Everyone knows now, not that it was ever really a secret before.  The word is out and the world knows how damn good a visit to the Causeway Coast and Glens of Northern Ireland is.

In case you’re one of those who haven’t heard, there’s a certain behemoth in the travel world called Lonely Planet. They happen to know a thing or two about the best destinations to visit and guess what area is numero uno?

That’s right. Belfast and the Causeway Coast have been named as the best region in the world to visit in 2018.  If you’ve never been you’re probably wondering how this happened. Sure there are only some funny rocks and a lot of rain up there, right?

Man on the rocky shores of Cushenden beach, The Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
Bit cold round these parts…

Aside from the allure of the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland may indeed have seemed like a bleak and unattractive prospect for a trip in the past 50 years or so.

But this is an area full of prosperity now, with the troubled times of the past century fading to memory. The two largest cities in Northern Ireland have long been divided and tumultuous places but even they are moving forward now.

Both Belfast and Derry, cities rich with incredible history and culture, are thriving with vibrant nightlife, fantastic restaurants and great shopping. Derry was the proud UK City of Culture in 2013 and the two cities have teamed up to mount a bid for European Culture Capital 2023. The future certainly looks bright for tourism in Northern Ireland.

The real gold, however, is what lies between those two cities…

Kick-Ass Guide to The Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland Pinterest Image

What is ‘The Causeway Coast’?

This 120 mile stretch is recognized as one of the greatest scenic drives in the world. The road passes through the lush green Glens of Antrim, past castle ruins, historical sites and numerous look-out points, never wandering far from the wild beauty of the Atlantic Ocean.

Yet, somehow, the Causeway Coastal Route has been something of a lesser-known gem until now, enjoyed by the Irish and a small minority of tourists. Instead, many visitors to the Emerald Isle are drawn here by fantastical ideals fed to them from distant relatives and Hollywood movies.

Ballintoy Harbor, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
Mermaids wrap up warm in ‘the Iron Islands’

The North’s troubled past has kept many tourists to Ireland south of the border. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing down there. Kerry, Cork and Dublin are all worth a visit and of course the West coast is spectacular.

But it’s time to pull the curtain back on Northern Ireland.

There’s much more than the IRA up here. The Giant’s Causeway is really only the tip of the iceberg.

Game of Thrones fans have already been flooding in for a few years now to discover how magical the area is. They block cars on the road for Instagram selfies and act the eejit by dressing up at castles.

Now that Lonely Planet has spoken, 2018 is going to be a big year for the Causeway Coast.

Are you ready to come and discover the magic?

The walk to the Giants Causeway, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
Billionaire Strut

Highlights of the Causeway Coast

The Giant’s Causeway

Some fools believe that this mesmerising rock formation was the result of millions of years of volcanic activity along the coast. Anyone who isn’t completely full of whiskey knows that this was the handy work of Finn McCool, an Irish giant, skilled builder and possible aquaphobe.

Old Finn wasn’t best pleased with fellow giant Benandonner hurling bad manners from across the water so he decided to take a walk over and sort him out.

His wonderful hand-crafted rock bridge may have kept Finn’s feet dry but the plan backfired when he realized Scottish Benny was no pipsqueak.

High-tailing it back across the Causeway, Finn curled up in the arms of his wife, who wrapped a blanket around him to pretend he was her baby.

Once Benandonner saw how big the baby was, he thought that Finn himself must be a monster of ungodly proportions. With that, off he scampered back to Scotland, tearing most of Finn’s hard work down upon his retreat.

That’s how it happened and don’t believe anybody who comes at you with crazy scientific facts. A volcano in Ireland? Pfft, don’t be ridonkulous!

Crying woman at the Giants Causeway, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
She was heartbroken when we couldn’t find any giants

Here’s a heads up for you all – visitors to the Giants Causeway will be charged an arm and a leg for parking in the visitor centre car park. Furthermore, most people don’t realize you don’t actually have to pay for the museum either or even the guided tour. You can visit the Causeway without actually doing all of the extras! I’ve already given you the highlights so now you just have to go and take those great photos!

If you want to save your money for the whiskey later, then park down the road and just stroll up for free!

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

This is one of the best stops on a trip of the Causeway Coast. It certainly was my favourite when I finally explored the area in September, which was a great time to visit weather-wise.

Members of the National Trust can enter for free while the rest of us are asked to stump up the toll of £7. Not bad for one of the best experiences anywhere along the Causeway Coast and Glens. (Which in turn would make it one of the best experiences in the world, isn’t that correct Lonely Planet?!)

Happy couple running over the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
Running for our lives before it broke!

The ocean views and rolling green cliff-sides that dive into the azure waters are incredible. Having spent the previous two years gasping through the smog of Asia, it felt great to be charmed by the wild ocean spray and fresh grass.

The gales blowing in from the Atlantic were kind that day but not to be underestimated. So you must remember the golden rule of walking near cliff edges – Don’t be stupid.

People crossing the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
Don’t look down!

The bridge itself was thrown up by fairy goblins fishermen in the 18th century and has stood strong against the test of time and the elements ever since.

Some absolute gobshites tried to cut it down earlier in 2017, which resulted in a short closure for maintenance. Anyhow, not to worry for the bridge is safe and sound again and as popular as ever. The trick is not to look at the duct tape.

Old Bushmills Distillery

Now, how about that whiskey? The Causeway Coast is home to one that lays claim to have been the first whiskey on the planet! Personally, I’m a Jameson fan but there’s another from this part of the world that is definitely worth a taste.

Keg room of Old Bushmills Whiskey Distillery, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
Enough to get the party started! (Photo courtesy of Bushmills Distillery)

Named after the little village on whose river banks it sits, Bushmills Distillery has been licensed since 1608, making it the oldest whiskey distillery in the world! Visitors pay just £9 for a tour and the chance to see how the fine stuff is made. Chances are you might part with a few more quid before you walk stagger out the door again.

Portrush

The Causeway Coastal Route isn’t that long but to conquer it all in one day would be a little exhausting. There’s so much to see and do that you should take your time over a few days.

Why rush when you can Portrush?

Okay that was lame. What’s not lame, however, is the town of Portrush.

Nestled on the Antrim coast with a small port and fantastic sunset views, Portrush is a great base on any tour of the Causeway Coast. With Coleraine University not far away, there’s a decent student population here and so the handful of great restaurants and bars in the area have a great vibe almost any night of the week.

Portrush, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
Portrush Harbor isn’t a bad place to be at twilight

That’s not by default though as each of the four restaurants owned by the Ramone complex near the harbor serve up some incredible dishes. (More on that later!)

Portrush is also home to the largest nightclub in Northern Ireland, Kelly’s, which includes several smaller bars and the famous club Lush.

Downhill Beach

Northern Ireland doesn’t have a lot of great beaches. That may be shocking to hear but here to soften the blow is Downhill beach.

The iconic Mussenden Temple is perched atop a grassy hill on the far eastern side of the beach. This 18th century temple was actually a library from the Downhill Castle estate and now draws the majority of camera-snappers who make it to the beach. If you trod through all the sheep turd nearby then it’s easy to see why.

The temple itself is a worth a nosey and the views beyond it are some of the best on the whole route, overlooking Downhill beach and that wild ocean as far as the eye can see. The National Trust property is now also open for civil ceremonies if you fancy tying the knot on the Causeway Coast!

View of Mussenden Temple overlooking Downhill Strand beach on The Causeway Coast
Downhill Strand may get a little windy and the water is a little cold but with a view like that who cares?

This seven-mile stretch of sand is quite popular with anglers and surfers brave enough to tackle the chilly Atlantic waters. Once you’ve had enough, the little town of Castlerock isn’t far to retire to for some pub grub.

