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Northern Ireland for an Outdoorsy Family Vacation

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Northern Ireland has so much to offer. Northern Ireland is an incredible place to take the family if you want to have plenty of outdoor time and don't mind the possibility of bracing weather. We visited at the end of August and had a mainly warm and dry trip, but I'd always recommend taking wet weather gear with you. Also, this region is much easier to explore with a car, so definitely consider hiring one while you're there.


Where to Stay and Eat

If you want to get out of the busyness of Belfast, I'd recommend heading for the Bushmills area. In this area, you'll find plenty of B&Bs or small hotels and you're still never far from the action.


There are a number of great restaurants in town; my personal favorite was The Bushmills Inn. Do note that at busier periods, you may need to book in advance for evening meals pretty much anywhere you choose to dine.


What to Do in Northern Ireland

While older kids may get excited about seeing Game of Throne filming locations, everyone will have a whale of a time exploring the many sights of Northern Ireland.


The Giant's Causeway: this causeway of basalt columns in County Antrim is a sight to behold in any weather. Kids will love clambering over them, checking out rock-pools, sitting in the chair shaped rock and generally having a wild old time. There are also great cliff walks in this area.


Tip: Although the Giant’s Causeway is a National Trust site, you do not have to park in their expensive car park or even pay to visit the site. Simply don't use the Visitors' Centre and there's nothing to pay them for. There are far cheaper parking options around. You could even take the little train up from Bushmills. There is a bus running from the visitors' centre to the causeway; you can use this whether you've paid for the National Trust facilities or not as it's a separate (small) charge. It takes about twenty minutes to walk down and is worth doing for the views, if your kids can manage it.   


Dunluce Castle: This cliff-top castle was built around 1500 and today is little more than a ruin, which makes it a perfect castle to explore with children as they can run and play without interference. When I took my own family there, people seemed genuinely delighted to see my small children so obviously enjoying a bit of history. The views from this castle are spectacular and the small visitors' room offers a good history of the place. There are even some activities for children. It costs £5* per adult and £3* for children over 3. The cafe opposite the castle serves good cake and the staff is incredibly friendly. There is a selection of kids' books to keep the small ones entertained while you collapse into said delicious cake.


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White Rocks Beach: From Dunluce Castle, drive down to White Rocks Beach where you will find wild beauty on this sandy beach. If you head left on the beach, you'll come to a huge wall of sand, presumably part of a sand dune. This is a perfect opportunity to repeatedly climb up and roll down until everyone is exhausted. If you prefer to not throw yourself down a wall of sand for no reason, turn right instead to explore the rocks.


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Carrick-a-Rede: This is the famous rope bridge that was erected in the 18th century by fishermen needing access to Carrick-a-Rede island (home to just one fisherman's cottage). The bridge is 30m above the violent sea and is just 20m long. If you visit this site, you need to know that the car-park is a good 40 minute walk from the bridge. Also note that from the lower car-park you can head down the cliffs to a rocky beach that is perfect for kids to practice their climbing skills and check out rock pools.


Tip: Note that tickets to the bridge are only for a specific time, so only buy your ticket when you're actually ready to start the walk.


Get there as early as possible as only a few people are allowed on the bridge at any one time - meaning queues build up quickly. You really do want to beat the tour buses. We took our 3 and 5-year-old kids across and it was fine. They both seemed to enjoy the experience, though, as parents, our hearts were in our throats!


Dark Hedges: The trees at Dark Hedges were impressive, but I imagine these trees mean more to people who have seen The Game of Thrones than to people who have not. Again, get there early to avoid tour buses and for a chance to take photos without one gazillion people in them. A good secret here is to park in the car park for the nearby stately home, Gracehill House. By doing so, you can also have fun exploring their grounds and discovering all the fairy homes they've dotted about the place.


There is obviously far more to Northern Ireland than the few sites mentioned in this article, but these should set you up for a fabulous outdoorsy vacation!


All content provided in this blog is supplied by Cassie Pearse and is for informational purposes only. Barclays makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the blog or found by following any link within this blog.


*Prices indicated in this article may vary according to season and guest demand. Please check corresponding website(s) for current pricing and availability.

Image credit: Cassie Pearse



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