The Ulster Folk And Transport Museum is what I believe to be one of the jewels in the crown of Northern Irelands heritage attractions, and well deserves its title of Irish Museum of the Year.
The Ulster Folk Museum was set up in 1958 to illustrate the way of life and the traditions of the people of the north of Ireland. This was primarily in response to the speed at which the countryside and people's way of life was changing and the need to preserve and record a heritage in danger of disappearing.
The museum achieves these goals and more. One only has to step inside one of the small terraced houses formerly of Sandy Row in Belfast to be transported right back to another time when luxuries such as central heating, inside bathrooms and even (shock horror!) TVs didn't exist.
The museum takes a full day at least to explore, in fact I have visited many many times and there are still parts of it I haven't seen!
On entering the site you first come into Ballycultra town, Tea Lane to be exact. A row of terraced houses built in the 1820s for the workers in the textile mills and brickyards of the Sandy Row area. The town also includes a 1920s Northern Bank, a 19th century market and courthouse from Cushendall, some churches, a school house, a barracks and so much more! For a virtual tour see the Ulster Folk Museum website.
Upon leaving the town of Ballycultra you begin to venture into a more rural setting. As you meander the twisting paths you will happen upon a 19th century corn mill, an 18th century flax mill, thatched cottages, various farmhouses including Coshkib Farmhouse setting of the recent BBC show 'Century Farm, and ultimately Cultra Manor formerly the home of Sir Robert Kennedy and one of the last 'big' houses of the landed gentry to be built in Ireland.
For the beautiful scenery and setting alone The Ulster Folk Museum is worth a visit. Where else can you wander the country roads without the fear of a speeding car (or tractor) running you over.
If you visit at the weekend or during the summer you may be lucky enough to find the blacksmith demonstrating his skills or a mother on a farm ready to bake you some good old fashioned melt in the mouth soda bread on her open fire!
Personally I would recommend a visit to the Ulster Folk Museum on one of their event days which they regularly hold. Our family favourite is the regular 'Spirit Of Christmas Past' weekend. This is a great way to see how Christmas used to be celebrated, and you may even be lucky enough to meet the original Santa (green cloak and all!). It is a fantastic day out for children and adults alike and the childrens activities mixed with all the demonstrations, music and storytelling make it absolutely magical.
The Transport Museum includes exhibitions on Road, Maratime, Air and Rail transport. The most popular of all is the excellent Titanic exhibition which includes original Titanic material along with vintage photographs, recordings, newsreels and music.
I have always enjoyed a visit to the transport museum, and the children loved climbing aboard all the old buses. I hear the old Delorean car identical to the one from the Back To The Future movies is also very popular. I personally particularly liked the airplane simulator, but I have always seen it as an interesting addition to the Folk Museum. I am not sure whether I would warrant it as worth a visit on its own but if you are planning to spend a day at the museums then it certainly shouldn't be missed.