From Belfast to Derry, taking in some of Ireland's most incredible sights - the Causeway Coastal Route is a true legend
Hugging the Atlantic coast from Derry~Londonderry to Belfast – or vice versa – the Causeway Coastal Route is studded with sandy beaches, fishing villages, gorse-covered valleys and fuchsia-edged clifftop paths. Absorbing this epic landscape from the car is wonderful, but the other senses could be missing out! The sounds of the crashing waves, the birds soaring up above, the salty taste from the sea on your lips and the wind whistling past your ears – these are all part of this legendary land’s beauty.
So settle down in a B&B, cosy cottage or hotel in one of a scattering of welcoming towns or villages, and pick a few gems to explore each day. Like a sip of Bushmills Whiskey, every second on the Causeway Coastal Route should be savoured every step of the way.
Belfast to Cushendun
Spend some time in the glittering city of Belfast before cruising towards the Glens of Antrim, and veering onto the coastal paths that will be your Causeway Coastal Route guide...
Titanic sights in a historic city
Belfast city is bustling – its iconic attractions and Victorian charm make it the perfect spot to begin your Causeway Coast adventure. Start at Titanic Belfast, an interactive museum that’s an ode to the ill-fated Ship of Dreams. Explore St George's Market, a Belfast foodie institution where you'll find everything from chocolate to local cheese. Then, once you've had your fill, take a cruise on Belfast Lough, a gorgeous respite from the buzz of the city.
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The Norman-era Carrickfergus Castle makes a perfect photo op – a remarkably preserved marvel.
Walk on water at The Gobbins
The Gobbins cliff walk has clung to the enormous basalt cliffs of the Islandmagee peninsula for over one hundred years. The path is a one-of-a-kind experience: walk along the tubular bridge (33ft/10 metres above the sea) and marvel at the spectacular vistas and abundant wildlife. For a different view, try a sea tour of the area that takes you from Ballylumford right up to the cliffs – keep an eye out for Northern Ireland’s only mainland puffin colony! Then head into the busy town of Larne for some rest, relaxation and a delicious meal in the historic Billy Andy's bar.
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If you're brave enough, stay the night at Ballygally Castle Hotel, a stunning, 17th century castle that's famous for its resident ghost!
A fairytale castle in the heart of the Glens
Want to visit a storybook castle? You've come to the right place. Glenarm Castle has been home to the McDonnell family since the 1600s, and they’ve maintained it with all the splendour you'd expect. Inside you'll find furniture, portraits and much more dating back to the 17th century – this is as authentic as it gets. Take a wander through the castle gardens, too: they are among the oldest in Ireland, and the perfect spot to while away an afternoon in the sunshine.
Take time for some food in Glenarm – their cream tea and light lunch is perfect for recharging.
Shadow babies and striking views at Cushendun
Fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones® will recognise the Cushendun Caves almost immediately. This is where the infamous "shadow baby" scene was filmed and it's one of the many Game of Thrones® locations scattered around the Causeway Coast. Whether you're a fan of the show or not, it's well worth detouring to Murlough Bay or Torr Head to get a look at the big picture: a seemingly endless stretch of coastline and, on a clear day, maybe even a glimpse of Scotland.
Just a few miles away lies Glenariff Forest Park, a gorgeous nature reserve in the heart of the glens, with three spectacular waterfalls and a choice of peaceful riverside walks.
Stay the night in charming Ballycastle village, then take an early boat over to Rathlin Island – famous for its gorgeous views and native wildlife.
Don't miss the chance to visit Northern Ireland's only offshore inhabited island, Rathlin. Chug across the picturesque Church Bay by ferry before landing in the harbour and exploring this L-shaped marvel. With a population of around 140 people, Rathlin is home to some incredible legends: ask the locals about Robert the Bruce and his spider – you won't be disappointed! Take a tour of the "upside down lighthouse", Rathlin West Light, one of the Great Lighthouses of Ireland. You can also discover Rathlin's wonderful wildlife: look out for seals on the rocks, hares in the fields and seabirds including puffins, kittiwakes, razorbills and guillemots.
Once you're back on the mainland, pick up a bag of super-fresh fish and chips from Morton's in Ballycastle – sea bass, cod and haddock, fresh off the boat and mouthwateringly good.
Carrick-a-Rede to Dunluce Castle
This journey takes on some of the heavy hitters – including the very place that gave the Causeway Coastal Route its name. Don't worry, though – you'll be spoilt for choice with places to stay so you can just relax and take your time.
