Despite living in England for my entire life, I have barely scratched the surface of the UK (including England). In 2016, I finally took a trip to Scotland and after spotting some cheap flights to Belfast, 2019 finally became the year that I visited Northern Ireland, the Causeway Coastal Route in particular. Here’s a little spoiler: I LOVED it.
Our trip was very spontaneous, we booked the flights, rental car and accommodation the week before and off we went! I hadn’t done too much research (which will become apparent as you read on) but we really enjoyed being able to hop in the car each day and drive to wherever took our fancy!
With the growing popularity of a “staycation” (technically you’re still in the UK….) and the world’s obsession with Game of Thrones, Northern Ireland is a tourism favourite and should definitely be on your radar!
Whenever you want! Most guides suggest that you should visit in June, July or August, understandably to get a chance of good weather. As we all know, the weather in the UK can be very temperamental and who knows if you will get good weather in Summer anyway!
We visited in March 2019 and had a brilliant time. The weather was mostly good, chilly but sunny with a few patches of rain. Most importantly, we had most of the stops along the Causeway Coastal Route completely to ourselves! So there is definitely merit to visiting outside of peak seasons.
My itinerary starts in Belfast, which is easy to reach by air, sea and land!
Belfast is home to two airports:
Belfast is easily accessible by sea from England, Scotland and the Isle of Man, using these ferry companies (many of which allow you to bring your car, meaning you save on car rental fees for the Causeway Coastal Route roadtrip!):
Of course, if you are already in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, Beflast can be reached by car, bus or train. You can use the Translink website to check bus and train times.
The Causeway Coastal route is primarily a driving route, so bringing your own car or hiring a rental car is the “easiest” way to see the various sights. If you do rent a car, you can use this website to check off-street parking prices.
If you are unable to hire a car, you can use public transport. The best way to check times and buy tickets is by using the Translink website.
Alternatively, you can also book tours of the Causeway Coastal route, some examples are below:
To get an idea of the distance covered in this itinerary, this map pinpoints all of the spots that we visited (or attempted to visit).
We found that the best places to stay in Northern Ireland were BnBs, there are so many to choose from and all of the hosts were incredibly friendly and helpful!
I highly recommend these BnBs:
In Belfast, we used some Hilton points to stay at The Hampton By Hilton, but I’m sure that there are some beautiful BnBs in Belfast too!
To ensure maximum time exploring, we took the earliest flight from London Stansted available, meaning we arrived in Belfast by midday, ready to check into The Hampton By Hilton and spend the afternoon exploring!
We had 1.5 days to explore Belfast at the start of our trip and another half-day at the end of our trip. This was enough time to see the “highlights” but you could easily spend more time exploring an getting to know the city!
I found Belfast absolutely fascinating. The contrast of the extremely welcoming locals with some really harrowing experiences, my favourites being:
We booked our rental car via Avis as they had a pick-up location which was a 2 minute walk from The Hampton By Hilton. The staff were helpful, even when I realised the day before that I hadn’t received a confirmation email from Avis and called them to find out that our booking hadn’t been successful.
They promptly found us another car which fit our requirements for the same price that we had previously tried to book. We opted for the cheapest car which probably wasn’t the best idea (wait till you read about our time trying to reach Torr Head). If we were to do this trip again, I would opt for a car with a slightly larger engine which wouldn’t struggle to summit the many country road hills!
The Gobbins, a dramatic cliff-face walk was supposed to be our first stop on our road trip. However, due to our lack of planning and research, we didn’t realise that the route must be taken on a pre-booked tour – oops!
Luckily we realised this just before we set off on our road-trip, so avoided driving all the way there unnecessarily!
So, our real first stop was Glenoe Waterfall. Even with my very limited research, I hadn’t seen a single recommendation to stop at Glenoe Waterfall, instead we stumbled across it by frantically searching on Google Maps and MAPS.me for a nearby stop following our failed attempt to see The Gobbins!
On arrival in the empty car park, we quickly started the short walk down to the waterfall. We couldn’t believe that we were the only people there, the 30 foot waterfall is gorgeous and a real “hidden gem”.
Despite it being lovely and sunny at sea-level, on arrival at the Slemish Mountain car park, it became apparent that the same could not be same for higher altitudes! We attempted to begin walking up the mountain but were practically being blown over due to gale force winds.
