One of the best stops on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route is the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, near Ballintoy. A scenic coastal walk leads to this unique crossing, used by local fisherman for hundreds of years.
Suspended 100 feet (30 metres) above the Atlantic Ocean, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge offers an exhilarating experience. It should be high on your list of things to do near Belfast. It is one of County Antrim’s most popular attractions and attracts thousands of visitors a year.
We took the opportunity to visit on day two of our road trip in Northern Ireland. We spent the morning in the Glenariff Forest Park, before heading to Ballycastle and then Carrick-a-Rede.
Read on to find out what to expect on a visit to Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.
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What is the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge?
It’s a rope suspension bridge, connecting the mainland to the island of Carrick-a-Rede. The rope bridge spans 60 feet (20 metres) across the chasm, swinging gently above the ocean and rocks below.
This former fishermen’s bridge has become a top attraction in Northern Ireland and is one of the best day trips from Belfast.
What does Carrick-a-Rede mean?
If you are wondering about the island’s unusual name, it comes from the Gaelic “Carraig-a Rade”. This translates as “the Rock in the Road”, as the island blocked the “road” for the migrating salmon.
When was the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge built?
Carrick-a-Rede is one of the top tourist attractions on the Antrim Coast. However, this was not always the case. In fact, they built the rope bridge for very practical reasons. The first Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge was built in 1755 by salmon fisherman, who needed access to the island.
In the early 1800s the salmon fishing industry played a key role at Carrick-a-Rede. By its heyday the salmon industry here employed over 100 fishermen.
However, the bridges were not always safe. In fact, the original bridges were risky and precarious. The first one only had one handrail and was dismantled and packed away at the end of the summer. The fishermen would then rebuild the bridge for the new fishing season.
The current bridge, which has been in place since 2008, is extremely safe. It is constructed from wire and wood and checked regularly by engineers for safety.
How to visit the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
Admission to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
Today, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is managed by the National Trust. Admission is free for National Trust members. It’s one of the Antrim Coast’s most popular attractions, so gets extremely busy. At peak times, you should book in advance online.
It’s useful to note, that you can access the coastal walk for free. However, you must pay for a ticket to cross to Carrick-a-Rede island.
Prices for non-members
- Adult £15 (£13.50)*
- Child £7.50 (£6.75)*
- Family of four £37.50 (£33.75)*
*off-peak prices are in brackets
Getting to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
From the National Trust car park, you’ll take a short walk on a gravel path to the bridge. The walk is about 1 mile (1.6 km) and takes about 20 minutes. This coastal route offers breathtaking views of the Antrim coastline and has several viewpoints.
At the end of the coastal path, you will descend some steep metal steps to the start of the bridge.
Crossing the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
The rope bridge is about 60 ft (20 metres) and takes less than a minute to cross!
The new rope bridge is very secure, but you do need to watch your footing. It is also super bouncy, so keep hold of the handrails and small children.
There is a constant flow of traffic to and from the island, so an attendant staggers the crossings. They limit visitors to 8 people at a time, so you may have to wait to get on. You will also have to wait for visitors returning from the island.
We were lucky and only waited about 15 minutes, but wait times can be far higher at busy times in the summer.
The island is small, but beautiful. On the cliff sides, you’ll be able to spot lots of nesting sea birds, including guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, and kittiwakes.
Today, just one small fisherman’s cottage remains. You can see it on the right as you climb onto the island.
The tiny white cottage is over 400 years old and showcases a collection of traditional fishing tools. About once a month it is open to visitors.
The fishermen who worked on Carrick-a-Rede hundreds of years ago had an extremely dangerous job. Upon reaching the island, they would spread their nets across the salmon “road” to catch the migrating fish. Once the nets were fill, they had to winch the boat and fish up the side of the cliff, often in adverse weather conditions.
The salmon fishing industry is now in decline and the island is just a tourist attraction. However, the outpost provides an magnificent viewpoint, from which you can see Rathlin Island and Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre. We were there on a sunny day, so took some time to chill and watch some passing porpoises!
The return walk
Once you’ve had your fill of the island, return to the bridge, where you will have to wait to cross.
You can then retrace your route across the bridge and back to the car park. The return walk is uphill and far steeper than the outward route.
The Visitor Centre
You’ll find a small Visitor Centre, which sells refreshments and drinks. We stopped for an ice-cream on the picnic benches outside, before returning to the car.
If you are a Game of Thrones fan, head to Larrybane Quarry, which is just behind the bottom car park. This limestone quarry was in use for 100 years until the early 1960s.
The quarry was used in the series as Renly’s Camp in Game of Thrones, and is one of many Game of Thrones filming locations on the Antrim Coast.
Frequently asked questions
You should allow about 1.5 to 2 hours to visit Carrick-a-Rede. Although it doesn’t take long to cross the bridge, you will need time to walk to the bridge, admire the views, and enjoy time on the island.
The Carrick-a-Rede is free to National Trust members, but non-members have to pay.
You don’t have to book in advance, but it is advisable if you want your preferred time.
The rope bridge is open from 9am to 5pm.
You can bring a dog onsite, but they cannot go on the bridge.
How do you get to Carrick-a-Rede?
You can drive directly from Belfast in 1 hour, or use the more scenic Causeway Coastal Way. From Dublin, the drive is about 3 hours.
You could combine your visit with a trip to the Giant’s Causeway, which is only 7 miles along the coast.
By public transport
The nearest train station is Coleraine, which is 16 miles away . You could then take the 402 bus, going via Portrush. This would take about 3 hours.
A coach tour from Belfast
If you don’t have a car, it would be far easier to get to Carrick-a-Rede is with an organised tour from Belfast or Dublin. The group tours organise luxury coaches, which would save you the hassle of public transport.
You could combine this tour with a visit to the nearby Giant’s Causeway or Dunluce Castle. Game of Throne fans could do a tour of filming locations.
The best accommodation near Ballintoy
If you’re travelling independently, you could stay in Bushmills or Ballycastle. There are only a few choices for accommodation in Ballintoy, as it is so small.
We stayed in Bushmills, which is ideal for visiting the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede. We stayed here for three nights, allowing us to go first thing to Giant’s Causeway.
Bushmills is a pretty village, with several shops, pubs, and places to eat. It is also home to the oldest whiskey distillery in the world, Old Bushmill’s Distillery.
Accommodation in Belfast
Alternatively, you could do a day trip from Belfast, where you’ll find plenty of choice of accommodation.
We stayed on the edge of town in an amazing 2-bedroom apartment (Titanic View), which is perfect if you have a car.
Other places to visit in Northern Ireland:
There are so many fantastic places to visit near the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. One of the most popular attractions in Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway is less than 8 miles away. Other fantastic places to visit on the Antrim Coast include the seaside town of Ballycastle or the medieval Dunluce Castle.
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