Just off the eastern coast of Scotland, separated by the turbulent Irish Sea, lies the breathtaking and diverse landscape of Northern Ireland. Historians and romantics will associate Northern Ireland and the capital city of Belfast with the craftsmanship of the doomed luxury steamship — the Titanic. "Game of Thrones" fans will associate it with the jaw-dropping territory used in the filming locations for their favorite fantasy drama series.
And, while its political and historical past has been as turbulent as the sea that borders it. present-day Northern Ireland boasts legends, prehistoric geology, ancient castles, wild and rugged terrain, incredibly fresh seafood, and a 120-mile scenic route between Belfast and Derry-Londonderry, with stunning coastal views that will blow you away. Its fabled landscape is well deserving of its nickname as the Emerald Isle, and the coastal views along this route are a must-see when driving through Northern Ireland.
The Causeway Coastal Route is not a journey that should be rushed. While it can be done in one day, it shouldn't be. Instead, if you drive at a leisurely pace and stop to see the sites, it's estimated to take between three to five days to get from Belfast to Derry-Londonderry (or vice versa). It's highly recommended to take your time, so you can enjoy all of the captivating sites along the way. Its route also contains nine loops through the Glens of Antrim, adding an additional 256 miles as part of its scenic route.
With 36 locations along this incredible drive of turns and curves around the rim of Northern Ireland, the masterfully engineered Antrim Coast Road gives way to breathtaking views of the Irish Sea, distant views of Scotland, magical forest park walks, adrenaline-rushing cliff walks, and visits to pristine beaches, while drivers approach numerous varying points of fascinating interest and sites of historical wonders.
Just 40 miles outside of Belfast, and at the start of your journey, make your way to the 200-million-year-old site: The Gobbins. This 19th-century, dramatic cliff walk was created for people to experience its extreme beauty and danger for three solid hours along its treacherous 3-mile path. Further along the route, the Giant's Causeway and the Causeway Coast — both inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites — draw approximately one million tourists to them annually. It's estimated that there are approximately 40,000 hexagonal-shaped, black basalt columns forming this 50- to 60-million-year-old site. It's said to have been created from the cooling of volcanic lava, making its otherworldly landscape as mystical as its legendary creation. Parking is on the Coastal Causeway for a small fee, and an estimated 10-minute walk will guide you to the Antrim Plateau to experience it face-to-face.
The Carrick-a-Red rope bridge isn't nearly as old, however, its assembly back in 1755 by local fishermen to its present-day usage as an attraction to tourists speaks volumes about its engineering. Teetering precariously over the ocean, this 100-foot-high, 1.25-mile antique bridge provides walkers with stunning views of several islands, and the bonnie landscape of Scotland can be seen in the distance. This is a walk, don't run, bridge, which means you should tread lightly across its length. To take part in its adventurous walk, visitors will need to book a time slot and purchase tickets ahead of time.
The Glenariff Forest Park provides visitors with a 9-mile walk through scenic glens, dense woodlands, and views of spectacular waterfalls and lakes along the way. According to Discover Northern Ireland, Slemish Mountain was once home to Saint Patrick, and its nearly 1-mile walk up to the top of its 1,434-foot peak provides stunning views of the Antrim countryside.
If you're feeling even more adventurous, and love thrills and the unexpected, driving the Torr Head and Murlough Bay scenic loops along the coastal route is not for uneasy drivers. Twisting, turning, narrow roads with steep climbs are to be expected. Views of Scotland can be seen, and the quaint harbor town of Ballycastle can be visited from Torr Head. Rathlin Island and the Kintyre Peninsula are also in sight from Murlough Bay. And, for "Game of Thrones" fans, the beautiful, yet eerie path of trees used as the filming location for Kingsroad — The Dark Hedges — is also part of this coastal driving adventure.
If you're a lover of medieval structures, you'll be happy to know there are many historical sites along the Causeway Coastal Route. And, while most are ruins, there are several castles, forts, and ancient churches worth paying a visit to during your driving adventure, according to Irish Road Trip. For those who enjoy the calm serenity of waves splashing against the sand, this scenic route affords travelers the best of both worlds — rugged, captivating landscapes, and pristine beaches that frame the route beautifully.
Of course, Northern Ireland is home to some of the most picturesque villages and towns, and a drive along the coast doesn't disappoint. Expect to see beautiful seaside villages and harbor towns during your epic road trip. Each area offers travelers a great opportunity to stop and take in the culture and amazing seafood, this area is known for.
Whether you start your driving adventure in the city of Belfast, or from the city of Derry-Londonderry, you'll get to see both cities at some point on your scenic road journey. It would be remiss of us to leave out all the activities and intriguing sites you can take in while you're in both of these amazing cities. From classical pubs to historical museums, folklore music, and tantalizing restaurants brimming with authentic Irish food, Northern Ireland's cities are abuzz with energy, history, and culture.
There are road trips, and then there are "Road Trips!" And, should you find yourself in Northern Ireland during your travels, we can only hope that you'll heed our sound advice and research, and set off on this incredible journey for yourself to see why it's the greatest road trip and experience of a lifetime.