Northern Ireland is, in my opinion, one of the more underrated parts of Europe. Yes, it shares an island with the Republic of Ireland, and both of those countries share things like castle ruins, ancient history, and beautiful scenery. But Northern Ireland has something extra unique: the Causeway Coast.
Ireland has some incredible coastline, too, don't get me wrong. But the Causeway Coast is something truly special, and I think is reason enough on its own for you to plan a trip to Northern Ireland!
What is the Causeway Coast?
The Causeway Coast is all at once a geographic area, a government district, and a popular driving route.
Geographically speaking, the Causeway Coast covers most of the northern coast of Northern Ireland facing the Atlantic Ocean. The “Causeway Coast and Glens” local government district officially includes parts of County Antrim and County Derry. And the Causeway Coastal Route is a driving route skirting the coast of Northern Ireland stretching all the way from Belfast to Derry.
So I guess you can answer the “what is the Causeway Coast?” question a few different ways!
But for the purposes of this post, we're going to say that the Causeway Coast encompasses the coastal (and slightly inland) areas of Northern Ireland between Belfast and Derry. On paper, this is a distance of less than 150 miles of coastal driving. In practice, though, the highlights could take you days to see.
How long does it take to see the Causeway Coast?
If you were to drive from Belfast to Derry more or less along the coast, the drive would take you just over 4 hours, according to Google Maps.
But in order to truly see all the highlights in this part of Northern Ireland, you're going to need at least a couple of days!
You can see the major highlights of the Causeway Coast with 2 full days. But 3 or 4 days would be even better, and would allow you the freedom to take your time and explore even more.
Need to rent a car in Northern Ireland? I like to use Auto Europe to compare prices. Search for a rental car here.
18 things to see along the Causeway Coast
To make this list easier to organize, I'm going to take you along the Causeway Coast in geographical order from east to west, starting in Belfast and ending in Derry.
Some of these sites are major highlights (like Giant's Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge), while others just make for nice photo stops if you have time. Everything from stunning coastal views to castle ruins to Game of Thrones filming locations will feature on this list!
1. The Gobbins walk
The Gobbins Cliff Path is located about half an hour away from Belfast along the coast. This adventurous cliff-face walk takes you across bridges and past caves almost at sea level along the crashing coast.
The walk isn't necessarily a stroll, as it's 3 miles long out-and-back, and includes the equivalent of 50 flights of stairs, some of which are uneven and narrow. You also can only do this walk as part of a guided tour that takes 3 hours, so it's not a quick stop and requires some pre-planning (you can book tickets here).
If you have the time, though, this is a really cool adventure!
Worth it? As long as you have the 3 hours to dedicate to the guided hike and are dressed for the weather (the tour runs rain or shine), then yes!
Cost: £20 per adult
2. Glenarm Castle
If castles and manicured gardens are more your speed, then you'll want to make a stop at Glenarm Castle. This coastal estate is the ancestral (and current) home of the McDonnell family, Earls of Antrim. It's still used as a private home by the Earl and Countess of Antrim, but is also open for tours on select dates.
Along with touring the castle, visitors can always explore the 18th century Walled Garden, visit the Heritage Center to learn about the McDonnell family, and see vintage cars in the Coach House Museum. You can also grab lunch, coffee, or ice cream here.
Worth it? Yes, especially if you love fancy estates and gardens.
3. Cushendun Caves
Further up the coast are the villages of Cushendall and Cushendun, both quaint little spots with cute cottages and cozy pubs.
My pick for a stop here is at Cushendun to see the lovely beach and the Cushendun Caves, a series of sea-carved caves that were used in Game of Thrones (it was here that Melisandre gave birth to her shadow/demon baby). The caves are free to visit and don't take terribly long to walk around.
Worth it? Only if you have time, though it's a quick stop.
4. Torr Head
Just north of Cushendun, you can detour off the main road onto the Torr Head Scenic Route (the main road will turn left; you should turn right onto Torr Road).
This short, 15-mile drive between Cushendun and Ballyvoy is not for the faint of heart (don't let the line down the middle of the road fool you; it's barely wider than a single lane road with frequent cliff-like drop-offs on one side), but it is seriously EPIC.
You can (and should) stop at Torr Head itself, a dramatic headland with the remains of an 1800s coast guard/signaling station on top. You can climb up to the ruins for great views in all directions. On a clear day, you can see across the water to Scotland!
Worth it? Yes!
