Northern Ireland Stories and Tips

Driving the Causeway Coast

Morton Fish & Chips Photo, Ballycastle, Ireland

The coast of County Antrim includes what is probably the best-known tourist stop in Northern Ireland, the Giant's Causeway, a unique formation of volcanic rock-crystal columns. The coastal area also contains many of the other better-known tourist spots in Ulster also. Combined with spectacular scenery all along the coast, there are many pleasant small towns to stay or stop in. Several gorgeous golf courses also line the coast, particularly in Port Stewart.

Over the course of a few days, we drove the entire Antrim coast, all the way from Belfast to Londonderry. The Antrim tourism bureau divides the coast into two regions, calling the northern half the Causeway. Everything south of Ballycastle is grouped together as the Glens of Antrim. The county famously has nine Glens of Antrim, forest parks of renowned beauty.

The experience of driving the two parts is very different. While the Causeway Coast is congested with cars and tour buses getting between each tourist site, we found driving past the glens very low-key and surprisingly uncrowded, even during the peak August tourism season. The smaller towns near the glens are much quieter and seem to have a purpose beyond supporting travelers. The road is well signposted, with signs directing you up the proper valley for each of the Nine Glens. The contrast is also quite evident in the parking lots. At the one glen we stopped at, the good-sized parking lot was mostly empty, with at most a couple dozen cars. At any of the more northerly main attractions such as Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, Dunluce, or the Giants Causeway, it is a hectic battle to get into the parking lot and find a spot. So try to arrive very early in the day for those locations.

As mentioned earlier, Ballycastle is the dividing point and a nice, busy place for a stopover. With a pleasant beach area, harbor, and view of Fair Head justting into the ocean, there are numerous shops and restaurants in the town.

If you're on your own, most of the big things to see are accessible by public transit (bus or train) or by tourist coach buses, of course. But if you have a group or family, having your own car is very nice for exploring and the driving is not too bad as most of the area is not too overcrowded with traffic. The biggest hassles we found with our car were the parking crowds that we contributed to at the Giant's Causeway and Carrick-a-rede, and the confusing set of traffic detours and rotaries to get around the town of Coleraine.

Overall, we enjoyed the Antrim coast and its features much more than the other famous coastal cliffs in the Republic of Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher. While they are both spectacular, the Antrim coast provided much more opportunity to interact with the environment and hike along the cliffs or hike from the ocean beach up to the cliff-tops. The Cliffs of Moher, in our experience, was more of a "Stop, walk out, see the pretty view, leave" kind of affair.

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip