10 Day Northern Ireland Itinerary

Carlingford Castle

How are you with last minute decisions?  Me… well, I usually have to let things settle before I am ok with a decision.  At the end of June, my husband and I decided {quite last minute} to take a 10 Day Northern Ireland Vacation as a family.  Making that decision was one of the best ‘last minute’ decisions we have ever made.

Northern Ireland is the world’s best kept secret, both in the character of its people and its scenery…. Liam Neeson

Let’s rewind back to 2019.  Summer of 2019, we took our first Ireland Vacation.  Planning took us roughly 4 months – where to go – where to stay – what to see – rental car – excursion tickets. The list goes on and on.  For our Northern Ireland Vacation.  My husband and I had it planned within 4 days.  

Steps In Our Planning Process: 

  • Sunday – flights booked
  • Tuesday – Rental car booked
  • Wednesday – All 5 locations with accomodations booked

All that was left was mapping out our must-see sights and the off the beaten track sites. A great tip in narrowing down areas is to print off a map of the area you are visiting and Google top must-see locations.  

For us, some of those sites included:

  • Carlingford – within the Republic of Ireland – just on the boarder.  It was featured in the movie Finding You.
  • Hillsborough Castle – where the Queen stayed when she was in Northern Ireland
  • Belfast – The Titanic Museum, Cathedral Quarter
  • The Northern Coast including a stay in Portrush – The Hidden Village, Waterfall, Ballintoy Harbor, The Dark Hedges, Carrick A Rede Rope bridge, Giant’s Causeway, Dunluce Castle, Portrush beach
  • Derry (Londonderry) – the walled city
  • St Patrick’s Chair and Well
  • Malahide including Malahide Castle

Our Itinerary for 10 Days:

Day 1: Fly out of Montreal to Dublin 

Day 2: Arrive in Dublin (due to time change, we arrived before noon on Day 2) and picked up our rental car from Avis Car Hire – a Toyota Corolla wagon – automatic (which I highly recommend if you have never driven on the opposite side before. Makes one less thing to think about) – Head to Carlingford 

Day 3:  Explore Carlingford a bit more in the morning, then head to Belfast with a stop in Hillsborough to see Hillsborough Castle along the way.  

Day 4: Titanic Museum in Belfast and explore the city of Belfast

Day 5: Leave Belfast heading to Portrush but stopping at some must-see sights and off the beaten track sites along the way – like the Hidden Village of Galboly

Day 6: Explore Portrush and have a relaxing day at the beach

Day 7: See the Dark Hedges, Carrick A Rede rope bridge, Giant’s causeway

Day 8: Depart Portrush and visit Dunluce Castle in the morning, then head to Derry (Londonderry) to see the oldest walled city in Europe

Day 9: Depart Derry and head to Malahide stopping to see St Patrick’s Chair and Well – explore Malahide

Day 10: Leave Ireland via Dublin Airport

ANNOUNCEMENT:  10 Day Northern Ireland Itinerary is also on YouTube.  Click HERE – or the photo below – to view our scenic adventure and travel tips. You can also subscribe to my YouTube channel to stay in the know for any future vlogs on travel or lifestyle categories.

Day 1: Flight to Dublin via Air Transat – with layover in Toronto – overnight to Dublin.  We purchased the Option Plus package which included checked baggage, board plane within first couple groups, and a meal.   I would highly recommend this.  Saved time and hassle with boarding and your luggage.  With the outrageous airport worker shortage and increase issue in lost luggage, we decided to go carry-on only.  It was a challenge, but it worked.  Plus, since we were boarding within the first couple of groups, we never had an issue with putting our carry-on luggage in the above compartments.  All 4 of us could always get the space we needed right away.  We fit our entire 10 days within our rolling 20 inch suitcase as well as a carry bag (I did not get to use my new Beis luggage which I was excited to use  – see past Blog, but my Beis Weekender bag was extremely efficient and allowed me to keep my itinerary and on-hand requirements right where I needed them for fast access).  

