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The Causeway Coastal Route Overview – 2024

Possibly one of the world’s greatest road trips – The Glens of Antrim, the Causeway Coast, Castles and Beaches

The Causeway Coastal Route, running between Belfast and Derry Londonderry, easily ranks up there as one of the word’s greatest road trips with stunning coastal views, the dramatic Glens of Antrim, castles, coastal villages, sandy beaches, stunning cliffs, and of course the Giant’s Causeway. 

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Overview

The Causeway Coastal Route follows the coast  between Belfast and Derry Londonderry and can be divided into four sections:

  1. Belfast Lough Major sites on Belfast Lough include Carrickfergus Castle and The Gobbins. Jump to section >>
  2. Glens of Antrim – The route takes your past the nine glens of Antrim. Sites along the way include Glenarm Castle, the small villages of Cushendall and Cushendun, Glenariff for hiking, and Ballycastle for The Dark Hedges, Rathlin Island, Bonmargy Friary and pubs. Jump to section >>
  3. Causeway Coast – Bushmills Distillery, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Giant’s Causeway, Ballintoy Harbour (Game of Thrones), Dunluce Castle, The Ports (Portrush and Portstewart), Mussenden Temple Jump to section >>
  4. Derry Londonderry and Lough Foyle Jump to section >>
  5. FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions about the Causeway Coastal Route


1. The Causeway Coastal Route – Belfast Lough

The busy Shore Road takes you up the coast towards Larne passing Carrickfergus Castle, Whitehead Railway, and The Gobbins. The road itself is not particularly scenic so unless you want to visit any of the sites on the route, you could take the fast A8 road to Larne and join the coastal route there.

Belfast

McHugh's Bar, Belfast
McHugh’s Bar – A popular venue for live music including traditional Irish

Northern Ireland’s major city and a destination for visiting Titanic Belfast, St George’s Weekend Market, The Cathedral Quarter,  ‘Troubles’ Murals and The Peace Wall. See Visit Belfast – Top Things to Do


Carrickfergus Castle

Carrickfergus Castle Northern Ireland
Carrickfergus Castle on Belfast Lough

Just a short drive up Belfast Lough, 800-year-old Carrickfergus Castle is one of the best preserved Medieval structures in Northern Ireland and offers amazing views across the lough. With its strategic location on Belfast Lough and solid fortifications, the castle has played an important role at many points through Ireland’s history. It will take you about an hour to visit the castle and there are free guided tours.

There is a free public carpark close by (Carrickfergus BT38 8BL). Buy tickets on site: adults – £6, children 5-17 years – £4, children under 5 go free. Concession and family tickets available. *

Summer opening hours: Monday – closed (open from bank holidays), Tuesday – Sunday – 09:30-17:00
Last admission 16:30.


The Gobbins Cliff Path

The Gobbins Cliff Path Experience

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Originally opened in 1902 as a Victorian thrill, this two-hour cliff walk along a iron pathway provides plenty of fresh air, terrific views across Belfast Lough and the opportunity to get close to cliff bird life. The website describes it as the most dramatic walk in Europe, but to manage expectations, there are several far more dramatic walks in Northern Ireland alone. However, this is a noble heritage project and certainly worthwhile as a day trip out of Belfast.

You should buy tickets in advance for a timed entry and you must go to the visitor centre (Islandmagee, BT40 3SL), from where you are taken by mini bus to the start of the cliff walk. There is also a height limit so that anyone smaller than 4 foot/1.2m cannot do the tour.


Ticket prices: adults (16+) £20, children £14.50. Concession and family tickets available. Learn more on The Gobbins website.


2. The Causeway Coastal Route – The Glens of Antrim

The Causeway Coastal Route - Glens of Antrim

The nine glens of Antrim range are steep sided valleys that run northwards towards the North Channel that divides Northern Ireland from Scotland. The inaccessibility of the area meant that the inhabitants often had closer links to their Scottish neighbors than to neighbors living on the island of Ireland itself. It also meant that this was an area of unruly rebels and warring cheiftains. There are many legends and stories to hear.

In the 1800s efforts were made to link this coastal area with the rest of Ulster with the Antrim Coast Road, an extremely challenging engineering project. You can appreciate this for yourself as you drive along this cliff-bound road with views ahead to the next glen, and across the sea to Rathlin Island and Scotland. Read more –  The Glens of Antrim.


