Travelling to Northern Ireland

By Air

For an international tourist there are very few, if any, international flights coming into the province. As you can imagine, with the Covid pandemic it’s all a bit up in the air – excuse the bad joke.

The one international airport, Belfast International (also known as Aldergrove), usually caters for the Northern Irish holidaymaker flying to destinations in the Mediterranean and Europe. However, in better times there is an occasional international flight route coming in from the US.

Most international tourists in fact arrive at Dublin or Shannon Airports in the Republic of Ireland, or at an international airport in England, and then either drive up from the Republic or take a short domestic flight from England, landing at either Belfast International, or George Best/City Airport.

Domestic visitors traveling from other parts of the UK will find that they can catch quite attractively priced flights to either Belfast International, or George Best/Belfast City Airport.

Belfast International Airport 

Belfast International Airport (IATA: BFS, ICAO: EGAA) is about 21 km / 13 miles out of Belfast city centre. For Belfast City residents this might be a problem, but for visitors planning to head up to the Causeway Coast to visit sites such as Giant’s Causeway, this is not really an issue as it puts you that bit closer. In fact, given Northern Ireland’s small size, Belfast International Airport’s location is probably not an issue for anyone renting a car and wanting to head East, West, North or South.

For those without a car, there is a regular express bus service that takes you in to Belfast in about 25 minutes. Sit upstairs and enjoy the views of our beautiful green countryside. There are also bus services to Lisburn and Derry Londonderry. Check out transport operator Translink’s website or the helpful ‘to & from’ page on the airport’s website.

George Best City Airport

George Best (IATA: BHD, ICAO: EGAC) is primarily a domestic airport servicing other cities in the UK, but there are occasional flights to/from Amsterdam and seasonal flights to international holiday destinations. The airport is located just 3 miles / 5 km from Belfast’s city centre and sits alongside Belfast Lough.

If you are a football fan you may have heard of George Best. If not and if you are planning to visit Northern Ireland you do need to know that George Best was a Northern Irish professional footballer who played for Manchester United in the 60s and 70s, and is regarded as one of the best players in the history of the sport. Even the great Pelé recognized his exceptional skill. He is of course a local hero and so we have an airport named after him.

But back to the airport. Public transportation is not great. There is an express bus service that runs every half hour, but most visitors will either take a taxi, or hire a car. While Sydenham train station is described as being just a ’short distance’ from the airport, you would need to drag your suitcases for about 15-20 minutes along a path that runs adjacent to a dual carriageway before dragging them over a footbridge before arriving at the train station. Our recommendation: budget for the taxi, or hire a car.

Car Rental

We recommend Sixt Car Rental for a few reasons:

  • It’s the company we use when we need a rental car!
  • They have offices next to both Belfast airports, at the cruise terminal for ferry connections, and pick up points in Belfast city centre as well. In addition, you’ll find offices at Dublin and Shannon airports if you are landing in the Republic of Ireland.
  • The rates are great, the staff are friendly, and we have always been happy with the car provided.


*affiliate link


By land

As previously mentioned, many international tourists (or even residents) use either Dublin Airport (in our opinion the airport with the absolute best airport Twitter account) or Shannon Airport in the west, and drive north. For the time being the border between the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and Northern Ireland (NI) is open, and it is likely to stay that way. If you are authorised to cross it you can just simply drive across. See the information below to see whether you will need a visa to enter either ROI or NI.

Note: The drive across the border is usually invisible however, you should note that the standard unit of measurement in the ROI is kilometers, and in NI it is miles. Check your speed and be mindful that speed warnings will be in either kilometers or miles depending where you are!

By sea

There are ferry services to Belfast from both Liverpool and Cairnryan in Scotland, and an additional service from Cairnryan to Larne. There is a ferry service from the Isle of Man, so if you are planning on attending the Isle of Man TT, why not visit us afterwards?

As with land and air passage, you can also take a ferry from the UK or Europe to the Republic of Ireland and drive north from the ROI.

Current ferry routes:
* Cairnryan, Scotland – Larne, NI (P&O Ferries)
* Cairnryan, Scotland – Belfast, NI (Stena Line)
* Liverpool, England – Belfast, NI (Stena Line)
* Liverpool, England – Dublin, Republic of Ireland (P&O Ferries)
* Douglas, Isle of Man – Belfast (isle of Man Steam Packet Ferries)
* Pembroke, Wales – Rosslare, Republic of Ireland (Irish Ferries)
* Fishguard, Wales – Rosslare, Republic of Ireland (Stena Line)
* Holyhead, Wales – Dublin, Republic of Ireland (Irish Ferries / Stena Line)
* Cherbourg, France – Dublin, Republic of Ireland (Irish Ferries)
* Cherbourg, France – Rosslare, Republic of Ireland (Brittany Ferries / Stena Line)
* Roscoff, France – Cork, Republic of Ireland (Brittany Ferries)
* Roscoff, France – Rosslare, Republic of Ireland (Brittany Ferries)
* Bilbao, Spain – Rosslare, Republic of Ireland (Brittany Ferries)

Check prices here:

Visa requirements for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

Although Northern Ireland is firmly located – as the name suggests – in the northern part of the island of Ireland, it is part of the United Kingdom. This means that if you have a UK passport, come on in. Similarly, if you have an Irish passport there is no border.

Other travellers need to check whether you need a visa to enter the United Kingdom. If you are coming in via the Republic of Ireland (part of the EU) you would need to check the visa status for The Republic as well. See some helpful links below.

Covid restrictions:

Check these links for the latest on travel restrictions and quarantine requirements.

Visiting the Republic of Ireland (ROI)

You do not need a visa to land in Ireland if you:

  • Are a citizen of the EEA or the UK.
  • Hold a travel document issued by an EEA member country or you have a residence card issued by an EEA country because you are the family member of an EEA citizen.
  • Are a citizen of a country listed at this link

Visiting Northern Ireland / UK

Use this useful visa checker to see the whether you require a visa to visit the UK.

Useful links:

US Department of State — Bureau of Consular Affairs: 

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