A road trip along the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland is a unique journey. Charming towns, emerald-green meadows, and the spell-binding Giant’s Causeway.
I’m a big fan of travel by public transportation, a great way to be more responsible and to get in touch with local communities. However, some places call for a road trip, since only your vehicle allows you to explore the beauty of an area entirely. Thus, from time to time, I give up on buses and trains, and I rent a car. I had a fabulous road trip across Corsica and discovered beautiful spots in Provence, not to speak about the USA.
Causeway coastal route itinerary
I collected the rented car at Belfast’s airport. Feeling a little apprehension, since it was my first time driving on the left, I headed toward the Causeway Coastal Route. I started my Northern Ireland road trip, and it was love at first sight.
Day 1: Belfast to Ballygalley
As soon as I reached the coast, I made the first stop, suspecting many others would follow it. I sat on a bench overlooking the sea, taking in the view, fascinated by the clouds hanging in the blue sky, which seemed so incredibly deep. It felt good to breathe the iodine smell of the sea, listening to the gentle sound of the waves.
Back behind the steering wheel, I headed to Islandmagee for a boat tour to see The Gobbins cliffs from the sea.
The Gobbins cliff path was created by Berkeley Deane Wise, a brilliant Chief Engineer of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway Company. His vision marked the beginning of modern railway tourism in Northern Ireland.
In 1901, work started to realize Wises’s dream: a scenic path on the cliffs, with hanging bridges, tunnels, caves, steep steps along the wild coastline. Closed during World War II and abandoned in the early 1960s due to its high maintenance costs, the reimagined Gobbins cliff path reopened in 1991. The Gobbins is a popular walk in Northern Ireland, together with the beautiful hike on Causeway Coast Way.
By the time I reached the Islandmagee peninsula to board the boat, the sky had become overcast and menacing. With the dark cliffs swept by the crashing waves and the howling wind, The Gobbins looked even wilder than I expected. A place where I’d like to go back to walk the path and at the right time to see the cute puffins.
The first day of my road trip couldn’t have ended better. I had an exceptional Game of Thrones Banquet at the Ballygally Castle, followed by a good night of sleep.
Day 2: Ballygalley to the Giant’s Causeway
I woke up to a cloudy sky, hoping for a ray of sunshine during the day. After a generous English breakfast and a tour of the lovely Ballygalley Castle’s garden, I had a short walk on the beach, deserted except for a couple of people with a dog.
Time to take the car and continue the drive along the Causeway Coastal Route to explore more.
Glenarm Castle and the Glens’ rolling hills.
First stop, the lovely and peaceful Glenarm Castle’s walled garden. I strolled between the vegetable garden and orchards, admiring the manicured lawns and hedges, and the colorful flowers. I reached the Castle, whose imposing architecture dates back to 1636. The McDonnell family has owned Glenarm Castle since it was built and still inhabit it. Being a private property, the Castle is open for visits only a few days during the year. Therefore I could admire it only from outside.
Before heading further north along the coast, I took a detour inland, driving along the famous glens (valleys). First through Glenarm (meaning the Valley of the Army), then Glencloy (the Valley of the Hedges). The lush forest was soon replaced by gentle hills covered with bright green grass, low dry stone walls marking the pastures, and white sheep grazing undisturbed.
I wish I could have stayed longer to explore more of the nine Glens of Arnim. However, but I had to move on, for there was still some distance to cover before reaching Bushmills.
Back to the coastline, I followed my Causeway Coastal Route itinerary until I reached the crossroads with the Torr Head scenic route.
Torr Head Scenic Drive: A Causeway coastal route spectacular detour.
Wishing to see as much as possible of the Northern Ireland wild coast, I couldn’t miss taking a detour and follow the Torr Head route.
Not used to drive on the left, the minor roads were quite a challenge. More than once, I felt my heart throbbing on that narrow and winding road, not sure of how much space I had on the left. I kept hoping no one would come from the opposite side because I wondered if there would be enough room for both.
The thrill was well worth since I was rewarded by the magnificent views of the countryside, the wild coast, and, a little farther, Scotland and the Mull of Kintyre (do you remember the song by Paul McCartney?).
It was getting late, so I continued toward the Giant’s Causeway, where I would spend the night. Back on the road, yet another spectacular scenery greeted me. Every time I thought I had seen one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline, another breathtaking site appeared. I was falling deeply in love with Northern Ireland.
The mindblowing Giant’s Causeway
The Causeway Hotel is strategically located only a stone throw from the beginning of the path leading to the Giant’s Causeway. It’s a perfect choice if you want to easily walk to this incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site at sunset and sunrise. And there’s no better way to admire its mysterious rock formations than without the crowds.
I was so keen to see the changing colors of the Giant’s Causeway at sunset that I quickly checked in and soon went out for a walk. By that time, a strong wind swept the coast, and ominous clouds covered the sky like a grey blanket. The gusts were so powerful that they pushed me forward, and walking back to the hotel, against them, was sometimes a challenge. The weather reminded me of Patagonia, where the wind was howling relentlessly when I visited the mighty Perito Moreno glacier and when I hiked in Los Glaciares National Park.
