Stretching from bustling Belfast city to the historic city of Derry-Londonderry, the causeway coast encompasses some of the most scenic coastline on the island of Ireland. Named after the main attraction of the area; The Giant’s Causeway, the coast is home to many beautiful attractions including a 33 mile coastal hike which hikers report is nothing short of breathtaking. Here we’ll look at some of the best stops along this beautiful 154 mile stretch of land.
The Giant’s Causeway is an area of around 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of intense volcanic activity 50 to 60 million years ago. The site first came into the public eye in the 1700s after a Dublin artist’s watercolor renditions of the site won the first award presented by the Royal Dublin Society. It’s been a tourist hotspot since the 1960s. The legend surrounding the causeway is as much what attracts people as the geological beauty on the surface. It’s said that Irish giant Fionn Mac Cumhail built the causeway across the North Channel when challenged to a fight by a Scottish giant. Identical basalt columns can be found across the sea on the Scottish Isle of Staffa which are said to have influenced the story.
Ballycastle Beach is a very popular tourist destination along the Causeway Coast. The beach is approximately 1.2 kilometers in length and runs from the pier at Ballycastle Marina at the western end to Pans Rock in the east. Situated on the western end of the beach is a promenade which is a popular spot for joggers and walkers. There are no swimming restrictions for the water but also no lifeguard on duty so be sure to keep inexperienced swimmers close to the shore. The Ballycastle Golf Course runs along the back of the beach complimenting this picturesque seaside landscape.
Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge was first erected by salmon fishermen in 1755. The bridge links the island of Carrickarede to the mainland and spans a distance of 20 meters. It is thought that salmon fishermen have been building bridges to the island for over 350 years and the bridge has had many iterations in its time. The current wire rope and Douglas fir bridge offers a much safer passage for tourists and fishermen than that of the 1970 version which only had 1 handrail and large gaps between slats. The bridge is open all year round (weather permitting) and in 2016 it was visited by roughly 440,000 thousand people!
Bushmills is known throughout the world for its exceptionally smooth tasting whiskey and unique selection of blends. Bushmills also boasts the oldest working distillery in Ireland, with over 400 years of history in the small Northern Irish village. On April 20th 1608, King James I granted Sir Thomas Philips – landowner and Governor of Co. Antrim, Ireland – a licence to distill. The distillery grew from strength to strength in the following 400 years, uncompromising in the face of adversity. Production was halted for a period during World War II where Allied troops were billeted at the distillery. Tours are offered daily and give and insight into both the history and the process behind this predominant force in the Irish whiskey game.
The Gobbins is a cliff-face path at Islandmagee on the Causeway Coastal route. It runs across bridges, past caves and through a tunnel along the Gobbins cliffs. The Gobbins Path is an arduous trek that is often narrow and uneven, accessed by a very steep pathway. An Irish railway engineer designed and built the path, which opened in 1902 as a tourist destination. The guided walking tour takes 2.5 hours and is a testing but fulfilling hike. People who choose to walk the Gobbins get to feel the Irish Sea wind, marvel at tales of local smugglers, witness the native sea birds and even get a chance to see some dolphins swimming off the rugged coastline.
Cushendun is a small coastal village not far from Ballycastle. It contains a sheltered harbor and lies on the mouth of the River Dun and Glendun, one of the nine Glens of Antrim. On a clear day one can easily see the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland which is only 15 miles across the North Channel. Cushendun was designed in the style of a Cornish village for Ronald McNeill, the Conservative MP and author who was later named Lord Cushendun. Tourists report mystical experiences of collecting sea glass and watching the movement of the tides in this quaint little seaside town.
Rathlin Island lies just off the Causeway Coast and is Northern Ireland’s northernmost point. It is the only inhabited offshore island in Northern Ireland and has a growing population of roughly 150 people. The reverse L-shaped island is 4 miles from east to west and 2.5 miles north to south and boasts impressive cliffs standing 230 feet tall. Bruce’s cave, named after Robert the Bruce; former king of Scotland, is where he is said to have seen the legendary spider which inspired him to continue his fight for Scottish independence. The highest point on the island is about 440 feet above sea level and is known as Slieveard.
Dunluce Castle is situated on the edge of a basalt outcropping in County Antrim and is accessible via a bridge connecting it to the mainland. The castle is surrounded by steep drops on either side which may have been a contributing factor for the early Christians and Vikings who were drawn to this place. The first castle was built in the 13th century by the 2nd Earl of Ulster and today only the ruins remain. The castle was seized by the MacDonnell clan in the 1550’s, who under the leadership of Sorely Boy MacDonnell made their mark during an era of violence and rebellion. Today visitors can walk inside the walls of the now ruined castle for a small fee.
A road trip along the Causeway Coast is a once in a lifetime kind of experience and we recommend putting aside several days to soak up everything this beautiful route has to offer. Our 8 Day Causeway Coast self-drive tour covers all of the main attractions along with some extras. Follow the link below for more information.