We decided to turn around and head back to the car, without summiting the mountain. When we got back to the car park, all other cars had vanished, so it seems like everyone else had the same idea too!
Despite the fact we didn’t reach the summit, the views were still pretty great!
Glenariff Forest Park was another stop that we didn’t expect to make, but I managed to convince Callum would be worthwhile based on nothing other than a “I’ve found another place on MAPS.me, can we stop?”.
Thankfully, it was another great spontaneous stop! The parking metre was broken, but we called the number on a piece of paper stuck to the machine, paid over the phone to a very helpful person and hoped that we hadn’t just paid a stranger £5 as part of a very low-brow scam…
We completed the Waterfall Trail and took lots of photos of the stunning scenery. The sun was shining at this point, which we didn’t expect during a UK break in March, so we weren’t appropriately dressed for a long walk in the sunshine!
Cushendall is a cute little village with lots of pastel coloured houses (my favourite) and some great places to eat lunch.
We wandered around the town, snapping photos of the picturesque houses before grabbing lunch at Harry’s, a lovely restaurant serving range of fish, seafood, burgers, salads and sandwiches.
Cushendun is a beautiful seaside village with two main attractions. The first being a statue of a goat as you enter the town (what’s not to love about a goat statue) and the second being a series of caves used in filming Game of Thrones.
To reach the caves, walk down to the end of the row of houses (you’ll know what I mean on arrival, there is one main row of houses!) and turn left at the end. You’ll soon see the Game of Thrones sign which are dotted throughout Northern Ireland at all the filming locations.
Torr Head is a lookout point on a small peak looking out to the sea. To get to Torr Head, you are likely to take the Torr Head Scenic Route which leads you off the “main” Causeway Coast roads onto small country hilly lanes.
Like I’ve said, we opted for the cheapest rental car with an incredibly small engine. This little car did not enjoy the many many hills that we forced it up! There were a few times that we didn’t know if we would make it to the top of the hill… To avoid any further drama, we managed to find an exit to the main road again, so we didn’t actually make it to the Torr Head lookout.
The parts of the Torr Head Scenic Route that we did do were incredibly gorgeous and definitely worth your time if you have the right car! The roads are very narrow, so I wouldn’t recommend taking a large car or campervan on these roads either.
Made famous by Game Of Thrones, The Dark Hedges have become an Instagram phenomenon with tonnes of people flocking to see the trees in all their glory. In fact, this was the only stop (besides Giant’s Causeway) on our Causeway Coastal Route road trip where we saw more than one other group of tourists.
We spent some time wandering down the road, taking photos and chatting to a local who explained that one of the fallen trees which had an estate agent’s “For Sale” sign on it was completely legitimate and they were expecting big money to be paid for it! I’ve just looked it up and can’t find any evidence that it did sell, but enjoy that the auctioneer confirmed this is the “most unusual thing we were ever asked to sell“.
After 3 hours of driving and many more hours of exploring, we were pretty exhausted by the time we got to Ballycastle. On our way into the town, we wandered around a ruined churchyard and grabbed a quick dinner before checking into The Rose Garden Room.
Our evening was spent watching Netflix and enjoying the warm cosy room away from the wind and rain outside! The perfect end to a day of exploring!
Here is where our good weather luck took a turn for the worst… We expected the Carrick-A-Rede Bridge to be fairly busy given it’s popularity, but we were one of two tourist groups at the bridge, presumably because nobody else feels the need to cross a swinging bridge while it is chucking it down with rain and the sea below you is thrashing at the rocks…
Regardless of the weather, we felt like the Carrick-A-Rede Bridge was one of the things we “had” to do while in Northern Ireland, so decided to brave the weather! I’d love to return on a sunnier day as I imagine the experience would be much more calm! Being unable to see (as the wind was thrashing my hair and rain into my face) didn’t help my nerves which had already arrived due to my fear of heights! We still had a fun time!
Dunsverick is a very small castle ruin between Carrick-A-Redge Bridge and Giant’s Causeway, while the total journey between the two would only take 20 minutes, we thought it would be rude not to stop off at Dunsverick Castle while passing by!
