North Ulster Causeway Coast – A Giant journey
The trip up the North Ulster Causeway Coast is high on the tourist agenda. In fact, This is one of the great drives in the world. The road twists and turns, following the rugged causeway coast road from Belfast all the way to Derry. One will pass through many small towns and picturesque villages. Additionally, you will also come across ancient castles, golden beaches, mountains and lush countryside. The headline attraction, of course, is the mythical and geologically wonderous Giant’s Causeway.
Be sure to stop off and admire the scenery. This is one drive you won’t want to rush. In fact, allow a full day for it if your base is in Belfast. If you have time, take an overnight or two stop in one of the many villages and towns around. feel the flavour of the North Ulster Causeway Coast.
How to travel the North Ulster Causeway Coast
There are a number of ways to get up and around the North Ulster Causeway Coast. Some hardy folk will cycle the route and feel exhilerated by the journey, and probably wet and windswept! There are plenty of motorcyclyists too as the region is a hotbed for the enthusiast – check out the North West 200! We’ll focus, though, on some of the more traditional methods of transport.
Either hire a car or use your own if you have travelled to Ireland with it. I often use Hertz but there are plenty of other hire companies in Belfast and at the Belfast City Airport or Belfast International airport.
Leaving Belfast, one takes the M2 and keep right as it becomes the M5. From here, you will follow the North Ulster Causeway Coast through Carrickfergus, Larne, and further northward., stopping at all the places you want to on the way.
Coach tours from Belfast
There are many tours operators that take you up the North Ulster Causeway Coast towards the Giants Causeway. Indeed, many will include other sites, such as the Dark Hedges, Carrickfergus Castle, Dunluce Castle, the Rope Bridge and Bushmills Whiskey Distillery. They are usually full day tours that may offer plenty of information but little in the way of relaxation. they are on the clock! Prices in the range of £25-£35 per person, depending on the tour. McCombs tours and Allen’s tours are a couple of options. There are also some tour operators that will offer tours from Dublin.
Public buses from Translink will also do direct journeys from Belfast to the Giant’s Causeway or to Coleraine to pick up a connecting bus. The direct bus, #221, from Belfast leaves once a day from Europa Bus Centre at 9.30am with one return at around 3pm (check times as they vary at weekends). Unfortunately, the bus goes a more direct route so will miss the North Ulster Causeway Coast road and scenary. Price £16.50 adult day ticket.
There are more options and times by getting the regular buses to and from Coleraine. From Coleraine, one can get the #402 Causeway Rambler service or the #172. This will allow a bit more freedom. Again, it avoids the North Ulster Causeway coast road up through County Antrim and onto the North coast. If travelling from 9.30am then the price will be the £16.50 Adult day ticket.
One can also get a local bus to Portrush from Coleraine and people will ramble along the coast from there.
If departing from Belfast, you will get the train from Belfast’s Great Victoria Street station to Coleraine. Once in Coleraine, from the platform you will turn left to the bus station. One can also get the train into Portrush, after a change at Coleraine, and plan your day from there. Just check out the journey planner on translink website. Use the planner to find ways to the other places you want to visit. However, it may require a bit of flexibility.
Buses 172 or 402 run reasonably regularly from Coleraine bus centre to the Giant’s Causeway. No pre booking is necessary for either train or buses. It costs approx £16.50 for an adult for a whole day ticket. For more informtaion and for timetable follow the link to the Translink website.
Carrickfergus lays 11 miles (18 km) from Belfast. It is one of County Antrim’s oldest towns. The main feature is it’s 12th century Norman castle, which sits dominantly at the small harbour, so the structure can be seen from land, air or sea. It is the first port of call as one heads up through North Ulster Causeway coast.
Carrickfergus town has been in existence since medieval times. The locals shorten Carrickfergus to Carrick. It’s a medium sized town with approximately 29,000 people. A couple of those people are my (Knox) mum and dad, with their house near the beach.
The town sits on the north shore of Belfast Lough. There are some great walks to be had along the promenade, weather permitting. When the storms come in the dramatic lashing of the sea whips up the waves even in the calmer waters of the Lough. Of course the main attraction is the castle which draws in visitors from all over the world.
Carrickfergus Castle was built by John de Courcy. The Anglo-Norman knight who invaded Ulster and established his headquarters.
Besieged in turn by the Scots, Irish, English and French, the castle played an important military role until 1928 and remains one of the best preserved medieval structures in Ireland.
The tours are informative and you can also see some 17th/ 19th century canons. There is free parking onsite as well as a cafe for snacks.
