Carrickfergus and Whitehead
Packed with history and culture, Carrickfergus on the shores of Belfast Lough is one of Northern Ireland’s loveliest towns. Delve into the past at Carrickfergus Museum, or visit the imposing 800-year-old Carrickfergus Castle – one of the best preserved medieval structures on the island of Ireland. Leaving Carrickfergus, follow the scenic coast road along to the super-pretty seaside town of Whitehead, with its rows of colourful houses, lovely cafés and stunning views. Pop into the Whitehead Railway Museum to learn about the town’s fascinating railway past, enjoy tasty treats and local crafts at The Bank House Café and follow the stunning coastal path up to Blackhead Lighthouse, perched dramatically on top of the craggy Blackhead cliff.
Home to one of Ireland’s oldest walled gardens and a spectacular 16th century castle, Glenarm is a handsome Georgian village that evokes romance and intrigue in equal measure. Elegant 18th century architecture, charming cobblestones and the glorious Layde Walk, boasting stunning views over the village and bay, make this a true County Antrim gem. ®Game of Thrones fans will love The Steensons Economusée, a family-run goldsmiths crafting unique jewellery seen in the hit show. And don’t miss the pretty village of Carnlough, further along the coast. A Carnlough Bay Boat Tour from the little harbour offers magnificent views of the coast.
Cushendun and Cushendall
With such similar names, it can be easy to confuse Cushendun and Cushendall, but each has a distinct character and appeal. Known for its great music scene, cracking pubs and lovely location at the foot of the strikingly beautiful Glenballyeamon valley, Cushendall’s charm is accentuated by its unusual red standstone Curfew Tower and the small stream that weaves through the village. Boasting a row of distinctive and dainty cottages, the conservation village of Cushendun is a picture-perfect seaside paradise steeped in character and folklore. Enjoy a sing-song and chat with the locals in one of Ireland’s smallest pubs, Mary McBride’s, home to over 50 individual Irish whiskeys, or creep into the nearby Cushendun Caves, a Game of Thrones® location.
Dotted with colourful townhouses, extensive sea views and a gloriously sandy beach, Ballycastle is an enticing blend of revelry and relaxation, with great pubs, restaurants and cafés. Start your day with the Ballycastle Food Tour and sample some local delicacies in the charismatic surrounds of Mary's Cottage Kitchen, before taking the Grey Man's Path to the perpendicular basalt cliffs of Fair Head. Here, amongst wild goats and birdlife, you’ll be provided with breathtaking views of the chalky-white cliffs of Rathlin Island. Like the look of it? Why not jump on the ferry over to the island for a day of glorious isolation, amazing walking routes and authentic island charm?
In the action-packed coastal town of Portrush, discover the dramatic history and iconic ruin of Dunluce Castle and the long-abandoned Dunluce Town, or explore the regions rich distilling heritage at the oldest working distillery in Ireland in the nearby village of Bushmills. When it comes to surfing, as long as you’re smiling you’re doing it right. If you’re feeling energetic, ride the waves with a lesson from Alive Surf School before popping into the traditional – and quirky – Harbour Bar for some delicious wood-fired steaks and live music.
The seaside town of Portstewart is the epitome of wild coastal charm. With its long stretch of stunning Blue Flag beach and epic waves that roll in from the Atlantic Ocean, it’s no surprise this place was the inspiration for the Bing Crosby hit, ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’. Follow the Port Path, a gently undulating stretch of scenic coastline offering panoramic sea views towards Donegal, or enjoy a down-to-earth food culture at Harry’s Shack, where you can enjoy sea views and fresh seafood in a beach shack right on the golden sands. Pure bliss.
Why not take the chance to explore the earliest known human settlement on the island of Ireland at Mountsandel Fort along the nearby River Bann in Coleraine, or the dramatic Mussenden Temple perched above the cliff tops of Castlerock? Journey a little further and you’ll be rewarded with a rich history in the plantation village of Eglinton, founded in 1619 by the Grocers' Company of London.