Solo Travel in Northern Ireland
The country has come a long way since the political and religious conflicts before 2000. You may not meet as many solo females here as you would in Dublin for example but there are still women enjoying solo travel in Northern Ireland.
The Irish are really friendly so if you go somewhere alone, chances are that you will not be solo for long. Don’t expect to dine or drink alone if you go into an Irish bar (which aren't like the bars you see abroad). Being here solo in the evenings isn’t a problem at all, and you’ll find plenty of company in hostels which are often full of travellers.
Below is our guide to how to travel solo in Northern Ireland as well as lots of practical information such as where to stay, which tour company to use and how to get around. Find out how to get from the airports and what to do in each place. All companies included have been recommended by solo female travellers and come with our Solo Female Friendly endorsement. Just choose the relevant section or read the full article.
- Places to Visit in Northern Ireland
- Accommodation in Northern Ireland
- Tours in Northern Ireland
- Getting Around Northern Ireland
- Northern Ireland Itinerary
- Best Time to Visit Northern Ireland
- Northern Ireland Airports
- Border Crossings
- Map of Northern Ireland
- Plan a Trip to Northern Ireland
Places to Visit in Northern Ireland
Part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has had a turbulent past, but the country is rapidly changing its image. No longer associated with ‘The Troubles’ and the conflict, Northern Ireland is becoming more known for its historical sites and gorgeous landscapes. The country is also rich in Irish traditions so visiting here is definitely an education.
Home to many of the movie settings from Game of Thrones. Northern Ireland is cheaper than Southern Ireland and is very up-and-coming with new restaurants and tours opening their doors.
Things to do in Belfast
The capital is Belfast which is a vibrant city. Here you’ll find welcoming Irish bars, good quality restaurants and a nice marina area. You can also visit Crumlin Road Gaol, a former prison that is now open for guided tours. This famous prison once housed loyalist and republican prisoners.
Take the free walking tour around Belfast to help get your bearings before exploring the Botanic Gardens. If you are feeling active, start hiking from the Belfast Castle to Cave Hill Country Park. The view from the top of cave hill is worth the walk.
In the evenings spend your time in a traditional Irish bar, a comedy club or the Queen’s Film Theatre, the city’s independent cinema. St George’s Market is a lively place to spend time on the weekends or head to the bars in the Cathedral Quarter and stop in The Crown, a Victorian pub that does a good Guinness. James Street South Bar & Grill is a lively place with great steak and fish if you are looking to treat yourself.
Belfast is also home to one of the World’s Best Tourist Attractions – the Titanic Belfast. Make sure you grab an audio guide and self-guide your way around. Even if maritime history doesn’t really interest you, you could easily spend 2-3 hours here learning more about Belfasts’ booming industries and why it was a thriving city. There is also a Shipyard ride that gives you a sense of the shipbuilders lives during the Titanic years. The whole exhibition is interactive and takes you on an amazing journey from the shipyard, through to the launch of the Titanic and exploring the underwater wreck in the Ocean Exploration Centre.
But it’s not all about the Titanic as your entrance ticket also allows entry onto the SS Nomadic Experience, Titanic’s little sister, which used to serve as a tender ship and transport passengers from the dock to the Titanic. Nomadic Belfast is the last remaining White Star vessel and a trip onboard will give you a taste of life in first class just as the Titanic passengers experienced.
HMS Caroline is a short walk away from the Titanic Belfast. This WW1 battleship is definitely worth a look around. You’ll feel like a kid exploring the cabins below and seeing torpedoes. This battleship is the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland and if you’ve never heard of it, you can watch the video projected on the ship’s walls to discover more.
Ireland's Games of Thrones Locations
Outside of Belfast, Northern Ireland has beautiful landscapes worthy of a movie setting. The Antrim coast road was built in 1832 to join the villages in the glens of Antrim and is one of the top 5 coastal drives in the world.
It’s this road that takes you on an even more famous journey, and if you love Game of Thrones you’re in for a treat. Game of Thrones (GoT) has definitely helped transform Northern Ireland into a thriving film industry. Make sure you have enough space on your phone to shoot pictures at Ballintoy Harbour (Pyke Harbour). This small fishing harbour is really picturesque and there’s a cafe to sit and immerse yourself and imagine being transported back in time.
If you don’t mind heights, walk across the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede, the tiny bridge that connects the mainland to a small island (it costs £6.50). Be prepared to wobble a bit as you cross over.
