The road trip along the Causeway coast in Northern Ireland meanders through a stretch of extraordinary countryside. Rated one of the world’s most spectacular drives, it is lined with stop after stop of stunning sights. The coastal route from Belfast can be toured in one long day, but we recommend taking two (or more) to fully appreciate the beauty of this stunning coast. Here is our suggested route and highlights to enjoy along the way. We hope our ideas inspire a Northern Ireland road trip for you.
Begin your journey in Belfast following the coastal highway A2 via Carrickfergus, then continue down through the Glens of Antrim. The route peaks at the Giant’s Causeway on the North Antrim coast.
First Stop: Carrickfergus Castle
Carrickfergus Castle is an imposing medieval monument located on the northern shore of Belfast Lough. Built by an Anglo-Norman baron in 1177, it remained a military stronghold for over 750 years until 1928.
Attacked by the Scots, Irish, English and French, the Castle saw military action right up to World War II. Today, preserved as one of the best medieval structures in all of Ireland, it is open to visitors and remains one of the best places to visit in County Antrim.
From Carrickfergus, jump back on the A2 to the town of Larne. From there, 80 miles of rugged cliffs stretch northwards.
Road Trip Northern Ireland through the Glens of Antrim
Enjoy the spectacular scenery as you tour through deep green glens, at times just meters from the sea spray. Rich in history, each glen boasts its own unique cultural characteristics. There are several highlights to enjoy along the way, like a pit stop at Glenariff Forest Park for a glorious woodland walk. Afterwards, you can jump back on the winding road to leisurely drive through picturesque villages. Stop for lunch in Cushendun, then from there take the exhilarating, coastline-hugging road to Torr Head. Here you can take in breathtaking views of the Mull of Kintyre before returning to the Causeway Coastal Route. Head onward to Ballycastle before the next stop: the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.
The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
One of Northern Ireland’s most beloved attractions, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge offers visitors an unforgettable, thrilling experience. A coastal footpath leads to the famed swinging bridge. There are terrific vantage points to stop and appreciate the diverse flora and fauna and the breathtaking cliffs all along the pathway.
Then, there’s the bridge experience! Traditional fisherman originally erected the bridge over the 20-meter deep chasm to reach Carrick-a-Rede Island and check their salmon nets. Today, people are drawn here for the thrill of crossing the jaw-dropping divide via the swinging rope bridge.
The best part of the experience is when you make it to the other side and set foot on Carrick-a-Rede Island. There, you will see different varieties of bird life and enjoy uninterrupted views across to Rathlin Island and the Islands of Scotland.
After you have fully appreciated the view and made it back over the bridge, head back to the car to move on to a more relaxed attraction.
The Old Bushmills Distillery
Licensed to make spirits in 1608, and with historical mentions going back as far as 1276, this ancient distillery is a must-visit for lovers of good Irish whiskey. If you are not a whiskey drinker, Bushmills is a perfect introduction. The smell of sweet mash and a little time in the tasting room will likely make you a fan of the beloved Irish spirit! Tour the working parts of the distillery and witness the whiskey-making process from beginning to end, with water from the adjacent river Bush moving through the distillation, fermentation and bottling process.
Depending on how much time you decide to spend exploring the Glens or the amount of whiskey you enjoy in the tasting room at the Old Bushmills Distillery, the village of Bushmills is the perfect place to stop for the night. You can stay in the village, or choose accommodations close by in Ballycastle and start the next part of your road trip adventure fresh the next morning. On day two, jump back on the A2 and continue onward a short distance to Dunluce Castle.
Between the bustling town of Portrush and the Giant’s Causeway sit the hulking remains of Dunluce Castle. The medieval ruin hangs off a jagged cliff on a small island offshore. Connected to the mainland via a narrow bridge, the towering Dunluce is still an imposing structure. Constructed in the 13th century by the Earl of Ulster, the castle has a rather tumultuous history. Lurid tales of mermaids and banshees complement its exciting past.
The Climax of your Northern Ireland Road Trip: The Giant’s Causeway
Shrouded in folklore, the Giant’s Causeway has drawn curious visitors for centuries. Known for its thousands of polygonal basalt columns, the Causeway is loaded with incredible natural beauty. Created by volcanic lava flow millions of years ago, many believe the geometric columns are the makings of the legendary Irish giant, Finn McCool. Alongside the 40,000 interlocking columns, there are over 200 species of plants and various types of birds that inhabit Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO Heritage site.
Driving the Causeway Coast is an unforgettable experience. Rent a car and drive the route yourself to enjoy the flexibility that comes with self-guided touring. There is so much to see, so make sure you set your priorities before you embark on your Northern Ireland road trip adventure. Doing so will help you determine the amount of time you need to fully enjoy the route.
Photos: Tracey Tullis