Northern Ireland Coast Road Trip: The Best Causeway Coastal Route Itinerary

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You’ve heard of the Giant’s Causeway, but it’s not the only stunning location on the Northern Ireland Coast. This Causeway Coastal Route Itinerary outlines the best things to do on this famous driving route to make the most of your Northern Ireland Coast road trip.

The Northern Ireland Causeway Coastal Route stretches 120 miles from Belfast to Derry-Londonderry, with several additional inland scenic drives to extend your journey too.

This guide aims to showcase the best of this world-famous scenic driving route and which stops to include on your Northern Ireland road trip.

Giant’s Causeway

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How long does it take to drive the Northern Ireland Causeway Coastal Route Drive?

Ideally around 5 days would be perfect to see the stops on this Causeway Coastal Route itinerary and enjoy the leisurely scenic drives and quaint Northern Ireland seaside stops along the way.

But if you’re pressed for time, you could cover the main sights along the coast of Northern Ireland in 3 days.

The best stops and things to do on a Causeway Coastal route itinerary

Derry-Londonderry

A view of Derry-Londonderry across the river with a bridge
Derry-Londonderry

Usually shortened to Derry, Londonderry is the second biggest city in Northern Ireland after Belfast and is located to the far west of Northern Ireland, close to the Ireland border with Donegal.

There’s a huge amount of history in Londonderry and no trip to the city would be complete without walking the historic 17th century walls of this walled city.

You’ll also see countless murals around the city, hear live music playing and see there are always events going on, so it’s no surprise that Derry has been awarded the City of Culture award. If you’re visiting during October, look out for the famous Derry Halloween event!

Derry is also where the world-famous Wild Atlantic Way and Causeway Coastal Routes meet, so it’s the ideal stop to add to your Irish road trip!

Of course if you’re a fan of the Derry Girls TV show then a visit to the city is a MUST.

Downhill Beach

A view of Mussenden Temple on the cliff from Downhill Beach
Downhill Beach

This lush, long stretch of sandy beach is perfect for families and fun beach days. 

This beach is not only stunning, but it also has unique features like the Mussenden Temple perched on the top of the clifftop above the beach. Or the train line that runs between the beach and the main road which passes through a rock tunnel beneath the temple. And the beautiful views across the sea to County Donegal which curves around in the distance.

Whether you’re looking for a refreshing morning walk or a full day at the beach, this is a Blue Flag beach that’s perfect for families and relaxation, with public toilets at the car park and cafes right nearby.

Mussenden Temple

You can see Mussenden Temple from Downhill Beach below, but it’s also possible to visit the Temple itself up on the cliff.

Mussenden Temple is a National Trust property that’s free to visit. You’ll find parking and the entrance along Mussenden Road, just up from Downhill Beach, opposite the Downhill Forest Trail.

From the entrance, walk through the wooded area and out onto the cliffs where you can see and explore the ruins of the 18th century Downhill mansion of Earl Bishop who was believed to be rather eccentric. He designed the house himself in an Italian style and he built the Mussenden Temple on the cliff edge as a library which was kept warm all year round by a fire below the building.

The views from the Temple along the rugged coastline are absolutely stunning and well worth visiting and taking in the property’s history along the Northern Ireland coastal path.

Portstewart

Burgers and fries on a table at Amici Restaurant

Portstewart is a popular town to base yourself in for visits to the Northern Ireland coast, it’s also a popular spot for locals taking a holiday too. With the beautiful Portstewart Strand being ideal for families, sun-worshippers and water sport enthusiasts.

The town itself is also home to an impressive range of cafes, restaurants and shops. Don’t miss Roughans Gelato for amazing ice cream, or treat yourself to dinner at Amici Restaurant with ocean views.

Find places to stay in Portstewart.

Portrush

Portrush is another Northern Ireland seaside resort town which is small, but packs a punch for places to stay, places to eat and drink and a lovely family-friendly beach at Whiterocks Beach and West Strand Beach.

This coast is also a great option if you’re looking for golfing holidays in Northern Ireland, with several Antrim golf clubs located along the Causeway Coast.