An Irish Folksong, the Clancy’s did a great rendition of the Celtics woman’s song. Infact many international artists have covered it, including Van Morrison. It’s a haunting tune of loss, love and reflecting on days passed.
Towns and villages of East Antrim along the North Ulster Causeway Coast route
Following the trail up the North Ulster Causeway Coast, You will come across a number of small towns and fishing villages that dot the route.
Before the port of Larne, you will come across Whitehead, a small seaside town at the mouth of Belfast lough. It is has good train links to Belfast. Indeed, it is home to the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland who regularly organises steam train excursions for a fun family day out. There is also the scenic surroundings of Blackhead lighthouse with coastal walks along the cliffs.
A small fishing village north of Larne, The wee place is known for its Haunted castle hotel. Spend a night in the round room of the tower and see if you survive the Bumps!
Another picturesque village along the North Ulster Causeway Coast is Glenarm. Nestled at the foot of the rolling hills, the village offers a touch of local crafts and, of course, another castle. The tight road hugs the sea on one side and the craggy hills on the other to give an enjoyable drive as one continues north.
Being by the seaside means that the local communities survived and thrived from what they could gather from the sea. As a result, these quaint but hardy villages developed. There is undoubted beauty in the land and a feeling of closeness within the people. Carnlough is a a great example. Infact, the village has a bustling feel with the local cafes, restaurants, small harbour, and locality to the Glens of Antrim creating a hub of activity. One of it’s best known sons is Brendan Rodgers, ex Liverpool FC manager and current Leicester City FC manager. There’ll be plenty of yarns about Brendan, and others, in the local pubs. Well worth a stop.
Moving along the coast line you will come to the small coastal village of Cushendun.
Known for its distinctive architecture and unspoilt beauty. Cushendun is situated on the river Dun in the heart of the Glens of Antrim.
We have been several times to Cushendun, due to its stunning landscape and beaches, including the time we did filming for an Airbnb advertisement in August 2019.
Filming took place close to Glenmona House, a National Trust property, which was built around 1834 that has deep historical roots in the area.
Best known as the home of Ronald John McNeill, Baron Cushendun.
Ronald John came to live at Glenmona in 1910 and set about transforming the village. Unfortunate events took place in 1922 when the IRA burnt the house down.
Undeterred Ronald John commissioned Clough Williams-Ellis to design a new house, built from the remaining shell of the original. He also added a new wing to the side.
Glenmona House was bought by the trust in 1954.
We were lucky to use Glenmona House for lunch and wardrobe. It has spectacular views overlooking the bay.
A beautiful curved stretch of beach and golden sand. The sea is safe for swimming with calm waters.
On a clear day you may also be lucky to see the views across to the Mull of Kintyre, Scotland which is a mere 15 miles away. There is car parking and basic toilet facilities right at the beach.
The caves are easy to find from Cushendun beach.
You can find them at the southern end of Cushendun beach.
They weren’t known to many until the Game of Thrones used them for some scenes! We have never been a fan ourselves, not even watching a second of the series. Our Airbnb guests were always surprised or disgusted lol that we’d never seen it, especially being from Northern Ireland!
People come from all over the world to see the caves for themselves.
We owe their current geological state to more than 400 million years of natural erosion.
The rock cavities in the cliffs on the coast have been naturally eroded over time by wind and water.
When exploring you will see they are quite short in length, but nevertheless they are magnificent to see for the rugged natural beauty.
The famous goat
Another attraction in Cushendun is the famous goat who everyone comes to see from far and wide. She wanders around the village making friends with whomever she sees. She’s a friendly girl so make sure you stop to say hello. She loves the attention and a good old scratch behind the ear!
Thirsty? Check out Mary McBrides pub for some delicious Guinness. They also do pub grub such as pizzas and roast dinners etc. Located at 2 Main Street.
Yet another film location for the Game of Thrones. It is basically an avenue of beech trees set along Bregagh Road, between Armoy and Stran Ocum. Come inland from the North Ulster Causeway Coast route to find the trees that made up the very iconic scene that was used once through the series. It definitely made a lasting impression on fans.
The Dark Hedges Preservation Trust was set up in 2009 to preserve and enhance the ancient trees. They are thought to be 300/350 years old!
It is one of the most photographed sights in Northern Ireland due to the Game of Thrones movie, highlighting their ethereal moody beauty.
We now come to the crux of the matter as the North Ulster Causeway Coast route leaves East Antrim for the north coast of Ireland. Ballycastle is a small seaside town in County Antrim. It is on the north-easternmost coastal tip of Ireland, in the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of splendid natural beauty. Ballycastle was actually voted the best place to live in the Sunday Times’ ‘Best Places to Live 2020’ list, because of its fresh ocean air.
