Northern Ireland's Causeway Coast often ranks high on an Ireland vacation bucket list. With marquee sites like Belfast, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Giant's Causeway, and the walled city of Derry, tourists are drawn to the 120 mile Causeway Coastal Route to experience the dramatic landscape heavily fortified by Irish mythology.
But the mistake many visitors make when touring Northern Ireland has nothing to do with the sites they choose to visit- and everything to do with how long they choose to stay in the area. Just like the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland is not a spot to speed through, ticking off a bucket list and snapping photos as you go. At the bare minimum you should spend two days exploring the Causeway Coastal Route- though I recommend 4 days or more to fully absorb the drama, beauty, and history of the area.
Related reading: The Single Thing That Can Ruin Your Ireland Vacation
Touring Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route
The A2 connects Belfast to Derry (Londonderry), hugging some of the most spectacular coast you're likely to see. It won't be long until you're pulling off for a walk along the water's edge, or stopping to explore a castle.
These are some of the spots that drew us to stop and explore.
Blackhead Path, Whitehead
The Victorian railway village of Whitehead is as charming a town as you will find, colorful townhomes set along the promenade. Stretching from the Yacht Club to Blackhead Lighthouse (which you can rent for a few nights), the paved Blackhead Path is a perfect seaside stroll. Beautiful sea views, storied caves, and the Wren's Eggs- 3 large boulders left from the last ice age- call you away from your drive for a bit of exploration.
Carnfunnock Country Park, Larne
We were initially drawn to stop here by this fabulous, wee house set in the center of a ‘Y' intersection. Though we didn't take advantage of any of the park activities (minigolf, Fun Zone and Adventure Playground), we did take time to explore along the walking trails and enjoy the wooded paths. We may have even gotten ‘off trail' a bit as we came across the dilapidated estate house (and lamented it's sad state).
Glenarm Castle, Glenarm
If you wish to visit a beautiful example of a fairytale castle, as well as a stunning walled garden, be sure to stop at Glenarm Castle. It reminded me quite a lot of Muckross House in Killarney. While we didn't tour the castle, we did peek at the gardens as we waited for a light lunch in the garden tea room.
Tip: in the village of Glenarm you'll find Steenson's Jewelers. Well worth a stop for Game of Thrones fans as this is the jeweler who created many of the pieces featured in the series.
Glenariff Waterfalls, Glenariff
It's a bit of a detour from the Causeway Coastal Route to explore Glenariff Forest Park, but it is one worth taking. The park has four marked trails, two easy and two more difficult, of varying lengths. The Waterfall Trail, just behind the cafe, is an easy walk of 1.5km. While you'll find a lovely waterfall only a short distance in, I encourage you to explore the entire trail – and more of the area if you have time. This is a stunning introduction to the spellbinding Glens of Antrim.
Torr Head, between Cushenden and Ballycastle
This dramatic detour from the A2 takes you along a narrow road that descends into valleys only to rise along cliff edges. Not for the faint of heart. You are rewarded with stunning views of the Mull of Kintyre and, if you climb to the old signal station, you can view Scotland on a clear day.
Bushmills Distillery, Bushmills
Even if you don't take the tour at Bushmills Distillery you should really take the time to stop. You know… to pick up a few gifts…
The Dark Hedges
Another detour from the Causeway Coastal Route, the Dark Hedges are a spectacular tree tunnel made famous by Game of Thrones.
Dunluce Castle, between Bushmills and Portrush
This dramatic ruin sits at the cliff's edge. The property, managed by the National Trust, has both paid guided tours of the keep as well as areas below which you can explore freely. There are some steep climbs beneath the castle and some areas may not be suitable for young children. The visitors centre is filled with castle history with some interactive displays.
Tip: the cafe next to the site serves a fabulous hot toffee cake.
Downhill Demense & Mussenden Temple, Castlerock
Most people have heard of, or at least seen photos of, Mussenden Temple, one of the most photographed spots along the Causeway Coastal Route. But few realize it sits on the massive estate of Downhill Demense near the ruin of a vast mansion. The grounds are extensive and you will walk- a lot- with every rise and fall of the land offering a new discovery.
If you don't wish to visit Downhill Demense (though you really should), you can get a terrific view of Mussenden Temple from Downhill Strand below.
Pin to your Ireland Trip Planning Board!