Step inside the Cushendun Caves, another one of the settings which is walkable from the village of Cushenhdun, before driving (or taking a tour) to the Dark Hedges, an atmospheric avenue of beech trees made famous by the series. For hardcore fans, the Fullerton Arms has its own room dedicated to GoT complete with its own throne! (and yes you can sit on it and have your picture taken).
There’s no denying that the Irish have a good sense of humour. See the plague dedicated to Paddy the pigeon at Carloch for example. If you love the monarchy and are on a self-drive you may want to stop at Larne to see the giant crown in the roundabout to mark the Queen’s 60th year of monarchy.
The whole country is stepped in legends and none more famous than that of the Giant’s Causeway. To escape the Scottish giant, the Irish giant smashed up the bridge he had made across the water which became known as the Giant’s Causeway (which is told in reverse in Scotland). This 60 million year old geological feature is a site of World Heritage. Made up of basalt columns, it is the habitat of rare plants and animals. Walk down from the visitor centre and catch the bus back up (it costs £1 each way). The visitor centre offers guided walks around the area.
Another legend is the haunting of Ballygally Castle, haunted by the ghost of Lady Isobel Shaw who knocks on the doors at night. Visit if you dare! You may need to stop off at the Old Bushmills Distillery if you do have a fright. This distillery is Ireland’s oldest working distillery and produces Bushmills Irish Whiskey using the water from the stream and Irish barley.
When you’re back on the road, as well as the Giant’s Causeway, the Fermanagh Lakelands are also a must-see. There are three stunning National Trust properties, as well as the world-famous Marble Arch Caves, part of a UNESCO Global Geopark with waterfalls, forests and viewpoints that will take your breath away.
County Fermanagh is a great place if you are like the water and are an active girl about the globe. You can island hop on a canoe or kayak, cycle along the waters edge or go hiking in Cuilcagh Mountain Park. There’s also a Medieval castle with award-winning displays about the area’s history and landscapes.
The Causeway Coastal Route merges with the Wild Atlantic Way at Londonderry. If you take this route, stop off at Torr Head for a wee glimpse of Scotland in the distance. Boats also operate along the causeway coast, giving you a different view point of sites such as Dunce Castle, and the beaches of Portrush (sandy beaches!)
In Londonderry, walk the 400 year old Derry walls which served as defences for early settlers in the 17th century. Walk past cannons and original gates to get a glimpse of the Renaissance streets. Learn about the city’s civil rights movement in the Museum of Free Derry then view the local history exhibits and fantastic panoramic views at the Tower Museum.
South Armagh may not be an obvious place to visit but this part of Northern Ireland has a rich cultural heritage with folklore traditions and beautiful countryside. None more so than the Ring of Gullion, a geological formation that sits in a land of giants and fairies (according to the folklore). This county is shaking off decades of conflict and emerging as a tourist destination.
With stunning coastlines, friendly locals and a land steeped in legends, Northern Ireland will really surprise you.
Accommodation in Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland you’ll find a choice of accommodation such as hostels (which are great for meeting others), guest houses, and mountain lodges. If you fancy something different, you can also stay in a castle (great for the bucket list). Booking.com offers hostels. hotels, B&Bs, country inns and more.
Plus there’s Airbnb which connects you to unique travel experiences and isn’t just limited to staying in a local’s spare room. You can save $20 off your first stay with this Airbnb link.
Homestay is an alternative to Airbnb. They connect you to hosts in over 160 countries and give a real homestay experience instead of just handing over keys. They offer a mix of stays such as a stay in a country farmhouse, or a city townhouse. You can even video call your host family before you go to find the perfect host. Check homestays and prices here
All of the accommodation below have been recommended by solo female travellers from our Girls about the Globe community and come with a Solo Female Friendly endorsement.
If you visit Ballymena, this barn hostel is the perfect base for hiking being close to the Slemish mountain. The staff are really friendly and it feels warm and cozy with the fireplace in the lounge. The bunk beds are comfy and you also get a free small breakfast too. It is a little way from Ballymena but there are buses taking you into the town. Rooms are either 8 or 12 bed or you can opt for a private family room (with loads of space).
- Prices from €19 per night for a bed in a 12-bed dormitory room
- To book, check prices or availability for Slemish Barn Hostel
This guest house offers bed and breakfast in near the Botanical Gardens in Belfast. Enjoy a full English breakfast in an old 19th century Victorian house then explore the city which is only fifteen minutes away on foot. The WiFi is fast and each room has tea and coffee making facilities. Choose from a single or double room with a shared bathroom.