5. Murlough Bay
If you thought Torr Head was cool, then wait until you see Murlough Bay!
Also located off the Torr Head Scenic Route, Murlough Bay is reached via a narrow gravel road leading down to the coast. You'll find a small parking area next to some livestock pastures, and then you can walk along a gravel path to the bay itself.
This quiet, protected bay is surrounded by steep, forested hills and is usually pretty empty thanks to its secluded location. Some say it's one of the most beautiful spots along the Causeway Coast – and I can't really argue! You can walk out onto the rocks or even enjoy a small sandy beach at low tide.
Murlough Bay was used in several Game of Thrones scenes, too, though you won't find it as crowded as other filming locations in Northern Ireland.
Worth it? Definitely
From Murlough Bay, it's a short drive to the town of Ballycastle, one of the larger towns on the Causeway Coast (population of around 5200). Ballycastle has a lovely large beach (Ballycastle Strand) with views of Fair Head, a marina and seafront play park, and plenty of cafe and restaurant options.
If you're wanting to take a trip to Rathlin Island, the ferry leaves from Ballycastle.
Worth it? Yes, it's a really cute town with some nice cafes.
Cost: There are several free public parking lots in town, so you could visit for free.
7. Kinbane Castle
After being closed for nearly two years for conservation work, Kinbane Castle is finally open again! And I'm so happy, because it's personally my favorite ruin along the Causeway Coast.
Set on a craggy limestone headland, not much is left these days of the great castle built by Colla MacDonnell in 1547. The castle was largely destroyed by the English in the 16th century, and today only parts of a guard tower are still standing. But those remains are in such an epic spot!
To get to Kinbane Castle, you do have to walk down 140 steps (and of course back up them again). From the bottom of the stairs, you can explore a rocky beach and all parts of the headland that the castle was perched upon. The views back toward the mainland are especially incredible and well worth the hike.
Worth it? Absolutely; I wouldn't skip this spot if you can make the trek down the steps!
8. Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
Not far from Kinbane Castle, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is one of the top spots to visit along the Causeway Coast. The site is exactly what it's billed as: a 60-foot-long rope bridge connecting the mainland to a small island.
The bridge was first built about 250 years ago and was historically used by fishermen to go over to the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede to fish for salmon. Today, it's entirely a tourist attraction managed and maintained by the National Trust in Northern Ireland.
You do have to hike from the entrance area/parking lot to get to the bridge (it's about 1 kilometer or .6 miles each way), and the bridge itself is suspended almost 100 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. Once you cross the bridge you can walk around the small island, but the main attraction really is crossing the bridge itself.
Note that if you only want to see the bridge but not walk across it, you can do the coastal walk for free! The fee only applies to crossing the bridge.
This spot gets very busy during the summer months and on weekends, so it is recommended that you book your ticket in advance, or go early or later in the day. Even then, expect a slight wait. (The photo above was taken fairly early in the morning on a September day, and you can see the line of people waiting their turn to cross the bridge.)
Worth it? Despite how popular it is, yes, I definitely think it's worth it!
Cost: £13 for adults (and remember, that's only to cross the bridge; you can use the parking lot and do the coastal hike for free)
Pro tip: You cannot see the rope bridge from the parking lot. If you don't have time to do the hike, you *can* get a glimpse of it (especially if you have a good zoom on your camera/phone) from the Portaneevy Car Park & Viewpoint not far away, though I'd recommend the hike if you can do it!
9. Ballintoy Harbour
Not far from the rope bridge, you can make a quick stop at Ballintoy Harbour, a small fishing harbor that was made famous by Game of Thrones (it was used in several scenes set in the Greyjoy Kingdom of Pyke in the Iron Islands).
Worth it? For a quick photo stop if you're a Game of Thrones fan; if not, you could probably skip it.
10. Dark Hedges
Okay, so the Dark Hedges aren't ON the Causeway Coast, but the site is a short 15-minute drive from Ballintoy Harbour, so I'm including it anyway.
The Dark Hedges is a lane lined with big, twisted beech trees. The trees were originally planted in the 1700s by the Stuart family to line the avenue leading up to their manor, Gracehill House. In the mid-2010s, though, the Dark Hedges were made famous thanks to Game of Thrones and Instagram, and the site became a tourist must-see.
(I'd say this site is more of an Instagram darling than a Game of Thrones one, though, since the trees only appeared in one scene in one episode of the show.)
