Ballymena Travel Guide

Discover the best attractions, activities, accommodations, and local culture and customs of Ballymena, a charming town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

Introduction to Ballymena

Ballymena is a vibrant town in the County Antrim of Northern Ireland, known for its rich cultural heritage and stunning natural landscapes. Founded in the early 17th century as a market town, Ballymena has evolved into a bustling commercial center with a thriving arts and cultural scene. The town is also an excellent base to explore the surrounding areas and nearby attractions, making it a popular destination for visitors.

List of Places to Visit in Ballymena

When it comes to things to do in Ballymena, there is no shortage of options. From exploring its museums and historical sites to hiking its scenic trails and indulging in its culinary delights, travelers can discover the town’s many attractions and experiences. Below is our list of the best places to visit in Ballymena:

Culturally Important Attractions: Museums and Historical Places

Ballymena is home to a rich history and heritage, which can be experienced in its numerous museums and historical landmarks. Here are some of the must-visit cultural attractions in Ballymena:

  • Ballymena Museum - A fascinating museum dedicated to preserving and showcasing the town’s history, culture, and traditions. Featuring interactive exhibits, artifacts from the past, and thematic displays, Ballymena Museum offers a great opportunity to learn about the local heritage.
  • Slemish Mountain - A towering peak in the heart of Ballymena, Slemish Mountain holds great cultural significance for the Irish. According to legend, it was on this mountain that St. Patrick tended sheep as a slave before escaping to become the patron saint of Ireland. Today, Slemish is a popular pilgrimage site and a great place to enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
  • Glenariff Forest Park - A sprawling forest park surrounded by dramatic waterfalls, glens, and tranquil woodlands. Glenariff Forest Park is a paradise for nature lovers, offering ample opportunities for hiking, cycling, and wildlife spotting.
  • Galgorm Castle and Estate - A charming medieval castle-turned-hotel located in the heart of Ballymena. Galgorm Castle and Estate features stunning gardens, lush meadows, and scenic vistas that make it a delightful destination for history and architecture buffs.

Natural Attractions of Ballymena: Outdoor Adventures and Scenic Views

Ballymena boasts some of the most beautiful natural landscapes and attractions in Northern Ireland. From enchanting forests to rugged coastlines, here are some of the best natural attractions to explore in Ballymena:

  • Slemish Mountain Trail - A challenging but rewarding hiking trail that takes you up the slopes of Slemish Mountain and offers breathtaking views of the town and the surrounding countryside.
  • Broughshane Village Walk - A leisurely walk through the charming historic village of Broughshane, featuring picturesque cottages, manicured gardens, and stunning views of the rolling hills.
  • Cullybackey Railway Station - A quaint railway station situated in the heart of Ballymena, surrounded by vibrant flower gardens and scenic views of the surrounding hills.
  • The Dark Hedges - An iconic avenue of beech trees that has been featured in several TV shows and movies, including Game of Thrones. The Dark Hedges is a must-visit natural attraction that offers a surreal and otherworldly experience.

Hiking/Biking Routes of Ballymena

For those who love outdoor activities, Ballymena is a paradise for hiking and biking. With its scenic landscape and well-developed trails, the town offers a wide variety of routes for all skill levels. Here are some of the top hiking and biking trails in Ballymena:

  • The Antrim Hills Way - A challenging 35-mile hiking route that takes you through the picturesque Antrim Hills and offers stunning views of the coastline, mountains, and countryside.
  • Slemish Mountain Trail - A moderately difficult hiking trail that takes you up the slopes of Slemish Mountain and offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
  • Lough Shore Trail - A family-friendly biking route that follows the tranquil shores of Lough Neagh and offers scenic views of the surrounding wetlands and forests.
  • Ballymena Park Trails - A series of well-maintained hiking and biking trails that wind through the lush forests and hills of Ballymena Park.

Best Things to Do in Ballymena: Activities and Tours

Aside from its natural wonders and cultural attractions, Ballymena is a town that offers a diverse range of activities and tours. Whether you want to explore the local cuisine, indulge in adventure activities, or take a historical walking tour, Ballymena has something for everyone. Below are some of the top things to do in Ballymena:

  • Ballymena Food Tour - A culinary adventure that takes you on a journey through the town’s vibrant food scene, featuring local specialties, traditional dishes, and innovative creations.
  • Ballymena Walking Tour - A guided walking tour that takes you through the historic buildings, landmarks, and attractions of the town and provides insights into its cultural and architectural heritage.
  • Skydive Wild Geese - An adrenaline-pumping adventure that offers the ultimate skydiving experience, featuring stunning aerial views of the town and its surroundings.
  • Galgorm Castle Golf Club - A world-class golf course set amidst the rolling hills and lush meadows of Ballymena, offering an 18-hole championship course that challenges golfers of all levels.

