Spots You Shouldn’t Miss When Touring Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route

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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.

Victorian townhouses line the promenade in Whitehead, County Antrim, along Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
Colorful Victorian townhouses line the promenade in the village of Whitehead.
One of the Wren's Eggs, Blackhead Path, County Antrim, along Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
Deposited by the last ice age, these large boulders are different from any other stone in the area. Naming these massive stone as the eggs of one of Ireland’s smallest birds says much about local humor.
Blackhead Path is the perfect seaside walk on a pleasant afternoon. Only 2.4km it runs northeast from Whitehead and is lined by grassland, woodland (known locally as the 'Magic Forest') and a rocky shoreline. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
Blackhead Path is the perfect seaside walk on a pleasant afternoon. Only 2.4km it runs northeast from Whitehead and is lined by grassland, woodland (known locally as the ‘Magic Forest’) and a rocky shoreline.

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).

Lodge house at Carnfunnock Estate along Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
This small lodge was once home to employees of Carnfunnock Estate. It is now privately owned (I would move there in a heartbeat!)
Tree carvings at Carnfunnock Country Park, Larne, Antrim, along Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
There is much to discover along the walking trails at Carnfunnock- including these friendly trees!
Cairndhu Estate House at Carnfunnock Country Park along Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
Though the windows are bricked and the land edged by razor wire, it’s easy to see how grand Cairndhu Estate was when it was inhabited.

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.

Glenarm Castle. Photo courtesy of Glenarm Castle.
Walled garden at Glenarm Castle. Photo courtesy of Glenarm Castle.
Lunch at Glenarm Castle Tea Rooms along Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
The tea rooms at Glenarm Castle serve a lovely light lunch.

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.

Waterfall in Glenariff Forest Park in the Glens of Antrim, a short detour from Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
Just one of the lovely Glenariff waterfalls
Tea and shortbread at Laragh Lodge Restaurant, Glenariff Waterfalls, Glens of Antrim, Northern Ireland. Ireland vacation | Ireland travel tips
Tea and shortbread at Laragh Lodge Restaurant at the Glenariff Waterfalls walk.

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.

Sheep atop Torr Head along Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
Torr means ‘tall rock’. The signal station sits at the highest point, but craggy rocks below are home to hardy sheep.
Descending Torr Head along Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
It’s quite a climb to the signal station atop Torr Head, but on a clear day you can see Scotland.

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…

Old Bushmills Distillery along Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
Old Bushmills Distillery is just down the road from the Giant’s Causeway… Even if you don’t take the time for a full tour be sure to stop by and wander through the public areas and the gift shop.
Casks at Bushmills. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation |IrelandFamilyVacations.com
Casks at Old Bushmills Distillery

The Dark Hedges

Another detour from the Causeway Coastal Route, the Dark Hedges are a spectacular tree tunnel made famous by Game of Thrones.

The Dark Hedges, Glens of Antrim, Northern Ireland. Ireland vacation | Ireland travel tips
The Dark Hedges tree tunnel. Get tips for visiting the Dark hedges here.

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.

Dramatic Dunluce Castle along Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
Dunluce Castle under a steely sky
Beneath Dunluce Castle along Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
The areas beneath Dunluce Castle are accessible by a steep- and long- staircase. Use caution when exploring.
Skinny People are Easier to Kidnap So have the Hot Toffee Cake! (I do highly recommend it!) This lovely tea shop is found right next to dramatic Dunluce Castle along the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
So have the Hot Toffee Cake! (I do highly recommend it!) This lovely tea shop is found right next to dramatic Dunluce Castle along the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland.

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.

Downhill Demense along Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
The massive ruin of Downhill House, which was occupied until after World War II. The shell is extensive and it is easy to see the grandeur of the house as you explore. The estate buildings, including stable and dovecote are in the distance.
Mussenden Temple on Downhill Demense, County Derry, Northern Ireland. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
Built as a summer library by the Bishop of Derry in 1785, Mussenden Temple is one of the iconic sights along the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland.

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.

Mussenden Temple viewed from Downhill Strand along Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com
You’ll get amazing views of Mussenden Temple from Downhill Strand.

 

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Spots You Shouldn't Miss Along Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route. Ireland travel tips | Ireland vacation | IrelandFamilyVacations.com

5 COMMENTS

  1. If northern Ireland is calling for rain all week.. should I postpone visiting the area? I was planning on going to Giants Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.. but if it’s raining I feel like I won’t get any good views of anything due to cloud and fog. Any advice?

      Hi Tara. In Ireland if you wait for the rain to stop you may just wait forever. 🙂 It’s important to remember that Ireland is an island and weather can blow through quickly. Plan to visit then set up each day accordingly to how the weather looks like it will be moving.
      Good luck!

    I’d love to visit Ireland as so far I’ve only been in Great Britain and Wales. The castles here look interesting and I’ve never seen trees like this tree tunnel. Thanks for sharing your photos and details of your visit.

      I hope you get to visit Linda. Ireland is a special place.

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