Hugging the Atlantic coast, this jaw-dropping route from Belfast to Derry is steeped in myth and legend. The route is actually made up of nine scenic drives, so you can break it down into smaller journeys and take your time enjoying the sights.
The drive takes you to several of Northern Ireland’s main tourist attractions and landmarks – the Giant’s Causeway itself, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle, Dark Hedges and the Glens of Antrim.
Make the short ferry trip to Rathlin Island from Ballycastle for a tour of the upside down lighthouse built into a cliff face, or sample a piece of history at the Old Bushmills Distillery. The world’s oldest licenced working distillery has been producing Bushmills Irish Whiskey at the site since 1608.
Giant’s Causeway road trip stop offs
Walk along the dramatic Gobbins cliff path and go bird-spotting at the RSPB reserve on Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland’s only inhabited offshore island.
Top tip: Some of the roads are quite narrow and winding in places, so watch your wing mirrors.
Distance and ideal duration: 120 miles, 3-5 days.
Did you know?
Dark Hedges was featured in hit TV drama Game of Thrones as the Kingsroad.
Best Stops To Make Along Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route
Before embarking on your scenic journey on the Causeway Coastal Route, you have an opportunity to spend some quality time in the capital city of Northern Ireland, Belfast, and you absolutely should. Even though some road-trippers may be wary since this city didn’t always have the best reputation, Northern Ireland and Belfast now rank high among the safest tourist destinations. Still, there are a few things worth remembering when you are in Belfast as a tourist. For instance, travelers should know that Dublin and Belfast have two completely different vibes.
Moreover, when engaging with the locals here, visitors should keep the conversation light — avoid talk of religion, politics, or your possibly distant Irish heritage if you weren’t born on the island. Also, when mingling with others, don’t be surprised if strangers buy you the occasional drink, as locals are friendly — just remember to buy the next round. As long as you are mindful of these things, then there is no reason you won’t enjoy yourself in this lively city. With its historic landmarks, exciting nightlife, the Titanic Building, botanic gardens, castles, museums, informative guided tours, accommodations, wonderful eateries, great shopping, and more, road-trippers should make the most of their time in Belfast before making their way through the nine Glens of Antrim, past the Giant’s Causeway, and onward.
Not too far away from Belfast, causeway travelers will come across the town of Carrickfergus, which just so happens to be one of the oldest in Ireland. However, Carrickfergus is best known for its beautifully preserved 12th-century Norman castle, which continues to stand tall despite multiple sieges throughout history and is open to the public. Here, visitors can opt to explore this stunning abode via a guided tour or on their own.
During the daytime, Carrickfergus Castle looks like something out of a fairytale, perfectly perched on this town’s waterfront. So, travelers can opt to take a quick tour during business hours. Alternatively, visitors can make the most of this stop and spend some time exploring the other attractions in this town, which is highly recommended since, at night, this ancient fortress is lit up and looks absolutely dazzling, adorned with twinkling lights. No matter your decision, this fully-preserved medieval structure should be your second stop along this roadway.
Next up on your tour of the coast is the marvelous cliff-face path known as The Gobbins. This particular point of interest is yet another must-see, come rain or shine. That said, walking along this path and the bridge is definitely not for the timid. But, if you are up for a three-mile walk with all the makings of a nature hike and a cave exploration, then The Gobbins are for you.
Built in the early 1900s as a tourist attraction by an Irish railway engineer, this marvelous architectural feat and path showcases the picture-perfect coastline, the dramatic rock formations, the ocean, and more. Of course, non-thrill seekers, who aren’t overly excited about or interested in this moderately difficult side quest, can still enjoy the view. All in all, this hidden gem is truly one of the best-kept Causeway secrets, so it is highly recommended that you check it out.
The Dark Hedges
Located in County Antrim, near the town of Ballymoney, “Game of Thrones” fans, nature enthusiasts, and lovers of dark tourism are in for a real treat here. The Dark Hedges is an ethereal-looking forested tunnel that lines the avenue to the former estate of James Stuart, Gracehill. Planted in 1775, The Dark Hedges are as eerie as they are enchanting, and no one knows for sure if the name derives from fact or lore.