In recent times, the much-loved medieval kill-porn show Game of Thrones used the beach to film some scenes.  Fans will know it as ‘Dragonstone’, where Melisandre led a murderous coup against the Seven Idols of Westeros.

We have don’t have the swells of Bondi or the white sands of Playa del Carmen but we don’t care because we have the scene where a red-haired Witch burned seven men to death at the stake.

In fact, as many fans of the HBO series know, Northern Ireland has a lot more than just that.

Game of Thrones Filming Locations on the Causeway Coast

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard of Game of Thrones. If you’re one of the 4 people in the world who has never watched it, first off congratulations.  How you have resisted giving into curiosity and ultimately avoided being consumed by the incredible debauched cocktail of perilous drama, magic and violence is truly a testament to your resolve.  Go you.

Secondly, if you’re truly off-the-radar, then you may not even know that Northern Ireland is one of the chief filming locations for the show. The Causeway Coast has got a few good ones!

The Dark Hedges, Bregagh Road, County Antrim

Believe it or not, but people are coming from all over the globe to take a photo of some hedges in Northern Ireland.  Planted along the sides of what was once the entrance to a wealthy estate in the 18th century, some 150 beech trees have grown to form an impressive tunnel of intertwining branches close to the Giants Causeway.

The Dark Hedges, Antrim, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
The Dark Hedges shot to global fame when featured as ‘The Kings Road’ in Game of Thrones

The area was seen by fans of the show when Arya was on the run with Gendry at the end of the first episode in Season 2. Ever since, its popularity has boomed and so you can expect to find people on the road almost any day of the year now. If you want to beat the crowds, turn up at sunrise. If you care about lighting and shadows then you’ll get the best photos at sunrise and sunset.

Murlough Bay

Undoubtedly, this is one of the most scenic parts of the Causeway Coast and Glens area and yet it remains somewhat undiscovered. Getting there takes a little bit of patient driving along narrow, bumpy “roads”, through rolling green hills, past steep stone walls towards the ocean. If you spot some curious sheep who are practically sitting on the road then you know you’re on the right track. Eventually, it will appear before you in all its glory.

Murlough Bay, The Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
Murlough Bay is well worth driving through rambling lanes and tons of sheep poo to find.

Nestled between Torr Head and Fair Head, Murlough Bay is really quite stunning and so it is little surprise that the guys from Hollywood have used it over and over since the beginning of the show.
You might recognise it as the shore of ‘Slavers Bay’ where Tyrion and Jorah got themselves in a pickle. Another scene shot here was that awkward horse ride when Theon met Yara.

Dunluce Castle

The bay wasn’t the only stop for Theon and Yara along the Causeway Coastal Route as their family home, the House of Greyjoy was here. Dunluce Castle, (or Castle Pyke to Thronies) has been standing since the 13th century. However, it is just about standing now having partially collapsed into the sea over the years.

Dunluce Castle, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
As ruined buildings go, Dunluce is pretty impressive. Terrible rain shelter though.

Now under the care of the Environment Agency, Dunluce Castle can be explored by visitors between 10 AM and 6 PM for £5. You can also check out the remains of the town of Dunluce just next to the castle.

Ballintoy Harbor, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
Ballintoy Harbor, or ‘The Iron Islands’ for GoT fans. Looks a little different from when Theon arrived home!

Ballintoy Harbour

If you just can’t enough of the Iron Islands, then check out this little nook. Take it easy on the drive in through that twisting road as meeting another car could be interesting. Once you get here, you can enjoy another great ocean view and explore the harbour area where Theon arrived home, just prior to that weird equestrian experience.

Cushenden Caves

Speaking of weird, remember when the red Witch Melisandre gave birth to a Shadow Baby in a cave? Well, you can find it right here. The cave that is, not the shadow baby. Please don’t try to re-enact the scene though. This part of the Causeway Coast is haunted enough from the memory. Take your photos and get out of there before it returns.

Man in cave at Cushenden, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
Nope, no shadow babies here.

