The Causeway Coastal Route truly captures the breath-taking scenery of Northern Ireland. From UNESCO World Heritage sites to spectacular castles and ruins, popular film locations and whiskey tastings, the Causeway Coastal Route is an incredible adventure.
Stretching from Belfast to the historic city of Derry (or Londonderry as it’s also known), the Causeway Coastal Route is a 130-mile driving route around the coast of Northern Ireland. Considered one of the most scenic road trips in the world, expect rugged coastal landscapes, pretty villages, hiking trails and plenty of things to see and do.
Read on to discover some highlights of Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route.
The Causeway Coastal Route road trip either begins or ends in the bustling city of Belfast. This compact but vibrant city is the perfect place to spend a day or two before embarking on your drive. Go on a walking tour and discover the city’s main highlights. Visit the Titanic Belfast Museum, where the infamous ship was constructed over 100 years ago. If you’re in Belfast during the weekend, then head to St George’s Market, a traditional Victorian market with over 300 traders, food stalls and more!
2. Giant’s Causeway
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, the Giant’s Causeway is considered one of Europe’s greatest natural wonders. The result of an ancient volcanic eruption, it is made up of 40,000 interlocking hexagonal basalt columns. Surrounded by folklore, myth and legend, book a tour and uncover some of the enchanting theories as to how this beautiful part of the coast came to be. Pedestrian access to the Giant’s Causeway is free of charge but charges apply if you wish to visit the Visitor Centre or use the car park.
3. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge connects the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede. Spanning 20 metres across and set 30 metres above the rocks below, the bridge has become a major tourist attraction on the Causeway Coastal Route. With views of nearby Rathlin Island and Scotland from the area, a pit stop here is worth it for the vistas alone. The bridge is open all year round (subject to weather conditions). Be warned, crossing the bridge is not for the faint hearted!
4. Rathlin Island
The only inhabited offshore island in Northern Ireland, Rathlin Island can easily be done as a day trip. You can catch the ferry from the small harbour at Ballycastle, which departs several times a day and takes approximately 30 minutes. A paradise for walkers, nature-lovers and foodies, the island is a highlight on the Causeway Coastal Route. Explore the island by bike, visit the Seabird Centre, take a guided walk and visit one of the pubs to fuel up before catching the ferry back to the mainland.
5. Bushmills Distillery
Like its neighbouring country, Northern Ireland has a history of distilling spirits, particularly whiskey. A visit to Old Bushmills Distillery, the world’s oldest licensed distillery, should therefore feature as a top priority on your itinerary.
The original grant to distil was signed in 1608 by King James I, and there has been distillation on the site ever since. Uncover the history of the iconic brand, watch the whiskey making take place, learn about the processes and even enjoy a taster or two! Tours run throughout the day, but it is advised to book in advance.
6. Dunluce Castle
Surrounded by steep drops, Dunluce Castle was built between the 15th and 17th centuries. One of the most picturesque castles in Ireland, enjoy the breath-taking views as you uncover the exciting history of these ruins. Inside the castle you will discover centuries of stories and legends, including the history of the Clan McQuillan and the Clan MacDonnell, who both inhabited the castle.
7. Carrickfergus Castle
Carrickfergus Castle is situated in the town of Carrickfergus, on the shore of Belfast Lough. Built in 1177, this Norman castle is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Northern Ireland. Besieged in turn by the Scots, Irish, English and French, the castle played an important military role until 1928. Today, the castle houses historical displays as well as canons from the 17th to the 19th centuries.
8. The Gobbins Cliff Path
The Gobbins Cliff Path at Islandmagee is a coastal path made up of walkways, bridges and tunnels along The Gobbins cliffs. The path completely engulfs you in nature, with caves, ravines and natural aquariums to be seen along the way. Accessible by guided tour only, the walking tour should take roughly 2.5 hours to complete. Keep an eye out for the rich birdlife, seals, dolphins and porpoise which are regularly spotted along the route.
9. The Dark Hedges
Calling all Game of Thrones fans! The Dark Hedges, a row of beech trees made famous by appearances in films such as Game of Thrones, is a favourite stop for film buffs on the Causeway Coastal Route. The 250-year-old trees crisscross each other to provide a natural tunnel and provide the perfect photo op. Currently free to park and visit, there is a large visitor car park located only two minutes’ walk from the north end of the Dark Hedges.
It may not be as popular as the city of Belfast, but Derry is certainly not to be missed. Rich in history, culture and charm, this walled city will capture your hearts. Walk around the 400-year-old city walls, used as defences from English and Scottish invasions. Discover the city’s troubled past at the Museum of Free Derry, see the People’s Gallery murals and stroll across Peace Bridge. After you’ve soaked up enough history, head to one of the city’s lively pubs and discover the good-natured banter of the locals.
TIP! You could possibly explore the route in a day or two, but four days is generally recommended so you can properly appreciate each of the stops on the way.