Among the best-known roads to do during a great itinerary in Ireland is undoubtedly the Causeway Costal Route in the territory of Northern Ireland. When studying an itinerary for traveling in Ireland the northern part of the country, the Causeway Route is a pleasantly obligatory choice that basically allows you to see almost all the places of interest in Northern Ireland.
Being “forced” to do something is almost never pleasant. I assure you that, this time, being obliged to travel part of this beautiful road and discover the sights that dot it will only be a great pleasure!
Small tip: If doing the itinerary by car, you might be interested in -> this article on 10 incredible useful tips for driving on the left side.
What to see in Northern Ireland: 11 amazing places along the Causeway Route
The Causeway Costal Route encompasses the entire northeastern part of Ireland. It starts in Belfast and continues all the way past Dunluce Castle, then on to Derry.
Along this stretch of Northern Ireland’s coastline are some of the most spectacular landscapes on the entire island, but what are these amazing places to visit? Here are the 11 places not to miss on the Causeway Costal Route counterclockwise.
1 – Belfast, Northern Ireland’s main city
As I told you in the article of my road trip itinerary in Ireland, I didn’t get a chance to visit Belfast because my schedule was quite busy and I wouldn’t have been able to give Northern Ireland’s capital city the proper amount of space. Belfast is the beginning of the Causeway Costal Route, a city with a stormy past that lasted 28 years (between 1969 and 1997) during which there were numerous casualties. Belfast, although it still has signs of that period, has become a city open to tourism whose attractions to visit include Belfast Castle, the cathedral, and the Titanic Museum.
Another experience to have in Belfast is to hop aboard a Black Taxi Tour and be taken on a discovery of history throughout the city, pausing to admire the murals depicting politicians.
2 – Carrickfergus Castle
The second stop on the Causeway Costal Route is Carrickfergus: a small town nestled on the east coast of Ireland, the town itself says little, while instead the castle by the sea is interesting: the Carrickfergus Castle.
This is one of the oldest castles in Ireland dating as far back as 1180. As many as 8 centuries of history for this castle with military functions. It is considered one of the best preserved medieval structures in all of Ireland. During these years it was disputed and “changed hands” several times between the English, Scots and French.
Despite various defensive improvements, it was besieged and stormed several times. It happened in 1690, in 1760 and finally in 1778. Now Carrickfergus Castle has lost its initial function and has become a castle-museum whose visit occupies no more than 30 minutes/1 hour.
3 – White Head and its colorful cottages
Proceeding along the itinerary to discover Northern Ireland, from Carrickfergus it is only a few minutes’ drive to the placid village of WhiteHead with its beautiful colorful houses.
Nothing more than a photograph of the quirky houses, and then off again along the itinerary of things to see in Northern Ireland. I wonder: how come they call it Whitehead when the little houses are all colorful?
4 – Gobbin’s Path
Craving contact with the sea and nature? What could be better than a walk…suspended over the sea. There are no fewer than 23 bridges you’ll find along this walking path just a short walk from the Causeway Costal Route. The Gobbin’s path measures 3 kilometers (2 miles ) and winds over the cliffs of Islandmagee, that strip of land that runs into the sea just near Whitehead.
It is time to stop the irish road trip itinerary and proceed a few kilometers on foot on a cliffside path. Don’t worry, there is no problem with regard to safety. It must be emphasized, however, that this is not like taking a walk in a park; you will find climbs and narrow passages, so be careful to use appropriate clothing.
Pay attention: since it is considered a trek there are limitations, such as having a minimum height of 1.2 meters (important if you will want to do it with children/youth). The trail lasts about 2 1/2 hours and there is a fee. For more information, to find out additional limitations, and most importantly to purchase your ticket I refer you to the official website -> https://www.thegobbinscliffpath.com
5 – The Dark Hedges, a mystical place in Northern Ireland
Does the television series Game of Thrones ring a bell? Or maybe it’s better to call it “The Games of Thrones”? The Dark Hedges is a must-see in Northern Ireland; it will take you a few miles inland from the Causeway Costal Route. It is simply a road that was the subject of some scenes in the legendary American television series.
It is not, however, a road like any other; its special feature is the huge beech trees on either side of it, whose intertwining foliage creates an almost mystical scenic outline. A decidedly magical corner of Northern Ireland.
A bit of history: it is said that the avenue of beech trees was planted by the Stuart family back in the 18th century. It led to their home and the goal was to impress anyone who went there. I must say that they succeeded in their intent and this magical suggestion continues to this day.
The Dark Hedges has become extremely famous both for its beauty and for the media expansion due to the Iron Throne. This short little piece of Bregagh Road (near Gracehill House, the old Stuart house now a golf club) is constantly crowded with people taking pictures of the myriad cuts of light created by the foliage of the trees. It is almost impossible to find a time when the road is clear.
