Our tour of Northern Ireland follows the coast from Belfast to Londonderry and passes some of the most spectacular and titillating sights and attractions that the country has to offer. There is no better way to see this beautiful country than from the comfort of your very own rental car in Northern Ireland. You can stay as long as you'd like at the places you most enjoy without fear of being left behind, and skip any tourist destinations that you'd rather not bother with. Along the 4-Day Causeway Coastal Route, you'll visit historical sites, walk through lush countryside, see stunning views from atop the many cliffs that line the shore, and explore some of the most welcoming cities and towns on the island.
|Causeway Coastal Route Driving Distances|
|Section||Distance (Miles)||Estimated Time|
|Day 1: Belfast to Cushendall||49||1 Hour, 31 Minutes|
|Day 2: Cushendall to Ballycastle||18||52 Minutes|
|Day 3: Ballycastle to Portrush||20||39 Minutes|
|Day 4: Portrush to Londonderry||44||1 Hour, 17 Minutes|
|Total:||131||4 Hours, 19 Minutes|
The Causeway Coastal Route follows the A2 for most of the trip, but feel free to take any detours you think would make your journey more enjoyable. This route has no tolls, but it is always a good idea to have cash available, in case of emergencies. We always recommend that travelers have all the navigation information and supplies that they need, such as warm clothes and food, before setting out on their journey.
Emerging from Belfast proper on the M2 and continuing on A2 via the M5, let the scenery of the low hills on your left and the calm waters of Belfast Lough on your right sink in as you make your way toward Carrickfergus. The medieval castle at Carrickfergus makes a great first stop for those interested in Norman architecture and military history. Go to the top of the main tower for panoramic views of the town and the hills of the surrounding countryside.
Once you're back on the A2, continue toward Whitehead and Gobbins head for a slow descent past country houses and coastal views. As the A2 turns north, you can either head toward Larne or take a short detour on B150 to take the Gobbins walking tour near Islandmagee. The Gobbins Cliffs offer dramatic sights of sheer cliffs and caves from a path that traverses a suspended pedestrian bridge.
Back on the A2, continue north toward Cushendun. Along the way you will pass the towns of Larne, Ballygalley, Glenarm, Carnlough, Waterfoot, and Cushendall, each worth a visit if you have time. As you pass through the glacier-carved glens of Antrim, be sure to stop at Ballygalley Castle Hotel, where you can experience one of the reputedly most haunted places in Ulster. After leaving Ballygalley, you will make your way into the center of glen country at Glenarm. Glenarm Castle is one of Ireland's oldest estates and its stunning wall garden makes it well worth a visit. Once you make it past Carnlough, you are on the homestretch of your first day. Settle down for the night with a pint at one of Cushendall's many traditional Irish pubs. If you have time and sunlight, be sure to check out Glenariff Forest Park's spectacular waterfall on the Waterfall Walkway.
The second day of the Coastal Causeway driving tour follows Layde Road north from Cushendall until you reach Knocknacarry Road and take a right turn toward Cushendun. After Cushendun, take Torr Road north, but be careful, because the road is narrow at places. Keep in mind that each of these roads is just a section of the A2.
As far as scenic routes go, Torr Road has a lot to offer. With the ocean on your right and green country hills and pastures on your left, you are sure to have a fantastic drive. As Torr Road turns inland, enjoy the small country houses that dot the side of the road as you make your way toward Ballycastle. Ballycastle is a great stop for history buffs and nature lovers, so as you stop for the night, be sure to check out some of the attractions at this small town.
For those who love nature, there is Ballycastle beach, which is located 5 minutes north of the town center and stretches for about 1.2 kilometers from Ballycastle Marina in the west to Pans Rock. This beach is great to walk during the day, and if you begin at the marina, you can end your trek with a view of the mysterious carved face at Pans Rock. There are many local legends to explain what this old carving represents, ranging from the Celtic Sea God Manannan to a little girl who tragically died in the raging water nearby. If you talk to some locals, you are sure to hear some other interesting accounts, too.