- Prices from €46 per night for a single room
- To book, check prices or availability for Windermere Guest House
This property is a bit further out and is 10 minutes drive from the city centre. But it is such a lovely property that if you are looking for somewhere comfortable and lavish, it is worth treating yourself to stay here. Situated in its own private grounds in a Victorian building, this gorgeous property has a homely atmosphere and feels like a home away from home. Rooms include breakfast and all have their own private bathrooms.
- Prices from €79 per night for a single room
- To book, check prices or availability for Maryville House
This hostel and guest house is really clean and has a cozy feel to it. It is close to attractions such as the Guildhall, St. Columbs Cathedral, and the Tower Museum, and they have a 24 hour reception so you can arrive at any hour and check in. The kitchen is big and shared so you can cook your own meals. Choose from a 4-bed mixed dorm or a double room with a private bathroom.
- Prices from €24 per night for a bed in a 4-bed mixed dorm room.
- To book, check prices or availability for Derry Hostel & Guest House
Tours in Northern Ireland
G Adventures – Northern Ireland is a friendly place and good for solo females but if you feel more comfortable in a group for either part of your trip or the whole duration, G Adventures is a responsible tour company which mainly caters towards budget travellers. Most tours have an average of 10 people and there is no upper age limit. Once you book your trip you pay extra for any excursions you want to do when you’re there.
Explore Northern Ireland on a 5 day trip from €949 or combine with the Republic of Ireland (Dublin etc) for 13 days costing €2447. I have personally used G Adventures and recommend them as a solo female friendly company.
Intrepid Travel – Intrepid Travel is similar to G Adventures with an average of 12 people on each tour. Over 50% of people who book their trips are solo travellers. They tend to use hotels instead of hostels and have a more comfortable style of accommodation hence the trips can appear a bit more than G Adventures. They have a Northern and Southern Ireland tour combining both destinations for 8 days. The tour costs €1895.
With both tour companies you share a room with someone of the same gender or you can pay extra for your own room.
McComb’s Coach Travel – McComb’s offer the Giant’s Causeway Tour, the Game of Thrones Tour, and the Wee Love Belfast Tour. I took the Game of Thrones tour which although I am not a GOT fan, I really enjoyed it and saw some beautiful landscapes.
Coiste – These unique walking tours are taken by former political prisoners who share their stories and experiences of the British/Irish Conflict. I took the Falls Road tour and had such an insight into life in Belfast during the conflict. I thoroughly recommend it.
Getting Around Northern Ireland
If you are driving, you can get anywhere in the country within 90 minutes. Public transport is reasonable; Translink provides rail and bus services throughout the country. Belfast is a small city that is easy to walk around but if you prefer to cycle your way around, you can take a Belfast bike (£5 for three days), situated around Belfast city centre.
Hiring a car gives you your own flexibility and the roads are easy to drive. The Antrim coast road is one of the world’s best coastal routes so make sure that you include that on your itinerary if you hire a car.
Northern Ireland Itinerary
You could easily spend 3 to 5 nights in Belfast alone, but if you are looking to see more of the country, here is a week's itinerary to follow.
Belfast – 3 nights, BallyCastle – 2 nights, County Fermanagh – 2 nights (or swop with Londonderry for 2 nights).
Best Time to Visit Northern Ireland
It can get cold in the winter months so be prepared to take your hat and gloves. Expect some rain too. July is the best time to go to Northern Ireland with temperatures reaching an average of 18 degree celsius. Below is the weather chart for Belfast for the year, from January to December to give you an idea of the temperatures. Take a layer with you in the summer months.
Northern Ireland Airports
Belfast City Airport – Some low cost airlines fly into George Best Belfast City Airport which is really close to the city (hence the name). A taxi costs approx €10 and takes about 10 minutes. The buses from the airport are number 600 and run every 20 minutes during peak times into Europa Buscentre. The cost is €3 for a single ticket. From Belfast City Airport you can also reach Derry (known as Londonderry), by Airporter which goes from outside the airport.
Belfast International Airport – The international airport is 18 miles outside of Belfast. The Airport Express 300 bus runs from opposite the terminal exit into the Europa Buscentre, Templepatrick, and Royal Avenue. It takes up to 40 minutes and costs £7.50 one way. If you are travelling onto Londonderry or Lisburn there is an Ulsterbus and Airporter bus to both places. Taxis are available from outside the airport exit and cost approx €50 into the city.
