Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route and Antrim Coast are home to some of the most stunning scenery in all of Ireland. Even though it’s only a few hours from Dublin, it feels worlds away.
From Belfast, the Causeway Coastal Route winds its way up the northeast coast of Ireland where it ends in Derry~Londonderry. Along the way, there are castles, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, craggy cliffs, and dramatic landscapes. In just one day, you can hit the highlights of the area, or take an extra day or two to really explore County Antrim – it’s up to you. Whatever you decide, it is an incredible part of Ireland that you should make time for.
Driving Map of Northern Ireland’s Antrim Coast
Click on the top left corner to expand the points of interest on the map. You can zoom by double-clicking on an area of the map and also click+drag to move it.
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Renting a car? Car rentals in Ireland and N. Ireland can be tricky and expensive which is why we rented with Auto Europe. They search multiple sites for the best prices, have loads of information on their site about what to expect when renting, and their team is top-notch. Highly recommended.
Highlights along Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge was a must-do item on our list. Since we have a Carrick in the family, skipping it wasn’t an option. 😉
For 350 years, salmon fishermen have strung a rope bridge 30m above the sea to get to Carrick Island which sits right along the migration route of the fish. Although the salmon have moved on (and the bridge has a more permanent construction), this site has become very popular over the past few years with tourists. Today, Carrick-a-Rede sees half a million visitors a year and is one of the most popular National Trust sites in Northern Ireland.
When you arrive and have mustered your courage, walk across the bridge over to Carrick Island where the views of the sea and nearby islands are fantastic (weather permitting of course). Sit for awhile and watch the gulls or listen to the waves crash into the cliffs. You can also go for a short hike, or just sit and take in the views from the edge of Ireland. On a clear day like we had, you can see all the way to Scotland.
We spent a couple of hours here between exploring Carrick Island and purchasing a few souvenirs at the gift shop before moving on to our next stop. This was such a cool place to visit, and we loved it. Before you leave, get an ‘Over the Bridge’ certificate from the National Trust for £1 as a fun keepsake.
Essential Information about Carrick-a-Rede
The coastline is open from dawn to dusk and you can explore some the of trails and overlooks during this time. If you want to cross the bridge, you can from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm. and you must purchase a timed ticket. The National Trust limits the amount of people that can visit the island.
Tickets can be purchased ahead of your visit online if you know about what time you’ll be visiting. You can also purchase tickets at the ticket window when you arrive. Parking is free.
For an extra £3.50 guests can take a guided tour that departs at 3:30 each day.
How to get here
It is roughly a 3-hour drive from Dublin Airport to Carrick-a-Rede. We did not stop in Belfast at all, but if you wanted to, drive the two hours to Belfast from the airport and explore the city before heading on. From Belfast, it is about an hour away.
If you are coming from Derry~LondonDerry, the drive is about 1.5 hours. The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Center is only about 15 minutes away.
A note on driving: As you probably know, cars drive on the left in the UK and Ireland, so if you are renting a car (highly recommended), then take your time and and pad your arrival times a bit because things in Ireland take a little longer to get to. The road from Dublin to Belfast is 4-lane highway, but after Belfast, the roads will become very narrow with lots of curves, so be patient and take your time.
Other things to know
A small cafe and gift shop are located on site where you can purchase refreshments, bottled water, and light snacks. Bathrooms are also available.
Occasionally the bridge will be closed due to bad weather. For this reason, you may want to hold off buying your tickets until you arrive. There is no cost savings to purchasing them in advance, but they do limit the amount of visitors to the site, so take this into account. During the busier summer months, it’s probably a good idea to purchase online to guarantee your spot.
Be sure to pick up a guide book before your trip.
Related: Spending a day or two in Dublin? Be sure to read our guide on Dublin with kids here.
Giant’s Causeway Northern Ireland
There seems to be some healthy debate over who created Giant’s Causeway. Was it Finn McCool or 60 million years of geologic science? At any rate, this is one of the marvels of the Causeway Coastal Route. It’s a rocky playground that our kids loved and has to be seen to be believed. (Read about the Giant’s Causeway legend here).
