Heading to Belfast for a few days? Turn it into a breath-taking five day exploration of Northern Ireland’s rich past and vibrant present… and a little dose of unbelievable ice cream, seafood and whisky, although not all at the same time.

14 miles 35 minutes

Carrickfergus

You can’t come to Carrickfergus without a trip to Maud’s Ice Cream. It’s that simple. The small, family run parlour has been sourcing the best flavours from across the world since 1982 and makes delectable treats like  ‘super melty fudge’ and ‘gooey honeycomb’ from scratch on a weekly basis. This is no half measures ice cream, so much so, it’s been given over 120 awards and makes the perfect start to a day in Country Antrim’s oldest town.

Once you’ve got the important part out of the way be sure to head up to the town’s biggest attraction, Carrickfergus Castle. Built in 1177 by Anglo-Norman Knight, John de Courcy, the castle played a significant military role until 1928 and was besieged on numerous occasions by the English, Scots, Irish and French. Fortunately, the only invasions the castle sees nowadays is by friendly tour guides, who lead eager sightseers into a small museum documenting the area’s battles, all of which provides the ideal inspiration for an energetic game of medieval make-believe to work off Maud’s calorific ice cream.

MILES

14 miles

DURATION

35 minutes

26 miles 1 hour 5 minutes

Castle Ward (Winterfell)

Fans of the ever popular HBO drama Game of Thrones will recognise this 820-acre walled estate as the home of the Starks – Westerosi noble family and the fictional protectors of the cold and brutal ‘North’. A duplication of Winterfell Castle’s archery range has been reconstructed in the courtyard in the exact spot the original series was filmed and visitors are invited to dress up in authentic costume and imagine themselves defending the keep (though please be assured this is all very PG).

Though over 1.5 million tuned in to watch the last series’ finale, it turns out not everyone has seen (or indeed cares) about GoT. Not to worry though, as there’s plenty of other things to enjoy in the area. Castle Ward is surrounded by sheltered woodlands full to the brim with local wildlife and, should the outdoors be your worst nightmare, there’s a bookshop that’s crammed with intriguing volumes and a Victorian tearoom to warm the old cockles in.

MILES

26 miles

DURATION

1 hour 5 minutes

45 miles 1 hour 5 minutes

Glenariff Forest Park

Park the car up, pop on some reliable boots and head out into one of Northern Ireland’s truly spectacular national parks. Among the many things within its serene setting is the Waterfall Walkway, an 80 year old, 3 mile path through the trees which passes two striking waterfalls and a highly recommended restaurant, perfect for a well needed sit down after you’ve worked up an appetite with all that walking.

The park, more than anything, is a chance to leave your phone/tablet/children at home and – without sounding horribly cliché – take it all in. This is miles and miles of dense, beautiful forest inhabited by some animals only found in this part of the world. The brilliant part about travelling to a place like Glenariff is that it’s in no way dependent on the weather; it offers stunning sights in all seasons and is an opportunity that, if you’re even the tiniest bit nearby, you simply shouldn’t miss.

MILES

45 miles

DURATION

1 hour 5 minutes

60 miles 1 hour 20 minutes

Ramore Bar & Restaurants

Sometimes, queuing for something only makes you appreciate the end product more – a philosophy that the Ramore Restaurants strongly prescribe to. Located in the seaside town of Portrush on the spectacular coast of North Antrim, this collection of bars and eateries serve up everything from the freshest fish (at The Mermaid Kitchen) to straight out the oven stone-baked pizzas (at Coast Pizzeria). The food is colourful and beautifully presented, the staff are warm and inviting, and if that wasn’t enough, it’s all topped off with stunning views out over the harbour.

But do make sure you save room for dessert. These homemade, melt in the mouth creations are listed on the menu as ‘famous’ for good reason and you should be assured that whatever you pick will be sublime. If you really can’t decide, just close your eyes and point or, failing that, have one of everything.

MILES

60 miles

DURATION

1 hour 20 minutes

60 miles 1 hour 20 minutes

Bushmills Distillery

Let’s be honest. When you think of touring a distillery the first thing that comes to mind is the all-important tasting part at the end. Here at Bushmills, however, it’s the smell you should really be looking (sniffing?) out for. The powerful scent of barley turning into malt hits you the moment you set foot in the building and, as you’re directed around the factory, the aromas change according to the process. The enlightening tour lasts around 40 minutes and takes you through each stage of the distillation – from mash house to bottling to that vital first taste. Be sure to make a reservation if there’s a big group of 15 or more (or suffer an unpopular journey home).

Though we usually shy away from such things, do make sure you swing by the gift shop on your way out as it’s the only place in the world where you can get your hands on Bushmills’ Extra Special 12-Year Old Distillery Reserve Single Malt – if not for yourself then for your soon to be ecstatic [insert well-liked relative here] at Christmas.

MILES

60 miles

DURATION

1 hour 20 minutes