Find places to stay in Portrush.

sunset view of the causeway coast with Portrush in the distance with waves crashing
Portrush

Dunluce Castle

castle ruins on the edge of a cliff at sunset
Dunluce Castle

Really, Dunluce Castle isn’t necessarily a castle you need to stop and spend a long time exploring (it’s £5.65 per adult at the time of writing), although you can if you want to! But the medieval castle ruins are dramatically located on a rocky outcrop that’s accessed by a bridge from the mainland.

The epic location of the castle just makes it well-worthy of being one of your Causeway route stops to take in the view and snap a photo or two (you can pull into the car park for free).

Giant’s Causeway

The unique hexagon shaped rocks leading up to a large hill in Giant’s Causeway
Giant’s Causeway

Of course, no Northern Ireland coastal drive would be complete without visiting the iconic Giant’s Causeway.

How was the Giant’s Causeway formed?

There are over 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns that make up the Giant’s Causeway and their unique appearance are recognised worldwide, making it the most visited attraction in Northern Ireland. And it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

The columns were formed by volcanic activity over 60 million years ago and the unique shape happens as lava cools and fractures. 

The area is also shrouded in myth and legend as ancient tales tell of Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill who challenged Scottish giant Benandonner. In order to fight Benandonner, Fionn mac Cumhaill built a stone path across the water to reach Scotland but Benandonner ripped it up and the Giant’s Causeway is all that remains.

With dramatic craggy cliffs, the wild Atlantic ocean crashing against the rocks and the towering basalt columns looking like an optical illusion, a stop at this unique destination on your Northern Ireland coast itinerary is a must-do.

Visiting the Giant’s Causeway on your Causeway Coastal Route Itinerary

Giant’s Causeway in the distance under a rainbow with hills and shoreline.
Giant’s Causeway

While the Visitor’s Centre is run by the National Trust which charges a fee to visit, you don’t need to pay to visit the Giant’s Causeway if you’re just visiting the Giant’s Causeway itself and not the visitor centre. There is a free public right of way path for access. If you want to park for free, please park responsibly and consider local residents. Otherwise there is a car park which is a £5 fee.

It’s also worth knowing that the car park is open 24 hours a day and there is only staff there during the visitor centre opening times, so if you’re perhaps a photographer or walker wanting to experience summer sunrise at 4am, or late sunsets at 9.30pm, you’ll be able to park and walk down for free.

Of course if you’re a National Trust member then you can also visit the Visitor’s Centre for free, National Trust membership works the same in Northern Ireland as it does in the rest of the UK.

Many people aren’t prepared for the walk down to Giant’s Causeway. From the car park it’s just under 1 mile (1.2km) downhill to the Giant’s Causeway, and the same uphill to return to the car park. The walk is also very open to the elements, so dress appropriately if you’re visiting on a windy/rainy day.

rock columns with a man in red coat sitting on top at giant's causeway
Giant’s Causeway

Portbradden Harbour

This cute little harbour village is an ancient fishing village and is particularly popular in the summer months for the numerous walking trails, fishing trips and cave exploring that you can do from this quaint little village.

The village is at the far end of White Park Bay, a National Trust stretch of coast with a stunning sandy bay and sand dunes and turquoise blue water.

The car park is fairly small, so arrive early to guarantee a spot or later in the day as people are leaving.

Also don’t miss the Bothy Coffee, the White Park Bay Cafe which you’ll come across on the main Causeway Coastal Route road – the coffee and food are great!

Ballintoy

A cottage sitting along the shore of Ballintoy with cliffs and small road during sunset
Ballintoy

An absolute gem on the Causeway Route, Northern Ireland, made famous by Game of Thrones.

The harbour of this quaint village is the star of the show, with picture perfect views of the rocky coastline, contrasted with the quaint harbour cottage perched on the water’s edge.

The harbour is also a popular spot for sea kayakers and paddle boarders to launch from.

You’ll also find caves to explore, rock pools to enjoy and as you come down the Harbour Road, before it curves around to the left, look out for a beach on the right. From here, you can climb over the rocks and discover Ballintoy’s Secret Beach, to really enjoy this hidden gem all to yourself.

