surroundings is recommended.

For accommodation, the town of Bushmills is about 2 miles away. The Old Bushmills Barn or The Holly Tree House are great places to stay, with luxurious rooms and traditional Irish hospitality. 

There is also easy access to Giant’s Causeway and other attractions like the Old Bushmills Distillery, Dunluce Castle, and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. 

Staying here provides a comfortable and convenient base for a weekend away exploring Northern Ireland’s coastline.

This is one of the best places to visit in all of Ireland, not just Northern Ireland!

Recommended by Mackenzie Jervis, A Wandering Scribbler

The iconic hexagonal basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway under a cloudy sky, a geological wonder for weekend breaks in Ireland.

14. Cushendall

Cushendall isn’t too popular a spot in the middle of the Glens of Antrim, but I was fortunate to discover it on a weekend break.

I visited the Curfew Tower, right in the village center. It’s free to look at from the outside and sets the scene for Cushendall’s long past.

During the afternoon, I went hiking along the Moyle Way, and the views of the glens around me were truly stunning!

You can enjoy these natural wonders without having to pay an entrance fee.

If you want to take it easy, Cushendall Beach is the perfect location to go.

The waves are calm depending on the season, and the views are splendid without it being too busy.

The best time to visit Cushendall is in spring, which makes the whole experience more magical.

The fields are full of flowers, and the weather is mild.

A weekend would let you enjoy Cushendall’s charm without having to rush, and the friendly mood of the village makes it easier.

Many artisan shops and restaurants serve traditional Irish food, and Glendale Bed & Breakfast was quite cozy and gave me a warm feel.

The location in the center of the village was easy to get to and allowed me to enjoy the local scene right away!

Recommended by Lavina from Continent Hop

A rugged cave entrance at the base of a lush cliff in Cushendall, inviting exploration for those on a weekend break in Ireland.

15. Portstewart

Portstewart is a hidden gem along the Northern Ireland coast. Arriving in Portstewart feels like like stepping into a storybook!

The charming seaside town, with its sprawling golden beach and the dramatic Atlantic waves, is an unforgettable experience.

Strolling along the Portstewart Strand, you’ll be greeted by the soothing sound of crashing waves and the salty sea breeze.

This beach is not just for lounging, though; it’s also a common spot for surfers, and you can even take surf lessons at one of the local schools.

One of the main highlights is walking the Portstewart Promenade.

Lined with quaint cafes and ice cream parlors, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely afternoon.

The picturesque views of the coast from here are truly postcard-worthy!

Exploring the town itself is a treat, with its array of boutique shops, local eateries, and friendly pubs where you can enjoy live music.

The warmth and hospitality of the locals make the experience even more special!

Portstewart offers cozy seaside accommodations, ranging from charming bed & breakfasts to luxurious hotels with stunning sea views.

The golden sands and rolling waves of Portstewart Strand, backed by a picturesque town, capturing the essence of coastal weekend breaks in Ireland.

In Closing: 15 Best Weekend Breaks in Northern Ireland

And there you have it! Which one of these weekend breaks in Northern Ireland are you most excited about?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of the best short breaks Northern Ireland has to offer!

Safe travels!

Much Love, Janae xoxo
Photo of author
Janae, alongside her husband, Tucker, has turned the world into her playground. Having lived and traveled in an RV for over four years, she has trekked through 22 US national parks, ventured across 28 states, and explored the natural beauty of 12 countries. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been when she witnessed Iceland's shimmering Northern Lights, explored the rugged terrains of Southern Utah, and traveled across Ireland for almost two months. A lover of adventure and couple travel, Janae's writings have been featured in notable travel websites and magazines, and she has collected an online community of over 30,000 passionate fellow travelers.

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