Vatsal is a techie and a coffee junkie. Most often he’s caught watching a film with Guinness for company. Preeti loves everything about the mountains. She always has her head buried in a book sipping tea.
We both love traveling and watching films so we decided to document some of it. Hope you enjoy reading as much as we’ve enjoyed traveling and writing about them 🙂
The Great Coastal Route
The coastal route in Northern Ireland is a breathtaking road along the coast and if you love driving then this is a perfect short drive for you. On a sunny day, the blue coast contrasting against the green rolling hills looks nothing short of a postcard picture. The drive starts at Belfast crossing the nine glens in the county Antrim and stretching all the way to Londonderry, the second-largest city in the Northern Ireland. It’s a 120 mile long stretch with varied landscapes from hills and glens, coastal route to narrow carriageways, sleepy hamlets to busy cities, sandy beaches to rugged rocky coast and many interesting stops for a pint.
For most, the first stop is Carrickfergus to see its seaside Norman Castle but we didn’t stop there. Our first stop was in Larne where we stopped for fuel and some food supplies for the next two days. Glenarm is a picturesque village of Antrim, the first of the nine glens, which essentially are valleys. It is a small village with a castle and a beautiful harbour. We walked around for a short while enjoying our first view of the stunning coastline. Next stop was Cushendall, one of the most popular villages along the coastal drive. The meeting point of three glens, this busy village sits next to the coast and at the foot of River Dall. We walked past the curfew tower at the centre of the village, small colorful cottages, murals on the walls and the rugged coast. After a slow lunch at Harry’s we were on the road again heading to Torr Head, the most picturesque drive starts from here. It is a very small and winding road which goes up and down the hill constantly, sometimes making the heart thump for the sudden dip in the roads. It is quite exhilarating and we found ourselves stopping very often to take in the view.
Torr Head is a small peak looking out to the Irish sea. On the top of the peak is an abandoned 19th-century coastguard signal station which was built on the land of a 2,000-year old fort, the remnant of which can still be seen. Due to the gorgeous mid-day sun, the glassy mineral blue sea contrasted beautifully against the white sheep grazing on deep green grasslands. The place was very quiet and we had the entire place to ourselves.
Opening time and entry: It is free to enter and is open all the time.
Location: It is an 11.5-mile drive from Cushendall via A2 and turning right onto Torr Road. The GPS is accurate and leads your right to the parking.
Parking: Parking is free.
The 40,000 basalt columns called the Giant’s causeway is the most popular picture for the Northern Ireland’s tourism campaigns. These rocks protruding out from the sea were formed 50-60 million years ago as a result of a massive volcanic activity. It is no wonder that this is the focal point of the Area of Outstanding Natural beauty and is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland.
The causeway has an interesting folklore associated with it. The story goes that an Irish giant, Fionn MacCumhail was instigated into a fight with a Scottish giant, Benandonner. Fionn built a causeway across the North Channel to get to Benandonner. These columns today are what remains of the causeway. Across the sea, there are identical basalt columns in the Scottish Isles. These two are the only such natural wonders in the world.
To avoid massive crowds visit early morning or late in the evening. We went there during sunset and stayed on for a little longer, there were relatively fewer people by the time we left. The soft evening light on the columns and the surrounding hills makes the place even more charming. There are four walking trails around the causeway. We walked off the path up the hill behind the basalt columns which was really quiet and lovely. This offers a beautiful view of the columns and the sea with the orange light reflecting off the water and the hills bathing in the soft light.
The Scam that National Trust is at least in Giant’s causeway- The Giant’s Causeway is absolutely FREE but you are NOT told that when you go to the counter to buy the tickets. The ticket essentially is for parking and using their visitor’s centre facilities and it’s a whopping 9£ per person and we were four people traveling in one car so we ended up paying 36£ to park ONE car. We were not told about the free option, the only question we were asked at the ticket counter was, ‘if we have parked the car in their facility’, and were asked to pay for the tickets. While walking towards the road leading to the basalt columns, we saw a board which had a ticket price, and on the bottom of the board was in very fine print which said that the causeway is free. When we went back to ask for a refund (since we were here only to see the basalt columns and not use the facility), we were told that we were handed a ‘booklet’ at the parking which states that we are paying for the parking and facilities while the causeway is free. Well, I’ve never encountered a place where each person pays the fee to park one car. This experience totally ruined our experience, we were tricked into buying the tickets. After trying to reason with the staff there, we were only met with a repetitive one sentence answer and rude behaviour. It was absolutely clear that National Trust is trying to fool people by not providing the entire information. Even their website says the ticket is for ‘Giant’s Causeway experience’ and nowhere do they mention that the causeway itself is free. It’s nothing but a scam.
Tip: So lessons learned, DO NOT park on their premises unless you want to contribute to the scam. You can park a little before the Causeway or at the Railway car park, going past the visitor’s centre for only 6£ per car like in every parking lot in the world. You can then walk to the causeway for free.
Location: The Giant’s Causeway is located 2 miles north of the village of Bushmills on the B147 Causeway/Antrim Coast Road. The basalt columns are a 15-minute walk downhill from the visitor’s centre if you don’t want to walk then one can take the shuttle service for 1£ run by the National Trust.
