The Causeway Coastal Route is a 130-mile stretch of dramatic coastline along the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland. The route goes between Belfast and Derry, encompassing some of the most awe-inspiring scenery and best places to visit in Northern Ireland.
With medieval castles, pristine beaches, stunning views, and natural landmarks, there’s plenty to see and do on the Causeway Coastal Route. Plus, it is home to the Giant’s Causeway, one of Northern Ireland’s top attractions. It’s perfect for a road trip. So, what are you waiting for?
Our guide is perfect for first-time visitors to Northern Ireland who want to plan their own road trip and see some of the best places in County Antrim. It includes our full 6-day Northern Ireland itinerary, including the best places to stay and visit on the Causeway Coastal Route.
Read on for our Causeway Coastal Route guide, with a map and day-by-day itinerary.
*contains affiliate links
Contents: click to jump to a section
Know before you go
A map of our Northern Ireland road trip
Where does the Causeway Coastal Route start and end?
The Causeway Coastal Route starts in Belfast and finishes in Derry.
How long is the Causeway Coastal Route?
The Causeway Coastal Route stretches for 130 miles along the County Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland.
It’s perfect for a road trip, as it is fairly short and the scenery is spectacular. It follows one of the UK’s most dramatic coastlines, so driving is an absolute pleasure. What’s more, there is so much to see and do along the way.
Not only is it home to one of the world’s most amazing natural attractions, the Giant’s Causeway, the route boasts some of the best attractions in Northern Ireland.
Plus, if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you will love this trip as it goes to so many fabulous filming locations.
How long do you need to do the Causeway Coastal Route?
As you’ll see from the map, the distance is very short. In fact, you could easily drive the Causeway Coastal Route in a couple of days. However, if you want to take time to really discover and enjoy all the beautiful places along the way, I suggest 5 or 6 days.
We took 6 days which included 2 days in Belfast. It was a leisurely trip, which gave us time to explore the castles, natural landmarks, and do some coastal walks.
Although we call it a road trip, we stayed overnight in Bushmills for 3 nights. We had planned to change each night, but it made it far more pleasurable to have the same base to return to. We also wanted to go first thing to the Giant’s Causeway, to avoid the crowds.
Our 6-day itinerary on the Causeway Coastal Route
Causeway Coastal Route itinerary - Day 1
Places we visited on day 1 of our Northern Ireland road trip:
- Gobbins Cliff Path
Our Northern Ireland road trip officially starts in Belfast. However, after arriving on an early flight from London, we collected our hire car and jumped straight on the A2 Antrim Coast Road. Don’t worry, we do come back to Belfast for the last two days!
Obviously, you could spend some time in Belfast at the start of your road trip, but logistically it worked well for us to save the capital until the end. Instead we headed to the next big town on the Causeway Coastal Route, Carrickfergus.
Distance from Belfast to Carrickfergus: 11.5 miles (23 mins)
Our first stop on the Antrim Coastal Route is Carrickfergus, just 25 minutes up the coast road from Belfast.
The main attraction in the town is Carrickfergus Castle, an impressive Norman castle on the shore of the Belfast Lough. The castle dates back 800 years and is one of the best-preserved castles in Northern Ireland.
Visitors can explore inside the castle, where you’ll see historical displays of how the rooms would have looked. We had a tour inside and out and then enjoyed a game of giant chess.
The next destination on our Irish road trip is Whitehead, a small Victorian seaside village.
From here you can do a pleasant coastal walk to the Blackhead Lighthouse. However, being short of time, we had a quick lunch in the Bank House Café before heading off to the Gobbins.
Distance from Whitehead to the Gobbins Visitor Centre: 2 miles (5 mins)
The Gobbins Coastal Path
We loved our tour of the Gobbins Cliff Path, one of the most unique things to do in Northern Ireland.
The Gobbins Coastal Path is a dramatic cliff walk around the edge of the Islandmagee Peninusla. The attraction has been attracting visitors for over a century when it was designed by railway engineer Berkeley Deane Wise.
The Gobbins Cliff Path is a challenging walk through a series of interconnecting bridges, walkways, and tunnels. As well as fantastic views, incredible nature, and wildlife, you’ll see rock formations that have been millions of years in the making.
You can only do the walk as a guided tour and need to allow about 2.5 hours for the experience.
