The Ultimate NI Road-trip: The North Coast
School’s out for summer, so hit the road and visit the must-see sites of The Causeway Coast, the region dubbed the best in the world to visit this year!
It’s coming to the end of exam season, the sun is shining and as much as you love Belfast you need to get out of the formidable shadow of the McClay Library for a while. You’re going to pester that flatmate who has a car to take you away anywhere that you can see the sea. But where? We’ve got you covered.
The Causeway Coast has been dubbed the best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. Between Game of Thrones filming locations, Instagrammable coast lines and good pub food, this roadtrip is perfect for a day or two away with your uni pals.
I recommend driving to Cushendun and starting here, a scenic hour’s drive from Belfast. This seaside nook is the perfect place for a picnic breakfast beside the bridge, or to go for a walk on the beach where there are usually lots of cute dogs to pet (the strongest persuasive factor in this location). The Cushendun Caves are also where Melisandre gave birth to the shadow baby in Season 2 of Game of Thrones, the first of many familiar sights for viewers of the show.
2. Torr Head
The next stop is Torr Head. Follow your sat-nav carefully down these windy roads until you reach the carpark, before embarking on the climb up the hill to the ruined coast-guard station where you can carve your initials into the walls and climb up the ladder to see over the spectacular Mull of Kintyre.
Next, lunch in Ballycastle. This seaside town is the perfect place to stretch your legs and fill your stomach, in eateries such as The Bay Café, The Promenade Café or Morton’s Fish and Chip Shop. You can also take your food down to the harbour for a scenic view. If you fancy a detour, you can catch the ferry out to see puffins at Rathlin Island. Grab an ice-cream at Maud’s and get a look at all the pretty boats in the harbour before jumping back into the car on your way to Ballintoy.
Ballintoy is perfect for Game of Thrones fans as it is the main filming location for the Iron Islands. See where Theon was baptised in the name of the Drowned God, or if you aren’t a fan, walk up the harbour for panoramic views of the coastline. If you’re feeling brave, you can also cross the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge a few minutes away. If you’re a big fan of the show, take a detour inland to The Dark Hedges and get a photo with your pals on the Kings Road.
5. The Giant’s Causeway
The next stop is a big one: The Giant’s Causeway. If you’re from Northern Ireland, you likely learned about it in geography at school so I doubt an explanation is needed. But for those studying at Queen’s from abroad here’s a summary: multi-dimensional lava formations, rock pools, and home to legendary giant Fionn Mac Cumhaill. Costing £11.50 at standard adult admission and no student discount, this could be one to miss if you’re on a budget. However, the view from Hamilton Seat was named by Walk NI in 2017 as the “Most Epic View in Northern Ireland”, and the photos of your mates tripping over the columns last a lifetime.
You don't need to be a whiskey buff to enjoy touring the Bushmills Distillery, dating back to 1608 (Ireland's oldest working distillery). Student admission gets you in for £7 (upon presentation of student card), and gets you the chance to tour the distillery and taste the range of whiskies they brew, as well as an overview of their history (which, lets be honest, you’re probably less interested in).
The final stop on this road-trip is one that I am particularly biased towards as a native. Portrush is the ideal place to spend your evening. Fill the rest of your afternoon being whizzed around in Barry’s Amusements before grabbing some dinner at Ramore Restaurants. You can match your mood to whatever part of the Ramore appeals to you the most: if you fancy a classy seafood dinner be sure to check out the Mermaid, if you fancy your food accompanied with sundowners be sure to check out the Wine Bar, and if you’re on a budget and would like to avail of good weather be sure to grab a takeaway pizza from Coast and sit on the beach and watch the sunset.
Spend the evening sipping from a fishbowl in Neptune and Prawn or grab a few bevs in the more chilled Kiwi’s Brew Bar along the main street. If you hit the timing right you might be in time for some local live music in the Atlantic Bar before heading back on the M2 to Belfast (1 hour's drive) for a well-deserved rest.