Where to eat on the Causeway Coast

No road trip is complete without some great pit stops along the way. The Causeway Coast offers plenty of options for grub so you won’t go hungry. If you want to get some of the best food on the Antrim Coast, then look no further than these belters:

The Ramore Restaurants in Portrush are some of the best on The Causeway Coast
Just half of the great Ramore complex in Portrush. Directly opposite you’ll find Asian and Italian fare and a great cocktail bar.

Ramore Restaurants, Portrush

Portrush Harbour may only have a few options for eating but when they are as good as the Ramore complex then no more are needed! Nestled around the harbour area you’ll find great options for international fare, top-class seafood and delicious Italian and Asian dishes.  Once you’ve had your fill, it’s a short walk to either the Ramone Wine Bar or Harbour Bar. In fact, it could be really short if you go for the Asian flavour in Neptune & Prawn – they have a great cocktail bar right upstairs with possibly the best vibe on the harbour!

Bushmills Inn, Bushmills

With its gas lamps and turf fire, the Bushmills Inn may well be one of the cosiest eateries you’ll find around the Causeway Coast and Glens. You can expect great service, heart-warming food and fine whiskey to cap it off. Definitely one of the best!

Fullerton Arms, Ballintoy

If all that Game of Thrones site-seeing has worn you out, then hitting up this little hotel for some tasty pub grub and good ales will be just the tonic. Go real Irish with the steak & Guinness pie and you’ll be ready for the next stop on the Causeway Coastal route.

 

Morton's Fish and Chips, Ballycastle, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
A happy bunny. Morton’s fish and chips in Ballycastle has that effect!

Morton’s, Ballycastle

A helping of fish n’ chips is like a local delicacy along the Causeway Coast. However, there are Fish-n-chip shops and then there’s this. When it comes to getting food from the chippy, I’m normally all about the burgers but one does not simply go to the Antrim Coast and choose a burger over fresh fish.

I dropped a few quid extra for the biggest, freshest, tastiest portion of fish, chips and mushy peas.  A side portion of onion rings and large tubs of gravy and garlic sauce are also great additions if you want to be extra fat that day. I regret nothing.

Harry's Shack, Portstewart, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
Harry’s Shack is billed as a dangerous spot to eat because it’s so close to the wild Atlantic Ocean. (Photo courtesy of Ulster Craic)

Harry’s Shack, Portstewart

If a simple battered fish and fried chips is a meal too beneath you, perhaps a seafood snob like yourself should mosey on down the road to Portstewart. There you’ll find the fine establishment that is Harry’s Shack. Sitting right on the bay, this place has more than just a great menu. Enjoy the sweet scent of the wood-burning stove as refreshing sea spray blows up from the ocean. If the waves don’t sweep you away, you can sit and devour some unreal grub, which goes great with that view.

Carrick-a-rede cliffs, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
I never realized the coast of Northern Ireland was so good until I saw this with my own eyes.

Where to stay on the Causeway Coast

Portrush

As mentioned already, Portrush is a great base for a trip along the Causeway Coast. The scenic harbour views and fantastic food on offer make it well worth a stop for a night. You’ll find no shortage of little guesthouses and B&B’s in the town, with many offering views of the harbour.

Bushmills Inn, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
If you can’t get enough of that Bushmills Whiskey, then this may be the place to stay! (Photo Courtesy of Bushmills Inn)

Bushmills Inn, Bushmills

If you do stop for food here, that may be enough to convince you to book a room. It wouldn’t be the worst decision you ever made. It won’t come cheap but you certainly get what you pay for. Aside from great food and The Gas Bar, this old coaching Inn has luxurious rooms, great service and traditional Irish music nights. The Giants Causeway is a short drive and the Bushmills Distillery is within walking distance.