Week-Long Itinerary for Ballymena

If you have a week to spend in Ballymena, here is an itinerary that showcases the best the town has to offer:

  • Day 1 - Explore the town center, visit Ballymena Museum, and take a stroll through Broughshane Village.
  • Day 2 - Hike the Slemish Mountain Trail and visit Slemish Mountain, followed by a round of golf at Galgorm Castle Golf Club.
  • Day 3 - Take a walking tour of the historic landmarks of Ballymena, followed by a visit to Galgorm Castle and Estate.
  • Day 4 - Spend a day at Glenariff Forest Park and enjoy hiking, cycling, and wildlife watching.
  • Day 5 - Indulge in an adventurous skydiving experience and witness the stunning aerial views of Ballymena and its surroundings.
  • Day 6 - Discover the local cuisine on a food tour of Ballymena and sample its traditional dishes and innovative creations.
  • Day 7 - Visit The Dark Hedges, followed by a leisurely walk on the Lough Shore Trail.

Food and Drink Scene of Ballymena

Ballymena boasts a vibrant food and drink scene that reflects its cultural heritage and modern influences. From traditional Irish dishes to exotic international cuisine, there is something for everyone in Ballymena. Here are some of the must-try dishes and local beverages in Ballymena:

Must-Try Dishes

  • Ulster Fry - A hearty breakfast dish that consists of bacon, sausages, eggs, black pudding, white pudding, mushrooms, and soda bread.
  • Irish Stew - A traditional stew made with lamb, potatoes, carrots, onions, and herbs.
  • Fish and Chips - A delicious deep-fried fish dish served with chips (French fries) and tartar sauce.
  • Potato Bread - A popular side dish made with mashed potatoes, flour, and baking powder.

Local Beverages

  • Bushmills Whiskey - A world-renowned Irish whiskey that is distilled in the nearby town of Bushmills. Bushmills Whiskey is a must-try beverage for whiskey lovers.
  • Hilden Brewing Company - A local brewery that produces a variety of exceptional beers, including stouts, pilsners, and ales.
  • Blackthorn Cider - A refreshing cider made with local apples and traditional brewing methods.
  • Barra Best’s Coffee - A locally roasted coffee that is known for its rich and bold flavor.

Where to Stay in Ballymena: Hotels, Hostels, and Guesthouses

Ballymena offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit all budgets, from luxury hotels to budget-friendly hostels and guesthouses. Here are some of the best places to stay in Ballymena:

  • The Adair Arms Hotel - A stylish and elegant hotel located in the heart of Ballymena, featuring comfortable rooms, excellent amenities, and a welcoming atmosphere.
  • Galgorm Resort and Spa - A luxurious spa resort set amidst the scenic countryside of Ballymena, offering impeccable service, world-class facilities, and stunning views.
  • The Village Bed and Breakfast - A charming and affordable bed and breakfast located in the historic village of Broughshane, featuring cozy rooms, home-style cooking, and a warm and friendly atmosphere.
  • Roundstone Rest Hostel - A budget-friendly hostel located in the town center of Ballymena, offering comfortable dorms, a communal kitchen, and a lively atmosphere.

What to Buy in Ballymena: Souvenirs and Local Products to Bring Home

Ballymena is a great place to shop for unique gifts, souvenirs, and local products. From handmade crafts to artisanal food products, there is something for everyone in Ballymena. Here are some of the best souvenirs and local products to bring home:

  • Irish Linen Textiles - Ballymena is known for its high-quality linen textiles, including napkins, tablecloths, and handkerchiefs.
  • Ballymena Crystal - A local glassmaking company that produces exquisite glassware, including wine glasses, decanters, and vases.
  • Bushmills Whiskey - A world-renowned whiskey that is distilled in the nearby town of Bushmills, and a perfect gift for whiskey lovers.
  • Ulster Fry Cookbook - A cookbook that features traditional Irish recipes, including the famous Ulster Fry breakfast.

Local Culture and Customs of Ballymena

Ballymena has a rich cultural heritage and customs that can be experienced in its local festivals, events, and traditions. Here are some of the most notable cultural aspects of Ballymena:

  • Ballymena Festival of Music, Speech, and Dance - A popular festival that celebrates the town’s talent for music, speech, and dance, featuring performances by local and international artists.
  • The Twelfth of July - A significant cultural celebration that commemorates the Battle of the Boyne and marks the beginning of the Protestant Orange Order.
  • Ballymena Show - A large agricultural show that showcases the best of local farming, livestock, and produce, and attracts visitors from all over Northern Ireland.