There isn’t a whole lot to see (other than incredible sea views, as always) but is worth making a stop for a quick photo if you have time and are already passing by!
Near Ballycastle, you will find Kinbane Castle which we sadly skipped as we didn’t think we would have enough time to visit. Kinbane is more intact than Dunsverick and if you are looking to visit one castle, I’d say Kinbane is probably worth your time more than Dunsverick!
During our road trip, we continually kept asking where the other tourists were… it seems like most people skip the Causeway Coastal road trip and just do an organised day trip from Belfast to Giant’s Causeway, which was filled to the brim with tourists!
Included in the entrance price is a audio guide which is filled with stories as you walk from the main visitor centre to the Giant’s Causeway (the walk is fairly lengthy but you can pay extra to board a shuttle bus). We spent quite a while exploring Giant’s Causeway (of course, Callum had to climb over every single rock possible), so be sure to factor in enough time for your trip!
The Old Bushmills Distillery was another “surprise” stop on our road trip. Given that the weather hadn’t been great that morning, we decided that we needed to spend some time indoors for a while and realised that the Distillery was nearby.
We took a tour of the distillery which was great (and well timed, when we randomly arrived, they had a tour leaving in 5 minutes, result!). At the end of the tour, you are able to sample a whiskey. Of course – please be careful drinking and driving!
Even if the tour isn’t available, there is a shop where you can pick up a few bottles! We were flying with hand luggage, but thankfully they do mini 100ml bottles which we could take home as souvenirs!
Our final proper “sightseeing” stop on the Causeway Coastal Route was Dunluce Castle (yes, yet another castle)! Dunluce Castle is the most “maintained” castle that we visited – this one we could actually enter and walk around, as opposed to admiring from a distance.
The site is fairly big and well worth the £5 entrance fee (in my opinion) to wander around, taking in the impressive castle walls and gorgeous sea views.
A friend had recommended Portstewart to me as she remembered it being lovely from her childhood. Unfortunately, when we arrived, it was starting to get dark and most shops/cafes had closed.
We took a walk along the seafront before heading back to the car, a little underwhelmed at our time in Portstewart. Next time, I would try to reach Portstewart during the day or try another nearby town (like Portrush which apparently has a beautiful beach).
We checked into 2 Drummond BnB before going to get some dinner at Mama Masala (if you told me that a combined Indian and Italian restaurant would be good, I wouldn’t have believed you, but I have been proven wrong). After eating ourselves silly, we collapsed into the comfy BnB beds before binge-watching Derry Girls!
With one day to explore Derry, we didn’t get to see and do everything, but we gave it a good go (after we had recovered from our food coma from Una’s incredible breakfast at 2 Drummond BnB).
Highlights of our time in Derry included:
If we had more time, I would have loved to visit The Museum of Free Derry.
After our day of exploring Derry, our Causeway Coastal Route adventure was over as we jumped back in the car and drove 1 hour 30 minutes to Belfast. We returned the car to Avis that evening and checked back into The Hampton By Hilton, ready for our final day in Northern Ireland.
We spent our final morning exploring the final few places that we didn’t get to see in Belfast at the start of our trip – including the Black Cab Tour that I mentioned earlier! We took our time wandering around the city and enjoying our final day of being on holiday before heading to the airport for our evening flight home.
If you have a full week to explore (unlike the 6 days that we had), you could easily spread the above Causeway Coastal Route itinerary out slightly so that you aren’t as rushed (making sure we had time to see The Gobbins and Torr’s Head properly would have been great). While I didn’t feel “rushed”, there were definitely times were we were watching the clock (i.e. to make sure we checked into our AirBnBs at the agreed times etc.), so if you’re looking for a more relaxed pace, spread the roadtrip out over 3 days!
Alternatively, there are plenty of other stops that you can make along the way, some examples being:
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Wow, it’s sooo green! Love all the little day hikes and adventures you throw in to break up the drive! Pinning for future adventures!
Great post! So many lovely places to see around the coast, I’m going to have to choose strategically for our trip. 🙂 Cushendall is a potential addition! I wish we had time to go to Derry but I think we’d end up rushing too much if we tried to include that. Also another recommendation for the black cab tours… I’m going to look at booking one tomorrow! 🙂