 

Photo of bedroom in Causeway Hotel, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland (courtesy of Causeway Hotel)
A room at the Causeway Hotel comes with a great view and free access to the Giants Causeway – photo courtesy of Causeway Hotel

Causeway Hotel

If you really can’t get enough of old Finn’s footbridge, then why not grab a room right on his doorstep? The en-suite rooms here are top-notch and come with fantastic views of the Causeway, which is a mere 5 minute stroll away. You can keep an eye out for any giants when the rest of us are sleeping.

AirBnB

There’s no need to break the bank for a good place to lay your head. The Causeway Coast has great options on here. Fancy $25 off your first AirBnB booking?

More Adventure on the Causeway Coast

Walking in the footsteps of Giants and re-enacting scenes from medieval fantasy shows may not be enough for some. Ireland sure has plenty of magic and myth but if you’re feeling unfulfilled, perhaps you need to take it next level.

It may come as a surprise to learn that the Causeway Coast has some solid options for adventure sports, especially out on that wild Atlantic Ocean. Are you game?

Jump off a cliff

Best known for its alpine cliffs that tumble down into a thick forest, Binevenagh is a short drive inland from Downhill beach that every adrenaline junkie will want to make.

A recently replaced statue of Celtic sea god Manannán Mac Lir overlooks the madness from the edge of the cliff as people come to jump off it.

Paragliding at Binevenagh, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
Don’t worry, Binevenagh forest has plenty of prickly pine trees to break your fall.

Don’t worry though, unlike old Manny, who took a tumble and smashed his head, the eejits here have wings.

Hang-gliding and paragliding are the games to play here and with such beautiful views below, you’re sure to remember this for a lifetime.

Coasteering

If the gliding is just a little too crazy, try this instead. It’s cliff-jumping with less gut-wrenching fear. What began as a bunch of lads having the craic around the coastline has became a fully-fledged business. If you like jumping off rocks and body-boarding, then you’ll love this. Get in touch with Causeway Coasteering and before you know it you’ll have your wetsuit on and be making a splash in the Atlantic!

Man jumping off rocks into ocean, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
Not for the feint-hearted! (Photo courtesy of Causeway Coasteering)

Alive Surf School

This outfit in Portrush is ranked as the number one surf school in Ireland on Trip Advisor. Some might say that’s like being told you’re the best singer in a deaf choir. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that you can have a blast on the Causeway Coast with these guys.

Sillhouette of a woman enjoying stand-up paddleboarding on The Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland
Paddleboarding is gaining popularity around the Causeway Coast. Sun not guaranteed.

If surfing is a little too tricky, grab a paddle! Stand-up paddleboarding, also known as ‘SUP’ is a lot of fun! When you’re on the coast, make a stop there and see what SUP! (I know, truly awful. I hold myself in contempt!)

Visit Rathlin Island

The only inhabited island in Northern Ireland is just a short ferry ride from the mainland and certainly worth a stop on your tour of the Causeway Coast if you have the time.

A puffin on a rock in Rathlin Island
Puffins are one of the wild birds that call Rathlin Island home (Photo Courtesy of RSPB)

The tiny L-shaped island is home to more wild sea birds than people, with puffins, guillemots and kittiwakes vastly outnumbering roughly 150 residents. Boasting plenty of walking trails and postcard-esque views of lighthouses on cliff-sides, Rathlin is a dream for photographers and adventurers alike. With some fairy folklore and a tale of an old King and a spider thrown in, only a fool would miss out on Rathlin!

Need another reason to travel to the Causeway Coast? How about this…

 

The statue of Celtic Sea God Manannán mac Lir, the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
The statue of Celtic Sea God Manannán mac Lir, recently restored after would-be robbers abandoned him down the side of the cliff.

You might catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis. That’s the ‘Northern Lights’ for those who skipped Latin class. It doesn’t happen often but you might get lucky. In a place as magical as this, getting a rub of the green can happen easier than you think!

And if it’s not your lucky day, well there’s plenty of great Guinness around to drown your sorrows with!

Are you ready to travel the Causeway Coast in 2018? Where will you go first?

Like this post? Pin it and spread the word!