Sleeping near Ballycastle (CLICK HERE to see solutions), located only a few miles away, I had the pleasure of being able to admire this spectacle both after sunset and mid-morning the next day. Honestly, I could not tell you whether I enjoyed it more in its evening or daytime side. If you have sufficient time, I recommend visiting it both at sunset and in the morning.
6 – Ballycastle and its beautiful little beach
Ballycastle was that stop on my trip to Ireland in which you tap your palm on your chest and say to yourself, “Good old boy you chose to sleep around here.” I found a pleasant little town with a beautiful beach front. From here you can also take the ferry to Rathlin Island.
I will let you imagine how fabulous an Irish beach was in the early morning of a sunny day in early March. A pure spectacle, which I now show you in photos…so that you may be convinced to discover Northern Ireland and the Causeway Costal Route out of season.
7 – Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge
Carrick-a-Rede is one of the other must-visit stops in the north of Ireland. It is a “simple” rope bridge with a length of 20 meters and a width of 1 meter. It connects the mainland with the rocky outcrop to the sea, also called Carrick-a-Rede Islet.
A bit of history: again, a brief introduction is necessary to better understand the past. The bridge was built by fishermen in order to be able to get their nets closer to where the salmon were passing, that is, just beyond the island. Initially it was very dangerous; now it is completely safe.
In itself, the attraction is not that big of a deal; it’s a bridge connecting two points, stop. Why it has become so famous is quickly said: the scenic impact you can enjoy either by walking up to the bridge and looking down at the rushing sea below you or, finally, from the little island, represents that something for which anyone who goes to Ireland comes back completely in love with Ireland.
The wind, the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks, the “skyline” of cliffs on the horizon blurring into the clouds. A beautiful place that…best seen out of season, though.
The Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge is one of the most visited places in Northern Ireland. More than understandable, extraordinary places deserve to be experienced.
Want to find out more about Carrick-a-rede and how to visit it? Here is my article -> How to visit the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.
8 – Giant’s Causeway, the Giant’s pavement
If there is a must-see among things to see in Northern Ireland, it is absolutely the Giant’s Causeway, just a few miles from the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge. This is a phenomenal place created by nature and not by man. An extraordinary “composition” of hexagonal basalt columns embraced by the power of the sea.
Also called “Giant’s Causeway,” the Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (if you want to learn more about it this is the UNESCO page) and, in addition to a natural spectacle of rare beauty, it also hides a legend related precisely…to giants, one Irish and one Scottish, which I will tell you more about in an article related only to the Giant’s Causeway.
In terms of timing for your Northern Ireland itinerary, consider at least a couple of hours, even 3 if you decide to visit them completely on foot. It is a place that needs to be admired, taking your time!
You might be interested in How to visit the Giant’s Causeway
9 – Bushmills Distillery, a Whiskey Tasting
In Northern Ireland spacing between stops is a matter of a few miles. This is good and you don’t have to worry. If you are a lover of road trips, you will certainly get to put in a lot of miles visiting Donegal and beautiful Connemara along the route in the rest of the country.
A few minutes drive from the Giant’s Causeway also in County Antrim, you can visit the world’s oldest legal distillery. There are daily tours in Bushmills Distilley that allow you to discover the entire production process with an interesting tasting in the last room. If you don’t want to take the tour but simply want to stop by, no problem, you can access the shop and order something in the tasting room, or just enjoy the atmosphere.
10 – Dunluce Castle, a manor house in Northern Ireland
This castle (or at least what’s left of it) reminded me a lot of the clifftop castles I saw in my travel in Scotland of many, many years ago. Medieval fortresses facing wind, sea and defying the enemy in such a hostile environment are extremely fascinating.
However, they are not always preserved in the state of the time. Often the events of force majeure reduce their great past strength into piles of stones. Such is the case with Dunluce Castle, this manor house on the north coast of Ireland, built by the Earls of Antrim (MacDonnel) in the Renaissance style.
It was the scene of a very unfortunate episode: in 1639 part of the castle crumbled, sinking into the sea. Since that time the castle was abandoned and, as you can imagine, it was subsequently plundered several times.
11 – Londonderry and its sad past
Londonderry, shortened to Derry, was also a very unhappy place between the 1960s and 1990s because of the conflict between Unionists and Nationalists. Every conflict leaves wounds that take time to heal, then become scars that linger and serve (or should serve) as a reminder of something that should not happen again.
A bit of history: in the now distant (but not too distant) 1972, on Sunday, January 30, a peaceful demonstration was organized in the streets of Derry. The aim was to protest against the possibility of being detained without the need for trial, a measure imposed the previous year by the British government. Due to roadblocks, some participants began throwing stones and insulting the military personnel present at one of these roadblocks, leading the demonstration toward more of a conflict than a demonstration. Of course, the exact sequence of events is not well known, this does not change the substance, which is that the military fired on this group of young people. Fourteen people died. That fateful day was named Bloody Sunday.