Opening time and entry: The visitor’s centre is open from 9 am to 6pm but the causeway is a natural wonder, part of the coast and can be visited from dawn to dusk. The Giant’s causeway is FREE FREE FREE!!
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
I had been wanting to visit Northern Ireland for the last two years and this bridge was the reason for it. Traditionally, fishermen erected the bridge to Carrick-a-Rede island to check their salmon nets. Today the main attraction here is to take the rope bridge challenge!The few reviews I had read online gave me the impression that crossing the bridge was quite a challenge and pretty terrifying, so, I was really looking forward to it. I was quite disappointed, it was an easy walk across the bridge despite the bridge swaying due to other people on it and the wind. What made it worthwhile for me was not the crossing of the bridge but the views from the rocky cliffs on Carrick Island. On a sunny day, like the one we had, one can see the view across to the Rathlin Island and as far as Scotland.
Opening times and entry: The bridge is open from 9:30 am to 6pm. The last ticket is sold at 5:15 pm. The ticket is priced at 4.50£.
Tip: If you don’t want to buy the ticket then you can walk right up to the bridge and hike to the hill on the right of the bridge to take in the views.
Parking: There are two car parks, one is right next to the tea room and the toilet facilities and the other is further down the road, which was one of the location for Games of Throne. The parking is free.
The rope bridge is about a 15-minute walk from the ticket counter. It is free to walk up to the rope bridge, you can buy the ticket only if you want to get onto the bridge and cross over to the Carrick island.
Like Giant’s causeway, the rope bridge is extremely crowded so it’s best to get there as soon as the bridge opens or just before it is to close. There are attendants on both the sides of the bridge where the ticket is checked and only 8 people and one-way movement is allowed at a time on the bridge.
Location: The Antrim Coast rope bridge is located 7 miles east of the Giant’s Causeway and the village of Bushmills along the B15 road. Follow the signs off the roadway and up the private drive to the parking lot.
Bushmills Distillery is the oldest operational distillery in the island of Ireland. If you are a fan of the liquid gold then this is a great 2 hour stop. One can take a guided tour and learn about the intricate details of making of whisky, you can see it all from the raw grain to the distillation process, ageing and finally the bottling. Hit the bar at the end of it and get some free tasters. We need to return for this and more that we could not visit this time around.
Opening time and entry: The distillery is open from 9:15 am to 4:45 pm. It opens at noon on Sundays. If you’d like the guided tour the last one is at 4pm and costs £7.50
Location: A few miles from the village of Bushmills. 2 Distillery Rd, Bushmills, County Antrim BT57 8XH.
Dark Hedges is a road lined with old beech tree which has shot to popularity after Season 2 of Games of Thrones which was filmed here. These trees were planted by the Stuart family in the eighteenth century to impress the visitors approaching their mansion. Two centuries later they have become one of the most photographed roads in the Northern Ireland. We visited it on a dull day but I’m sure the avenue would look more dramatic with light filtering through the trees.
If you are in the area, it is worth the detour even if you are not a GOT fan like us. This once a quiet road has been subjected to heavy traffic after GOT and hence there are conversations about closing down the road in the near future to help preserve the trees.
Opening times and entry: It’s a public road and is absolutely free without any entry restrictions.
Location: GPS/Sat Nav: BT53 8TP. The roads are signposted so it is not difficult to locate it.
Parking: There are parking and toilet facilities available at the Hedges Hotel, few minutes from The Dark Hedges. Though some cars are parked on the road itself obstructing the view.
Visa and currency: Northern Ireland is in the UK and one needs to have a valid UK visa. The currency is sterling pounds. If you cross over to Ireland then different rules apply, though there aren’t any official borders but one apparent change would be miles to kilometers if you’re driving and pounds to euros.
How much time: To enjoy the drive and allowing yourself time to stop and explore small little villages and hills, three or four days is good enough. However, the drive can be done in a day if that is all the time you have. We had three days but we finished the drive in a day and a half including visiting the sites mentioned in the post, the rest of the day and a half we spent chilling in our fabulous Airbnb accommodation, a 100 year old country house with jacuzzi, barbecue and the resident sheep in Londonderry.
Best way to see it : The best way to explore the route is to hire a car but if that option does not work for you then there are coaches and tours which take you to most of the attractions.
Driving tips: The road can be winding in places so you just need to make sure you drive at an appropriate speed, keep to your side of the road, and be alert as there can be sudden dips in the road. Always drive within speed limits and follow all the rules. The roads are well signposted and the GPS works in most areas. Downloading google maps will be handy as some roads have patchy network.
The main drive is on a two lane A class dual carriageways. Single lane roads are encountered on some of the scenic drives which loop off the main Causeway Coastal Route.
Personally, for me, the drive along the coastal route and the unplanned stops were more enjoyable than the attractions per se. Having said that Giant’s causeway is a natural wonder and is definitely worth exploring, the legend of the giant makes the places more charming.
Visit the temple on the cliff, enjoy the windswept panorama, indulge in the fresh seafood, majestic castles, crushing waves hitting the rugged coast, sit by the shimmering waterfall in the Glenariff Forest, hop over to the Rathlin Island and linger on at every place. The drive is considered one of the best scenic drives in the world and when you are on it, you’ll know why.
Have been to Northern Ireland?
What other places would you add to this Ireland road trip itinerary?