Belfast to Ballymena: 55 miles (88.6km)/34 minutes at 30mph
Your Causeway Coastal Route adventure begins in the city of Belfast. As well as being an urban metropolis, Belfast is also the spiritual home of the Titanic. Titanic Belfast is the largest Titanic attraction in the world, and boasts nine interactive galleries charting the liner’s story from beginning to tragic end.
Heading north from Belfast on the M2 motorway, Belfast Lough will glisten to your right as you join the Causeway Coastal Route at Newtownabbey and cruise towards the seaside town of Carrickfergus. The town’s harbour-side Norman 12th Century castle has seen over 800 years of action, right up until World War II, with portcullis ramparts, canons and a chilling dungeon.
Glorious coastal scenes are a taster for what is to come as you reach Larne, County Antrim. Larne is known locally as the gateway to the nine Glens of Antrim: glacier-gouged valleys of seaside villages and highlands of coniferous forests, bogland and waterfalls. The same geological forces that created the terrain of the Causeway also created the Glens. Also near Larne are the Cushendun Caves, which were used to film the HBO TV show Game of Thrones.
Continue north along the crumbling coast and you’ll reach Ballygally. This tiny seaside town is the perfect place to set up camp. Maybe a trip out to the wildlife haven of Rathlin Island? Or you could enjoy walks along its beautiful golden beach. Make sure to visit Ballygally Castle Hotel. The old castle is rooted in local myth and legend and is even said to have a resident ghost.
Just north of Ballygally, the sublime Carnfunnock Country Park is a must-visit. This modern-day Garden of Eden combines man-made attractions with natural beauty. As well as glorious views of the County Antrim coastline, Carnfunnock has woodlands, colourful gardens and walking trails. Make sure to visit the walled garden and the icehouse.
Continue north along the coast and visit one of Ireland’s oldest estates: Glenarm Castle. Home to the Earls of Antrim for 400 years, Glenarm Castle looks has fairytale appeal. It’s open to the public from May to September, and a stroll around the immaculately kept walled gardens is the perfect precursor to lunch in the castle tearooms. The village of Broughshane and the mighty Slemish Mountain are next. The latter is the lonely spot where St Patrick was first bonded to slavery on his arrival to Ireland.
Swing west, and inland now to reach the town of Ballymena. With plenty of shops, restaurants and local attractions, Ballymena is the perfect place to end the first day of your Causeway Coastal Route journey.