Pro’s and Con’s of an overnight flight:  You arrive and still have the entire day to explore, however it is hard to sleep on the plane. At least it is for me.  Recommendation: get as much sleep as you can on the plane and push through the day as normal.  You may need to go to bed slightly earlier that night, but you will accustom to their time zone much quicker.

Day 2: Arrival in Dublin: Process of the day included – pick up car at Avis Car Hire and head to Carlingford for our first night stay.

avis car hire dublin

Sites Seen:

  • Ghan House
  • Taaffe’s Castle
  • King John’s Castle
  • Slieve Mountain

We headed to Carlingford immediately after landing– quoted as the prettiest medieval town in Ireland and was featured in the movie Finding You.  We actually stayed at the bed and breakfast that was in the movie – Ghan House.  A quaint – picture perfect location. We were warmly greeted by Paul who knew us right away.   He showed us to our room – a family room which consisted of a double bed and bunk beds.  We stayed only 1 night, but in the end, we wished we had of stayed more.  

The property of Ghan house is situated on a large grassy property within minutes of the town features.  It includes a pond and a castle-like gate house.  The bed and breakfast itself has a main building and a garden building (which is where we were placed).  The dining area for breakfast is a scene stratight out of a historic picture with fine china tea cups, fresh pastries, jams and fruit and a delicious traditional Irish breakfast served with a smile.  

The property also hosts fine dinner dining on various evenings as well.  Our arrival day, there was no dinner dining, so we headed to the town core to explore. 

We stumbled upon – ma bakers – which was also featured in the movie Finding You as well at Taaffe’s Pub and Castle. We walked in and a local band was playing as well as a ‘second day’ wedding (it is tradition for the day after a wedding to have a ‘second day wedding’ where family and friends keep on celebrating, but at an informal location).  We all had a Guinness or a Cider and then headed across the street for a bite to eat.  

With not much sleep, we were all asleep that night by 8pm local time. 

Carlingford ireland

Day 3:  After our delicious Irish breakfast (as mentioned above), we set out to explore the town even more falling apon a statue of Thomas Darcy McGee. A founding father of Canada. He was born in Carlingford. This was a nice ‘at home’ surprise to enlighten our day. Carlingford has an amazing castle which was built in the 800’s. I find the history of Ireland facinating with it’s old structures, castles and churches.

We left Carlingford after lunch and headed to Hillsborough to see Hillsborough Castle – where the Queen stayed while visiting Northern Ireland.  Gorgeous. Such a magnificent structure that a picture does not do it justice.  We also came upon a park with a walking trail.  We decided to explore and came upon a ‘fort’ like structure which was a security wall and check points for Hillsborough castle.

We then left Hillsborough and arrived in Belfast.  We stayed at the Malmaison boutique hotel.  A pretty modern hotel.  We each had separate rooms at this hotel – ours with a queen bed and 2 single beds in the other.  

Great Features of the Location of Malmaison:

  • Central to all main locations – shopping area, Titanic museum – 10 minute walk, Cathedral Quarter – 10 minute walk and underground parking a 5 minute walk away. Lot’s of restaurants and pubs all within walking distance as well.  

Sites Included:

  • Titanic Museum: pre-purchase tickets to make arrival simple
  • Waterfront District
  • Shopping District
  • Cathedral Quarter – cobberstone streets with pubs and shops
  • Dirty Onion – Oldest building in Belfast

After settling at the hotel, we ventured out to explore.  We stumbled across a pedestrian area with shops, restaurants, a mall and pubs.  We stopped at a great restaurant to eat and met some locals who recommended some key spots to see.  We then fell upon the Cathedral Quarter and the oldest building (which houses a Pub) in Belfast – the Dirty Onion – where a local band was playing.  We decided to have a pint and take in the music. We were in Belfast for 2 nights and explored the city centre as well as visited the Titanic Museum (highly recommend). A different feel from Carlingford, but amazing nonetheless.

Day 5:  We departed Belfast for Portrush.  We decided to take our time arriving in Portrush so we can see the sites along the Northern Coast. 