I walked down to the Giant’s Causeway, still hoping the weather might change before the sun would set down. That was not meant to be, though, and the sky kept being so overcast that I couldn’t see the sunset. Notwithstanding, it was a magic moment.
I watched in awe the polygonal basalt columns emerging from the sea, as the blue hour approached. There are about 40,000, and they date back to 50-60 million years ago. I felt amazed in front of such natural wonder and perfection.
Struggling against the wind, I walked back to the hotel for dinner and a night of early sleep, to give it another try at sunrise.
Day 3: Carrick-a-Rede and Bushmills
I had no luck either the following morning. The wind was even more potent, and it started to rain. The best thing to do was to have a good English breakfast and cross fingers for the weather to get at least a little better.
My wish was granted if only for a little while. As soon as I spotted a ray of sunshine flickering through the clouds, I quickly got in the car and headed toward Carrick-a-Rede.
Carrick-a-Rede and the stunning coastline.
This stretch of the coast was once a flourishing spot for salmon fishing. The building of the first rope bridge dates back to 1755, aiming to connect the small Carrick-a-Rede island and ease fishermen’s work. Salmon fishing steadily declined from the 1960s onwards, and the activity stopped at the turn of the 21st Century.
The new rope bridge opened in 2008, and since then, Carrick-a-Rede has become one of the most popular attractions in Northern Ireland.
The bridge itself did not strike me, but the path leading to it is lovely, and the scenery took my breath away. Once again, I was mesmerized by the light and the colors. Small rocky islands that seemed like floating on the water. The shades of the sea, changing from gray to blue. The emerald green grass on the top of the cliffs.
As I walked on Carrick Island, the sky became darker and darker, and I knew that it would soon start raining. I had not even finished thinking about it that it began to pour copiously, and since there is no shelter along the path, I reached the car drenched.
Chilling out in Bushmills
The weather was so bad that I headed directly to the Bushmills Inn, my new hotel for the night. Cozy and with a lot of character, the four stars Bushmills Inn is my kind of place. I had a wonderful time chilling out in my beautiful oversized room, having a long hot bath, and reading a book on the comfy couch.
Late in the afternoon, the rain eventually stopped, and a ray of sunshine came in through the clouds, which opened up like a curtain to reveal a large portion of the sky. Would I be treated to a beautiful sunset on my last night in Northern Ireland?
Sunset at Dunluce Castle.
It was too late to drive back to the Giant’s Causeway, so I went to Dunluce Castle and arrived just as the clouds were turning orange. I could hardly believe my luck when I found out that there was only me. Sitting on the grass, I admired the sky on fire as if nature had put on a beautiful show only for me.
If you’re looking for a romantic spot on the Causeway coast, don’t miss Dunluce at sunset.
The day ended with a delicious dinner at the beautiful – and popular – restaurant of the Bushmills Inn, where they serve excellent dishes lovely prepared with local ingredients. I had delicious oysters as a starter and ate a good fish as the main course, washed down with a glass of white wine.
Day 4: Bushmills to Whiterocks Beach and back to Belfast
A blue sky and the sunshine brightened my last day in Northern Ireland. My flight was late in the afternoon, so I could explore a little more of the Causeway Coastal Route before driving back to Belfast.
After a generous breakfast, I got in the car and headed to Whiterocks, a beautiful long beach of pale beige sand surrounded by gorgeous white limestone cliffs. As I walked on the beach, I thought how lovely it would be to have a little house on the top of the cliff, with a large window panel overlooking the sea and the wild coast.
Clouds started rolling in, announcing that the rain was soon to come. It was anyway time to leave for the airport.
My road trip in Northern Ireland had come to an end, and I drove back to Belfast, already feeling a sting of sadness. The wild scenery of Northern Ireland and the Causeway Coastal Route caught my heart, and I long to go back soon.
Causeway Coastal Route map
Causeway Coastal Route Practical Information:
Getting there: Belfast is the nearest airport, but you can also reach Northern Ireland from Scotland by ferry.
Car hire: Unless you get to Northern Ireland in your car, you can rent one and pick it up at Belfast airport (check out car rental fares). If you’re not used to driving on the left, you’ll need some time to get accustomed. However, it was easier than I expected. An automatic car certainly helps but be sure to ask for one in advance as apparently, there are not many.
Roads: There are good roads, although secondary ones can be quite narrow. Drive carefully, especially if you usually drive on the right.
When to go: Weather is often unpredictable; therefore, you can visit Northern Ireland all year long. Be prepared for sudden rainfalls and, shortly after, unexpected sunshine. That’s what makes the light and colors so unique.
Where to stay:
In Ballygalley, I had a lovely stay at the Ballygalley Castle, which is full of atmosphere.
At the Giant’s Causeway, I recommend you stay at the Causeway Hotel, only steps from the beautiful UNESCO WHS.
The Bushmills Inn Hotel and Restaurant is the perfect choice for a romantic stay.
Note: Visit Britain and Tourism Northern Ireland kindly invited me to discover this beautiful region. As always, opinions and awe are mines! This post contains a few affiliate links to carefully selected products and services. If you make any purchase, I get a small commission at no extra cost for you.
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