Distance from the Gobbins Visitor Centre to Cushendall: 35 miles (1 hour)
The last stop on day one of our road trip in Northern Ireland was at Cushendall.
Known as the “capital of the glens”, Cushendall is a small seaside village at the foot of Lurigethan Mountain. It is a good place for an overnight stop on the Causeway Coastal Route, as it is fairly central.
Distance from The Gobbins to Cushendall: 33 miles (1 hour)
Accommodation in Cushendall
Our accommodation in Cushendall was in the Antrim Coast Apartments, a modern apartment complex. The apartment was within walking distance of the village, which was ideal, as we got to visit our first Irish pub.
Causeway Coastal Route itinerary - Day 2
Places we visited on Day 2 of our Northern Ireland road trip:
- Glenariff Forest Park
Glenariff Forest Park
One of the best things to do in Northern Ireland is visit the famous Nine Glens of Antrim, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The biggest of the Glens, Glenariff, is just a short drive south of Cushendall.
We started day two of our Causeway Coast road trip with a visit to the Glenariff Forest Park. Known as the “Queen of the Glens”, the Glenariff Nature Park is a stunning nature reserve, covering over 1000 hectares.
You’ll find a choice of walks to suit all abilities, but we chose the Waterfall Walk. This circular gorge walk, takes you down the valley to three spectacular waterfalls, before returning through the woods to the café. Here, you need to stop for tea and cake, as they are scrumptious!
Distance from Cushendall to Glenariff Forest Park: 7 miles (13 minutes)
Known for its Cornish houses, sandy beach, and caves, Cushendun is a pretty village the other side of Cushendall. (We went slightly back on ourselves for Glenariff Forest Park).
Cushendall Caves is a popular landmark for Game of Thrones fans, as it’s the filming location for the scene where Lady Melisandre (the Red Witch) gave birth to the shadow creature in Season two.
If you’re not a fan, you can still enjoy a visit to the ancient natural caves and a walk around the National Trust village. Built in 1912, William Clough Ellis designed Cushendun to look like a Cornish village. You can see the whitewashed cottages and neo-Georgian “Glenmona House” or take a wander on the beach.
Distance from Cushendun to Ballycastle: 12 miles (21 minutes)
Ballycastle is one of the bigger towns on the Northern Ireland Coastal route and another good base for an overnight stay.
We didn’t stay long, but made a quick pit stop for fish and chips from Mortons by the harbour.
Ballycastle is a vibrant seaside resort and like many of the towns on the Antrim Coastal Route has a lovely sandy beach. It is also the terminal for the ferry to Rathlin Island.
Distance from Ballycastle to Carrick-a-Rede: 5 miles (10 minutes)
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
The final place to visit on day two of our Northern Ireland road trip was the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.
Suspended 100 feet (30 metres) above the Atlantic Ocean, this suspension bridge was originally used by salmon fishermen to access the island of the same name. Carrick-a-Rede is now one of the best tourist attractions in Northern Ireland. It is owned by the National Trust and free to cross for members.
The walk to the Carrick-a-Rede bridge is about 1 mile and offers some of the most stunning coastal views. You will then cross the bridge to the island. It’s a bit bouncy, but far safer than when it was first built in 1755!
From the island you’ll get breathtaking views over Rathlin Island and Scotland. Be on the look out for passing dolphins and porpoise.
A walk across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge was one of our favourite things to do in Northern Ireland. Click here for more details.
Distance from Carrick-a-Rede to Bushmills: 8 miles (15 minutes)
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, head to the far end of the car park for a look at the Larrybane Quarry
The Quarry was the filming location for Renly Baratheon’s camp in Season 2 of the popular HBO series.
The last stop of day 2 on the Causeway Coastal Route was the charming village of Bushmills. It is a small inland village, which is in a brilliant location for visiting the Giant’s Causeway.
Located on the River Bush, Bushmills dates from Norman times and once had seven mills and five distilleries. Today, Old Bushmills Distillery is home to the oldest licenced whiskey distillery in the world. Visitors can do a 40-minute tour of the historic distillery to see how the whiskey is made. However, as we were travelling with kids, we did a village tour instead.
Distance from Bushmills to the Giant’s Causeway: 2.5 miles (7 minutes)
Accommodation in Bushmills
We chose our accommodation in Bushmills, so that we could get to the Giant’s Causeway early and avoid some of the crowds.
