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The Causeway Coastal Route

A Giant Journey

Explore one of the most incredible coastlines in the world

The Causeway Coastal Route between the cities of Belfast and Derry~Londonderry is a kaleidoscope of natural landscapes, imposing cliffs, bubbling mountain streams and gushing waterfalls. This stunning slow coastal route starts in Belfast and will take you to the remarkable Gobbins Cliff Path, through the gorgeous Glens of Antrim and towards the famous Giant’s Causeway.

Along the way the route brings out the big guns: the Gobbins is an Edwardian marvel; the 12th-century Carrickfergus Castle in Antrim is one of the oldest in Northern Ireland; and the magnificent Mussenden Temple stands at the edge of a sheer drop overlooking Downhill Beach. The beach stretches to 6 miles, where you can enjoy a spot of waterskiing or just soak in the views of three separate counties (Donegal, Antrim and Derry~Londonderry).

Of course, your highlight will be the odyssey that is the Giant’s Causeway, 40,000 basalt columns jutting out into the ocean. Built by giants, so the legend says.

To be sure, though, you’ll have to go there and judge for yourself.

Coastal Highway

Get ready for the slow road adventure of a lifetime

From Belfast city, via the Gobbins Cliff Path (see above) and all the way to the UNESCO World Heritage Site from which it takes its name, this incredible route is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Days are lazily spent driving along unique coastal seascapes, eating fresh seafood and exploring pretty seaside villages.

Fairy-tale landscapes

The romantic remains of Dunluce Castle lie teetering on a craggy headland. This 14th-century stronghold was abandoned in 1641 after part of the kitchen collapsed into the sea during a storm. In the adjoining graveyard are victims of the crashing Atlantic: buried sailors from wrecks like the Girona, while treasures recovered from the ship can be seen at the Ulster museum in Belfast. Small wonder this place is said to have inspired C.S. Lewis to create Cair Paravel in The Chronicles of Narnia. Is that epic enough for you yet? 

The enigmatic basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway undoubtedly stand as the smoky gem of the Causeway Coastal Route – but they are just one sparkler in a lustrous crown of spectacular, scenic-studded coastline.

The road traverses bridges, arches and hairpin turns, passing sheer cliff coves, deserted white strands and otherworldly rock formations. These rocks have wrecked ships; those cliffs nurture rare fauna; the beaches stretch for miles and those rugged turns are by ancient volcanic design.

In fact, there are so many fantastical landscapes along this Northern Ireland route that several places have been chosen as filming locations for the smash-hit HBO series Game of Thrones

The route is a lesson in history, heritage, geology and biology, but above all, in the astounding power of nature’s creation. Stretching between the two spirited cities of Belfast and Derry~Londonderry, it’s not a great distance, but it’s a journey to be savoured.

Torr Head

Weave along this rugged jut of land on the north coast of Antrim, and as the raging waters crash below, gaze across the horizon at Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre. History hits you full force, with the ruins of the 6th century stone fort Altagore Cashel taking you back to simpler times. The signposted scenic route to Ballycastle sees the trail snake precariously around steep slopes between Fair Head, Murlough Bay and Torr Head.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Heart thumping, knees quaking, blood rushing: Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is a swaying little bridge that hovers almost 100 feet over a dramatic chasm. If you’ve made it along the cliff-top walk, the bridge is the only thing between you and the churning Atlantic waves below – but don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe. Afterwards, head to the nearby Old Bushmills Distillery, Ireland’s oldest working distillery, where you can enjoy a tour and a wee dram. 

Glens of Antrim

Feargal Lynn is a traditional musician, storyteller, guide and local historian. Spend time with him in his native Glens and learn about their geological history. All nine of the Glens, bar one, sweep downhill from Antrim's volcanic plateau to the sea. “And that,” says Feargal pointing to the ominous waters of the North Channel, “used to be the only way out of here.” It’s this isolation that has left the Glens of today with cultural riches and a traditional sense of community identity.

The Giant’s Causeway

Now for the gem of this serrated coastline, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Giant’s Causeway – 40,000 basalt columns, formed by molten lava cooled into hexagonal dark stone steps. The Causeway legend claims the great Celtic warrior Finn MacCool built the basalt highway to Scotland to challenge a rival giant, Benandonner, to battle. But Finn’s first glimpse of the enormous Scot sent him scurrying back to Ireland, where his quick-witted wife disguised him as a child. Benandonner arrives, sees the hulking baby, reasons ‘If that’s the kid, I don’t want to meet the father’ and turns tail back to Scotland, ripping up the highway behind him.

However, scientists believe that the Giant’s Causeway was formed by an ancient volcanic eruption 60 million years ago. Either way, this haphazard grouping of columns is nothing short of outstanding. There’s also a fantastic visitor centre for you to discover more, and make your own mind up as to where the Causeway came from.

Good To Know

  • The Giant’s Causeway is an official UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • There are four walking trails at the Giant’s Causeway, which boast amazing views of the area. They have been recently upgraded and are colour coded. You can even walk to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, 12 miles away along a coastal path.
  • The Causeway is accessible in a day trip from Belfast, as it takes about 1 hour 30 minutes by road. It is 2 miles from Bushmills village, 11 miles from Coleraine, and 13 miles from Ballycastle.
  • The Causeway Coast Way Walking Trail is a 33-mile walk from Portstewart to Ballycastle, passing by the Giant's Causeway.
  • Country Antrim's lighthouses shine brightly along this rugged coastline. Visit Rathlin West Light on stunning Rathlin Island or stay in one of the restored lightkeepers' houses at Blackhead.

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Inspired by what you see? Keep exploring with these Northern Ireland itineraries from stunning cycling routes, to Westeros adventures.

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