The Perfect Northern Ireland Road Trip
My four favorite things in life are coffee, hiking, wine, and road trips. Now, imagine that three of these things were put together in one marvelous day! Wine, of course, had to be left off because you know driving and drinking is not a good idea, even in Ireland.
Northern Ireland is the perfect spot to test out your driving on the left side road skills without being stuck on too many tiny roads. Strap in (this is a long post so grab a cuppa!) and get ready for breathtaking views and the perfect one-day road trip on the Causeway Coastal Route.
Where to base yourself
We rented a car from Dublin, but I would not suggest this. We were WIPED after a full day of driving and hitting sites and the next day on our first day of Scotland vacation we were beyond tired. Instead, base yourself either in Belfast or one of these amazing AirBnB’s on the coastal route. If you have never used AirBnB click here to get $35 off your first booking!
The road trip route
For the sake of simplicity, this route only includes the sights we visited. However, the Causeway Coastal Route is worth spending some time on. If traveling from Belfast, I would suggest driving to Ballygalley and then up the Causeway Coastal Route towards the Giant’s Causeway.
The sights of Northern Ireland
Surrounded by soaring cliffs, turquoise water, and secluded little islands we felt as if we were driving through a storybook all day. In one day we were able to stop at Kinbane Headland, Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, the Giant’s Causeway, and the Dark Hedges. If you are starting in Belfast or any of the above AirBnBs this route is very easy and you should have plenty of time to also see Dunluce Castle and visit the Old Bushmills Distillery.
Kinbane Headland ended up being our very favorite part of this entire trip hence why I wrote an entire post about it. We had never heard of it and randomly turned off the road to find the perfect hike down to a secluded island surrounded by soaring green cliffs.
After an hour or two exploring we hopped back into the car towards Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge.
Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
Remember when I said that this area of Ireland was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been? If Kinbane Headland wasn’t a seller for you, then the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge should resolve any doubts you have about this region of the world.
After parking and paying our entry fee of £5.90 we headed the one mile down along the trail to the bridge. The trail is well-maintained and was more like walking along a road then an actual trail. The fresh sea air combined with the surrounding green (the color of green in Ireland continues to amaze me) cliffs lured us into a relaxed state preparing us to cross the rope bridge around the corner.
After a 25 minute stroll along the cliffs we lined up behind a number of people also waiting to cross the bridge in front of us. Fortunately, we could not actually see how high up the bridge was from this vantage point and it looked like just a normal bridge. Once it was our turn we were told to just walk across without stopping and while the bridge did sway back and forth it wasn’t a crazy amount and we never felt unsafe.
Fueled with a surge of adrenaline we began to explore the tiny little island we had landed on. I could have spent all day on this small land formation with the stunning views across the water. We ended up taking a ton of pictures and spending about 30 minutes relaxing and watching the hundreds of seagulls below the cliffs.
The great thing about this attraction is if you aren’t limited by a tour bus you can spend as long as you want here. There are trails along all of the different sides of the cliff and there is no time limit on how long you can spend on the island after crossing the bridge. Because we still had the Giant’s Causeway to visit we headed back across the bridge and to the car, but if I ever visit Northern Ireland again we will be spending much longer here.
The Giant’s Causeway
Recently I’ve really gotten into reading. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but find it hard to prioritize with the million other things I could be doing (like blogging!). The next book on my list is Sleeping Giants. It’s a story of a giant found underground and the revelations scientists have as they study these unknown beings. After seeing the Giant’s Causeway in person and reading the description of this book I knew I would have to read it as I still can’t quite fathom how the Giant’s Causeway was actually formed.
I know it wasn’t actually created by giants, but the vastness and intricacy of the hexagonal structures made me wonder if there isn’t some type of mythological being behind this unique landscape. Science says that the causeway was formed due to volcanic activity that caused the tectonic plates to split forcing magma to spill out and form the structures, but I like to believe two giants were fighting forming the structures that we see today. A girl can dream right?
If you are interested in the history and background of the causeway it’s worth spending the £8.50 for the visitor center which also includes parking. You will receive an audio-guided tour of the area and be able to ride the bus down to the causeway instead of walking down. At this point we were running out of time so we opted for the bus down. Time permitting I highly suggest spending more time in this area hiking along the causeway and surrounding trails. Again, just like the rope bridge, the surrounding area is gorgeous and well worth some extra time.
We loved our short visit to the causeway and if we wouldn’t have been so tired by this point we probably would have enjoyed it even more. You might have noticed a theme by now – dedicate some time to this beautiful area! You won’t regret it, I promise.
The Dark Hedges
After visiting the Giant’s Causeway it was time for our last stop. Spoiler alert – I am not a fan of the Game of Thrones, but I was lured to the Dark Hedges because of the multiple Insta photos I had seen of this picture-perfect street.
#NorthernIreland's iconic Dark Hedges are a beautiful avenue of Beech trees planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century. But did you know they are rumoured to be haunted? Watch out for the 'Grey Lady' who appears at dusk and glides silently along the roadside before vanishing as she passes the last tree. #DiscoverNI #HappyHalloween 👻
So, since it was on our route back to Dublin we decided to stop by. Was it cool? Sure. Is it worth going out of your way? Depends. If you’re a die-hard Game of Thrones fan, I think it’s probably worth it. Otherwise, it’s just a pretty street and probably not worth it.
After our 5 minutes at the Dark Hedges we blasted Beyonce and headed back to Dublin with a quick pit-stop in Belfast for dinner. An adventure filled day hitting the top sights in Northern Ireland and we were wiped. But, it was so worth it. If you have the opportunity to visit this region take it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the amount of pure natural beauty surrounding this area and won’t want to leave this storybook-like setting. We’re already planning our next trip back next summer!
Have you ever visited Northern Ireland?
– Boots Not Roots
*Some pictures here were taken by Colby Lowrey.