Antrim’s main draw is undoubtedly Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital city. The RMS Titanic was built in this port city: “she was fine when she left here,” as locals like to quip. A century later, the iconic new Titanic Belfast visitor attraction is the centrepiece of a rejuvenated quarter named after the ill-fated liner.
A hub of 20th century industry, Belfast today is energetic and outward-looking. Home to the Metropolitan Arts Centre (MAC) and to many gleaming hotels and shopping malls, the city also boasts an impressive music pedigree, even hosting the MTV Europe Music Awards in the SSE Arena.
If you are a blues head, if you are a reggae head, if you are a techno head, if you’re just a wee groover – there’s always somewhere in Belfast that’s doing it.
Beyond the music, you can rewind though the last forty years as the city’s political history unfolds before you on a brilliant Black Taxi Tour. Sit back, relax and let the taxi drivers do the talking – they’ve certainly got lots to say!
Stretching all the way from the mythical nine glens to Dunluce Castle, Antrim is where you’ll find the largest lake in Ireland or Britain (Lough Neagh); the birthplace of Hollywood hunk Liam Neeson (Ballymena); and one of the most recognisable UNESCO World Heritage Sites in western Europe: the Giant’s Causeway.
If you go with Lonely Planet’s take on Northern Ireland’s north coast as “a giant geology classroom”, then the Giant’s Causeway is lesson number one. Taking the form of 40,000 basalt columns cascading into the Irish Sea, the Causeway was created by millions of years of volcanic and geologic activity – or, if you prefer, by mythical giant Fionn mac Cumhaill as a series of steps to transport him to Scotland.
If you do visit the Causeway, don’t miss the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge nearby. Originally erected by fishermen to check salmon nets, today the structure takes you on a precarious path over a 20m-wide (and 23m-deep) chasm to Carrick Island. Just try not to look down! If you do, don’t fret. Back on solid ground, there’s tonic in wait at the Old Bushmills whiskey distillery.
Game of Thrones territory
Between city and coast, Antrim also offers up a fine road trip in the shape of a meander through the Glens of Antrim. The nine, deeply carved glens are spread within 20 square miles of the Antrim Coast Road and offer the chance to see not just glacial valleys, but sandy beaches, vertical cliffs and waterfalls, interspersed with ancient cultural sites.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Antrim is where the epic landscapes of Game of Thrones come to life. From the Dothraki grasslands to the Kingsroad and the 400-million-year-old caves at Cushendun – the site of the birth of Melisandre’s shadow-baby – there's a lot to pack in.
Getting a taste for the Irish outdoors? Don’t stop there. There is great surfing in the Atlantic rollers off the Antrim coast, scuba diving from Rathlin Island, and a world-class links course at the Royal Portrush Golf Club, host to the 2012 Irish Open. Fore!