A guide to Northern Ireland for students

Northern Ireland uniquely combines stunning scenery and vibrant cultural cities. The nation’s fascinating history, untouched nature, and lively cities mean you will never be short of places and things to see. Read more to find out how to get the best out of your time in Northern Ireland.

Students walking the grounds of Queen's University, Belfast.

A traditional red-brick university building at Queen's University, Belfast.

1. Study at one of Northern Ireland's world-class universities

Northern Ireland is home to remarkable global universities offering a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Studying in Northern Ireland is a fantastic option for international students, as it has a well-established reputation for academic excellence, an affordable way of life, and a welcoming, friendly atmosphere.

Queen’s University Belfast

One of the most well-known universities in Northern Ireland is Russell Group Queen's University Belfast. It has a reputation for high-quality teaching and ground-breaking research, especially in fields such as medicine, engineering and social sciences. Queen’s University Belfast has a diverse student population, and if you choose to study there, you’ll be right at home with students from over 90 countries.

Ulster University

Ulster University is ranked in the top 25 per cent of UK universities for its health, dentistry, nursing and pharmacy research. It’s also known for its expertise in peace and conflict studies, renewable energy and biomedical sciences. Uniquely, it has multiple campuses across Northern Ireland, from Belfast to Coleraine and Derry-Londonderry.

The Titanic Museum is dedicated to the tragic story of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

2. Soak in some culture at Northern Irish museums and cultural centres

Northern Ireland has many museums and cultural centres, each showcasing the region's rich heritage. You could explore the vast Ulster Museum in Belfast, with its art, history, and natural sciences exhibits, or the unique Titanic Museum in Belfast, dedicated to the tragic story of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Another popular attraction is the Seamus Heany HomePlace, dedicated to the life and work of the critically acclaimed Irish poet and located in Heany’s hometown of Bellaghy.

Two people playing instruments side by side. The one on the left is strumming a guitar adn the one on the right is playing a banjo.

You'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to live music and Northern Ireland.

3. Experience Northern Irish nightlife with live music and traditional charm

Northern Ireland is famous for its dynamic live music scene, which attracts a diverse range of local and international artists, as well as its intriguing nightlife. It is home to many innovative venues, from quirky pubs like Peadar O’Donnell’s in Derry-Londonderry, which is the place to go for live traditional Irish music with uilleann pipes ('pipes of the elbow') and fiddles, to Angel & Two Bibles in Belfast, a speakeasy with whimsical interior and a staircase to ‘heaven’ (the cosy cocktail bar and rooftop).

When seeking out live music, you’ll be spoilt by the genres available and will find anything from traditional Irish music (a genre of folk music that originated in Ireland and uses instruments such as the tin whistle and banjo) to rock, pop and beyond. Some popular music venues in Northern Ireland include the impressive SSE Arena Belfast, the classical Ulster Hall, and the ornate Grand Opera House. Northern Ireland even hosts several music festivals throughout the year, such as Belfast International Arts Festival and Belfast Blues Festival.

Photograph of the street art mural of the Derry Girls in Derry-Londonderry.

A popular attraction in Derry-Londonderry is the mural of the Derry Girls.

4. Learn about Northern Irish history and culture through its street art and murals

Northern Ireland’s vibrant street art scene is ever-developing. The art form is an increasingly popular choice of artists to express themselves to the public and decorate the region’s walls with eye-catching murals. In 2013, the city of Belfast founded the ‘Hit The North’ Street Art Festival, which is dedicated to honouring and showcasing the art form and developing the street art industry locally.

Northern Irish street art often has political and social themes that explore and explain the region's history. Famous murals conveying the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Belfast are in the Falls Road and Shankill Road areas. Street art in Northern Ireland also celebrates local culture, including pieces on sport (especially football), cinema, and the region’s iconic nature and landscapes.

A popular attraction is the Derry-Londonderry street art mural of the Derry Girls characters, a television series that became popular in 2018 and follows the story of a young girl, her cousin and her friends who attend a Catholic girls' school in Derry in the midst of a national conflict. Episode storylines include the teenagers causing an uproar at a traditional Irish wedding and sneaking out to attend a Take That concert in Belfast after being forbidden by the adults.

Castlerock is a 1km long stretch of beach just west of Coleraine.

Portrush has its very own cultural centre and café, Arcadia.

5. Get to the beach - you'll never be too far from one

Northern Ireland is home to lots of scenic beaches that offer a refreshing alternative to the busy cities. Escape the hustle and bustle and relax by the sea at Portrush’s Whiterocks Beach, with its beautiful golden sand and impressive rock formations (perfect for an afternoon stroll with a coffee in hand), and East Strand, another sandy beach with its very own cultural centre and café, Arcadia).

Derry-Londonderry is home to Benone Strand, the perfect beach for activities such as swimming and fishing, and Castlerock Beach, a 1km long stretch of beach close to the tranquil resort of Castlerock. In the town of Bushmills, you can find Giant’s Causeway, a world heritage site of dramatic interlocking basalt columns and stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot to the sea. Gaelic mythology suggests the landmark is what is left of a causeway built by a giant.

An overhead shot of fish and chips on a plate with mushy peas, salad, a yoghurt dip and a coffee on a wooden table.

Northern Irish cuisine is influenced by the country's coastal landscape and agricultural history.

6. Try the local cuisine, starting with an Ulster Fry

Northern Irish cuisine is often hearty, influenced by the country’s coastal landscape and longstanding agricultural history. Some popular dishes from Northern Ireland include:

  • The Irish breakfast: a traditional breakfast of bacon, sausages, black pudding, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, and soda bread.
  • Potato bread: a type of fried bread made from mashed potatoes, flour, and baking powder.
  • Fish and chips: fried fish served with chips and often mushy peas.
  • Steak and Guinness pie: a savoury pie made with beef, carrots, onions, and Guinness (beer).
  • Apple tart: a dessert made from sliced apples, sugar, and pastry.

Northern Irish cities such as Belfast and Derry-Londonderry are home to plenty of eclectic cafes and restaurants where you can find these dishes and enjoy the region’s traditional cuisine for yourself. Try The Jailhouse, Belfast, for an authentic Northern Irish dining experience, with a classic interior perfect for a casual lunch setting, or AMPM, Belfast, for a floral extravaganza perfect for taking some foodie photos. Another photographic spot for local cuisine is Derry-Londonderry’s Primrose on the Quay, with its freshly sourced food and pretty interior, including elegant chandeliers and a flower wall.

The 'Umbrella Street' in Belfast.

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