A visit to the Dark Hedges, Ballymoney

by Jan

One of the most popular places to visit in Northern Ireland is the Dark Hedges, a photogenic row of trees made famous by the Game of Thrones.

The Dark Hedges was an ideal stop on our Causeway Coast Road Trip, as it’s just 20 minutes from other popular attractions in Northern Ireland.  In fact, it’s just up the road from the famous Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.  We’d previously seen lots of mesmerising photos of this beech-lined avenue and wanted to check it out.

In our guide to the Dark Hedges, we’ll share all information you need to plan your own visit.  We’ll give you facts about the Dark Hedges, how to visit, the best place to park, stay and eat.

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A guide to visiting the Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland

Why are the Dark Hedges so famous?

The Dark Hedges became world-famous after its appearance on the hit HBO television series, Game of Thrones.

The road became famous as the Kingsroad, featured in Season 2, Episode 1 (the North Remembers).  In this episode you can see Arya Stark disguised as a boy on her escape from the King’s Landing.  She is travelling North on the Kingsroad in Westeros with Hot Pie, Gendry and Yoren.

You can also see the famous filming location in Transformers:  The Last Knight.  You can spot the Dark Hedges in the scene where Merlin is riding a horse through the trees.

Since the Dark Hedges became famous as a Game of Thrones filming location, hordes of visitors have flocked to photograph the natural attraction.

Where are the Dark Hedges?

Cows in a field next to the Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

In real life, the Dark Hedges are on the Bregagh Road, near Ballymoney in County Antrim, NI.  It is just off the B147, Ballinlea Road on the Gracehill Estate.

A brief history of the Dark Hedges

The Dark Hedges trees were originally planted in the 18th Century by James Stuart.  At the time, he planted about 150 trees lining the lane leading up to his country mansion, Gracehill House.

Stuart intended to create a stunning entrance to impress any guests arriving at Gracehill House.  Unbeknown to him, centuries later the avenue would become a world-famous beauty spot.

An avenue of interlocking trees known as the Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

How to visit the Dark Hedges

You have three choices for visiting the Dark Hedges:-

A coach tour from Belfast

You’ll find a good choice of options for tours from Belfast to the Dark Hedges.

Some of the best tours from Belfast to look at:

By public transport

If you are travelling by public transport, the nearest train station is in Ballymoney.  Take the train from Belfast Botanic (1hr 15 mins), then a taxi to the Dark Hedges.

However, if you don’t have a car, it would be easier and cheaper to take a coach tour.

By car

It is extremely easy to visit the Dark Hedges by car.

The beauty spot is only 1 hour’s drive from Belfast or 3 hours from Dublin.  It is one of the most popular day trips from Belfast, especially if you combine it with a visit to other top tourist destinations on the Antrim Coast.

We visited as part of our road trip on the Causeway Coastal Path.   We stopped on our return to Belfast, after a visit to Ballintoy Harbour, another Game of Thrones filming location.

Where do you park for a visit to the Dark Hedges?

The best place to park your car is at the Hedges Hotel.  They have a large car park and parking is free.

The address is:  139B, Ballinlea Road, Stranocum, Ballymoney, BT538PX

The route to the Dark Hedges

Signposts to the Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

From the car park, there is a 10-minute walk to the start of the Dark Hedges in Bregagh Road.  It is signposted all the way, so you can’t get lost.  Keep an eye out on your left for the Fairy Walk Garden, a clearing in the trees, where you can stop for a picnic.

Gracehill House

On your walk to the Dark Hedges, you will pass Gracehill House.  The Georgian mansion was named after James Stuart’s wife, Grace Lynd.  The house has been in the family since it was given to William Stuart, the grandson of King James I.

You will then need to cross one minor road to get to the start of the Dark Hedges.  It’s as easy as that!

Gracehill House, The Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

The Dark Hedges

Dark Hedges view, Northern Ireland

The section of Bregagh Road with the Dark Hedges trees is about half a mile in length.  It is a pretty route, with farmland on either side of the avenue.

As the road is now traffic-free, you can walk down the middle of the road.  However, it does get busy, so you’ll need to wait for a gap in the crowds to take your photo.  It’s a good idea to walk to the far end and take some photos from the opposite direction too.

Signpost of the Bregagh Road, Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

How long does it take to visit the Dark Hedges?

It takes about 10 minutes to get to the start of the Hedges and then another 15 minutes to walk each way.  I would allow about an hour in total.

When is the best time to visit the Dark Hedges?

Tree lined avenue of the Dark hedges, Northern Ireland

It is better to go when there is foliage on the trees, or it won’t be dark.  However, summer is the busiest time.

We visited one morning at the end of May and there was a constant flow of visitors.  However, it wasn’t too many for comfort.  If you go in the peak summer months, you’ll find it swarming with people.  This will make it very difficult to take a decent photo.

There will be less crowds if you go early morning, late afternoon or sunset.  You will also be able to avoid the coach tours who arrive early afternoon.

If you want it dark, you will need to go in the evening, but watch out for the ghost!

Is there a ghost at the Dark Hedges?

Legend claims that the spirit of the Grey Lady roams the Dark Hedges at night.  This is supposedly the ghost of one of the house maids who died at Gracehill House.

Is it worth a visit to the Dark Hedges?

If you are an avid Game of Thrones fan, then yes!  However, the visit doesn’t take long, so combine it with other Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland.

The Dark Hedges is one of the most photographed locations in Northern Ireland.  However, it is important to remember that many photos you’ll see are heavily edited or taken with a long-zoom camera.  We took ours with an android camera, so you can see what it really looks like.

To be honest, we are not the biggest Game of Thrones fans, so probably not the target audience.  As  nonfans, the trees are unique, and the road has an otherworldly feel.  However,  we wouldn’t have visited if we weren’t in the area.

On the plus side, it was close to the Antrim Coast and admission is free.  It was a pleasant stop on our road trip.  However, at the end of the day, it is just an avenue of trees!

The Pantry cafe, Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

Places to eat at the Dark Hedges

Afterwards, you can stop for food at the Pantry, which is on the Gracehill Estate.  You will pass it on your way in.  Alternatively, you could go to the Hedges Hotel, for a more extensive menu.  They are open from 12-9pm.

Accommodation near the Dark Hedges, Ballymoney

If you want a hotel near the Dark Hedges, you cannot get any closer than The Dark Hedges Hotel.  Or you could stay in the Gardenvale Manor House, which offers B&B accommodation.

If you prefer self-catering, have a look at Livery Lodge or Mill House Studio Apartment.

For glamping accommodation, North Coast 9 and Bannfield Shepherds Hut both have excellent reviews.

Accommodation in Belfast

Alternatively, you could do a day trip from Belfast, where you’ll find plenty of choice of accommodation.

If you want luxury accommodation, try The Regency or The Fitzwilliam Hotel.

For mid-range accommodation, have a look at the Hilton or Bullitt Hotel.

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 Dark Hedges.  Two of the most popular attractions in Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge are 20 minutes away.  Other fantastic places to visit on the Antrim Coast include the seaside town of Ballycastle or the medieval Dunluce Castle.

Game of Thrones fans should also include a visit to Cushendun Caves and the picturesque Ballintoy Harbour.

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We’d love to hear your questions or comments below.

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