The Causeway Coastal Route that twists and turns along the ancient County Antrim coastline is quite simply a journey unlike any other. A pathway so filled with legends, living history and breath-taking landscapes it’s been voted Best in Travel 2018 by Lonely Planet, the world’s leading guidebook.
For centuries, it was easier for locals to sail the few miles to Scotland than to travel across the difficult terrain towards Belfast Lough. Then the visionary engineer William Bald blasted the coastal road out of the cliffs between 1832 and 1842. That triumph of Victorian engineering not only opened up this uniquely beautiful and rugged coastline, it also created one of the world’s most enthralling road trips.
That history of isolation has left its mark. A culture separate from the rest of Ireland developed its own unique customs that survive to this day – the way people speak, their language, music, myths and folklore. A place and a people shaped by sea and stone.
Here’s our guide to the highlights of our extraordinary coast. Sample them at your leisure.
- Step inside Carrickfergus Castle, an imposing medieval fortress.
- Experience the unique Gobbins cliff walk.
- Sample a traditional afternoon tea at Ballygally Castle.
If you were to visit all the stops on this itinerary, you’d be driving for a total of:
- 2 hours
Whitehead, Islandmagee & Blackhead Lighthouse
Allow 2 hours
Drive five short scenic miles along the coast road to Whitehead, an idyllic Victorian seaside resort.
Red brick terraced houses march down the hillside to the original Victorian train station on the shore of the Irish sea. This is now the Whitehead Railway Museum, where you can get up close to magnificent steam locomotives from the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland collection.
From here you can begin a loop around the Islandmagee peninsula, popping into Port Muck or taking a plunge into Brown’s Bay. Alternatively, take a stroll along the well-trodden sea path towards Whiteheads’ Blackhead Lighthouse.
Lunch at Billy Andy’s & Glenoe Waterfall
Allow 1½ hours
Fifteen minutes from the Gobbins is Billy Andy’s, one of the last original licensed spirit grocers left in the country.
This traditional family pub dates to the 1800s and is just as famous for its fabulous food. Stop for a quick bite before making your way to the nearby village of Glenoe, a tiny hidden gem in the area and home to a very quiet forest with a very accessible and very beautiful waterfall.
A site so picturesque that selfies are encouraged and so precious it falls under the protection of the National Trust.
Larne Waterfront & Antrim Coast Road
Allow 1 hour
Re-join the coast road and head north to the ancient seaport of Larne. Walk the Promenade, a narrow path to an Irish round tower built in 1887 to commemorate James Chaine, who developed the sea route from Larne to the Scottish mainland.
Take a stroll in the other direction to visit Waterloo Bay. Notice the rocks below the promenade? They look like any old rocks, but in fact they're a window onto the world at the dawn of the Jurassic period. Marine fossils are frozen in the stone, including a near complete ichthyosaur skeleton. There is also evidence for a violent earthquake and tsunami that devastated Britain and Ireland 200 million years ago.
Glenarm & Carnlough
Allow 1 ½ hours
Now you’re travelling through the foot of the Glens of Antrim, where glacial valleys sweep down to the sea.
Only another seven miles along the meandering coast road and you’ll encounter colourful houses in the hamlet of Glenarm.
Stretch your legs and take in some history on the Layde Walk. It follows the path of a 19th-century waterway that powered a limestone crushing mill.
It will take you to the highest point in the village and allow you to take in views of spectacular Glenarm Castle.
George McGrand has been guiding people over a spectacular sea cliff walk that clings to this epic coast since it was reimagined in 2015.
Carnlough Bay Boat Tours
Meet Davy Smyth, a third generation fisherman in the quaint village of Carnlough, nestled between the rolling hills of the Glens of Antrim and the sea.
The Witches of Islandmagee
In 1711, decades after the famous Salem witch trials shocked America, a similar furore rocked lovely Islandmagee, where the spectacular Gobbins Cliff Path now attracts visitors from around the world.
Don’t just stay. Experience
Lighthouse keepers’ houses, 19th-century follies and haunted hotels. It’s only natural that this unique part of the world has some unique places to stay.