These majestic beech trees block out most of the sunlight here, creating a dimly lit tunnel — so having “dark” in the name makes sense. However, where things get a little spooky is with the nearby forgotten graveyard and a ghost known as the Grey Lady who likes to roam about the trees. More than a few people believe this historical avenue is haunted and thus consider these hedges to be “dark.” Still, as the fourth stop along the Causeway, travelers can check out this compelling landscape feature and decide for themselves. Plus, Gracehill estate is now Gracehill House with a lovely restaurant and bar, so if you are not too creeped out, you can enjoy a nice lunch once you’ve made it through The Dark Hedges.
Glenariff Forest Park
Glenariff Forest Park, also located in County Antrim, is a lush outdoor space with thousands of plant species, trees, breathtaking waterfalls, pristine lakes, and all-around stellar views. So, causeway travelers looking to get out in nature and stretch their legs for a bit can do so here while marveling at the stunning landscape. But that’s not all — coastal wanderers can also take advantage of the recreational facilities in Glenariff, which include a visitor center, a shop, camping sites, and an interactive exhibition or two.
What’s more, as you make your way through this expansive nature park, you can grab a bite to eat at the seasonal restaurant that just so happens to be situated in the heart of the forest. So, this is yet another great option for a spot of lunch and a few drinks. And if you aren’t feeling peckish, you may want to skip the restaurant and take a load off while appreciating the tumbling waters, forested land, and mountainscape instead.
Glens of Antrim
The Glens of Antrim are gorgeous valleys that are scattered about the Causeway, each with its own sights, history, tales, and unique coastal perspective. In total, there are nine glens — Glenarm, Glencloy, Glenariff, Glenballyeamon, Glenaan, Glencorp, Glendun, Glenshesk, and Glentaisie. Here, road-trippers can check out all of them if they so choose. However, if you happen to be short on time, then it is highly recommended that you only stop by the glens you come across while on your causeway journey.
That said, all nine glens are easy enough to spot as most are located near the various towns along this legendary roadway. So, towns such as Cushendall, Cushendun, Glenarm, Carlough, and Waterfoot are definitely worth more than a cursory look. Of course, wanderers who don’t want to stray too far from the other best roadway sites can take comfort in the fact that more than a few glens run alongside the Causeway, so you can appreciate several of these lovely valleys as you drive on by.
Yet another must-see stop along this picturesque roadway is Ballintoy Harbour. Translated, Ballintoy Harbour literally means Town of the North, so what better place for “Game of Thrones” than the north? Besides being the ideal setting for the Iron Islands in this famous HBO television series, Ballintoy Harbour is a photographer’s dream come true. With sweeping oceanside landscapes, historical sights (lighthouses, churches, and more), plus an abundance of wildlife, it really doesn’t get much better than this.
In addition to all the fantastic sights and iconic filming locations, Ballintoy Harbour has quaint eateries like Ruark’s Kitchen, known for its delicious cake, and quite a few daytime activities for causeway explorers who are just passing through. For instance, there are ancient caves to explore, white sandy beaches to enjoy, long walks along the coast, available kayaking tours, and so much more. So, don’t forget to carve out some time in your coastal journey for this sleepy fishing village.
Carrick-A-Rede Ripper Bridge
After basking in all that Ballintoy Harbour has to offer, adventurers can head on over to the Carrick-A-Rede Ripper Bridge for an afternoon of fun. Whether you opt to kayak there from Ballintoy Harbour (via a guided tour), walk the less than one-mile coastal pathway, or make the short drive between these two attractions is completely up to you. But, regardless of how you get there, make sure you spend some quality time on the ropes.
A truly thrilling experience, walking along the Carrick-A-Rede Ripper Bridge feels like a bonafide side quest. Despite being made of rope, this bridge is perfectly safe and is reconstructed every couple of years to ensure it is secure for all its visitors. So, if you intend to traverse the bridge, then try to get there earlier in the day, as a long line often forms since only one person is allowed to cross at a time.