Sites Included:

  • A quaint beach area in Waterfoot
  • The Hidden Village of Galboly
  • Glenairff Forest Park and Waterfall
  • Ballytoy Harbour

While searching for the Hidden Village of Galboly, we stumbled apon the cute quaint village – Waterfoot (in all honesty… we had to use the bathroom). There were tall grasses surrounding the public washroom area and while my husband and son were waiting for my daughter and I, they decided to walk a short path through the grasses. They came apon this spectacular beach. You never know what you may see when you just take the time to explore.

The Hidden Village of Galboly is a not only one of the ‘off the beaten track’ locations, but also a must-see.  It can be hard to find. We actually drove by the drive-way once before turning around and spotting it.  In order to locate this hidden village (which was inhabited hundreds of years ago by 7 families – 2 of which were Murphy’s.  It is also a filming location for Game of Thrones.), you are required to hike up a hill/mountain for about 20-30 minutes.  But!  Once you reach this village you will not be disappointed.  Medieval buildings made of straw, mud and stone.  It was a magnificent sight to see.  They do have an ‘honour’ box located at the entry/exit which does help with the upkeep of the walking trail.  

After that lovely mountain hike, we headed to Glenairff to locate a beautiful waterfall.  Located in a National park sort of speak – Glenairff Forest Park, we did another hike around rippling streams and multiple waterfalls of various sizes. Picture perfect spots to fill your soul with some much-needed nature ….  We ended up swimming in one of the waterfall holes.  Well, maybe not quite swimming since the water was ice cold, but we all entered the water to experience a typical Irish water system. 

Leaving Glenairff, we were on route for Portrush – a seaside beach town with a low-key vibe.  Before we reached our destination, we came across Ballintoy Harbour and stopped to admire the view.  A quaint harbour which included a cave and pretty landscape for some fantastic family shots.  

We finally reached our destination in Portrush.  We stayed at the Aldelphi Hotel for 3 nights.  It was a family room which consisted of a queen size bed and 2 twin beds. A very large and spacious room.  Our stay included breakfast each morning as well.   The location was central to the town – walking distance to everything (shops, restaurants, the beach, entertainment and golf) and within a 30 minute’s drive of  some top must-see attractions.  Parking was not on-site, but only a 5-minute walk away in a public free parking lot.  The hotel itself is an older hotel, but it was clean, the food was delicious and you really couldn’t beat the location to the nearby attractions. Since we arrived later in the day – we headed out to find a place to eat.  Basalt Restaurant is where we ended where you can get a fantastic meal of Tapas with a gorgeous view overlooking the harbour.  

Sites Included:

Day 6: We decided to have a relaxing day in the town of Portrush since we had been on the go exploring, hiking and driving a lot. After hiking approximately 71 flights of stairs up and down mountains and cliffs the day before (according to my apple watch), a relaxing day on the beach sounded like heaven.  

The beach was wide and spacious with beautiful white sand and cliffs expanding into the ocean.  The Irish day was abnormally hot (Europe was in a heat wave at the time) with temperatures reaching up to 25 deg Celsius so sitting on the beach felt like we were in the Caribbean.  My husband decided to go check out the ocean (Northern Atlantic Ocean) and at first step – IT WAS FREEZING!  We could see locals enjoying the water but after examining them a bit more closely, they were almost all wearing wet suits. A few more steps in the water and he also discovered another reason for the wetsuits – JELLYFISH!.  A local was walking by and my husband asked him if they sting?  “Oh yes. They most certainly do”.  

The sun was shining bright, so seeing them in the water was a cinch.  He and our daughter only made it into the water to just under their waists, but they checked off their bucket lists of ‘swimming’ in an Irish Ocean.  

After our beach morning, we headed to a beach-side café for lunch, then back to the Adelphi to change for the afternoon.  Portrush has a year-round amusement park – Curry’s Fun Park (Originally called Barry’s Amusement Park – it opened in 1926 by a former trapeze artist/circus manager and closed in 2021 after remaining in the family for that long.  It reopened with new owning under the name of Curry’s in the spring of 2022)

We ended our day with a fabulous dinner at Mermaid – delicious seafood.