Glenarm Castle

Glenarm - Dalriada Festival - Glens of Antrim
The annual DalFest at Glenarm

Glenarm Castle in the small village of Glenarm is the residence of the Earl of Antrim when he is in Northern Ireland, and also the venue for the annual Camp Dalfest held in July with some major acts. The castle itself is closed to the public (except for pre-booked tours with minimum of 10 people) but you can buy tickets to explore the walled garden and woodland walk. There is also a tea room and some shops on site. It seems like there are attempts to set up experiences and a museum on site but this appears to still be a work in progress. Book tickets and learn more at Glenarm Castle.


Glenariff Forest Park

Glenariff-Glens-Of-Antrim-Causeway-Coastal-Route-Northern-Ireland
Enjoy stunning walks in the Glens of Antrim – Glenariff Forest Park

A 1185-hectare managed forest park set in the Glenariff Glen with walks for all levels, including glen walks with fabulous sea views, and a beautiful waterfall walk. You will also find camping and a popular restaurant, the Laragh Lodge. Glenariff Forest is place where it becomes easy to believe in faeries and leprechauns. Read more – Walking in Glenariff.


Cushendall

Cushendun with Lurigethan MountainA small coastal town situated on the river Dall and popular holiday destination at the foot of three glens, with the unmissable table-topped Lurigethan Mountain as a backdrop and a lovely beach. Things to see and do in and around Cushendall include: Johnny Joe’s traditional Irish music pub (weekends) and seafood restaurant upstairs, or a visit to Glenarif Forest Park, 5 miles inland or a hike up Lurigethan.

Possibly not worth the detour, but worth noting is that Oisin, the poet son of Finn MacCool (Giant’s Causeway fame) is said to be buried in area with the grave marked by a stone age cairn.  The town is also home to the Heart of the Glens Festival set for 3-11 August 2024.

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Cushendun

Cushendun

A small coastal town situated on the River Dun at the foot of Glendun that has gained some fame as the location of a set of small caves used as a location in the filming of Game of Thrones. These are a short walk from the public car park, and you get to meet the famous goat along the way!


Ballycastle

Ballycastle harbour

Ballycastle is a fairly large market town offering plenty of accommodation and dining otions, and a very large number of pubs. It is also situated at the edge of the glens making it a good place to base yourself for a few nights so that you can explore the area. Ballycastle is where you pick up the ferry for a day trip to Rathlin Island, you can visit the Bonmargy Friary, walk the stunning beach to Pans Rocks, play a round of golf, go on a boat trip, arrange kayak hire and you are also a short drive away from the now famous Dark Hedges.

Each year Ballycastle hosts the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival in May, and the 400+-year-old The Ould Lammas Fair in August (check our events calendar for dates).

Read more – 10 best things to do in Ballycastle.


Rathlin Island

East Lighthouse Rathlin Island Causeway Coastal Route Northern Ireland
East Lighthouse, close to Robert the Bruce hideout cave

An island for wild walks, a visit to the famous ‘upside down’ lighthouse to bird watch, seal watching and a good pub. This is also the island where Scottish King Robert the Bruce is said to have been inspired by the repeated efforts of a spider to spin its web, so he headed back to Scotland have another go at beating the English. He succeeded.


The Dark Hedges

Dark Hedges - Causeway Coastal Route

Just outside of Ballycastle, this  mysterious roadway with trees intertwined overhead that caught the eye of the Game of Thrones location scout and featured in the series as ‘The King’s Road’. The road subsequently became such a popular tourist site that it is now closed to cars, which is a good thing. Read more – The Dark Hedges


3. The Causeway Coastal Route – Causeway Coast

This stretch of the road is of course so called because of Giant’s Causeway. Driving along this section gives you coastal views and views across to Donegal. The major towns are Bushmills, Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine. There are many small coastal villages and towns and plenty to see and do.


Kinbane Castle

Described as a hidden jewel, this small ruin has a spectacular location on a small headland reached by stairs that descend the cliff from the car park.


Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick A rede Rope Bridge

The famous 100-foot high fishermen’s rope bridge that links the island of Carrick-a-Rede Island to the mainland.  Read more at Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – Challenge your fear of heights


Dunseverick Castle

Another small ruin on a headland. This was the seat of the Kings of Dalriada (the ancient coastal kingdom that extended across to the Scottish isles); Saint Patrick is recorded as having visited Dunseverick castle in the 5th century AD. It was subsequently captured and destroyed by English Cromwellian troops in the 1650s.

If you like walking, park your car (or hire a cottage) at Dunseverick and walk along the coastal path to Giant’s Causeway, and get the bus back (cash only).