Best Time to Visit Ballymena

The best time to visit Ballymena depends on your individual preferences. The town experiences a mild temperate climate, with cool summers and mild winters. The peak tourist season is from June to August, when the weather is warm and the town is bustling with activities and events. However, if you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more laid-back atmosphere, the shoulder season (April to May and September to October) is an excellent time to visit.

Do’s and Don’ts of Ballymena

To make the most of your visit to Ballymena, here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:


  • Do try the local cuisine and beverages.
  • Do respect the local customs and traditions.
  • Do explore the town’s cultural and historical attractions.
  • Do take care of the natural environment and wildlife when hiking or biking.


  • Don’t use offensive language or engage in disrespectful behavior.
  • Don’t litter or damage the natural environment.
  • Don’t forget to carry cash, as some establishments may not accept credit cards.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask locals for recommendations and advice.

Safety and Health

Ballymena is a safe and welcoming town, and visitors are unlikely to encounter any major safety or health issues. However, it is always good practice to take some basic precautions when traveling. Here are some safety and health tips for visiting Ballymena:

Safety in Ballymena

  • Always be aware of your surroundings and avoid walking alone in isolated areas at night.
  • Keep your belongings secure and avoid carrying large amounts of cash or valuable items.
  • Follow traffic rules and be cautious when driving or crossing roads.
  • Pay attention to warning signs and follow safety instructions when hiking or biking.

Health in Ballymena

  • Ensure that you have adequate travel insurance and medical coverage.
  • Drink bottled or filtered water to avoid waterborne illnesses.
  • Wear sunscreen and protective clothing when spending time outdoors.
  • Carry any necessary prescription medications with you.

Getting to Ballymena: Transportation Options and Logistics

Ballymena is well-connected to the rest of Northern Ireland and the UK, with easy access to major airports, ferry ports, and bus and train stations. Here are some transportation options for traveling to Ballymena:

Airports Near Ballymena

  • Belfast International Airport - Located 27 miles from Ballymena, Belfast International Airport is the closest major airport with international and domestic flights.
  • City of Derry Airport - Located about 50 miles from Ballymena, City of Derry Airport is a smaller airport with limited domestic and international flights.

Bus Stations Near Ballymena

  • Ballymena Bus Station - Located in the town center, Ballymena Bus Station is the hub for regional and national transportation services.
  • Europa Buscentre - Located in Belfast, Europa Buscentre is a major transportation hub with connections to Ballymena and other nearby towns and cities.

Other Options

  • Car Rental - Car rental services are available at Belfast International Airport and in Ballymena town center. This is a convenient option if you plan to explore the nearby attractions and countryside.
  • Taxi Service - Taxi services are available in Ballymena town center and can be convenient for short-distance travel or transportation to nearby attractions.

How to Get Around in Ballymena

Ballymena is a compact town that is easy to navigate on foot or by bike. However, if you plan to explore the surrounding countryside or nearby attractions, having a car or using public transportation can be more convenient. Here are some transportation options for getting around in Ballymena:

  • Walking - Many of the town’s attractions, restaurants, and shops are located within walking distance of each other, making walking a convenient and eco-friendly option.
  • Biking - Bikes can be rented in the town center and are a great way to explore the nearby trails and countryside.
  • Public Transportation - Ballymena offers a reliable and efficient bus service that provides connections to the surrounding towns and attractions.
  • Car Rental - Car rental services are available in the town center and can be convenient for exploring the nearby countryside and attractions.

Where to Go Next from Ballymena: Nearby Destinations and Excursions

Ballymena serves as an excellent base to explore the rich culture, history, and natural beauty of Northern Ireland. Here are some nearby destinations and excursions that are worth exploring:

  • Giant’s Causeway - A UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most impressive natural wonders in the world, featuring a stunning array of basalt columns and dramatic coastal scenery.
  • Belfast - The capital city of Northern Ireland, Belfast is a vibrant and lively city with a rich history, culture, and arts scene.
  • The Gobbins - A scenic cliff walk that takes you along the rugged coastline of Islandmagee, featuring stunning views of the Irish Sea and a variety of wildlife.
  • Portrush - A charming seaside town with sandy beaches, rolling hills, and a vibrant surf and nightlife scene.


Ballymena is a charming town that has something for everyone, from its rich cultural heritage and stunning natural landscapes to its vibrant food and drink scene and diverse range of activities and tours. Whether you are visiting for a day or a week, Ballymena is a destination that will leave you with unforgettable memories and experiences.