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Whitepark Bay on the Northern Irish coast |  © Umberto Nicoletti/ Flickr
Whitepark Bay on the Northern Irish coast | © Umberto Nicoletti/ Flickr
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Plan the Ultimate Road Trip Through Northern Ireland

Picture of Niamh McGovern
Updated: 22 April 2017
The country is where it’s at for vacation destinations this year. Northern Ireland’s coast is a fantastic region to explore by road—it’s accessible, small, and your window view will never be boring when you can see the coast throughout the entire trip. You’re never far from a beach, nature reserve, or beautiful city. If it sounds just right for you, read our guide to the ultimate road trip along the Causeway Coast.

The Causeway Coastal Route

It’s fast becoming one of the best road trips in the world; in fact, it holds a previous title for just that. The Causeway Coastal route is the best and most exciting road trip to plan through Northern Ireland, one that you won’t forget. Why is this route your best option? One: It hits all or most of Northern Ireland’s coastal destinations, including the most popular cliffs, heritage sites, and harbors. Two: There’s great flexibility in the trip and you can detour inland at certain points of the mapped route if you want to have a longer stay or really want a specific inland destination on your journey. Let’s get planning!

Day 1: Belfast

Belfast—Carrickfergus—The Gobbins

First off: The essentials. No matter what time of year you plan to take the road trip—ideally you should plan for the summer months—you’ll need to pack for a variety of weather conditions. Northern Ireland is practically famous for its unpredictable skies, so pack for light rain, afternoon heat, spring showers, and wind, especially along the Irish cliffs.

Start your trip by spending the day in Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital. Through the Cathedral Quarter‘s cobbled streets to the smell of an Ulster fry cooking up in St. George’s Market, you’ll have plenty to do to keep your trip exciting and fun—you won’t want to leave! On your way out, grab a picture of Samson & Goliath towering over the Belfast skyline and get set for the coast ahead.

On your first stop at the coast, you’ll reach the town of Carrickfergus, famous for it’s Anglo-Norman Carrickfergus Castle, which is one of the finest preserved Norman structures in Ireland. The Gobbins cliff path, approximately a 20-minute drive north of Carrickfergus, must not be missed, and opens in late spring for visitors. This two-mile walk along the cliffs of Islandmagee is a remarkable trek on the edge of the Irish sea, which was originally carved into the cliff for the Edwardian tourists who traveled to the coast. Remember, you’ll have to pre-book this popular experience and you should read our guidelines here before you arrive.

See the route for Day 1 here.

The Lagan Weir, Belfast
The Lagan Weir, Belfast | © William Murphy/ Flickr

Day 2: The Glens of Antrim

Glenarm Castle and Gardens—The Glens of Antrim—Cushenden

Your second day will begin at Glenarm Estate and Walled Gardens, a beautiful selection of crops and plants—including thousands of tulips celebrated at the annual Tulip Festival, near Ballymena. This is the perfect castle escape to explore Ireland’s oldest walled gardens and statues, or enjoy 19th-century afternoon tea in the Mushroom House. From this point, you can explore one of Northern Ireland’s most beautiful locations, The Glens of Antrim. There are nine “glens” altogether, each with a different route, so choose one or two that best suit this point of your road trip, from Glencloye to Glenballyemon. From your choice of sub-route, you will then travel toward Cushendun village, a beautiful harbor town near Torr Head, modeled on Cornish villages. Top tip to remember: Since the region is small and there will relatively little driving per day, don’t be afraid to explore two or more drives throughout the Glens and be sure to check out Glenariff Forest Park on your route.

See the route for Day 2 here, including several alternative routes through the Glens of Antrim.