Murlough Bay and Fair Head also offer magnificent views of the remote hills along the coast. This coastal area is perfect for hiking, and from Fair Head, you can see Raithlin Island, which has been written about since the time of the Romans. If you have time to spare, make sure that you check out this small island off the coast of Northern Ireland. Historically-minded travelers will be sure to love Kinbane Castle and Bonamargy Friary. The friary, built around 1485, is located just to the east of town and offers an example of what life was like for the Fransiscan monks of the area. Located about an hour's hike from the road northwest of town, Kinbane Castle - built in the mid-16th century - is nestled in the rocky coast and gives travelers a sense of the depths of time with its crumbling fašade and moss-eaten stone.
Once you've gotten some rest in Ballycastle, connect with Whitepark Road and make your way toward Ballintoy. This route gives travelers a look at some of the surrounding farm country as well as some of the jagged coast. You can stop at one of the parking areas along the road for some photographs or to stretch your legs.
After you've passed the small village of Ballintoy, stay on Whitepark Road/A2 toward Portrush. About midway between Ballycastle and Portrush, take a right on Causeway Road if you want to check out the Giant's Causeway. This natural formation of hexagonal basalt columns gets its name from Irish legend and mythology. The story goes that a giant named Fionn mac Cumhaill (pronounced Finn MacCool) built a bridge of columns from Ireland to Scotland as a challenge to a Scottish giant. Upon seeing that the Scottish giant was much bigger than he was and would easily defeat him in battle, Finn fled to his home where his wife disguised him as a baby. When the Scottish giant arrived at the house and saw the baby he ran back to Scotland and destroyed the bridge, thinking that the father of such a large baby must be too powerful to conquer. Looking at these columns today, it is easy to see how the ancient Irish imagination could come up with such a fantastic story!
Causeway Road reconnects with the A2 just to the south, so take that as you continue on your journey. At the town of Bushmills, stay right to remain on A2. When the road turns into Dunluce Road/A2, you can make a stop to check out Dunluce Castle. This castle dates to the 13th century, and its location on the rocky coast gives it a tinge of fairytale appeal. The ruinous, early-medieval monastery of Magheracross also lies nearby. Continue driving on the A2 to reach Portrush. This small town offers travelers two sandy beaches, a world-class golf course, and a great nightlife scene to pass the time.
Your final day on the Causeway Coastal Route takes you from Portrush to Londonderry, passing some amazing spots along the way. Get back on the A2 and drive the short distance to Portstewart, where you can enjoy surfing lessons, shopping, and a great walk along Portstewart Strand.
Take Coleraine Road south past Ulster University to the large town of Coleraine, where you can visit the oldest settlement in Ireland at the 9000-year-old Mountsandel Wood. From there, cross the River Bann on the A2 toward Castlerock. Here you can stop at the 18th-century Mussenden Temple, which was originally built as a library based on Italian designs by the 4th Earl of Bristol and now stands as a property of the National Trust. If you go on a day when the temple is open, admission is free. The temple offers views to the east to Portstewart and west to Downhill and along the strand of the Inishowen Penninsula. Southwest of Castlerock lies Binevenagh Mountain where travelers, should they like, can climb to the top to enjoy the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside. Continuing south through the town of Limavady, Ireland's artistic epicenter, you can continue to the Causeway Coastal Route's final destination.
Once you are settled at the lodging of your choice at Londonderry, take in the city on a walking tour of the mile-long medieval/17th century city wall. Londonderry has one of the best examples of medieval walls in all of Europe, and a walking tour along the parapets offers travelers sweeping views of the city with historical information posted along the way. Tours are also available of the murals that commemorate the violence that occurred during what has become known as "The Troubles" in recent Northern Irish history. The city streets are lined with pubs, restaurants, shops and other attractions, so grab a pint and get a meal, or look for some souvenirs for the folks back home.
Travelers who don't want their adventure to end quite yet are in luck. From Londonderry, you can begin the coastal route that extends across Ireland's entire west coast, the Wild Atlantic Way.