It is also famous for its 17th century Ould Lammas Fair behich celebrates harvest. It attracts over 150,000 people to historic Ballycastle every year in August.
The golden sand beach of Ballycastle is a delight to walk on. the beach backs onto Ballycastle golf club for most of its length. On clear days you can even see Scotland or Rathlin Island. There are also picnic tables, a kids playground, wheelchair access and disabled toilets.
Talking of Rathlin Island, in Ballycastle there is a small port which takes day trippers and overnighters to Rathlin Island, which is also on our bucket list! Rathlin island is known for its terrific bird watching and hikes for all fitness levels.
On the North Ulster Causeway coast, travellers will be struck by the sheer beauty of the cliffs at Carrick-a-Rede and the scary drop at its bridge, connecting the mainland to an island jutting out into the sea.
There is a good 15 min walk along the cliff top to bring the visitor from the carpark to the bridge.
With an bonaza of stunning scenery all along the way, it is likely that your camera will be clicking with every step. Above all, be prepared for rapidly changing weather no matter what time of year. In all honesty, four seasons in one day is a regular occurence for our wee Island!
The rope bridge was first erected by fishermen more than 250 years ago. They fished for salmon and for a long time a flourishing industry marked the place. Tourists flock here for the beautiful landscape and for the more braver, they like to experience the intense walk along the bridge. Hold on tight, as the bridge hangs approximately 100 feet above the sea connecting both ends to the steep cliffs.
On a blowy day, which is common in Northern Ireland, the rope bridge will swing side to side. Even though it’s kind off scary, especially for those with vertigo, the bridge is relatively short, at approximately 66 feet and noone has ever fallen overboard. Touch wood! However, in severe weather, as the wind picks up, the rope bridge will be closed due to safety.
It is free to park, and use the toilets, but there is a charge for crossing the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge.
There are many hidden gems along the coast road and Ballintoy is one of them. It is a small village, with a population of approximately 200 residents, on the North Ulster Causeway Coast route between Ballycastle and the Giant’s Causeway.
The quaint, friendly village lies about one kilometre from Ballintoy Harbour, a small fishing harbour at the end of a narrow, steep road down Knocksaughey hill which passes by the entrance to Larrybane and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.
Harbour / Beach
The harbour is very photogenic and is any photographers dream. Visitors can walk around the harbour, breathing in that fresh sea air and enjoy snacks in the small Red Door cafe. There is also much fun to be had at the beach. Kayaking takes place along with paddle boarding on a regular basis.
And, yes you guessed it, Game of Thrones also filmed here too. Where have that lot not filmed at! There are signs in the village explaining the particular areas they filmed the scenes at.
Parking is limited in Ballingtoy so come early and make the most of your day in these gorgeous surroundings.
White Park Bay Beach
It was funny to see cows on White Park Bay Beach. We are usually just used to that sight in India!
The cows actually belong to a local farmer who rents out some of the land that the National Trust owns near the beach and the cows can dander around where and when they want, loving life.
White Park Bay has ancient dunes that provide a range of rich habitats which is a haven for wildlife. You also have the opportunity to spot prehistoric fossils.
The beach itself is absolutely stunning and pristine. You may even be in luck to see some seals or a pod of dolphins!
Giants Causeway – The jewel in the North Ulster Causeway Coast
Then there is the crown jewel at the Giants Causeway, a world heritage site, where myth and science collide in the geology of its columns. While the travel up from Belfast along the North Ulster Causeway Coast has been beautiful, this is unquestionably the main event for the visitors to the area.
We have been several times to this outstanding site, in all types of weather and even the rain can bring out the majestical, powerful creation.
Have fun finding the Giants boot or the wishing chair basically hidden in the rocks.
In Port Noffer, you’ll find a small path leading towards the ocean. It’s here you will find the Giant’s Boot. The Giant’s Boot shaped rock, which can be mistaken for a chair, is named from the legendary gaint called Finn McCool who was supposed to have built the Causeway from Ireland to Scotland to fight another Giant who lived there.
Apparently the boot was lost by Finn as he fled from the wrath of Scottish giant, Benandonner.
There’s approximately 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, which was the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption. The stone pillars typically have five to seven irregular sides, jutting out of the cliff faces as if they were steps creeping into the sea. The causeway continues out of view under the sea as it stretches towards the Scottish Isles.
To get to the famous stones, walk the blue trail which is a direct route and takes just under a mile. There is also a bus to ferry people less able for the walk.