The village centres around its historic clock tower and market square. It has several supermarkets, cafés, and restaurants, so is ideal for an overnight stay.
We stayed here for 3 nights so that we had a good base and didn’t need to get up and pack each day. From here you can get to most places on the Causeway Coastal Route in less than an hour.
Causeway Coastal Route itinerary - Day 3
Places we visited on day 3 of our Northern Ireland road trip:
- Giant’s Causeway
- Dunluce Castle
The Giant's Causeway
On day three of our Northern Ireland itinerary, we visited County Antrim’s top attraction, the Giant’s Causeway. It’s one of the must-visit attractions on the Causeway Coastal Route and the reason we planned the whole trip!
Formed over 60 millions of years ago, the Giants Causeway is a natural wonder, made up of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best places to visit in Northern Ireland.
There are several ways to visit the Giant’s Causeway, but we took a guided tour from the National Trust Visitor Centre. Although you can walk to the causeway on your own, a tour gives you all the history and legend behind the world-famous tourist attraction.
A visit to the Giant’s Causeway is an exhilarating experience and it’s easy to see why visitors come so far to see it. We’d seen it many times in photos, but this doesn’t compare to the real thing. You must go!!!
Distance from the Giant’s Causeway to Dunluce Castle: 4 miles (10 minutes)
After a picnic at the Giant’s Causeway, we drove the short distance to Dunluce Castle.
Built around 1500, Dunluce Castle is an impressive fortress on the edge of a basalt outcrop. The medieval castle was established by the MacDonnell clan. A short video in the visitors room provides a brief background on the castle’s history.
Although now in ruins, you can still explore the different rooms of Dunluce Castle. Whilst we were there, the fog came rolling in from the sea, creating an eerie, atmospheric feel.
Dunluce Castle is another popular Game of Thrones filming locations. It was used as the Pyke Castle, the seat of House Greyjoy.
The last stop on day three of our Irish road trip was at Portrush. Famous for its prestigious golf club, Portrush is a busy seaside town with three sandy Blue Flag beaches.
We stopped for a drink at the Harbour Bar, one of Northern Ireland’s oldest pubs, before taking a walk along the promenade.
Causeway Coastal Route itinerary - Day 4
Places we visited on day 4 of our Northern Ireland road trip:
- Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple
- Derry (Londonderry)
Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple
Downhill Demesne is an 18th century mansion perched on a dramatic headland overlooking the beach. It was built by the eccentric Earl Bishop, who filled it with treasures from across Europe.
Earl Bishop spent a lot of money landscaping the grounds and adding character to the place. The house burnt down, but you can still see the footprint and do a circular walk of the grounds. Look out for original features, such as the original dovecote, icehouse, mausoleum, and walled garden.
The most stunning landmark at Downhill Demesne is Mussenden Temple. The temple was intended as a library, with Roman-inspired architecture. It looks out on the Atlantic Ocean and is a popular spot for photographers.
Distance from Downhill Demesne to Derry: 28 miles (43 minutes)
The final stop on the Causeway Coastal Route is Derry (officially Londonderry).
The best thing to do in Derry is walk around the ramparts of the 400-year-old city walls. Derry is the 2nd largest city in Northern Ireland and the only intact walled City. The wall is about one mile in total and there are seven access points, so you can get on where you want. From the walls you can see the watchtowers, cannons, mortar shell, city gates and bastions.
Admission to the Derry Walls rampart is free.
Other things to do in Derry include a visit to the iconic Peace Bridge, the Guildhall, and the murals.
Causeway Coastal Route itinerary - Day 5
Places we visited on day 5 of our Northern Ireland road trip:
- White Park Bay
- Ballintoy Harbour
- The Dark Hedges
On day 5 of our trip to Northern Ireland, we headed back towards Belfast. We stopped at a few destinations that we had missed on the way.
If you were short of time, you could include some of these on your route from Belfast to Derry. Ballintoy Harbour and Whitepark Bay Beach are both close to Carrick-a-Rede, so you could squeeze them into Day two.
White Park Bay
The beautiful Whitepark Bay Beach is famous for its cows. Unfortunately, they weren’t home on the morning of our visit!
Ballintoy Harbour is a picturesque fishing village between Ballycastle and Bushmills. Formerly a hive of activity for large fishing boats, it is now a sleepy harbour with some stunning scenery.