Day 7 – Exploring Day from Portrush

  • The Dark Hedges
  • Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge
  • Giant’s Causeway

After a scrumpteous Irish breakfast, we headed to The Dark Hedges.  Only approximately 30 minutes from Portrush, this attraction is a must-see (featured in the TV series Game of Thrones, but if you are like us and have not watched that series, it is still an amazing attraction).  There is parking available across the street at the Dark Hedges Hotel. Trying to get that Instagram picture perfect shot of the trees/hedges will be quite difficult due to the tourists admiring the scenery just like yourself, but you will still be able to get some fabulous photo’s.  The trees are Beech and have grown into such an extraordinary way ‘hedging’ over the laneway creating an eerie yet beautiful landscape.  We were so happy to see this amazing location.

Next up was Carrick-a-rede.  We pre-booked our tickets a couple days prior to ensure we would be able to experience this wonder.  (Also, with pre-booking, I was unable to back out of doing this due to my nerves).  Carrick-a-rede is a rope bridge that was created approximately 250 years ago by salmon fisherman.  It spans 20 meters long and is 30 metres above sea level.  It once had only one rope handle and large gaps between the slats, but in recent years, has been updated to handle up to 10 tonnes and now has 2 rope handles.  I must say that the views walking up to this attraction were specular, but the actual crossing was quite nerve racking.  It’s one thing to only have to cross it once, but once you are over, you have to come back.  On the way back, my son was ahead of me and I did have to just have him talk so I can hear his voice along the way.  Although slightly scary – it was a moment I will not regret doing.  

Once we left the rope bridge, we were starving, so we headed into Ballintoy for lunch at the Carrick-a-rede pub.  If you are hungry – go here!  The club sandwiches are to die for and apparently they have a famous clam chowder (we did not try) that locals drive miles for.  

Last of the day was Giants Causeway.  Another ‘tourist’ attraction, but one that we could not miss.  Legend has it that a giant – Finn McCool – constructed the column-type stones in order to reach Scotland to fight a Scottish giant – Benandonner.  Apparently, across the sea in Scotland, there are identical stone columns which support this legend.  

There are a couple of pathways to reach this magnificent structure.  A ‘short/direct’ path and a longer/scenic path.  By accident, we took the longer path, but in the end, it was spectacular.  There were over a hundred steps down to the sea level to reach the causeway, but the views of the cliffs, ocean and the stone columns along the way – we wouldn’t have missed for the world. 

 The day was now running to an end, so we headed back to Portrush and ate the restaurant within the Aldephi.  Bangers and mash were a hit for a traditional Irish meal. 

Day 8: Leaving Portrush and onroute to Derry (Londonderry), we decided to stop to see the famous Dunluce Castle.  It is only about 15 minutes from Portrush and the history behind this scenic castle is amazing.  Built on a cliff around 1500 by the MacQuillans but were later ousted by the MacDonells by a feud.  The MacDonnells were growing in power – so much so – that Queen Elizabeth (in 1584) sent her people to take over Dunluce Castle.  It was later returned to the MacDonnell family in 1586.  Legend has it that the kitchen fell into the sea killing staff along with it and on stormy nights, you can hear them scream far off in the distance.  

This castle – along with its amazing history – was once of the most beautiful structures I’ve ever seen.  

Tip:  Get there early since tourists and buses do show up quickly.  We arrived shortly after it opened at 9:30am and were able to see the entire building with little to no people interference.  

Leaving Dunluce, we headed to Derry – or Londonderry if you are partial to the UK politics.  We spent the day in the walled city admiring the history and structures of the place.  Derry is the oldest walled city in Europe.  There is still obvious division amoung the city with some streets lined with Union Jack flags and others lined with Irish Republic flags.  If you are unsure what the division is about – click HERE to read all about it

We enjoyed walking through the walled city and visiting its remarkable churches, then headed to our Bed and Breakfast about 10 minutes out of town – Arkle House.  A quaint white house within a treed lot with a lovely couple who have provided their services for over 30 years.  Their rooms have all been updated and the Irish Breakfast in which was made was ever so tasty.  

