Getting to Northern Ireland and experiencing the Causeway Coastal Route has never been easier. A quick ferry from either Troon or Cairnryan in Scotland whizzes you across the Irish Sea and into the port of Larne in no time. Of course, one of the main benefits of ferry travel is bringing your own car. And here on Northern Ireland’s rugged coastline, you’re going to need it.
So sit back and relax as we take you along the Coast Road and through some of the highlights of Ireland’s most epic drive.
A tale between two cities
Your drive will stretch between two cities: Belfast and Derry~Londonderry. Belfast City has all the charm of a modern metropolis with the added boon of being the capital for all things Titanic. The jaw-dropping Titanic Belfast reveals the tragic tale of the world’s most famous ship with modern flair. Journey 13,000 foot beneath the waves to Titanic’s final resting place in the Ocean Exploration Centre or take the educational and fun Shipyard Ride.
With the Derry~Londonderry UK City of Culture celebrations in full swing, and more festivals than you can shake a stick at, there are few cities on the planet more exciting to be in than Derry~Londonderry. Lonely Planet made a special mention of the walled city as a must-visit for 2013.
Then again, you don’t take the Causeway Coastal Route to stay in the cities. You’re here for the scenery.
The Giant’s Causeway
We’ll start big. Giant, in fact. The Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim is a geological marvel. Roughly 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns rise and peter out into the ocean here creating a bizarre yet remarkably beautiful scene.
The columns look like the result of some insane yet hard-working sculptor, but no, nature was the creator here. Intense volcanic activity some 50 million years ago resulted in the perfect octagonal formations. Science trumps all, of course, but we much prefer the mythical version. You know the one where battling giants rend the earth asunder and created the causeway to connect Northern Ireland and Scotland? Yeah, that one.
Drop by the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre for more on both the scientific and mythical reasons behind the Unesco World Heritage site.
Don’t look down!
Another highlight on this stretch of the Causeway Coastal Route
is the vertigo-inducing Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The only connection point between two headlands, the bridge stretches across a gaping 80-foot chasm. In years gone by the bridge serviced local fisherman as they carefully carried their bumper salmon catch home.
Today, the bridge couldn’t be safer and the rewards of gorgeous views of the Larrybane headland and Sheep Island are enough to inspire even the most cowardly!
Just down the road in Ballintoy harbour is where HBO’s Game of Thrones set up camp to shoot their ‘Iron Island’ scenes. In fact, scattered along the Causeway Coastal Drive you’ll come across several filming locations from the fantasy series.
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Time for a tipple
After traversing Carrick-a-Rede you may need a stiff drink! Take a break from driving to explore and enjoy the oldest working distillery in the world: Bushmills. Nestled alongside the River Bush, the old assemblage of 19th century buildings look like they’ve leapt straight out of a vintage postcard.
A tour of the mills reveals their age-old production techniques with a side order of local history and heritage. Keep a wary eye open for the resident ghost, the Grey Lady! She’s had one too many…
Back on the Causeway Coastal Route our next stop is the ancient Dunluce Castle. This is possibly one of the most dramatic castle scenes to be found anywhere in the world, never mind just the island of Ireland. These decaying ruins sit perched 100 foot above the roaring ocean on an Atlantic cliff edge. A sense of history seeps out of every stone here – get close and grab some. Tales of wailing banshees, smugglers and tragic love surround the ruins.
Originally built in the 14th century the castle has a troubled past, with sieges, battles, burnings and accounts of an entire section of the castle kitchens plummeting into the ocean below. What’s left of the castle today is a tragically romantic reminder of old Ireland. If you should be so lucky as to visit near sunset, as the sun smoulders into the ocean, and the castle walls turn to silhouettes, you’ll see what we mean.
We’ve barely scratched the surface here. The Causeway Coastal Route takes in 120km of stunning scenery, isolated villages, nature reserves, rambling walks and unforgettable attractions such as the ones mentioned above.
So what are you waiting for? Get in the car, hop on the ferry and explore the Causeway Coastal Route at your own pace.
After all – you’re on holiday.