A coastal itinerary for Northern Ireland
The coast of Northern Ireland is without doubt one of the most beautiful places to go in Northern Ireland. The rolling hills end abruptly with cliffs and bays creating many wonderful opportunities to stop and enjoy the scenery. Not only that but there’s a number of amazing natural phenomena all along the coast and some great man-made curiosities too. There’s so much to take so where do you start? Here’s our guide to the best road trip itinerary for the coast of Northern Ireland.
Starting in Belfast
You can catch a car ferry over from Northern England or fly in to Belfast and rent a car for a few days. Either way you’ll be starting in a very interesting city on the coast. Its definitely worth exploring and there’s a number of coastal related activities too including the impressive new Titanic Belfast exhibition in the recently rejuvenated docks area. If you’ve got a day or two spare it’s always worth hopping on (and off) the big red sightseeing bus. It’ll whisk you around town in around 100 minutes giving you a great slice of Belfast life, its chequered history and its transformation in to a peaceful and popular tourist attraction.
Causeway Coastal route
Escaping Belfast is quick and easy and there’s only one route you’ll want to take. The A2 hugs a lot of the coastline north of Belfast and is the best way to take in all the best spots. Its easy to navigate too as there are large brown “Causeway coastal route” signs along the way. There are various detours you can take to villages and tourist attractions closer to the coastline. It takes you to all of the following towns and tourist attractions.
First stop is the very pretty Carrickfergus Castle in the town of Carrickfergus. Just a few miles along the coast out of Belfast you can’t miss it. This Norman castle was built in 1177 and was besieged a number of times over the years. It’s beautifully preserved and sits right on the coast, jutting out to sea. Open daily its probably one of the best preserved Norman castles in the UK and they have some great guided tours that tell the 800 year story of this military stronghold.
- Opening time: Daily from 10am – 4pm
- Ticket price: Adults £5, Children £3
- Website: doeni.gov.uk
One of the latest tourist attractions along the Causeway coast line is a man-made experience first created by local Salmon fishermen. Along rugged cliff tops the fishermen wanted to create a way to reach the rocky outcrop in order to lay nets and launch their boats. In a seemingly suicidal location to do this, they manufactured a rope bridge to traverse the rather scary gap, high up between the rocks, with the wind and waves lashing at the rocks below. Nowadays the Atlantic Salmon is an endangered species and the rope bridge is now a permanent fixture for tourists to brave. Maintained by the National Trust, you can traverse the gap on the bounce and naturally quite safe rope bridge, look down if you dare. On the other side your reward is fantastic views of the coast and a feeling of achievement! Well worth it.
- Opening times: Daily from 10am – 6pm
- Ticket prices: Adults £5.09, Children £2.63
- Website: nationaltrust.org.uk/carrick-a-rede
Probably the one place along the Northern Irish coastline that you would have heard of is the Giant’s Causeway. Situated just a few miles further along the coast from Carrick-a-rede on Causeway road. You’ll see the tourists signs leading the way and find ample car parking when you arrive at the new visitors centre.
Legend has it the Causeway was created by the giant Finn McCool over 2000 years ago while feuding with a giant from Scotland. He created a path out to sea as well as a number of other oddities along the coastline here. If you don’t believe the legend you’ll probably believe that massive volcanic eruptions some 60 million years ago created these unusual looking stepping-stones. Once covered by layers of rock, the millions of years since their creation have lifted them from the depths and let the sea erode them away. Its a truly magical sight that seems to defy natural logic. The visitor centre does a great job of educating and entertaining both kids and adults. You get free audio guides to listen to while you walk along the easily accessible path to the causeway, there’s even a couple of shuttle buses for those that don’t wish to walk. The audio guide really sets the scene well and tells more of the legend of the giant as well as the science. You’re sure to get some great photos here and some exercise too! Make sure you dress for the weather as the coastline here can get a little windy!
- Opening times: Daily from 9am – 6pm
- Ticket prices: Adults £8.50, Children £4.25
- Website: nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway
If you’re in to your Irish Whiskey you may have heard of Bushmills. Even if you haven’t this pretty little town is worth a top and the Causeway Coastal route goes right through it. A great little place to stop for lunch or afternoon tea and of course it’s a great place to visit the famous Bushmills Distillery. With their wonderfully entertaining tour guides you’ll learn about the 400 years of history that have made Bushmills one of the finest whiskeys in the world.
- Opening times: Daily from 10am – 4:15pm
- Ticket prices: Adults £7, Children £3.50
- Website: bushmills.com
You’ll find accommodation in every village and many of the farms along the coastal route but the most popular place to stay is Portrush. This pretty little seaside fishing town was once the resort of choice for the rich and famous. These days its abundance of good quality restaurants and hotels make it a popular choice with tourists. There’s some lovely walks to be had around town especially down by the harbour and Ramore Head which offers amazing panoramic views of the coastline. There’s some great choices of accommodation here for all budgets. If you’re looking for cheap accommodation with a real homely feel try the Portrush Holiday Hostel. For those with a larger budget try the Adelphi hotel in town.
Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne
As well as all the naturally occurring coastal beauty in Northern Ireland, man has also created some odd yet beautiful tourist attractions. One of them is the very pretty yet little known ruined mansion-house of Downhill Demesne and its perfectly preserved library called Mussenden temple. Downhill House was once a grand home built in the 18th century by the 4th Earl of Bristol, Frederick Hervey. An unusual spot to build a mansion on as the harsh coastal weather even in summer can be temperamental. Never-the-less this grand house stood proud on the cliff top before a fire ravaged it in 1851. It was rebuilt in the 1870s and slowly but surely the weather took its toll. By the start of the second world war the maintenance costs were too much and the house was abandoned. The roof was removed and the rest is now held together with concrete leaving nothing but a shell of what was a beautiful mansion-house.
In the back garden, down by the cliff edge is the only fully preserved building and is a real sight to see. Once away from the cliff edge, a library was built to the memory of the Earl’s cousin, in 1785. Built as a replica of the Temple of Vesta in Italy, it housed an impressive library that was kept warm and dry thanks to a furnace built below the main room. Over the years coastal erosion has brought the crashing waves ever closer and it now sits right on the cliff edge. With the sea in the background and this very ornate building perched on the edge of the cliff its wonderfully photogenic and a great place to view the coast.
You can also visit the nearby Hazlett House. A 17th century cottage, and also enjoy the gardens around the 2 entrances to the mansion grounds.
- Opening times: Daily from Dawn to Dusk
- Ticket price: Adults £4.50, Children £2.25
- Website: nationaltrust.org.uk
A great British road trip
This itinerary was created during the Great British Road Trip project. If you’d like to see more watch the video below and visit www.placestogo.travel.