Regardless, it's now a popular stop in Northern Ireland. The part of Bregagh Road the trees are planted on has been closed to vehicular traffic in order to protect the trees, so now you need to park in a lot front of the Hedges Hotel and walk via a wooded path to see the site.
(And please abide by these new rules; parking near the trees is literally killing them, and nobody wants your car ruining their photos.)
Worth it? Some people are underwhelmed, especially if they visit on a busy day. But I do think the trees are cool, and it's a fairly quick stop.
11. White Park Bay Beach
Even though you may not associate the UK and Ireland with beaches, there are plenty along the coast! White Park Bay is a beautiful arc of golden sand along the Causeway Coast that stretches between two headlands. The beach is managed by the National Trust, and is a stunning spot to visit.
Getting down to the beach does require a bit of a walk through some sand dunes, but you can also get a glimpse of the whole beach from the parking area.
Worth it? Definitely worth stopping to see, even if you don't want to walk down to the beach.
12. Dunseverick Castle
Another castle ruin you can stop at is what's left of Dunseverick Castle. There's been a fort or castle on this craggy promontory since at least the 5th century, and it's said to have been attacked by Vikings and visited at least once by Saint Patrick. Dunseverick Castle was eventually destroyed in the 1600s, and today only the shadow of a gate tower remains.
From the castle parking area, it's possible to walk down into to boggy valley and climb up to the castle site. (Just be careful, as the ground is spongy and the hills are steep!) You can see the tower up close, as well as ancient low earthworks surrounding the site.
From Dunseverick, the Causeway Cliff Path can take you to Giant's Causeway in one direction, or Dunseverick Harbour in the other.
Worth it? The castle ruin itself is less impressive than others you'll see, but the natural scenery here is amazing! The hike may be boggy and wet, though, so be sure to wear proper shoes if you do it.
13. Giant's Causeway
Probably the most famous site along the Causeway Coast is Giant's Causeway itself.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is made up of 40,000+ interlocking hexagonal basalt columns that were formed during an ancient volcanic lava flow – or by the Irish giant Fionn Mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool), who is said to have built the Causeway in order to reach Scotland to challenge the giant Benandonner. You can believe whichever origin story you prefer. 😉
Giant's Causeway is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland. There's a visitor center where you can learn about the Causeway, and they also offer audio guides and guided tours.
The stones are a slight distance away, so know that this isn't a quick photo stop! From the visitor center, it's about half a mile to the largest concentration of basalt columns. There are two different walking trails you can use to reach them; one along the bottom of the cliff (the Blue Trail), and one cliff-top walk (the Red Trail).
I recommend taking the Blue Trail downhill from the visitor center, spending as much time as you want exploring the stones (they're shaped perfectly to act as natural steps; just be careful if it's wet!), and then connecting to the cliff-top Red Trail via the Shepherd's Steps.
Yes, the uphill climb is steep, but it's short, and then it's mostly flat or downhill on your way back to the visitor center (and the views from the clifftop are awesome!).
There's also a shuttle bus that runs between the visitor center and the stones via the Blue Trail that you can use for a few pounds extra. This is worth it for anyone with mobility issues (or if you just don't want to walk a half-mile uphill on the way back to the visitor center).
Worth it? Yes, for sure! It's the most popular site in Northern Ireland for a reason.
Cost: Technically it's free to visit the stones, but parking and going inside the visitor center costs £13. Booking ahead is recommended.
Pro tip: Since this is such a popular site, it can get very crowded. And trying to explore the stones when they're covered in people can be frustrating. To avoid the worst of the crowds, get there as close to opening time as possible to beat the tour buses, or go in the evening around or after dinnertime.
14. Old Bushmills Distillery
A non-natural spot worth visiting along the coast is the Old Bushmills Distillery in the village of Bushmills. The village is close to Giant's Causeway, and Old Bushmills is the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland, with a license to make whiskey dating back to 1608.
You can take a tour of the distillery to learn all about Irish whiskey and how Bushmills makes its triple-distilled “water of life.” Everything they make is distilled, aged, and bottled right here.
Worth it? If you've not visited a distillery before, or are a fan of Bushmills, then definitely! (Even if you don't drink whiskey, visiting a distillery to learn about the history and craft can be interesting.)
Cost: Distillery tours cost £15 and last 1 hour.
15. Dunluce Castle
How about one more castle ruin for you? Dunluce Castle is the largest ruin you can visit along the Causeway Coast. There's been a fortification of some kind on this rocky outcrop for more than 1000 years, but the current castle ruins are mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries, when Dunluce was the seat of Clan McQuillan, and then Clan MacDonnell.
