Driving the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland
Uncover ancient myths, visit world-famous filming locations, wander rugged coastlines, grab a generous helping of a flourishing foodie scene, and gaze in awe at spectacular geological wonders — Northern Ireland's sheer variety of attractions makes it a perfect place for getting out and exploring. One of the best ways to do this is to take a road trip along the Causeway Coastal Route, where you’ll never be far from the next good excuse to stop the car.
What is the Causeway Coastal Route?
The Causeway Coastal Route runs along the north coast of Northern Ireland, between the province’s two largest cities, Belfast and Derry~Londonderry. It's a 120-mile route (although there are more than 250 further miles of additional scenic loops that run off from the main route), and to make the most of the attractions — which tend to be situated within a short drive of each other — aim to cover it at a comfortable pace in 3-5 days.
What to see along the Causeway Coastal Route
If you’re starting from Belfast, aim to spend a day or two exploring the city before you set off along the Causeway Coastal Route — attractions include the Titanic Belfast and the Ulster Museum, plus there's a vast array of pubs, bars, and restaurants.
Once you're ready to hit the road, head north along the shore of Belfast Lough to Carrickfergus. Standing proudly above the water, the 12th-century Carrickfergus Castle is a beautifully preserved Norman castle that was besieged a number of times, including by England's King John. Today you can take a guided tour to see historical displays and some of the cannons that armed the castle over the centuries.
Continuing along Belfast Lough, with perhaps a stop at Blackhead Lighthouse on the way, you'll soon reach The Gobbins cliff path. This is more than just a hike along a wild area of coastline, it's an engineering marvel; you can put on your hiking boots and a hard hat and take a guided 2.5-hour walk along narrow paths, bridges, stairways cut into cliffs, and tunnels. You'll learn about the flora, fauna, and geology of this stretch of coast — look out for puffins and dolphins on your visit.
Next, you can head 30 minutes up the road for a more sedate experience at Carnfunnock Country Park, which has activities for all the family including a maze, geocaching, and a miniature railway. It's a further 15 minutes' drive to Glenarm Castle, a private country estate built around a beautiful 17th-century castle that's the ancestral home of the Earl of Antrim.
Continue north along the Antrim coast to the pretty village of Cushendun, where you can visit the nearby caves that featured in "Game of Thrones". Then it’s on to rugged Torr Head, the closest point on the island of Ireland to Scotland — on a clear day you can see the Kintyre Peninsula, 12 miles away.
You can also see Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland’s only inhabited island. It measures just six by one miles, and you can visit by ferry from Ballycastle, then hire a bike to explore the island, which is home to a seabird centre. Robert the Bruce took refuge on Rathlin Island, and legend has it that while he was there, he was inspired to persevere in his bid to regain the Scottish crown by watching a spider spinning its web. A 15-minutes drive inland from Ballycastle, Dark Hedges, is a stunning tunnel-like avenue of beech trees that's one of the most iconic "Game of Thrones" filming locations.
Back on the coast, make a stop at Carrick-a-Rede, a spectacular rope bridge that spans a 30-metre-deep chasm between the mainland and a small island. From there, it's less than 10 miles to the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland's only UNESCO World Heritage Site. The causeway consists of 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns that were the result of a volcanic eruption more than 50 million years ago. The more romantic explanation for their existence is that it was built by Irish giant Finn MacCool, after he was challenged to fight a Scottish giant and the two built a bridge so they could meet — the causeway is said to be all that remains of the Irish side of that bridge.
A few miles from the causeway, the Old Bushmills Distillery is a good rest stop where you can learn how the famous Irish whiskey is made, and of course sample it (only if you're not driving!). Following a stop at the dramatic clifftop ruins of Dunluce Castle, you can call in at the seaside town of Portrush, home to beaches, restaurants, pubs, and golf courses including Royal Portrush, which has hosted The Open Championship twice.
Just outside Coleraine, the 18th-century Mussenden Temple stands on dramatic cliffs that overlook a long stretch of sandy beach. From there, you can see across to County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. A few miles west, Magilligan Point guards the entrance to Lough Foyle, and its nature reserve contains a large system of sand dunes, where you can see many species of wildflower including orchids. There's also a 19th-century Martello tower on the peninsula.
The final 25 miles of the Causeway Coastal Route lead to the vibrant city of Derry~Londonderry. You can walk around the 400-year-old city walls, cross the Peace Bridge, and learn more about the Troubles with a tour of the Bogside and its famous murals. There are many museums and galleries to explore, plus you can shop in the independent stores of The Craft Village. There are plenty of pubs and bars, too, and food-wise you can find everything from fast-food takeaways to fine-dining restaurants.
You can choose to end your journey in the city, or continue across the Irish border, the starting point for more adventures along the Wild Atlantic Way route.
Find out more Causeway Coastal Route visitor information from Tourism Northern Ireland.
Nick Elvin contributed to this post.