The most famous scenic drive in Northern Ireland would be the Causeway Coastal Route. It takes in dramatic scenery, as well as famous sites such as Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the Giant’s Causeway.
It is a must do for every visitor to Northern Ireland!
Causeway Coastal Route
I’ve done this amazing drive several times now, and it never gets old! As it’s a must do for all visitors to Northern Ireland. I went the first time I came here and have since taken friends when they’ve come to visit.
Take in the amazing scenery, dramatic coastlines, famous sites such as The Giant’s Causeway, Dunluce Castle and the ancient city of Derry/Londonderry. Test your nerves by crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and stop for some whiskey tasting at the famous Old Bushmills distillery.
I recommend taking a minimum of 2 days / 1 night for this trip – but you could take longer if you wish. You can also add to it – driving more areas of NI, or crossing the border to Ireland and exploring the beautiful County Donegal as well. When I recently did this drive, I started in Belfast and drove along the coastal route to Derry/Londonderry. Spending the night there and driving home the following day through the centre of the country.
We hired a car through Enterprise. They have competitive rates, are close to the city centre and have great customer service. I’d recommend using them.
For a small car, I paid £35 per 24 hours. Plus, at the last minute I was convinced to pay an additional £17 for the additional insurance cover. I’ve never needed to claim on insurance – but I always get nervous at the point where I need to decide whether to take it!
Note: If you’re going to cross the border into the Republic of Ireland, additional insurance fees apply. Speak to the representative about this when picking up your car.
What to see & do?
There are so many things to see and do along Northern Ireland’s Coastal Route. The above map from the DiscoverNI website points out the highlights along the way.
The places that I recommend are:
- Belfast (Use this as your base for your stay in NI, and the starting point for this drive)
- Carrickfergus Castle
- Glens of Antrim (I’d recommend doing them on their own day trip from Belfast)
- Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
- Giant’s Causeway
- Old Bushmills Distillery
- Dunluce Castle
This is by no means to say the other stops along the way are not worth a stop! These are just the main ones that I’ve been to and really enjoyed.
Stops Along Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route
I love Belfast!
When I first came here 8 years ago, I fell in love with the place, and have been back 6 times since. I even actually lived and worked here in Belfast for a year. This current visit, I’ve been here for 7 weeks – and it’s another week to go before I move on to travel around Europe some more.
Belfast, and Northern Ireland in general is struggling to overcome its outdated reputation. Sure, the scars of The Troubles live on in many forms… But the modern Belfast is certainly a safe place for tourists to visit.
You can see murals and peace walls, physical reminders of The Troubles around the city. Tensions can still be high at times, particularly in July. Parades, marches, and protests can turn violent at times but certainly nothing compared to the past. Any trouble these days tends to be localised, short lived and easy to avoid. You will likely not even know anything happened unless you catch it on the local news.
The new Belfast is vibrant and really getting into the funky bars, cafes, and restaurants scene.
Spend several days in Belfast, see the paramilitary murals and peace walls… But also cafe & bar hop. Drink coffee, cocktails, eat at amazing restaurants and meet the friendly locals.
A beautiful old castle, that is mostly intact. For £5, you can go in and have a look around this Northern Ireland castle. There are displays with information and models that bring the history to life.
Glens of Antrim
This is a beautiful area, which you can have a quick look at during this drive if you’re short on time. My recommendation is to make this its own day trip and really check it out and perhaps go hiking if you’re up for it. I wrote a post specifically about this earlier, check it out – A Day Trip from Belfast – Glenariff Forest Park & Waterfalls
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Are you scared of heights? Test your nerves at Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge!
Exactly what it sounds like – a rope bridge that crosses the rugged coast of Northern Ireland to a small island. A much stronger and safer bridge these days, the locals will tell you stories from their childhood that’ll make you wonder how they survived! On a clear day you can see across the water to Scotland from here.
I can’t remember the exact price, however I’m sure it was less than £5. This money goes to The National Trust to help look after the area.
Probably the most famous of all the sites in Northern Ireland is the Giant’s Causeway. An area of amazing beauty, folklore, myth and legend.
This is a place not to be missed!
Legend has it that it was built by the giant Finn McCool as stepping stones to reach Scotland. Around the site you can see several things that once belonged to Finn, made out of the surrounding landscape. His boot, chair and more.
There is a new visitor’s centre at the site, which I’ve not been in. I’ve heard it’s very informative and interactive and well worth going into. There is a fee to pay to to get into the visitor’s centre, however if you don’t want to pay this fee and just want to see the Causeway, you can! Just walk up a grass path between the visitor’s centre and the carpark which will take you around the back of the centre and down a road to the Giant’s Causeway. Note, you’ll still need to pay for using the carpark.
Old Bushmills Distillery
Do you like whiskey? You should stop in at Old Bushmills – Ireland’s oldest working distillery.
Perfect place for a lunch break, although by the time I arrived it was quite late and the kitchen was closed.
Take a guided tour, try a whiskey tasting and stock up on whiskey and souvenirs in the shop.
Aah, Dunluce… Probably my favourite castle ever!
A beautiful old castle, perched precariously on the rugged cliffs of the Northern Irish north coast. It’s amazing to think how it’s stood the test of time, with all the strong weather this area has received over the centuries!
The ruins of this castle are still in fairly good condition, considering its age and location. Some restoration work has been done recently as well.
This city can be confusing, considering it’s got two names – Derry & Londonderry. From the Irish perspective, it’s Derry… From the British perspective it’s Londonderry. Road signs in Northern Ireland call it Londonderry, and in the Republic of Ireland they’ll have it as Derry. In saying that, some of the signs have been changed by locals who’ve made their own edits so it says what they think it should!
It used to be that you could tell if somebody was Protestant or Catholic by whether they said Derry or Londonderry. While this is still true to a point, the majority of people these days seem to say Derry. Call it whichever you prefer, I doubt you’ll have any problems. And, if anybody does get offended… Play the dumb tourist card!
While in Derry, check out the Peace Bridge, and walk the City Walls. Of course, there is heaps more you can do here! It’s a great place to spend the night. The next day, spend a few hours exploring the city before driving back to Belfast… Or on to Co. Donegal in the Republic of Ireland if you want to keep exploring.
Have you done this drive? What did you think?
What’s your favourite road trip?
Do you have any questions?
Let me know in the comments section below.