FOR SUMMER 2019, we are partnering with TheJournal.ie to bring you the 12 Great Irish Drives: the most amazing road trips in the country. Whether it’s with friends, family or by yourself these trips should give you the courage to get in the car and go explore.
This week, Paul Wilson travels the Causeway Coastal Route along Ireland’s northern coast, fitting in Game Of Thrones locations, a heart-stopping rope bridge and – of course – the Giant’s Causeway.
- Name: The Causeway Coastal Route. Find a map of the route here.
- Where: Ireland’s northern coast, from Derry to Antrim to Down.
- The route: Start in Derry and head north east for Mussenden Temple, the Giant’s Causeway, Portstewart and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Head east to Torr Head and travel down the coast to Glenarm and The Gobbins, ending in Belfast.
- What makes it one of Ireland’s Great Drives? Spectacular cliff edges lead you to a UNESCO world heritage site, The Giant’s Causeway, with enough interesting stops on the route to turn this into a multi-day holiday if you fancy it.
- Photo opportunities: Aside from the Giant’s Causeway itself, fit in a stop at Madman’s Window about a mile east of Glenarm. This is an Insta-worthy window-shaped gap between limestone boulders, naturally framing the Irish Sea.
- Journey time: 4 hrs, approx.
- Hidden gems: Game Of Thrones fans will want to take a short pilgrimage inland to the Dark Hedges at Stanocum, otherwise known as the Kingsroad. And you can’t beat the crispy whitebait at Harry’s Shack in Portstewart.
- If you’re feeling courageous: Stroll right out across the ocean along the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, almost 100 ft high, linking the mainland to the island of Carrick-a-Rede.
The Causeway Coastal Route and the Glens of Antrim wind along ocean and beaches, with castles, cliffs, and causeways marking the way.
From the historic walled city of Derry, the A2 skirts along Lough Foyle, starting you off on the Causeway Coastal Route. At Benone Strand you’ll find 11km of beach and dunes, seals and porpoises. It’s part of one of Ireland’s longest beaches.
Near Castlerock in Derry is Mussenden Temple (high on rocks above the sea) and Downhill Demesne. Stop here for woodland trails, lush gardens, and cliff walks.
At Bushmills Distillery, the oldest working distillery in Ireland, there are tours, tastings and some fine dining at the Bushmills Inn.
A castle has stood on the north coast of Ireland since pre-Christian times. Now, the craggy ruin of Dunluce still teeters on grassy cliff – the kitchens fell into the sea in 1639.
The ruins of Dunluce Castle in Antrim. Source: Shutterstock
At White Rocks Beach, the road winds down to a fine sandy beach, rolling waves and soaring sand dunes. At Magheracross, pull in for the long view of the headlands eastwards to the Giant’s Causeway.
A lunch stop in Portstewart is a must. At Harry’s Shack, enjoy spiced whitebait served in a cone – Jay Rayner called it ‘pitch perfect’. Or simply get an ice-cream (a ‘poke’) at the locally-renowned Morelli’s. West Strand beach in Portrush is a Blue Flag family favourite and a surfer’s paradise.
At Ballycastle, the A44 will take you 30 minutes inland to Stanocum, and the mysterious Dark Hedges used for filming the King’s Road in Game of Thrones.
Then it’s back to the coast and the famous Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, a nerve-jangling crossing on foot, 100 ft up, between the mainland and the island of Carrick-a-Rede.
Walking across the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. Source: Shutterstock
Coastward, follow the headland road to wild, remote Fairhead – Northern Ireland’s highest cliff with windswept views of Rathlin Island.
At Torr Head, stop for a look across the Sea of Moyle. On a clear day, you’ll spot Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre from here.
From Torr Head, looking back to the Fair Head cliffs. Source: Shutterstock
Heading south, the road weaves you through the stunning green Glens of Antrim. At the seaside village of Glenarm you’ll find Glenarm Castle, a 400-year-old structure on an 800-acre nature preserve.
The Glenarm Coastal Path will take you to Madman’s Window, where the small space between stacked boulders gives you a porthole view over the Irish Sea. This is a definite stop off for photographers.
Continuing south to just outside Larne, you’ll find a cliff path at The Gobbins, a thrilling world of bridges, crashing waves, sunken caves, and sheer cliff faces.
From here, the A2 will take you to Belfast – where, if you still have energy, a visit to Titanic Belfast brings the history of the area to life.