Dublin Airport – If you can’t find any flights into or out of Belfast (or they are too expensive), look at travelling from Dublin airport instead. It’s only 2 hours on the bus and could save you some money. The bus departs Glengall Street every hour from early morning to Dublin Airport and cost €12.00. Check Aircoach for times and prices.
Feel more confident with someone waiting for you at the airport when you pre-book a transfer with Hoppa, a reliable and safe service for solo females.
Border Crossings (check visas before you travel)
From Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland, you can either hire a car, take the train – which takes 2 hours 10 minutes to Dublin and costs up to €45 – or take a bus for the same duration which is cheaper at €13 to €21. Bus companies are Aircoach, Bus Eireann, or Translink UK.
To Isle of Man – From Belfast you can travel to the Isle of Man via carry ferry. The journey takes approx 3 hours and costs from €35 to €75. Check timetables and prices through Steam Packet Company.
To England – Travel to Liverpool from Belfast on Stena Line. Boats depart twice a day, the journey takes 8 hours and costs €35. You can also reach Caimryan from Belfast.
* Check Rome2Rio for onward journeys.
Where can I go from here?
London – 1 hour 20 mins
Scotland – 1 hour
Portugal – 3 hours
- Can I drink the water? Yes.
- Is tipping expected? No, but it is good etiquette to tip 10% if you received good service.
- Fixed price or barter? Fixed price.
- Any ATMs? Yes.
- Which side of the road do they drive? The left-hand side.
- Good for vegetarians? There are a few vegetarian restaurants and you can find vegetarian choices in normal restaurants.
- Any seven wonders of the world? No but the Irish call the Giant’s Causeway the 8th Wonder of the World.
Map of Northern Ireland
Plan a Trip to Northern Ireland
If you are ready to plan a trip to Northern Ireland here are some useful links including airlines which fly there, organisations for volunteering and eco accommodation.
Budget – £65 a day
Capital – Belfast
Population – 1.8 million
Language spoken – Ulster Irish, Donegal Irish, English
Do I need a visa? Not on a UK passport
Did you know? The HMS Titanic was built in Belfast.
The Gyreum Eco Lodge is a crazy-looking building which resembles a wooden UFO. It’s a unique place to unwind and escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Choose from a 6 bed dorm, a curtained cubicle, or a double room. Be prepared for eco and no frills.
Lackan Cottage Farm is a perfect getaway whether you want to sit by the sea in a cafe, chill on the beach or hike mountains or forests. Located in Ballyroney, it’s also ideal for mountain biking with great trails and you may bike past some locations from the Game of Thrones too. If you prefer something more eco than the Birch Eco Cottage, why not spend a night in an off grid horse box?
Volunteering in Northern Ireland
World Choice Education offers volunteering programs such as agriculture, building and construction, and tree planting. Their programs last anything from 2 to 12 weeks and are ideal if you are passionate about the countryside and landscape.
Northern Ireland does have a history of conflict so with any Irish political tour that you take keep an open mind.
Coiste Tours are unique walking tours delivered by former political prisoners. These tours offer a personal insight into the conflict and are so interesting. I definitely recommend the Falls Road Mural tour.
Learn about Derry on a Bloody Sunday and Bogside Murals tour which delves into the Irish history and the conflict which happened in the area. Visit the Derry Guided Tours website for details.
The Peace 3 initiative works with students from both sides of the wall in Falls Road for a project called ‘Barriers and Mindsets.” Those who are Protestant and those who are Catholic come together to ask each other questions and discuss what they would like to see happen to the wall in the next 10 years. This project helps bridge the gap between the next generation and lessen the divide.
Mind Body & Soul
Lake Isle Retreats is a peaceful sanctuary in Upper Lough Erne, 1 hour 45 minutes from Belfast. Take part in a yoga retreat or combine it with hiking, live like a monk for a weekend, take an oriental detox, or relax on a restore retreat. The prices are really competitive and you can choose from a private or shared room.
Heartwood Refuge holds different events such as weekend retreats and yoga retreats. You can attend retreats such as ‘Transforming Self’ or ‘Letting Go.’ The teachings are primarily Buddhist teachings.
Treat yourself at the spa at Lough Erne Resort. It feels as though you’ve been transported to Thailand within the Thai Spa. It is set on a peninsula in the Fermanagh Lakelands so it may be worth staying the night to make the most of the calming aura of the location. Even the light therapy sauna, and crystal aroma steam room are swanky.
Issues in the Country
Although Northern Ireland has come a long way since its political conflict there are still ongoing challenges with dealing with and moving on from the past. The implications of Brexit could also affect the current peace process and Irish border. Read more…
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