Giant’s Causeway

Giant's Causeway, Causeway Coastal Route
Giant’s Causeway – it’s quite an experience to walk out over the rocks

A fascinating geological peculiarity set below dramatic cliffs, this is Northern Ireland’s most popular destination and certainly worth a visit.  Read more – Top Tips for Visiting The Giant’s Causeway.

Accommodation spotlight:

Causeway Hotel
The Causeway Hotel at Giant’s Causeway

The Causeway Hotel

“Historic and well appointed hotel is charming and modern at the right places.”

A Grade 2 listed building perched on the top of the cliffs by Giant’s Causeway offers seaviews and easy access to the Giant’s Causeway and walks along the coastal paths. LEARN MORE!

Ballylinny Holiday Cottages

“We loved the wood burning stove it was so cosy. The cottages are in an excellent location for all the sight seeing you will do.”

Self-catering Ballylinny Holiday Cottages are within a short walk of Giants Causeway and offer fabulous seaviews of this stunning coast. LEARN MORE!

The Bushmills Inn

“Beautiful and comfortable, this inn with huge rooms, lovely furnishings and great food was far and away the best place I stayed in a 10 day trip to Scotland and Ireland. There is also a bar with live music…”

Originally a Coaching Inn in the 1600s, this 4 star boutique Hotel is steeped in Irish history. Check out the traditional gaslit bar and inglenook turf fires. Close proximity to the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery and easy driving to all the major Causeway attractions.  LEARN MORE!


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Bushmills

Bushmills Distillery

A small coastal town famous for being the home of Bushmills, said to be the world’s oldest whiskey distillery. If it is running, catch the Bushmills Heritage train from Bushmills to Giant’s Causeway.


Portballintrae

Originally a small coastal fishing village, Portballintrae is a good place to park for a walk to Giant’s Causeway along and around Runkerry beach and headland. Fun fact:  The Girona, a ship in the fleet Spanish Armada was discovered off Portballintrae and recovered gold jewellery is on show in the Ulster Museum.


Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle
Dunluce Castle – an inspiration for CS Lewis’s Cair Paravel, and Game of Thrones’s Greyjoy castle

A much-photographed castle featuring heavily in Northern Ireland tourism marketing and an inspiration for Game of Thrones’s House of Greyjoy castle and Narnia’s Cair Paravel. The castle was previously home to the fighting Macdonnell clan, who then became the Earls of Antrim and are said to have abandoned the castle for Glenarm when it started falling in to the sea. Read more – Dunluce Castle


Portrush

Portrush-Golf
There are golfing opportunities for professionals and learners – Portrush Rathmore Golf Club

A popular seaside town featuring long beaches, surfing and SUP boarding and  home to the British Open in 2019 at Royal Portrush, and Curry’s Entertainments.  Read more – Portrush – The Best Things to Do


Portstewart

Portstewart - Strand and Harbour

A smaller partner to Portrush, Portstewart is well known for its fabulous National Trust Portstewart Strand, the beachside Harry’s Shack, the coastal walk, it’s bustling cafe’s and icecream shops on the Promenade and Portstewart Golf Club, home of the 2017 Irish Open. Read more – Portstewart – The Best Things to Do.


Downhill and Mussenden Temple

Mussenden Temple, Causeway Coastal Route
Mussenden Temple, a folly in the Downhill estate, taken from Benone Beach

Downhill is a magnificent ruin set in beautiful grounds managed by the National Trust. The iconic cliff-top Mussenden Temple is part of the estate and worth a visit as it gives you amazing views along Benone beach and the coast. The Mussenden temple is usually closed, but is opened for special days such as EHODNI (European Heritage Open Day Northern Ireland). Hezlett House, a 17th Century thatched cottage, is a neighboring attraction.


Benone Beach

Benone Beach is another spectacular North Coast Beach where you can go crazy and drive your car the length of it!


Binevenagh

A mountain that marks the end of the Antrim plateau and is famous for its dramatic cliffs that provide a backdrop to this area. You can drive to the top for a scenic walk. Popular with hang gliders and another filming location for Game of Thrones.


4. The Causeway Coastal Route – Lough Foyle & Derry Londonderry

Magilligan Point

Magilligan Point - Lough Foyle

A small settlement where you can catch a car ferry across to Donegal in the summer. You’ll find a homely bar and a Martello tower, one of many built to defend the coastline.


