Geological wonders, ancient castles and remarkable wildlife await on the coast of Antrim, north of Belfast. The region offers a diverse range of attractions for a full-day tour from the city, with time to stop for lunch. In the company of a private driver-guide you can discover the area in a very leisurely way, taking in all the best sights and hearing about its history, legends and Hollywood connections.
From Belfast the route follows the coast for most of the way to the mysterious Giant’s Causeway with ample time along the way to look out for whales, dolphins and seals. Once your driver has collected you from your hotel you’ll head straight out of Belfast toward the beautiful Antrim Coast. You’ll pass through a number of pretty fishing towns as well as the passing the spectacular forests and cliffs of Glenariff Forest Park.
Your first scheduled stop will be Carrick-a-Rede, where a rope bridge is suspended 30 m (98 ft) above the sea in between the mainland and tiny Carrick Island. The bridge was first built by salmon fishermen in order to check their nets and monitor the fish migrating around the island, clearly visible through the translucent green-blue water. From the car park you’ll walk along a coastal path for around 10 to 20 minutes to reach the bridge itself.
This is a great area for spotting wildlife of all kinds, from basking sharks, porpoises and dolphins to guillemots, oystercatchers, fulmars and thousands of puffins which nest on nearby Rathlin Island. If the weather is good, you should be able to see as far as the Scottish islands of Arran, Islay, Jura and Mull.
You’ll travel on past the beautiful Whitepark Bay, with its long stretch of white, sandy dunes and beach where you can often see cattle grazing, and past the ruins of Dunseverick Castle, before reaching the Giant’s Causeway.
The legendary Giant’s Causeway is a made up of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns which rise out of the sea and form sheer cliffs. The area has long inspired artists and storytellers and according to one version of Celtic mythology the Giant’s Causeway was a series of stepping stones built by Finn MacCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill) to go and fight the Scottish giant Benandonner.
A short distance further along the coast is 13th-century Dunluce Castle, a romantic ruin perched on a rocky headland, where you have the opportunity to stop to take photographs. Reached by a footbridge from the mainland, the castle is surrounded by steep drops and according to local legend part of the rock collapsed and plunged into the sea in the 17th century bringing the then castle kitchens with it. It's a highly picturesque spot and has featured in the filming of Game of Thrones.
Just offshore, the treasure of one of the ships from the Spanish Armada (Gerona) was discovered in 1970, while just beyond the castle is the pretty White Rocks Beach with its limestone arches and towering sea stacks.
The last stop is at Dark Hedges, a narrow rural road lined by ancient beech trees, which almost enclose the road like a tunnel. The trees have grown into some beautifully intricate shapes but the avenue has an eerie air with an almost permanent gloom beneath the boughs. Because of this, the hedges have appeared in many TV shows and films, notably Game of Thrones.
From Dark Hedges you’ll return to Belfast to your hotel.