The cliff top trail boasts spectacular vistas of the world-famous Causeway Coast that are off the beaten track. The hike will have you feeling rejuvenated.
You’ll get amazing views of the stones and a clifftop walk with the opportunity to spot a quieter part of the Causeway even during visitor hours.
If going independently by car then parking is FREE if you don’t want to go through or use the visitors centre. Watch out for the guys at the car park trying to pressure you into paying- If you dont want to use the visitors centre, just drive on by and park up. Then one just avoids the visitor centre.
Infact, the whole Giants Causeway is FREE for everyone! Either, just walk under the bridge beside the car park or stroll up and over the grass covered roof of the visitor centre to join the trails. There are free toilets outside the visitors centre. Also, some farmers in the vicinity will also let you park on their land for a small fee.
Bushmills Whiskey Distillery
To recover from your exursions, the weary traveller may decide that a wee dram is required at the world famous Bushmills Whiskey Distillery. This is the oldest, continuously used whiskey distillery in Ireland. Furthermore, being licensed since 1608, Bushmills is the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in THE WORLD!
It is located in Bushmills village. The distillery runs tours, but if you don’t have time, you can get a few quick tastings at their shop.
The fabulous, commanding medieval Dunluce Castle is located on the edge of a basalt outcropping in between Portballintrae and Portrush. The castle was originally built in 15th Century by the McQuillans, who came from Scotland in the 1200s as hired mercenaries. Later, the McDonnell Clan took possesion of the castle in the 16th Century and added to the structure, including guns scavanged from the Girona, a galleon from the wrecked Spanish Armada (Exhibition can be seen at Ulster museum as noted in our Belfast page).
The castle may have a stunning setting but it’s a precarious position. Indeed, the north wall collapsed to the sea some time in the 18th Century. As a consequence, the castle was abandoned.
It’s basically a ruin now, but kept in good order despite its fragile position on crumbling cliff. For free you can take photos from a short distance, or explore the castle for approximately £5 per adult or £3 per child.
A map is given upon entry which details each area in and around the castle grounds. There are plenty of intact architectural details to add interest.
The popular seaside town of Portrush is lively, filled with bars, restaurants, souvenir and surf shops. Definitely, it is a big part of the North Ulster Causeway Coast route. It has good Rail and bus links with Coleraine, and subsequently, Belfast. Every year, the Railway Preservation Society organise steam train excursions from Belfast to the resort.
The charming town is well known for its three sandy beaches, the West Strand, East Stand and White Rocks, as well as the Royal Portrush Golf Club; scene of the 2019 Open tournament, and of course not forgetting the exciting Barry’s amusement park.
Barry’s funfair and amusements bring back many memories as a child, as well as an adult! It was a must visit for us kids when we arrived!
Who thought getting whiplash from the Dodgems could be so much fun! You also had the traditional Carousel, Helter-skelter, the hilarious Ghost train, Cyclone and the most exciting, the Big Dipper! (Which unfortunately is away now, but in its place since 2021 is the fun water log where you get a good soaking! Hilariouity for all).
It’s was a fun place to be. Unfortunately, sadly Since October 2019, the Trufelli family has sought to sell Barry’s Amusements as a going concern. Without much luck they had to pass it over to an estate agents to try and sell it as a going concern and a development opportunity. This could mean the end for Barry’s if yet another apartment block or offices get built on the site. Such a crying shame for all of us as there are so many memories tied to the place. (Update: As of 2021 we are pleased to say Barry’s, now called Curry’s is still in place. In our opinion it’s an institution, full of nostalgia and should not be removed for yet another ugly apt block! Leave it alone developers, you are only in it for the money!
Portrush is the luck of the drawer in the so called summer time. It can be lashing down, with gun metal clouds matching the colour of the seething sea!
Even so, the turbulent, scathing waves has one mesmerized, as you fight the wind walking the sandy stretch. Don’t bother battling with an umbrella, a hood is much better protection!
Luckily you may get a rare summer day in the Northern Ireland summer.
In August 2023 we had a belter, which placed nicely into Knox’s say off work.
We hired a car and whisked ourselves away to Portrush strand for a picnic and a sunbathe.
25 degrees, we couldn’t quite believe it as did the other locals basking in the sunshine.
Unfortunately now Currys funfair shuts 1st September for the season, which is a shame as the place would have been heaving and a moneymaker!
There’s a few bars/ restaurants in the area after the thirsty work sunbathing.