Derry~Londonderry

Derry-Londonderry Peace Bridge
The Peace Bridge across the Foyle, Derry~Londonderry

A small vibrant city with very famous – in Irish history – city walls. Derry is famous for its Halloween celebrations, Maritime Festival and ‘Troubles’ history – and the fabulous ‘Derry Girls’ TV series.  Read more – The Very Best Things to Do in Derry Londonderry


Accommodation spotlight:

The Bishop's Gate Hotel
The Bishop’s Gate Hotel, Derry~Londonderry

Bishop’s Gate Hotel

“My wife and I stayed a The Bishops Gate for a couple of nights while we toured Northern Ireland. The hotel itself is lovely and occupies a great location in Derry…”

2019 Tripadvisor Traveller’s Choice: Built in 1890 this Grade B1 listed hotel is perfectly positioned within the historic city walls in the heart of Derry Londonderry. An elegant building with a beautiful sweeping staircase – see if you can get a room with a four poster bed! LEARN MORE

See more hotels and accommodation in Derry Londonderry >>

FAQ about the Causeway Coastal Route

1. How long does it take to drive the Causeway Coastal Route?

At 120 mile/ 190km (under 4 hours driving) the route can easily be achieved in a day but with so many interesting sites to see along the way that you could very easily base yourself in a spot to your liking, and spend a week or two exploring the area.

However, if you are short of time you can easily drive cross country to reach star attractions in just a couple of hours and then drive a shorter section of the route.

Distances:

  • Belfast–Giant’s Causeway (along the coast): 79 miles, 2 1/4 hours approx
  • Giant’s Causeway – Derry~Londonderry (along the coast):  47 miles, 1 1/4 hours approx
  • Derry~LondonderryBelfast (direct via Glenshane Pass/Maghera): 54 miles, 1 1/2 hours approx
  • Giant’s Causeway – Belfast (direct via Ballymena):  60 miles, 1 1/4 hours approx

2. Where should we stay on the Causeway Coastal Route?

An overriding factor deciding your accommodation choices will be availability so look and book early! Check out the handy Booking.com search tool below.

As the whole coast can be driven in around four hours, you could stay anywhere along the coast and still visit the key sites. Having said that, here are four popular towns to base yourself in, with the reasons why.

  1. Ballycastle – Ballycastle sits on the edge of the Glens of Antrim and at the start of the Causeway Coast section and the famous Dark Hedges are just outside the town. As a small market town it boasts a huge number of fantastic pubs but also has a beautiful long beach with stunning views to Fair Heard. A visit to Bonmargy Friary should be on the list – and if you are into golf, there is a golf club that welcomes visitors. Personally, I rate Ballycastle highly. Learn more – Ballycastle
  2. Bushmills – Most will know this town for its famous whiskey and a visit to the distillery should be on your itinerary. For that reason, Bushmills is a great place to stay, allowing everyone to enjoy a dram on the tour without the need for someone being the designated driver. The town is pretty and a very short distance from Giant’s Causeway. In fact, you can walk it and I recommend the walk along the coast. Note that Bushmills is inland a little from the coast so you would need to walk to Portballintrae. When running you can also catch the heritage train. Learn more – Top Tips for visiting Giant’s Causeway
  3. Portrush and Portstewart – Both towns are popular seaside towns although Portstewart is the quiter of the two. Both have stunning beaches and quaint harbour areas. It is a short drive from both to all the key Causeway Coast attractions. Portrush benefits from being on the train line if you are considering traveling by public transport. You can then catch the bus along the coast to visit the sites. Learn more – Portrush | Portstewart.
  4. Derry Londonderry – This historic walled city marks the end of the Causeway Coastal Route and the start/end of the Wild Atlantic Way. There is a lot to see and do in the city and it is a great base from which to explore Donegal, so it’s definitely worth a night’s stay. Learn more – Derry Londonderry

3. Does the Causeway Coastal Route link to the Wild Atlantic Way?

Derry Londonderry marks the end of the Causeway Coastal Route and the start/end of the Wild Atlantic Way so you can keep on driving! Other options include heading to Belfast through the moody Glenshane Pass and through rural Ulster before landing in to Belfast in around one hour 20 minutes, thanks to the opening of the new road.

You might also consider heading south to the dreamy and historic Fermanagh Lakelands. Another useful resource is our 7-Day Self-Drive Dublin Northern Ireland Road Trip Itinerary 2024

Search Booking.com for accommodation

* We are a Booking.com affiliate which means, if you book any accommodation after clicking a link from our website, we earn a small commission at no extra expense to yourself. Thank you for your support!

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