Northern Ireland is the smallest of the UK’s countries, but don’t let that fool you! There is so much to do and see here. With only a long weekend to spend in Northern Ireland, we had to choose carefully what we wanted to see. We decided to spend the first couple of days in Belfast – the capital and Will’s home town – and to focus for another couple of days on the rugged and spectacular Antrim Coast. For a list of Belfast’s top things to do, check out our complete guide!
➳ Read all about: THINGS TO DO IN BELFAST IN 2 DAYS
The Causeway Coastal Route 2-Day Road Trip Guide (Map + Itinerary)
On our road trip across Northern Ireland we followed the Causeway Coastal Route, or at least part of it! The road winds through the countryside, following the coastline for 243 kilometres. It truly is one of the most beautiful drives in Europe, a succession of steep cliffs, green meadows, castles and fisherman villages.
The first stop of our road trip in Northern Ireland was Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. The 20 metres-long rope bridge, first erected by salmon fisherman 350 years ago, crosses the Atlantic Ocean connecting the coast to a little island. It is suspended almost 30 metres above sea level and it offers phenomenal panoramic views of Northern Ireland’s coast. The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge sees quite a few visitors every day and tickets are timed entry and often sold out. To ensure you can cross the bridge schedule your visit and book the ticket online here.
Twelve kilometres North on the Causeway Coastal Route we visited the Giant’s Causeway, a geological wonder and Northern Ireland’s most majestic natural beauty. 40,000 basalt stone columns still stand after volcanic eruptions 60 million years ago. Myth claims it was angry giants chucking rocks into the sea. You can decide which story you prefer.
Travel tip: the Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most visited attractions. To avoid the crowds, you’re going to have to get there early, even better if it’s sunrise early. Tour buses from Belfast start arriving just before 10am, but it’s still best to arrive as early in the morning as you can, especially during the summer months. There are several good coastal hiking/walking trails that start from here, too, any of which I recommend taking after the crowds start showing up at the Causeway.
➳ Read all about: THE LEGEND OF THE GIANT’S CAUSEWAY
Another great time to visit the Giant’s Causeway is at sunset – not only because the crowds have once again cleared out, but also because it’s one of the best places along the coast to watch the sun go down. You can buy your ticket online here.
Next stop of our road trip on the Causeway Coastal Route, the ruins of the medieval Dunluce Castle, located right on the edge of a cliff making a stunningly dramatic setting. Despite its ambitious size, the Dunluce Castle was built rather precariously on the craggy and treacherous coast and bares witness to a creepy history. It was a stormy night of 1639 when, while the Earl of Antrim and his wife were waiting for dinner, the kitchen – along with kitchen staff – fell into the sea. The view of the ruins set on the green hills and white cliffs is truly worth it, especially on a sunny day (we didn’t have such luck!).
The white cliffs of Portrush – known as the Whiterocks – have been one of my favourite stops. The Northern Irish winter weather was not ideal for a day at the beach – we knew that – but we decided to stop by anyway and we loved it. We were not the only ones: couples walking their dogs, kids playing and surfers catching waves with pure white limestone chalk cliffs as a backdrop. These cliffs date back between 142 to 65 million years!
The last stop of our road trip in Northern Ireland is a filming location of the tv series Game of Thrones. The Dark Hedges, a beautiful avenue of majestic beech trees planted 250 years ago by James Stuart to impress the visitors arriving to his house, Gracehill House. The origin of their name – Dark Hedges – is rather spooky. It was Will’s grandmother, born and raised in Belfast, who told us that the hedges are said to be haunted by a spirit known as the Grey Lady, who wanders the avenue of trees always disappearing at the last beech tree.
We spent two amazing days on the road on the Antrim Coast before heading back to Belfast and to say our goodbyes to Will’s family! Although we had a great time there, winter is not the best season to visit the coast. The days are short and the weather is cold, wet and windy. Spring – especially from April onwards – and summer are the best time to visit Northern Ireland. The nature is full bloom and the days are getting longer.
Worth a visit: if you are travelling during spring and summer season don’t miss a visit to the Glens of Antrim, valleys close to the coast, rich in hikes and waterfalls. Other interesting stops are the Torr Head promontory and the Old Bushmills Distillery which produces one of the best Irish whiskeys in the country since 1784.
Stop by: the Fullerton Arms Restaurant, a four-star boutique hotel with traditional food that alone makes it worth a visit. The cosy pub serves chowder, Irish stew, burgers and a great selection of mussel-based dishes. At breakfast, the full Irish will set you up for the day. It overlooks the sea and the little harbour famous to be the set of the Iron Islands in Game of Thrones. Just be aware that it’s a popular lunch stop for busses on day trips up the coast and it can get pretty crowded.
Driving in Northern Ireland: As in every other British country, in Ireland and Nothern Ireland the traffic runs on the left hand side and the the vehicles are set up for left lane driving. The good news is, it’s not as difficult as it sounds! If you plan on driving into Ireland, you will need to let your insurance company know, as additional fees may apply. There are no toll highways in Northern Ireland!
A special thanks to Tourism Ireland for this spectacular trip.