North West 200
Country folk can be a little unhinged at times. That can lead to crazy, adrenalin fueled fun and games. In Ulster, fast motorbikes are a big thing, especially here in the north of the province. Hence, the birth of the North West 200 international motorcycle road racing festival. The intial, desired location of the event spawned the name but the event was, and still is, eventually held on the tight, twisty public roads of the North Central Ulster. The event stretches back to the 1930s!
Danger and excitment
With the Start / Finish line between Portrush and Portstewart, the race follows the coast, towards Port Stewart, before heading inland. The Bikes race towards Coleraine, covering a triangular circut along bush and wall lined narrow country roads. Finally they switchback, heading north for Portrush. It is hair raising action as they zoom past at average speeds well over 100miles an hour, with riders reaching over 200 mph in places, as they take 5 mins to cover the 9 mile (14.5KM) circuit. While it is exhilarting fun for the hardened racers and fans, the event is not without tragedy as there have been around 20 deaths over the years. Notwithstanding this, the event draws the crowds and is definietly a huge part of the North Ulster Causeway Coast folklore.
Portstewart has been a go to seaside resort since the Victorian times. A popular spot for families, it’s got everything you could need, from beach side accommodation, restaurants, ice-cream Parlour’s, amusements and championship golf courses!
Stroll along the promenade, with some delicious ice-cream and watch the waves come in. On clear days you can see the Scottish coast and Donegal in the distance.
The golden sand sweeps along the edge of the North Coast for approximately 2 miles. It is one of Northern Ireland’s finest beaches and affords views of Inishowen headland and Mussenden Temple perched on the cliffs. On rare sunny days, due to its blue flag award, the beach can be a hive of activity with lots of sunbathers, picnickers and water sports fanatics.
It’s a scenic spot of natural beauty which attracts much wildlife and various types of bird species.
Bishops Gate and Mussenden Temple at Downhill
Following the North Ulster Causeway coast road from portstewart will bring the traveller into Coleraine, the administrative hub of the area, and then back out towards Castlerock. Here, one will find the ruins of the manor house.
The route to Mussenden Temple starts of at the impressive Bishop’s Gate. You will pass a private home in ruins, which is gothic in style, then enter into the Bishop’s Gate Gardens. At a fork in the main path, take the right track, through a relict arboretum. At another pronounced fork, there will be signs for Mussenden Temple up a grass track.
You’re almost there! Just open the wooden gate and you shall spy the Temple right in view as it stands majestically on the cliff side.
Mussenden Temple, which sits precariously close to the edge of the high cliffs, overlooks a beautiful beach. I don’t know whether it’s the outstanding, alluring landscape, but there is something tremendously spiritual about this place. A sense of calm can be found as well as an appreciation of pure mother nature.
The temple was built in 1785 and forms part of the estate of Frederick Augustus Hervey, Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol. It was built as a summer library and its architecture was inspired by the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, near Rome, Italy.
The vistas from the top are magnificent and you almost feel you can conquer the world.
Downhill Strand is a blue flag beach in County Derry. At 7 miles long it is one of the longest beaches in Northern Ireland.
It has fantastic views along the cliffs that back the beach. Other than amazing scenic strolls, there are many other activities unfolding before your eyes, such as kayaking, surfing and horse riding.
You can spot the old railway. Downhill railway station was opened in July 1853, closed for passenger services on 3 September 1973, and finally closed altogether on 18 October 1976. Travel writer Michael Palin described it as “one of the most beautiful railway journeys in the world”.
We have to admit we have not particularly gone to Derry for the sightseeing, only stopping of at the supermarket for some munchies for our onward road trip.
However, one year I surprised Knox with a birthday gift to spend a night at the Everglades Hotel. It was for the Jamie Carragher event that was taking place at the hotel that evening.
As a massive Liverpool FC fan, Knox was over the moon.
Me, well I’m not a great fan of football.
I was looking more forward to the champagne lol, and a word in Carra’s ear!
Derry or Londonderry as some people call it, may not be as popular as the likes of Belfast, but it is steeped in rich history and culture.
You have the iconic peace bridge at the River Foyle, as well as the The 12 murals that decorate the gable ends of the houses along Roseville Street, close to Free Derry corner. The City walls, the Bloody Sunday Memorial as well as much more historic and political memories of the city.
Derry also celebrates Halloween massively, which puts Belfast to shame. Derry has well and truly brought Halloween home and established itself as one of the best Halloween destinations in the world.
Check out their October 2021 event coming up, where the organizers will be sharing the story of the spirit of Samhain.
Derry brings an end to the North Ulster Causeway Coast. From here, one crosses over into west Ulster and county Donegal.