Sway above the waves at Carrick-a-Rede
Suspended almost 100ft/30 metres above the sea, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge has linked tiny Carrick Island and the County Antrim mainland for around 350 years. Take a deep breath, step onto the sturdy, wooden slats, and you'll be rewarded by some of the best views on the Causeway Coastal Route. Look down and you'll catch intriguing glimpses of mysterious caves and caverns as the ocean swirls far below you. That is, if you're brave enough...
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Ballintoy Harbour is picture perfect – and it’s got star power, too, appearing in HBO’s Game of Thrones® as the Iron Islands.
Fill some big shoes at the Giant's Causeway
There’s nowhere that blurs history and myth quite like County Antrim’s Giant's Causeway. As Lonely Planet puts it, the Causeway "looks for all the world like the handiwork of giants". While experts think that this geological wonder was formed by volcanic activity over 60 million years ago, the myth that it was built by warring giants has persisted for hundreds of years. Whether you side with science or prefer a good story, one thing is sure: this is a place of mind-boggling beauty that you should not miss. Our tip? Head to the Causeway in time to watch the sun set – it's absolutely breathtaking.
The lively village of Bushmills is a great spot for delicious, wholesome food (try the award-winning Tartine restaurant) or a night's rest after some hectic sightseeing (try the Bushmills Inn!).
Liquid gold on the North Coast
The Old Bushmills Distillery is the island’s oldest working distillery. It’s been in operation since 1608, and the company’s distinctive single malt whiskey is still produced here today. Take a guided tour that encompasses all your senses and you'll discover how the whiskey is made using traditional copper potstills and a triple distillation process. Want to know more? Try a tutored whiskey tasting or a meal at the in-house restaurant, which serves Northern Ireland fare with a Bushmills twist.
Ancient ruins at the end of the world
Dunluce Castle is possibly one of the most dramatic places on earth. The ruins of a 14th century castle are perched 100ft/30 metres above the wild ocean. Over the years, Dunluce has been the site of tales of wailing banshees, smugglers and tragic lovers. In the 17th century, part of the castle simply crumbled into the sea during a monumental storm. Nowadays, Dunluce remains only in ruins, but it’s still utterly stunning.
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Wee Cottage is a tiny café serving gorgeous scones and cups of traditional tea: perfect after a bracing trip to Dunluce Castle.
Portstewart and Portrush to Derry~Londonderry
Stunning beaches, ancient archaeological sites and a city with one of the most exciting cultural scenes on the island: this stretch of the Causeway Coastal Route really does have something for everyone. So take your time and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and flavours.
Beachside fun in Portstewart and Portrush
Portrush and Portstewart are two gorgeous seaside villages with lots to keep you occupied. Both are home to iconic golf courses – Portstewart Golf Course will host the 2017 Irish Open and Royal Portrush (where The Open 2019 will take place) is one of the most challenging links courses in the world. But if you’re not a golfer, don’t worry – these towns are wonderful spots for beachgoers and foodies alike. Visit the white sands of Portstewart's Blue Flag beach before heading to Morelli’s ice-cream parlour for a sundae; while in Portrush, the restaurants in the Ramore complex, such as the Harbour Bar, are perfect spots for an evening meal.
A temple of wonder at Downhill Demesne
Take a stroll along Downhill Demesne, and look up: standing over the beach is one of Northern Ireland's most iconic landmarks. Mussenden Temple was originally built as a replica of the Temple of Vesta in Italy, a beautiful folly that doubles as a wedding venue. It’s a seriously impressive sight, particularly as the sun sets behind it: pack a picnic, ramble along the beach and then head to the temple for unparalleled views bathed in gold.
If you’re staying in the area, check out the ancient site of Mountsandel, purportedly the oldest archaeological site on the island of Ireland, and the historic town of Coleraine.
A magical walled city
On your way to the Walled City of Derry~Londonderry, make time to stop in at Roe Valley. The beautiful country park offers riverside views, forest walks and a chance to stop and reflect awhile along the Causeway Coastal Route. Then it’s onwards to Derry~Londonderry, a city that’s a perfect mix of historical intrigue and cultural wonders. Take a stroll around the craft village, walk the Peace Bridge – it curves elegantly across the River Foyle – and wait until dark to soak in the famous Derry~Londonderry nightlife – the perfect end to your Causeway Coastal Route journey.
A trip to Browns in Town is a well-priced and delicious way to round off your trip.
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