Winter can be a costly time for families especially with Christmas fast approaching and thoughts turn to presents and excursions.
Don’t worry though if you need to save your pennies for gifts and the yuletide season as Tourism Northern Ireland has put together a list of really interesting things that you can see and do in NI over the winter months that are completely free.
“You may be saving up for Christmas and all the expenses that it can bring but luckily Northern Ireland has a massive variety of pocket-friendly activities and places of interest to see that means you can have a fun day out without worrying about your bank balance,” said Tourism Northern Ireland’s Destination PR Officer, Pauline Gormley.
To help get you started, Tourism Northern Ireland has highlighted a range of free things to see and do over the coming weeks:
Bookworms will love the Linen Hall Library where they can browse through thousands of books as well as check out their exciting exhibitions or events. This much loved library is the oldest in Belfast at over 225 years old and has one of the largest Robert Burns collections outside of Scotland.
Enjoy a fun day out at the Ulster Museum where you can come face to face with dinosaurs, meet an ancient Egyptian mummy and see modern masterpieces. Admission is free and you can explore the museums rich collection of art, history and natural sciences.
Take a stroll around Botanic Gardens where you can explore the Palm House and Tropical Ravine as well as the children’s playground, bowling green, walking routes, rose garden and lots of assorted tropical plants, mature trees and flower beds. Entrance to the gardens is completely free.
Browse the stalls at St George’s Market where you will get a unique glimpse of one of Belfast’s oldest attractions, recognised as one of the best markets in the UK and Ireland, for free. You can experience the colour, sounds and smells of a busy trading day including lots of banter from the stall holders who sell everything from collectibles to fish.
Keen photographers will enjoy Ireland’s Eye Photographic Exhibition at the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena. Selected photographs by Robert John Welch, a leading photographer in Ulster during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century will be on show alongside the Answer the Call exhibition.
The Andrew Jackson Cottage and US Rangers Centre in Carrickfergus is located less than a mile from the town centre and is a traditional thatched Ulster – Scots farmhouse which was built in the 1750’s.
Entry to the centre is free where you can view an impressive exhibition on the life and career of Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States of America whose parents emigrated from Northern Ireland in 1765.
Antrim Castle Gardens are a real hidden gem and you will find nothing else like these 400 year old gardens anywhere else in Northern Ireland. Stroll around the magnificent location and visit some of the beautiful settings such as the Large Parterre, Her Ladyship’s Pleasure Garden and Yew Tree Pond.
Delve into 9,000 years of history at the Ballymoney Museum. Entry is completely free and you can browse through the array of rare finds from the Bronze and Medieval periods as well as exhibits associated with the political history of the region.
Bookworms are sure to appreciate Armagh Public Library which is one of the oldest libraries in Ireland, established in 1771 by Archbishop Robinson. The library contains 17th and 18th century books on a wide range of subjects and includes rare and valuable books, first editions and illuminated manuscripts. The Library is also an accredited museum and holds prints, ancient Irish artefacts, gems, coins, as well as other objects. Entrance to the library is free.
If music is your thing, then the Armagh Public Library is also hosting a New Music Collection exhibition which is available until December 30. The exhibition highlights examples from the Cathedral’s collection and shows how it complements the library’s own collection of hymns, psalms and secondary works on church music.
Oxford Island centre boasts four miles of footpaths, bird watching hides, woodland, ponds, wildflower meadows, picnic and play areas. The centre is fully accessible and houses an exhibition where visitors can learn all about the history, the culture and wildlife in and around Lough Neagh. Families and friends can enjoy a fun, free day out against a backdrop of panoramic views of the Lough.
Those with an interest in jewellery will be pleased to hear about the Mi – NI (My Northern Ireland) Exhibition by jewellery designer Ruth McEwan – Lyon. The exhibition takes place from November 7 to 28 in the Ards Craft and Design Centre in Newtownards and visitors can explore the special collection of pieces with a focus on Belfast.
Spend an afternoon exploring the historical ruins and lawns of the magical Cistercian Abbey Church in Co Down which was founded in 1193. Entry to the grounds is completely free.
Cranfield West Beach near to Carlingford Lough is a gently sloping sandy beach and is an area of Special Scientific Interest. Enjoy an exhilarating walk along the beach, perfect for those with a pet pooch and soak up the stunning scenery of the majestic Mourne Mountains.
Delve into the past at the Down County Museum where you can look through the exhibitions hosting artefacts relating to the history of County Down from the earliest times to the present day.
The Museum is located in the historic buildings of the eighteenth century County Gaol of Down and housed thousands of prisoners from 1796 and until its closure in 1830.
Headhunters Barber Shop & Railway Museum in Enniskillen is the perfect way to spend an afternoon with family or friends and best of all, entry is completely free! Take a remarkable journey into the past bringing the golden age of the railway vividly to life. Combine your visit with a unique opportunity to have your hair professionally styled in the wonderfully nostalgic surroundings!
Lough Navar Forest rises to the top of Magho cliffs and comprises of over 2,600 hectares of coniferous forest. Take in the spectacular views over Lower Lough Erne, Donegal Bay, the Blue Stack and Sperrin Mountains.
Bring your family for a walk up Cuilcagh Mountain which is a well-established location for hillwalkers with a network of trails that lead in and around the Mountain Park. If you are not an experienced hill walker then don’t worry as there are also less challenging walking routes available which give a real taste of the beauty in the area.
The Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre is hosting Your Story: Archiving Open Day, Big Houses of the Causeway Coast on November 7. Visitors can help Limavady Museum develop their collection further and be part of a future exhibition by bringing along their own photographs and stories relating to the Big Houses of Limavady. Attendees can peruse the photos and learn more about the history of Limavady.
Entertain your little ones at the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre with screenings of The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom on Wednesday November 4. The Gruffalo film is adapted from the bestselling book which centres on a crafty mouse protected from harm by his own vibrant imagination whilst Room on the Broom is a story about a kind witch adapted from Julia Donaldson’s much loved story.
Stock up on Christmas gifts at the 9th Annual Garvagh Craft Fair at the Garvagh Community Building on November 27. Visitors can browse the wonderful unique handmade gifts with over 25 stalls exhibiting eye catching and creative gifts.
The spectacular riverside views and woodland walks in Roe Valley Country Park mean that you and your family will be entertained for hours. You can learn all about the industrial and natural heritage of the area in the museum and countryside centre as well as keep an eye out for the local wildlife which includes foxes, badgers, otters and over 60 species of birds.
De-stress with friends or family on a leisurely walk around An Creagan Forest and River Trail. The tranquil, picturesque environment and steady trails are suitable for people of all ages and abilities and are a fun way to relax and enjoy nature.
The Alley Gallery in Strabane is home to an eclectic range of interesting exhibitions. Entry to the gallery is free and you can browse through the exciting exhibitions which normally last between 4 – 6 weeks.
Discover the interesting history behind the Beaghmore Stone Circles near Cookstown by taking time out to wander around these ancient ceremonial circles and alignments. Have fun with your family coming up with ideas on stories on what they could mean.
For more information on things to do in Northern Ireland click on www.discovernorthernireland.com or visit your local tourist information centre.