A Visit to Ulster Folk Museum: Exploring Northern Ireland’s History

The Ulster Folk Museum is a unique museum dedicated to preserving the heritage and history of Northern Ireland. Located just outside of Belfast, this open-air museum aims to showcase the way of life from over a century ago. 

If you’re spending any time in Belfast, Ulster Folk Museum is well worth a visit! It’s almost like a living museum, and I have to say, this was one of those places that outshined my expectations. Some people gloss over it, thinking that they wouldn’t be interested…that couldn’t be further from the truth.

From traditional crafts to historical buildings, the museum provides a unique opportunity to step back in time and experience the traditions and lifestyles of the Ulster people who lived in the region. 

Here’s everything you need to know for a memorable visit.

Where is Ulster Folk Museum Located and How to Get There

The Ulster Folk Museum is situated in Cultra, a small town located about 7 miles east of Belfast City Centre. It’s easily accessible by car, public transport, or even by bike for the more adventurous.

By Car: If you’re driving, take the A2 main Belfast to Bangor Road. You’ll find that the way to the museum is easy to follow thanks to many clearly-posted signs. There is plenty of free parking on site. 

By Taxi: Taxis are readily available in Belfast, and the drive to Ulster Folk Museum takes about 15 minutes. You can expect to pay around £20 for a ride one-way.

By Public Transport: For those preferring public transport, the museum is conveniently located near the Cultra railway station, which is a short walk away. Trains run regularly from Belfast, making it a hassle-free and affordable option if you do not have a car.

History of Ulster Folk Museum

The Ulster Folk Museum was established to preserve the way of life and traditions of the Ulster people in Northern Ireland, focusing on the rural communities at the beginning of the 20th century. 

These people were well-known for their traditions and customs, from farming to foraging and millwork and everything in between. 

The Ulster Folk Museum aims to showcase a variety of buildings, from farmhouses to schools. All of the buildings in this open-air museum have been reconstructed on the museum grounds, each with the goal of telling its own story of past life.

What to Know Before Visiting Ulster Folk Museum

Ulster Folk Museum is almost entirely outside, and the museum covers quite a large space. Throughout the property, there are more than 30 buildings to see, and even more exhibitions, walking paths, and demonstrations. 

Plan to spend a few hours here, but recognize you likely can’t see everything. 

Address: Cultra, Holywood BT18 0EU, UK

Opening Times: Generally 10:00 (11:00 on weekends) to 4:00 PM. *Check the museum’s website for up-to-date opening times and any seasonal variations as these do tend to change. 

Some of the buildings, classes, hands-on activities, and demonstrations will vary each day.

Admission Fees: Adults: £11.50, Children ages 5-17: £7.00, Children under 5 are free, and family tickets are available. 

Weather Considerations: Given the open-air nature of the museum, it’s wise to dress appropriately for the weather, which can be temperamental at times in Northern Ireland.

Ulster Folk Museum Highlight List: Can’t Miss Items

There is a ton to see at Ulster Folk Museum, and there is a lot of information to digest. After exploring the grounds myself for a few hours, here are some of the highlights I recommend you see: 

The Working Farm

This was one of the coolest pieces of the museum! There are live animals (pigs, chickens, horses, etc!) and a large farm area with multiple working buildings. Experience farming techniques of the past, complete with traditional breeds of animals and demonstrations of historical farming practices. 

The Blacksmith

The blacksmith’s forge is a spot you don’t want to miss! Experience a costumed actor in a period dress showing you what you could expect from a local blacksmith during this time in history.  

Traditional Cooking Demonstration

In one of the local homes, there is a traditional cooking experience that takes place. Watch how someone might have cooked a meal over a fire in an authentic kitchen.

The Hill Route

The hill route, although longer, offers the most beautiful views of nature in Northern Ireland. Think rolling fields, cobblestone bridges over babbling brooks, and roaming animals. It was one of my favorite parts of the visit just to relax and walk here!

*Make sure you follow the map if you take the hill route- it’s so easy to get lost!

McCusker’s Pub

A working old-time pub! It is a space where you can just grab a drink and relax with the friendly bartender!

Tips for Visiting Ulster Folk Museum

There are a few things I wish I had known before I headed to Ulster Folk Museum. Here are some tips to help your visit run smoothly: 

Wear Comfortable Footwear: You’ll be doing quite a bit of walking, often on uneven surfaces. It was pretty muddy the day we visited, and a huge piece of the farm is in pretty nature-like surroundings (ex: the farm). Wear footwear that is practical!

Visit the Printer For a Cool Souvenir: The working printshop is one of the makers that you can visit in the museum. The print master will be working the printing press, and you can take home an authentic print for a great souvenir! Mine was a recipe for soda bread!

Map Your Way: Get a map of the premises before you head out onto the museum grounds. There is much to see, so you’ll want to plan a route ahead of time. This way, you won’t get lost and you’ll make sure to see all of the things that strike your fancy along the way!

Stop For Lunch and Tea: The Ballycultra Tea Room is a working tea room and restaurant at the Ulster Folk Museum. Their food is so much better than I anticipated. Enjoy soups and sandwiches along with tea and scones, other pastries, and hand pies! It is a beautiful place to stop and have lunch before heading to your next destination.

Conclusion: Visiting Ulster Folk Museum in Northern Ireland

The Ulster Folk Museum in Northern Ireland is a museum that flies under the radar. Often overlooked and underestimated, it’s an awesome place that I definitely recommend you visit! 

It will change your outlook on Ulster history and give you the chance to learn, explore, and have some hands-on fun during your trip!

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