Carrick-a-Rede Bridge

The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is another spot on the Northern Ireland coastal road that has become incredibly popular in recent years and it’s unique location and of course, the rope bridge, make it a popular attraction.

The rope bridge has existed for over 250 years for fishermen to reach the island which is home to a single fisherman’s cottage. The rope is suspended 100ft above the Atlantic and it’s definitely not an attraction for those who don’t have a head for heights!

Unfortunately the rope bridge is currently (2021/2022) closed for safety repairs and preservation, obviously necessary for a 250 year old rope bridge! Check their website for updates on when the bridge will reopen.

The car park is still open to access the walk along the coast here, if you’d like to see the rope bridge from a distance. Parking is £1 per hour.

Kinbane Castle

Kinbane Castle is a great free stop on the Northern Ireland coastal road. There isn’t much remaining of the castle, just the outline of a few remains. But the location is beautifully dramatic and if you walk out onto the headland and look back towards the castle and the coast, you can really appreciate the dramatic Causeway coastline and the sweeping sandy bays on either side.

A word of warning, the steps to the castle are narrow and steep and extra caution should be taken in bad weather.

The Dark Hedges

Dark Hedges Avenue of Beech Trees

This is a stop that’s slightly inland by around 15 minutes but well worth visiting to see this unique tree lined avenue. Especially if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, as this location was also made famous by the hit TV series.

The Dark Hedges is a road lined by eerie beech trees that twist and curve into the road and above your head.

The location has become especially popular with tourists after appearing in the Game of Thrones series, so visiting in low season, during the week or early in the morning is recommended, otherwise expect crowds.

Due to the crowds, there is now a large designated car park that’s free, please do not park on the road and block access for residents.

You can find the exact location of the Dark Hedges here. And the car park is just on the adjacent road here with an access path so you don’t have to walk along the busy main road.

Ballycastle

The town of Ballycastle sitting along a hill with a beach.
Ballycastle

An underrated seaside town which we recommend you base yourself in during your Causeway Coast road trip. Its central location along the Causeway coast makes it perfect for reaching all the main sights: Giant’s Causeway is just 20 minutes away, Ballintoy Harbour is 10 minutes, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is just 9 minutes away.

Click here to see places to stay in Ballycastle and the best places to stay for your Causeway Coastal route itinerary.

You’ll find a lovely stretch of beach, a large children’s play park, great views, a quaint harbour with plenty of fresh fish restaurants from the fresh catch that comes in daily.

Also don’t miss the amazing Ursa Minor bakery – the best baked goods in the whole of Northern Ireland!

Torr Head

A spectacular rugged stretch of coast with views of the Mull of Kintyre (see if you can’t stop yourself singing the song while you’re here!)

The scenery here was also used in Game of Thrones filming but you’ll also find fort ruins, amazing views and walking trails which are well worth a detour from the main Causeway route.

There is a small car park at Torr Head and from here you can walk out to the fort and coastal path.

Cushendun

This small village is mostly recognisable by its colourful buildings which line one side of the bay and harbour. There’s also a great, easy circular walk here, about 2km long. Start from this car park.

Glenariff Forest Park

This is a much-loved local park area covering 1000 hectares in county Antrim.

It’s another great option if you’re looking for relatively easy or short walks, as the park has a variety of loop walks and trails depending on how much walking you’d like to do.

The lush scenery is well-worth the short detour from the coastal road.

Park at the main Glenariff Park car park. The Waterfall trail from here is probably the most scenic and rewarding, taking in the beautiful falls in the park and it’s relatively short at about 3km. Although it is steep in some places and the stairs and climb back up might be challenging for some.

Alternatively there is a car park at the restaurant with quicker access down to the falls although the steep steps back up again are unavoidable!

Summary: The Best Stops on the Northern Ireland Coastal Route

There are so many gems on the Causeway Coastal drive, Northern Ireland really does spoil you with so much to see in a relatively short stretch of coast. Hopefully this guide will aide you in picking the best stops for your own Causeway Coastal Route itinerary to suit your own Northern Ireland Coast itinerary and build your perfect Causeway Coastal Route driving tour.

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