With its stunning coastal scenery, unique wild life and adventurous treks, Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route was recently named one of the top regions in the world to visit by Lonely Planet. A part of the United Kingdom, yet detached from Great Britain, the region has a unique culture and ambiance about it. Whether it be exploring the streets of Belfast, getting a pint at a small local pub in one of the region’s quaint towns, such as Bushmills or Derry, or exploring one of the world’s most unique coastlines, Northern Ireland definitely deserves a spot on your bucket list.
Popular Routes to Belfast
Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland and is well connected to coach providers in both the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Providers, such as aircoach and National Express, provide regular connections to Belfast.
Bus from Dublin to Belfast, aircoach from £10.00
Bus from Cardiff to Belfast, National Express from £41.98
Bus from Bristol to Belfast, National Express from £34.91
According to legend, the causeway was built as a bridge when the Scottish giant Benandonner challenged the Irish giant, Fionn mac Cumhaill to an epic duel. After being tricked by his Irish counterpart, Benandonner fled back to Scotland, destroying the bridge behind him to keep Fionn mac Cumhaill from following. While geologists believe that the rock formations are the work of prehistoric volcanic activity rather than mythical giants, there’s no doubt that the Giant’s Causeway have a magical air about them. Declared both a world heritage site by UNESCO and a nature reserve, the region has been a popular tourist destination since the 1800s, when the Giant’s Causeway Tramway was opened, and since it was later taken over by National Trust, the park took on a less commercial approach, letting the region’s beauty speak for itself. Today, visitors can hike on top of the basalt columns by the seaside.
The City of Belfast
Despite its infamous history of political and ideological division and violence, the capital of Northern Ireland has blossomed into a charming city that is worth a visit in its own right. As Ireland’s second largest city, after Dublin, Belfast offers plenty of typical metropolitan essentials, with quality restaurants, a vibrant night life and plenty of museums and attractions. The Belfast Castle is particularly worth a visit. The 19th century castle was built on the sight of a much older predecessor that had underwent many changes since the 12th century. Today, the castle serves as a popular venue, and houses a lovely restaurant as well as the Cave Hill Visitor Centre. The city of Belfast also enjoys plenty of green spaces to explore, including the Victorian Botanic Gardens, Cave Hill Country Park, Lagan Valley Regional Park and Colin Glen. Cave Hill overlooks the city, providing an exquisite backdrop as well as a fun country park to explore.
A trip to Belfast would not be complete without a visit to the newly constructed Titanic Museum. Built in 2012 to commemorate the 100th year since the tragedy has passed, the impressive structure was built on the site of the ship’s construction in a region now known as the Titanic District. The building consists of four wings which were built to resemble the hulls of a ship, and is covered in striking metallic shards as a modern interpretation of a maritime memorial. For an extra fee, visitors can board the SS Nomadic, which is the world’s only White Star Line vessel in existence today. The ship was originally built to transfer mail between the RMS Titanic and the RMS Olympic.
Fans of the massively popular HBO series, Game of Thrones, may recognise the ruins of this 14th century castle as the Greyjoy stronghold, Pike. Standing around 30 metres above the sea on a cliff, several stories and superstitions surround the castle. The structure was of great strategical importance at a time when Viking invaders raided the coast. The castle then passed from one family to another in a power struggle over the region. During the 17th century a destructive storm saw sections of the castle fall into the sea below, leaving it in the ruins we know today. Nearby Wee Cottage is the perfect place to stop for a break and enjoy some traditional scones and tea.
Built in 1785 as a part of the Downhill Estate the Mussenden Temple is a well-preserved replica of Italy’s Temple of Vesta. The structure was originally intended as the estate’s library. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by fires in the mid-19th century, rebuilt two decades later only to be abandoned to the point of disrepair following World War 2. The landmark was eventually saved from destruction by The National Trust, who stabilised the cliff to keep it from going over like Dunluce Castle. Stroll the grounds to see the ruins of the original manor, beautiful walled gardens, and the estate’s mausoleum.
One of the most unique sights a travellers can find in Northern Ireland are the puffin colonies by the Gobbins cliff walk and Rathlin Island. Rathlin Island is particularly the place to go to see scores of interesting birds, as well as puffins, and is only six miles away from the northern coast. The island’s West Light Seabird Centre gives visitors a close-up view of the puffin colonies with its unique ‘upside down’ lighthouse design. The Gobbins cliffs serve as the country’s only mainland puffin colony, and both locations provide amazing views and many nearby attractions, such as the Ballygally Castle Hotel or the Islandmagee peninsula.
Are you feeling brave? The Carrick-a-Rede Bridge is suspended nearly 30 metres above the ocean, and has been responsible for linking Carrick Island with the County Antrim’s mainland for roughly 350 years. Walking over such heights on a shaky bridge is unsettling to many, but the reward is having some of the best views of the Causeway Coastal Route. It’s possible to not only see the Rathlin Island, but even some of the Scottish coastline. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, be sure to stop by the nearby Ballintoy Harbour for a glimpse of the Iron Islands.
For more of a relaxing visit, be sure to check out the coastal town of Portrush for its sandy beaches and golf courses. In fact, Portrush will be hosting the Irish Open 2019 tournament, and has one of the world’s most difficult golf courses. The West Strand, East Strand and White Rocks beaches attract many tourists as well as Blue Flag beach in nearby Portstewart. The Kelly’s complex houses some of Northern Ireland’s best night life, particularly the nightclub Lush!, which boasts some of the best DJs and events around. Barry’s Amusements can also be found in Portrush and is Northern Ireland’s biggest amusement park.