The Giant’s Causeway
Of course, a stop at the Giant’s Causeway is absolutely in order on this phenomenal coastal journey. Not only is this enthralling collection of interlocking 40,000 basalt columns breathtakingly beautiful, but it is also steeped in local lore. This unique attraction was created more than 50 million years ago when an ancient volcanic fissure erupted, and a flood of lava emerged along the coastline.
Still, for much of its existence, the Giant’s Causeway has been a mystery, and for ages, these geometric columns of cooled lava were thought to have been made by, well, a giant — though numerous stories vary on who, what, when, and why. The most beloved tale, however, involves a Scottish giant named Benandonner (also known as the Red Man) from the island of Staffa and Finn MacCumnhaill (MacCool), a mythical Irish hunter (per Encyclopedia Britannica). Legend says that Red Men and McCool were engrossed in a bitter battle — and the stage for this fantastical giant war was none other than the Giant’s Causeway. Sound intriguing? Then book a tour to learn more about these battling mythical figures when you visit.
Where is Northern Ireland?
Northern Ireland (or ‘Norn Iron’ as it is affectionately known by residents) is a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, also known as the UK. The other countries in this sovereign state are England, Scotland, and Wales.
Ireland is a completely separate and independent country (and a member of the EU) officially described as the Republic of Ireland. There is no such country as Southern Ireland, although it is often incorrectly used to differentiate between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Often, people refer to the ‘island of Ireland’ as a way of showing solidarity between two separate countries which occupy the same landmass.
Fly to Northern Ireland
The Causeway Coastal Route officially starts in Belfast, Northern Ireland’s friendly capital city, although you could do the route in reverse and start in Derry/Londonderry, the official finish point of the Causeway Coastal Route.
To start in Belfast, fly into Belfast International Airport or George Best Belfast City Airport, both of which have direct flight connections with most of Europe.
To start in Derry/Londonderry, fly into the City of Derry Airport from London Stansted, Manchester, Glasgow, and Liverpool in the United Kingdom, and Majorca in Spain, or into Donegal Airport from Dublin and Glasgow.
Drive to Northern Ireland
Alternatively, you can take your own car, motorbike, or camper to Northern Ireland from the UK by ferry. There is no direct ferry to Northern Ireland from Europe but you could sail to Dublin, Rosslare, or Cork from France and drive to Northern Ireland.
Use Direct Ferries to compare and book the best crossings to Northern Ireland from;
- Liverpool Birkenhead to Belfast
- Cairnryan to Belfast
- Cairnryan to Larne
Make sure you have travel insurance you can trust when visiting Northern Ireland. We recommend True Traveller for their 5-star TrustPilot reviews, variety of cover options, best activities cover as standard, great prices, and excellent service.
How to Travel the Causeway Coastal Route
Whether you’re in a car, motorcycle, campervan, or motorhome, self-driving is absolutely the best way to explore Northern Ireland’s Coastal Causeway Route, meaning you can stop whenever you want, try new activities, visit places you see along the route, and have the freedom to change plans at the last minute.
Causeway Coastal Route Public Transport
It is possible to travel much of the Causeway Coastal Route without a car using Northern Ireland’s bus and train network.
You won’t be able to follow the whole coastal road route with public transport, but with a bit of planning, you will be able to get between towns and attractions along the route.
The Goldline Coach Service 221 takes you directly to the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre from Belfast’s Europa Buscentre. From this same station during July and August, you can also catch the Ulsterbus 252 and travel north through the beautiful Antrim Coast and Glens.
Ulsterbus has a really helpful interactive map that you can use to search for bus routes by region and operator along the Causeway Coastal road.
Causeway Coastal Route Tours
There are plenty of multi-day and day trips from Belfast to the most scenic and interesting parts of the Causeway Coastal Route, which are well worth doing if you’re short of time, or don’t want to drive the route yourself.
These are our picks of the top recommended Causeway Coastal Route trips from Belfast.
Causeway Coastal Route Map & Route
Our seven day Causeway Coastal Route starts in Belfast and heads north, hitting all the top spots and highlights along the route. We know that you probably won’t be able to visit all the attractions on our itinerary, but pick out what interests you most and focus on those, to get the best from this coastal route experience.