The Causeway is made up of over 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns that neatly interconnect with each other and are unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Together they form nature’s perfect jungle gym. If you’re visiting with kids, this place will blow their minds!
Aside from climbing around on the Causeway, there are several hiking trails you can take in the area, along with guided tours, bird watching, or learning more about the area via the visitor center. If you’d like, wave hello to Scotland which is only 15 or so miles away across the sea.
We arrived in the evening after visiting Carrick-a-Rede and it turned out to be perfect. The crowds had begun to die down, the light was great for photos, and the tide was beginning to come in, which sent waves crashing into the coast. It was a great way to spend our first evening in Ireland, and we were able to check another UNESCO World Heritage Site off our list.
Essential Information about Giant’s Causeway Ireland
Giant’s Causeway hours are from dawn until dusk. If you would like to pay for admission to the visitor center, you can do so for a fee which also includes parking in the lot closest to the Causeway. Hours are 9:00 am. – 7:00 pm.
Visiting Giant’s Causeway is free (which isn’t always clear). Prices listed are for admission to the visitor center, parking in their car park, and an included audio guide.
Adults – £12.50
Children – £6.25
Family – £31.25
We bought a family ticket online prior to our visit just for convenience, and because we knew we would want to pop in to the visitor center for some info and a souvenir.
How to get here
From Carrick-a-Rede, just follow the brown signs towards the Causeway. It’s only about a 15 minute drive. Google Maps also got us here just fine. From the village of Bushmills, it’s only about 2.5 miles. Belfast to Giant’s Causeway is about an hour and a half drive. If you’re looking for a Giant’s Causeway tour, there are several available, including a self-guided audio tour.
Not driving yourself? Check out one of these tours from Dublin to Giant's Causeway.
Other things to know
The visitor center has a cafe and gift shop, along with a film on the myth of Finn McCool and some other information about the Causeway. If you don’t want to pay for this and just want to climb around and take some photos, you can do so for free. There is a car park at the Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills Railway Station for a smaller fee and is just a short walk from the visitor center.
The best times to visit are first thing in the morning or later in the evening. The tour buses will begin arriving from Belfast and Dublin in the afternoon, and it will be crowded. We arrived around 6:00 p.m. after visiting Carrick-a-Rede, and it was perfect.
For Giant’s Causeway maps and trails, click here.
Enjoy Dinner in Historic Bushmills
After a full day of driving and exploring the Antrim Coast, we stopped in Bushmills for a late supper at the Bushmills Inn. The food here is upscale but delicious. We had fresh seafood, steak, and chicken dishes that really hit the spot.
If you have the time, stay the night here and then take a tour of the Bushmills Distillery in the morning. They’ve been making whiskey here for 400 years, and it’s the oldest operating distillery in Ireland and families are welcome. This would be an ideal Causeway hotel for the night.
If you have more time to explore the Antrim Coast
We didn’t have the time to see and do everything in the Causeway Coast and Glens unfortunately, but if you wanted to spend some more time here, there’s plenty left to do.
Titanic Belfast: Learn more about this ship from the very place she was built. This is the #1 attraction in Belfast. Book your tickets here.
Carrickfergus Castle: This is a Norman castle situated on the banks of Belfast Lough just outside of Belfast.
Other places to visit
The Bushmills Distillery: The oldest whiskey distillery in Ireland.
Dunluce Castle: Picturesque castle located on the coast near Bushmills and a Game of Thrones filming location (Pyke of House Greyjoy).
Derry~Londonderry: The only remaining walled city in Ireland.
Are you a Game of Thrones fan?
Northern Ireland has played host to many popular spots in this series, and Game of Thrones tours are very popular. Here are a few places to visit.
Looking for a tour? Check out these Game of Thrones Tours leaving from Belfast.
Where to stay nearby
Since we only had one day to explore the area, we drove on to Derry~Londonderry for the night. Bushmills or Portrush would also be good options to stay in the area, and are centrally located. Portrush to Giant’s Causeway is only a fifteen minute drive, and Bushmills is only about five minutes.
If you are visiting Belfast for a day or two and taking day trips up the coast, there are plenty of options.
Have you been to the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland? What was your favorite part?
If you're planning a trip to Ireland, check out our Ireland Destination Guide.
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