With a host of distinctive coastal features and unique rock formations, Ballintoy Harbour provides a dramatic landscape. It is a good location for a walk, or some more adventurous coastal adventures, such as coasteering and kayaking.
Ballintoy Harbour rose in popularity after appearing in Game of Thrones and now receives a regular influx of visitors. We left here for another popular GoT filming location, the Dark Hedges.
Distance from Ballintoy Harbour to the Dark Hedges: 8.5 miles (16 minutes)
The Dark Hedges
The Dark Hedges is not one of the official destinations on the Causeway Coastal Route. However, the beautiful avenue of trees is a popular attraction in Northern Ireland so we took a detour to visit. It was built by the Stuart family to create an impressive entrance to the house, but rose to fame as King’s Road in the Game of Thrones.
To be honest, we are not big Game of Thrones fans and hadn’t intended to do a tour of the filming locations. However, by day 5 we’d seen so many, it seemed a shame to miss out The Dark Hedges!
On leaving here, we headed back to Cushendun for lunch, before returning on the A2 coastal route to Belfast. The inland route is quicker, but the views from the coastal route are spectacular!
Distance from Cushendun to (Belfast on Causeway Coastal Route): 51 miles (1 hr 20)
The last leg of our Causeway Coastal Route took us back to the start for 2 days in Belfast.
Having checked into our accommodation in Belfast, we headed to city centre for a mooch. We had a quick pint in an Irish Bar before being kicked out (as we were with kids, not for bad behaviour!) and dinner at Dumpling Library.
Accommodation in Belfast
Causeway Coastal Route itinerary - Day 6
Places we visited in Belfast on day 6 of our Northern Ireland road trip:
- The Titanic Experience
- SS Nomadic
- Crumlin Gaol Museum
The Titanic Museum, Belfast
We started our last day in Northern Ireland at the Titanic Experience, one of the must-see attractions in Belfast.
The Titanic Museum is a large, contemporary museum, set over 9 interactive galleries. The self-guided tour takes you through the lifespan of the famous ship, from its construction to its tragic end.
The museum is well-designed and thought-provoking, and undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Belfast.
Click here to buy tickets for the Titanic Experience (with SS Nomadic)
SS Nomadic, Belfast
The SS Nomadic is the tender ship used to transfer passengers from the dockside in Cherbourg to RMS Titanic. Following an intensive programme of restoration, the Nomadic is now moored in Hamilton Dock, just a short walk from the Titanic Museum.
Visitors can climb aboard to learn about the Nomadic’s history and see how the ship would have looked in its heyday.
Admission to the SS Nomadic Ship is included in your ticket for the Titanic Experience.
Crumlin Gaol Museum
Another of the best places to visit in Belfast is the notorious Crumlin Gaol Museum.
The Crumlin Gaol was opened in 1846 and used for many high-profile prisoners. Follow a self-guided tour to learn about the 150 years of the prison’s history. You can go in the cells and watch short videos to hear the true-life accounts from the prisoners and staff.
Click here for tickets for the Crumlin Road Gaol Experience
This was our last visit of the day before heading back to Belfast Airport for our flight home.
Frequently Asked Questions
Practical Information for your road trip in Northern Ireland
Getting to Northern Ireland
There are three airports in Northern Ireland, two in Belfast and one in Derry.
If you are coming from outside the UK, you will fly to Belfast International, which is 20 minutes outside of the capital.
We flew from London Gatwick to the George Best Belfast City Airport. Easy Jet offer regular, direct flights, which take 1.5 hours. The George Best Airport is a small airport in the east of the city. From here, it was really easy to pick up the car and get directly onto the A2 Coastal Road.
Hiring a car in Northern Ireland
We hired a car from SIXT. They have a welcome desk in the George Best Airport and you can pick your car (or minivan) up from outside. The process was swift and effective.
Remember if you are coming from overseas, you need to drive on the left in Northern Ireland!
Travel resources for your road trip in Northern Ireland
Here are some of the websites we use when planning our trips.
Discover accommodation to suit all budgets at Booking.com
Get some of the most affordable prices on flights with Expedia
Look at some of the best tours and trips from Belfast
If you are looking for a travel guide for Belfast, the Lonely Planet pocket guides are always useful.
We'd love to hear from you!
Do you have any comments or questions about our trip to Northern Ireland? We would love to hear from you below.
Pin for later or share with your friends and family!
All rights reserved
© Chimptrips. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, links, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.