Tips for Driving & Traveling in Northern Ireland
Whether you’re road tripping the Causeway Coastal Route in a car, camper, or motorbike, make sure you’ve got all your documents handy and your spare tire is in good condition. There is a limited cell phone signal in some areas – it may be easier to print important documents before leaving, rather than risk having no 4g along the route.
- Remember that Northern Ireland, just like England, Scotland, and Wales, drives on the left and overtakes on the right.
- You require a valid driving license.
- Drivers from non-EU countries may require an International Driving Permit. The general rule is that if your license is not in English, then an IDP will be required. Check with your hire company or embassy if you’re in doubt.
- If you’re not a British citizen, you should carry your passport or ID card at all times as you road trip the Causeway Coast Route.
- You must have at least 3rd party insurance for your vehicle. If you’re hiring a vehicle this is all taken care of by the rental company.
- Your car must be considered roadworthy in the country in which it is registered.
- Your headlights must be adapted for driving on the right if your vehicle is registered outside the UK.
- Unlike France, the UK does not have laws that require you to carry certain equipment in your car, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. Being prepared in the event of an accident or a breakdown is invaluable. Ideally, you should carry a reflective jacket, a warning triangle, a first-aid kit and a fire extinguisher, and key safety equipment which should be provided by the hire company.
Some quick need-to-knows about the Causeway Coastal Route
Here are some quick need-to-knows to get us started:
Where it starts and ends
The Antrim Coast road starts in Belfast City and ends in Derry. It follows the coast road through the nine Glens of Antrim, peaking at the Giant’s Causeway before powering on through to its final destination – Derry (see our Causeway Coastal Route map above for reference).
The entire Antrim Coastal Route is 313km/195-mile in length. You can tackle it all at once, or you can split it up into several visits, depending on how much time you have to play with.
How long you’ll need
You can explore a good chunk of the Antrim Coast road in a day, but you’ll be rushing through the various stops. If possible, allow at least two days to give yourself some breathing space.
Where to stay
If you’re doing the drive over a weekend, we’d recommend creating a rough Causeway Coastal Route itinerary (or use our one below). You can then pick a halfway point and use that as your base for your first night on the road.
he Causeway Coastal Route map above contains many of the various different things to see along the Antrim Coast road. If you scroll down further, you’ll find an overview of each place.
Further down you’ll find an easy-to-follow 2-day Causeway Coastal Route itinerary. But first, here’s what each of the markers in the map above represents:
- Orange markers: Beaches
- Dark purple markers: Castles
- Yellow markers: Main attractions
- Green markers: Game of Thrones filming locations
- Light purple markers: Unique attractions
The Antrim Coast Road attractions
- Belfast City
- Carrickfergus Castle
- Whitehead Coastal Pass to Blackhead Lighthouse
- The Gobbins
- Chaine Memorial Tower
- The Black Arch
- Carnfunnock Country Park
- Slemish Mountain
- Glenarm Castle
- Cranny Falls
- Glenariff Forest Park
- Cushendall Beach
- Cushendun Caves and Beach
- Torr Head
- Murlough Bay
- Fair Head Cliffs
- Rathlin Island
- Kinbane Castle
- Larrybane Quarry
- Ballintoy Harbour
- The Dark Hedges
- Whitepark Bay Beach
- Dunseverick Castle
- Giants Causeway
Where does the Causeway Coastal Route start and finish?
The Causeway Coastal Route starts in Belfast City and ends in Derry. It follows the coast road through the nine Glens of Antrim, peaking at the Giant’s Causeway before powering on through to its final destination.
How long does the Causeway Coastal Route take?
To drive the entire 313km/195-mile route, you’ll need 3-5 days to give yourself enough time to soak it all up. You can see a lot of it in 1 – 2 days (see our Causeway Coastal Route map above).
What are the best stops on the Antrim Coast road?
I’d argue that the Torr Head Scenic Route, Murlough Bay and the various beaches are the best stops (see our Causeway Coastal Route map above for all the stops).