If you haven’t been to the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland, what are you doing?? Go right now, immediately! Do not pass go! Do not collect $200… OK, maybe do collect the cash… Because then you can spend it all in this ridiculously awesome place! How do you do it Northern Ireland? Every place I visit gets more beautiful!
I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the stunning Antrim coast recently. It is famous for a little UNESCO World Heritage site called The Giant’s Causeway – you may have heard of it… Oh and a little program called Game of Thrones was filmed here. Sound familiar…? It was a well needed getaway with great friends and a much needed break. I live less than two hours away, so it was the ideal mini break and just what the rest doctor ordered.
We started our trip by driving to Larne on the north east coast. This is where the beautiful Causeway Coastal route begins (or ends depending which way you are going!). With miles and miles of winding road hugging the rugged coastline, you can even see Scotland in the distance. With the stormy grey ocean to right of me and green rolling hills dotted with sheep to the left, this is the Ireland at its best. The Causeway Coastal route spans 212 km and every inch of the route has the WOW factor. With a spectacular sight around every corner, miles of golden beaches and rocky cliffs, you are spoiled for choice as to what to see and do.
Breaking our trip for lunch in Glenarm, a charming little town at the foot of the Glens of Antrim, we enjoyed a quick bite at the stunning little marina overlooking the sea. This was of course finished with a superb pint of Guinness at the Coast Road Inn. We were promised the best pint of Guinness on the North Coast by the staff here, and they were not wrong… We didn’t get a chance to visit the 16th century Glenarm Castle as we were only passing through, so it will have to go on the list for next time!
Continuing the journey along meandering roads, the views got even more spectacular. In November, the sun starts to set about 4pm, and around this time I noticed we were approaching the gorgeous harbour of Ballintoy. I’d stumbled across Ballintoy earlier in the year (read about it here), and was awestruck by the colossal waves and sheer stark beauty of the rocks. We knew it would be a race to get down to the harbour before the sun set, but we managed to time it perfectly. Ballintoy is a well known filming location for Game of Thrones, so it has become quite popular in recent times. But now, with the sun setting, we had the whole place to ourselves. The pink clouds illuminating the sky was the perfect backdrop to the rugged landscape and wild, untamed waves. Clambering over the rocks, we noticed a secluded cove. This deserted cove, with turquoise clear waters lapping gently against the golden sands was picture perfect. Honestly, I could have stayed forever. But night was rolling in and it was time to find our Air BnB before it got too dark.
Our Air BnB was fantastic. On a quiet residential cul-de-sac in Portballintrae, Seaside House was ideally located. The beauty of this part of the world, is that so many of the things you want to see are just a short drive away. And when I mean short, I mean literally a seven minute drive away. It was the perfect location to see all the main attractions the area has to offer. The accommodation itself was spot on for a group of friends. Spacious, with every amenity you would need. And did I mention there was a hot tub!! Does it get better?? So after dinner at Urban in Portrush (which was delicious and budget friendly in comparison to many of the eateries in this area – you have been warned!), the evening was spent lazing in the tub, under the stars, glass of prosecco in hand.. well, I was on holiday after all!!!
Next morning we headed to the area’s main attraction – The Giant’s Causeway. The Giant’s Causeway is one of those places that doesn’t disappoint. Yes, there are lots of tourists, but for good reason! We visited on a Tuesday morning in November, so apart from a couple of school groups, it was pretty quiet so we could wander around the basalt columns very easily. The jagged hexagon rocks take your breath away (read about how this inspired a couple of my paintings here). The sea was particularly wild. The waves were crashing against the coast and this only added to the atmospheric mystery of the place. In fact it was so wild, that there the National Trust Staff were making sure nobody was too close to the edge and swept away!
The Giant’s Causeway is a living, real life, giant geology textbook. It is otherworldly and a spectacular maze of hexagons that needs to be seen to be believed. The rock formations were caused by a thick layer of molten basaltic lava flowing along the chalk beds of the coast, cooling and hardening and forming a pattern of hexagonal cracks. Over the years these have progressively formed into columns. Of course some prefer the legend that local giant Finn McCool built the Causeway in order to cross over to Scotland to fight the Scottish giant Benandonner.
After we had taken our fill of this geological wonder, we headed on over to local Bushmills for a delicious fish and chips at the Flash In The Pan followed by a sublime pint of the black stuff in The Bush House, a lovely traditional pub with the friendliest staff and frequented by the friendliest locals. And of course it would have been rude not to sample the local tipple and try a wee dram of Bushmills Whiskey!
The days are short in the winter in Northern Ireland, so there was just enough time to head on over to the Dark Hedges, an imposing parade of trees made famous by, yes you guessed it, Game of Thrones… Planted in 1775, The Dark Hedges is a magnificent avenue of beech trees that are swirling and gnarly, making a sort of tunnel-like natural phenomenon. They are absolutely magical, but they have become so popular that it is difficult to grab a photo of the trees without someone in the shot. But still very worth seeing. Although I was so sad to see that some of the trees had been damaged by the recent storms. Hopefully it hasn’t done too much long term damage.
The next day we visited the absolutely spectacular and picturesque Dunluce Castle. Perched on the top of a cliff overlooking wild Atlantic ocean, this now-ruined castle dates mainly from the 16th and 17th century and was a settlement for the McQuillan and MacDonnell clans.
Historical and archaeological exhibits are on display, but the true wonder of this place lies in the beauty of the bleak location and the severe steep drops either side. As glorious as it must have been in its heyday, I’m not sure how much I would want to have lived there. The wind in this part of the world, especially this high up on a cliff edge is bitter and bracing. No doubt they needed a good pair of woollen undies! It must have been freezing!
Just next to the castle is the newly opened viewpoint at Magheracross. These two viewing platforms extend out over the cliffs and provide breath-taking panoramic views over the Atlantic, overlooking Dunluce Castle and Whiterocks Beach. An absolute must-see if you are in the area.
We finished our short but very lovely trip in Portrush with lunch and coffee at the iconic Arcadia café on East Strand with fantastic views of the miles of golden sands, complete with hopeful surfers, waiting to catch a wave. I love Portrush and visited briefly earlier in the year for a surfing trip, which you can read about here. Very popular in the summer and for good reason, Portrush is famous for its surf swell and golfing. But I can’t get enough of the golden sand and turquoise beaches, particularly East Strand and Whiterocks.
So definitely a short but very sweet trip to the North Coast. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I’m back as there is still plenty more to see and do (and re-visit!). We wanted to visit the Carrick-a-Rede bridge but alas, it was closed for winter renovations. So I’ll definitely have to return, not that I need much of an excuse!
Have you visited this part of the world? What was your highlight? Let me know so I can add it to the ever growing list!