Sheep on the Glens of Antrim
Sheep on the Glens of Antrim | © Susan McK/ Flickr

Day 3: Ballintoy and Carrick-a-Rede

Torr Head—Carrick-a-Rede—Ballintoy—Whitepark Bay

You are mid-week of the trip and things are just getting more windy as you head further north up the coast. The first stop will detour from the main route to give visitors a look at Torr Head, an enchanting cove which is a mere 13 miles across the sea from Northern Ireland’s Scottish neighbors. This unique point of the coast was once a lookout for Atlantic and transatlantic ships two centuries ago, and has fantastic views of Rathlin Island and surrounding land. Be sure to bring your binoculars as the wildlife is a treat, from Rathlin’s puffin population to dolphins and porpoises in the water.

The main attraction of Day 3 is a day trip to Carrick-a-Rede island, which lies beyond an almost 100-feet-deep rope bridge, open to the public. A short paved walk and steep-stepped descent precedes the bridge, which will give you beautiful views of the turquoise water below before you arrive at the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede. Look closely and you’ll spot the old fisherman’s house perched on the cliffs below, originally used as a post for salmon fishers. Don’t overlook the carpark, which was used in an episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, which your next destination has in common. Ballintoy will easily be one of your favorite stops on this Causeway route, recognizable as the fictional capital of Pyke in Game of Thones and a visitors’ favorite for their beautiful church buildings and harbor. A short walk from Ballintoy, Whitepark Bay is famous for its stretch of sandy beach and rocky shores, where you’ll get a glimpse of the surrounding Causeway coast and Ireland’s alleged smallest church, St. Gobban’s.

See the route for Day 3 here.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge | © Neil Thompson/ Flickr

Day 4: The Giant’s Causeway

Giant’s Causeway—Bushmills—Dunluce Castle

Day 4 will see the longest drive on the entire Causeway route, at just under four hours. However, you’ll also arrive at Northern Ireland’s UNESCO-listed heritage site and worldwide treasure, the Giant’s Causeway. You’ll want your camera for this attraction—the Causeway site is a phenomenal 40,000-basalt-rock pattern on the Northern Coast which legend tells was a creation of the Irish giant, Fin MacCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill in Gaelic), as a guard against their Scottish enemies. Top tip: if you travel by car to the Giant’s Causeway, park your car in the nearby town of Bushmills (where you can explore the home of Irish whiskey) and use the shuttle bus which runs throughout the day to ferry visitors to the coast—it will save time trying to park the car. Remember, the Causeway is free to the public and you have a right to enter the site via the alternative route beside the Visitors Center, so don’t think you have to pay the full fee.

When you have fully explored the site, start the drive to Dunluce Castle—enjoying the spectacular views along the way! Dunluce Castle is another Game of Thrones settlement, appearing as the Greyjoy kingdom in the Iron Islands throughout multiple seasons of the popular TV series. Today it remains one of Northern Ireland’s most photographed ruins and a favorite for location scouts (it hosted Jackie Chan’s The Medallion in 2003).

See the route for Day 4 here.

Dunluce Castle
Dunluce Castle | © Susan/ Flickr

Day 5: The Downhill Strand

Downhill Demense—Roe Valley Country Park—Derry

It’s Day 5, but there’s still so much to see! First on the list is the Downhill Strand and Demense, which hosts the beautiful Mussenden Temple atop the cliffs. This is one of the most popular beaches in Northern Ireland and one of the hottest during the summer months. From here you’ll travel inland to Roe Valley Country Park, which should not be missed on any route around the region. There’s more wildlife than you can count and more forest than you can hike. The Park is situated on the outer region of Limavady, west of Northern Ireland.

The last point is another city escape in the border city of Derry/Londonderry. This city space is a glorious coastal city with the famous Peace Bridge running through it. Take time to explore the City Walls and many Cathedrals across the districts. It’s a previous City of Culture winner and you can enjoy the views of River Foyle running through the middle of the city. When you’ve finished the road trip, why not continue into the Republic of Ireland for an extended stay!

See the route for Day 5 here.

Mussenden Temple
Mussenden Temple | © Rofolas/ Flickr