You can tour the castle ruins and see some historical exhibits inside. Just beware that it's said to be haunted by a banshee!
Worth it? I honestly think this castle is more impressive from the outside (and from a distance, so you can see the steep cliffs it's built on top of), but if you enjoy history you'll probably think touring it is worth it.
Cost: £6 per adult, which you can pay when you visit
16. Magheracross Viewpoint
I'm convinced that most people skip this spot because it's marked as “Magheracross Car Park & Viewpoint” on Google Maps – and what's exciting about a car park?
This car park, however, offers up some of the most epic views of the Causeway Coast!
Walking paths lead to viewing platforms with views towards Dunluce Castle and a collection of white limestone rock formations and arches.
There's ample parking, as well as picnic tables and benches if you want to bring a snack or meal with you.
This spot was very quiet when we visited in the late afternoon, so we sent the drone up – and got some of the best footage of our whole trip!
Worth it? Yes, yes, yes! Great photo ops here.
Elliot and I drove into the town of Portrush because I was in search of the white rock formations you can see from Magheracross Viewpoint (but Google Maps wasn't quite sure where they were). This ended up being a happy accident, because the town of Portrush is adorable!
Portrush is one of the largest towns on the Causeway Coast, with a population of about 7000 people. The town is built on a small peninsula, and has lots of cafes, restaurants, and pubs to choose from. You'll also find the legendary Royal Portrush Golf Club right on the coast. The golf club is home to the famous Dunluce Links, said to be one of the most challenging golf courses in the world.
Worth it? Definitely worth stopping for a meal, a cup of coffee, or a pint.
Cost: Depends on what you do!
18. Mussenden Temple
The last spot on this list is within Downhill Demesne, an 18th century estate in County Londonderry that's now managed by the National Trust. The former mansion on the estate is mostly destroyed, but the real “star” here is the Mussenden Temple, a round building perched right on a cliff edge that was originally built as the estate's library.
The round, column-covered structure was modeled after the Temple of Vesta in Rome, and is one of the most-photographed buildings in Northern Ireland.
On the estate there are also walking trails, gardens, a coffee shop, and a few more buildings/structures to see.
Worth it? If you have time for a stop, yes. The grounds are a nice place for a walk.
Cost: £5 parking fee
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Where to stay on the Causeway Coast
Like I mentioned above, seeing everything along the coast of Northern Ireland is going to take you at least a couple of days. So staying along the coast is ideal!
You could either choose a central location as a base, or split your time between spots in the east and west. There are a lot of small hotel and B&B options along the Causeway Coast to choose from, but here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Ballygally Castle – Located in the east not far from Belfast, this is a fun option if you've always wanted to sleep in a castle! It was built in 1625, and is located right on the sea.
- Glass Island B&B – Looking for an upscale B&B vibe? Then you can't beat Glass Island in Ballycastle. With a convenient location and an excellent cooked breakfast each morning, this would make a great base for exploring.
- Whitepark House – Another fantastic bed and breakfast option is the character-filled Whitepark House in Ballintoy. It's both cozy and luxurious; perfect for a coastal getaway.
- Bayview Hotel – This Portballintrae hotel is an award-winning hotel close to Giant's Causeway. It has an on-site restaurant and rooms with sea views.
- The Bushmills Inn Hotel – Found in the heart of Bushmills, this 4-star boutique hotel dates all the way back to the 1600s! This cozy spot also has fireplaces, an on-site restaurant (which serves afternoon tea), and a traditional gas-lit bar.
- Galgorm – And though this spa resort is not on the coast, it's still a great base for the Causeway Coast. Along with hotel rooms, cottages, and shepherd's huts to stay in, guest also get full access to the resort's thermal village.
Causeway Coast tours
Don't want to rent a car and drive yourself? You obviously will have less freedom and flexibility to visit every spot on this list if you book a tour, but it is possible to see a lot of the highlights on day trips like these:
- Northern Ireland Highlights Day Trip from Dublin
- Giant’s Causeway Day Trip from Belfast
- Giant's Causeway and Game of Thrones Day Trip from Dublin
- Game of Thrones and Giant's Causeway Full-Day Tour from Belfast
- Titanic Belfast Visitor Experience and Giant’s Causeway Day Trip from Dublin
Who's ready to plan a trip to see the Causeway Coast?