It’s a list that includes Alaska, Italy’s Aeolian Islands and the Kii Peninsular in Japan – but sitting at the pinnacle of Lonely Planet’s Top Regions to Visit in 2018 is a rather more familiar destination: Northern Ireland. Belfast, in particular, is a spot that really caught the judges’ eyes. The last 20 years have been times of distinct change in the city, from a heavily patrolled centre to a thriving sprawl of urban creativity. And lying just beyond is a whole expanse of scenery that will leave you breathless for a wholly different reason – namely the stunning natural beauty of the otherworldly Causeway Coast. So read on, and find out why you should visit Northern Ireland in 2018.
1. The Gobbins Cliff Path
Recently reopened after its closure in the 1950s, the Gobbins is a stunning coastal walking route that winds around the edge of dramatic cliffs. The path was originally built by the Edwardians, and leads to incredible hidden caves and an abundance of wildlife. For the less adventurous, you can also take in the view from the sea with a boat ride along the coast.
2. Antrim Attractions
The Causeway Coastal Route may have been named as a key factor to Northern Ireland’s victory, but Antrim is also home to a whole host of other amazing experiences. Slemish Mountain (pictured) is the first known Irish home of Saint Patrick, and perfect for a romantic hike with beautiful views of the Scottish coast – while the Steensons offers a rare opportunity to see highly skilled craftspeople creating traditional works.
3. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
This 100-foot rope bridge has connected County Antrim to Carrick Island for over 250 years – though it’s a little sturdier today than it has been in previous years. As recently as the 1970s, it consisted solely of a single handrail and gapped wooden planks.
4. Giant’s Causeway
A must-see on many a traveller’s bucket list, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Northern Ireland’s most iconic locations. Legend goes that a great Celtic warrior named Finn McCool built the structure to challenge his rival, a giant named Benandonner, to battle – but scientists believe that it was formed by a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago.
5. Game of Thrones®
From the Dark Hedges that became Kingsroad, to Lough Neagh that transformed into the Summer Sea, to the huge number of castles that brought Westeros to life – no location has played quite as legendary a role as Northern Ireland in Game of Thrones®. With the final season set for release in 2019, it’s the perfect time to take a Game of Thrones® tour in Northern Ireland.
6. Bushmills Distillery
Tucked away on the banks of the river in the small village of Bushmills and less than four miles from the Giant’s Causeway, you’ll find the world’s oldest licensed Irish whiskey distillery. Family and friends have run Bushmills Distillery for over 400 years, with small-batch, hand-crafted blends their key to wonderfully smooth Irish whiskey.
7. Rathlin Island
Rathlin is Ireland’s only inhabited offshore island, sitting within the Antrim Coast and the Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Take the passenger ferry from Ballycastle and hear how Robert the Bruce took refuge from Edward I on the secluded island, only to return to reclaim the Scottish crown after seeing a persevering spider build its web against all odds. And if the insects don’t inspire you, then the puffins of the Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre sure will – it’s home to one of Europe’s largest and busiest seabird colonies.
8. Royal Portrush Golf Club
Considered to be one of the most beautiful and challenging golf courses in the world, the Royal Portrush Golf Club will become the first club in Ireland to host The Open Championship in 2019. So get your round in early before the greats descend on the stunning greens.
Inspired? Start planning your Northern Irish adventure today.
Featured image © CasparDiederik (@storytravelers) for Tourism Ireland