Tip:  We had prepaid for our accommodation in Derry prior to our vacation. Once in Northern Ireland, we had learned from locals that Donegal was a terrific location to stay in and visit.  We wished we had of known this prior to booking since we would have just stopped for lunch in Derry to take in the sites, then headed over to Donegal to explore that area.  

Day 9: Leaving Derry – we were now headed for our last vacation site – Malahide.  On route, we stopped at St Patrick’s Chair and Well.  Our Waze App took us a bit on a wild good chase, but we found it.  It is said that this is where St Patrick came to rest and heal patrons.  Walking in the forest along a shamrock lined path, we fell upon a spectacular structure in which was indeed St Patrick’s chair.  To its right – another path was where his well was found.  This well never runs dry and if you touch the water within it and make a prayer or wish – you will be healed.  Next to the well, was a tree which was lined with clothing, pictures, letters and mementoes where other visitors have left in order to be healed by St Patrick. An amazing ‘off the beaten track’ location that was definately a highlight.

Arriving in Malahide, we were accompanied by our only day of rain.  (we were blessed – being it is Ireland – that day 9 was the only day of this).  We explored the best we could in the pouring rain but we did see the harbour front and Malahide Castle – the outside since it was about to close for the day.  We stayed at The Grand Hotel which was booked via Booking.com.  Since Malahide is a big tourist town with golf and only 15 minutes from the airport and along the rail lines from Dublin – it was quite a busy hotel. If I may be honest, out of all our accommodations along our adventure, this was probably our least favourite.  Location was perfect – since we were leaving the next day, but food and the intermittent wifi was not the greatest.  Overall, a great place to stay for the convenience to the airport to return home, but other than that – not a location in which to explore (just my opinion though).  

Day 10: Departure from Dublin Airport to Home.  

The drive to the airport was smooth.  Malahide is only 15 minutes from the Dublin Airport to we left in plenty of time to arrive at the Car Hire, drop off our perfect little Toyota Corolla wagon and begin our journey back to Canada. 

Side Note: We made it to our last day in Ireland and we were all sad to leave. It’s funny – whenever we head to the Caribbean, we are ready to return home when departure day arrives. But!  These past two Irish vacations, we have been sad to leave. We just were not ready.  The hospitality, scenery, and peacefulness of Ireland really does something to the soul.  It is almost as if it grounds you. 

The Dublin Airport had no delay issues. We walked right up to the Air Transat desk, checked in and through security in a matter of 20 minutes. We did have a gate change during our wait, but all information was displayed nicely.  

This Ireland vacation – when comparing to our previous one – was another 10/10.  I have been asked which part of Ireland I liked better?  Honestly, I cannot decide.  Each part – Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland had many fabulous sites and locations to see that both trips were entirely different.  

If I could give some tips:

  • If you are going for 10 days, pick a route. Don’t try to do both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. You will not appreciate what each location has to offer.
  • Do research the areas or better yet, read up on my past Ireland blog plus search out YouTube and Pinterest for travel ideas.
  • Spend a bit extra and upgrade your flights to an option that gives you priority boarding.  Saves any headache worrying if your carryon luggage will fit, gets you on the plane quicker and just keeps your travel less stressful.
  • If you are renting a car – spend the extra to get an automatic.  It’s one thing to be driving on the opposite side of the road, but to figure out the stick shift as well… that is just one less thing to have to think about. 
  • Plan out some key areas of interest, but be open to detours and spur of the moment finds.  You’ll be surprised and what will just pop up in front of you.  Go with it.  Vacations are meant to be about exploring.
  • Finally, remember to take it all in, relax, and laugh a lot.  Life is about moments.  Moments involving laughter.  Moments of involving adventure and packing up that luggage full of memories to share with your loved ones.  

A Map View of our iIinerary:


If you are interested in more Ireland travel locations and tips – read my 10 Day Ireland Itineray, A Castle Fit For A Princess or head over to my YouTube Channel for videos and shorts of other travel aspects. For Example – click below:

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