A visit to Cushendun, County Antrim

by Jan

Halfway along the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland is the pretty, coastal village of Cushendun.

It’s a popular stopover for tourists doing the road trip in County Antrim, but you might still wonder how it attracts so many visitors each year.

Well, firstly it was designed by architect Clough Williams-Ellis, the genius behind the Italianate village of Portmeirion in North Wales.  Secondly, it’s home to Cushendun Caves, the filming location for one of the famous Game of Thrones scenes.

And, as if that isn’t enough, Cushendun has a beautiful beach and is in the ideal location for a pitstop on the Causeway Coastal Route.

We visited Cushendun as part of our 6-day itinerary on the Causeway Coastal Route.

In our guide, we’ll give you everything you need for a visit to Cushendun.  We’ll provide information on how to get there, where to stay and the best things to do in Cushendun.  Plus, of course, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about visiting the popular Cushendun Caves.

Where is Cushendun?

This quaint village of Cushendun is between Cushendall and Ballycastle on the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland.  It is just a short drive from Glenarriff Forest Park, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The Causeway Coastal Route is a 120-mile stretch of dramatic coastline between Belfast to Londonderry.  The route follows the A2 County Antrim road, taking in some of the UK’s most stunning coastal scenery.  Cushendun is about halfway along the route, so is ideal for a quick stop or a day trip from Belfast.

Visiting Cushendun

Of course, many visitors just turn up to visit Cushendun Caves.  You can even do it as part of a one-day trip from Belfast, which includes about 7 stops on the Causeway Coast.

However, we wanted to explore Cushendun too and see what makes this little National Trust village so unique.  So, we started with a tour of the village.  We picked up the start of the village trail in the National Trust car park opposite the beach.

Come with us to find out the best things to see in Cushendun (and not just the caves).

5 top things to do in Cushendun

Glenmona House

Glenmona Lodge, Cushendun, County Antrim

If you’re starting at the National Trust car park, the village trail leads firstly to Glenmona Lodge.

This neo-Georgian white house, was remodelled by Clough Williams-Ellis and was once the largest of the “Big Houses” in Cushendun.

As you stroll through the grounds, you’ll see throwbacks to the mansion’s glory days.  Keep a look out for the old fountain and sundial which lay dormant amongst the undergrowth.

Cushendun Old Church

Cushendun Old Church, County Antrim

Then, as you walk away from the house, you’ll arrive at Cushendun’s Old Church.

Dating to the 1840s, the Old Church was built for the gentlemen of Cushendun’s large houses, who wanted a place of worship for their families.

Afterwards it continued to serve the congregation and holidaymakers of Cushendun for many years until 2003, when it ceased being a religious building.

However, the locals saved the building from demolition and it consequently became a community arts centre.  Nowadays, the Old Church now offers a regular programme of cultural events and exhibitions.

National Trust Village

Before you visit, it’s worth understanding a brief history of the village of Cushendun.  Although the place is tiny, it’s been attracting visitors for thousands of years.  In fact, there is even evidence of Bronze age inhabitants.

Whitewashed cottages in Cushendun Village

More recently, before the current village was built, Cushendun served the area as a ferry port.  From the mid-1600s to the 1840s a regular boat service connected the mainland with Mull of Kintyre in Scotland.  It was a thriving village and even had its own passport office.

In 1912, Clough Williams-Ellis, the famous architect, designed the current village to look like a typical Cornish village.  It was built for Ronald McNeill, a Conservative MP, who later became Lord Cushendun.  His wife originated from Penzance.

The village is now managed by the National Trust in an effort to preserve its unique architectural history.  You can still see the row of white-washed cottages, built in the traditional Cornish style.

Cushendun Caves

Cushendun Caves, Northern Ireland, UK

Today, one of the top things to do in Cushendun is visit the famous Cushendun Caves.  Formed over 400 million years ago by natural erosion, these sea caves are not a new attraction.

However,  the Cushendun Caves rose to international fame after becoming one of the filming locations for the HBO fantasy series, Game of Thrones.

Since then, hordes of fans have flocked to see the spot where the Red Witch, Melisandre, gave birth to the Shadow Creature.  Later, the Shadow Creature went on to kill Renly Baratheon here.

How to get to Cushendun Caves

Harbour in Cushendun, County Antrim

Luckily, the Cushendun Caves are really easy to find.

From the village turn right towards the picturesque harbour and head for the bridge.  Cross the bridge and you’ll see the sculpture of Johann the Goat.

Johann the Goat

Sculpture of Johann the Goat in Cushendun

Surprisingly, one of the most iconic attractions in Cushendun is a goat called Johann!

The sculpture of Johann the Goat by Deborah Broad pays tribute to a real goat who used to graze on this spot by the harbour.  Presented to the village in 2002, Johann was apparently the last animal to be culled in the village in the foot and mouth outbreak.

Exploring Cushendun Caves

Inside Cushendun Caves

Once you’ve passed the goat, follow the road a short distance to the beach.  The Cushendun Caves are behind the fishermen’s cottages.  A short walk along the pebbly bay will take you to the mouth of the caves.

Admission to Cushendun Caves is free and you can visit whenever you wish.  However, it’s best to go early to avoid crowds of people arriving on coach tours from Belfast.

You can walk inside the main chamber of the cave.  If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’ll recognise it as the iconic setting of the Red Priestess’ birth to the Shadow Creature.

Exploring the Cushendun Caves only takes about 15 minutes.  Afterwards, you can return to the village or head to the beach.

Cushendun Beach

Cushendun Beach

After your visit to Cushendun Caves, retrace your steps back to the bridge.  Cross the bridge, but instead of returning to the village, you can walk to the beach.

Cushendun Beach is a long stretch of sandy beach, which curves around the bay.  It is very natural and doesn’t have many facilities.  However, there are public toilets at the beach car park, plus a pub and shop in the village.

Getting to Cushendun

Cushendun is about 50 miles from Belfast and takes about just over an hour to get there by car.  However, I would recommend taking the scenic coastal route along the A2.  This takes about 90 minutes.

Things to do near Cushendun

ferns in front of waterfall

There are many fantastic places to visit near Cushendun.  If you like walking, you should visit Ballintoy or the Glenariff Forest Park.  Or, if you want more excitement, visit the Gobbins Cliff Path or Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.  For history lovers, there are plenty of castles in the area, including Carrickfergus and Dunluce.

Plus, one of the most popular attractions in Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway is less than an hour’s drive away.

Places to eat in Cushendun

If you are looking for somewhere to eat in Cushendun, you could try Mary McBride’s Bar.  This was once the smallest pub in Ireland and serves traditional food and drink.  It also has its own wooden Game of Thrones door.

Not far from the pub there’s also a small tea room, The Corner House.  Both the pub and café are owned by the National Trust.

Another option is a picnic.  You’ll find a picnic area with benches by the car park, or you can go on the beach.

Places to stay in Cushendun

As Cushendun is so small, there are very few options for overnight accommodation.  However, there are a few lovely self-catering cottages, such as Cloneymore or Glendun.  For more unique accommodation, you could stay in Mullarts Church or Cushendun Caravan Park.

We stayed in nearby Cushendall, in the Antrim Coast Apartments, which were very good value.

If you prefer a hotel, you could stay at the Salthouse Hotel in Ballycastle.

Have you any comments about a visit to Cushendun?  We’d love to hear them below.

Pin for later:  A visit to Cushendun, County Antrim

A visit to Cushendun, County Antrim

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