Home to striking coastal scenery, picturesque villages and traditional Irish pubs, Northern Ireland is a short one hour plane journey from London. Together with a group of friends we had a cracking four days and managed to cram in a range of activities.
We arrived at Belfast International, collected our rental cars and headed north towards the picturesque coastal village of Glenarm.
We had a short wander around Glenarm and as we were all hungry we opted for a fabulous lunch in the highly recommended Glenarm Castle Tea Room.
Glenariff National Park
Glenariff National Park is a short drive from Glenarm and here we parked the cars and did a pleasant 8.5 km walk around the scenic trail… Adjacent to the carpark we found a coffee shop and gift shop. There is a choice of several trails all with scenic viewpoints and waterfalls.
Our circular trail lasted 2-3 hours and took us through forests and high above the Forest Centre where we saw impressive views towards the coast and a couple of waterfalls.
Another short drive from Glenariff is the Cushendun Caves where Game of Thrones was filmed. Cushendun is another small coastal village with a quaint and old fashioned feel about it.
Raithlin Island is 6 miles and an hours’ ferry crossing from Ballycastle. We booked our £12 return ferry tickets online in advance as they tend to sell out quickly. We opted for the 11:30 ferry.
There are several hiking trails across Raithlin Island but most people disembark from the ferry and head straight for the bus to take them to the RSPB Bird Reserve. There are only two buses which quickly became full, so if you wish to go straight to the reserve you need to be one of the first off the ferry!
With both buses already full with eager visitors and the next one an hour away we decided to have a wander around the picturesque bay… With its population of only 107 and primary school with just 8 pupils, the island reminded us of Iona in Scotland.
We eventually did get the bus to the Bird Sanctuary (£5 return) which took us along towards the western tip of the island. Entrance was another £5 and we had to walk down several steps to the viewing platform. We had anticipated sitting on grassy banks with puffins hopping about within a couple of feet. Unfortunately we couldn’t get near to the birds and we could just about make out one or two puffins amongst thousands of seabirds in the distance.
Feeling slightly underwhelmed we waited for the return bus back to the ferry port. Again, this was crowded as people jostled to get back on the bus. Unlike the first bus driver (a lovely friendly lady), we were jostled on by a rather grumpy man who almost didn’t let us on the bus! Thankfully all 8 of us just about got on, otherwise we would have had to wait for another hour…
Before arriving at the ferry port the bus stopped along the coast where we disembarked to see some seals lounging in the distance.
We walked the short distance back to the ferry port and headed to the coffee shop. Unfortunately we missed an earlier ferry so had another hour to wait…
While we enjoyed our time on Raithlin Island throughout the day, things didn’t go as slick and smoothy as they might have… In hindsight we would have tried to get off the ferry sooner, got straight on the bus, visited the birds and then spent a couple of hours hiking one of the many short trails perhaps across to the other side of the island! We spent too much time hanging around and waiting for something and didn’t make the most of our time…
We visited the Giants Causeway at 7 pm one evening. As the visitor centre closes at 6pm we just parked the car and made our way to the coastline avoiding the £10.50 entrance fee. There were no barriers or restrictions so we could only presume that the fee was more related to the visitor centre. More photos and information can be found on our separate blog post.
Causeway Coast Way
A spectacular 9 mile coastline trek… We have a separate post on this which provides full details!
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
‘Carrick-a-Rede’ means ‘rock in the road’ and in this case refers to the sea route for Atlantic salmon. Historically fishermen strung a rope bridge to get across to this island to catch the salmon. Today, a tourist rope bridge has been constructed and further details can be found in our Giant’s Causeway post.
The Bushmills Inn
The Bushmills Inn is a lovely hotel and great to spend an evening listening to a spot of live traditional ‘fiddley diddley’ complete with Guinness and crisps!
The Dark Hedges
According to the on-site sign, the Dark Hedges, an avenue of ancient beech trees are considered “one of the top five most beautiful tree tunnels in the world”. They were planted around 1775 to line the entrance towards Gracehill House with the intention of impressing visitors. In recent times they have also been used in the Game of Thrones TV series.
We didn’t visit however we saw the ruins of Dunluce Castle, built on the cliffs of the North Antrim coast around 1500. Instead of visiting the castle, we decided on the ‘Wee Cafe’ a quaint little coffee shop with a cozy coal fire and delicious strawberry and cream scones!
Seven of us (not Chris who had earache and stayed in the car) walked along this awesome beach which is next to Portrush.
This vast stretch of sand is a blue flag beach with limestone cliffs (where the beach gets its name). It is popular with locals and visitors alike; indeed, we saw surfers and a film crew while we were there!
We stayed in the fabulous Knocknahinch holiday house which you can book directly online. This modern and immaculately clean house was perfect for 8 adults with its 5 bedrooms, spacious kitchen and 2 cosy lounges. The holiday house was also in an excellent location and a short driving distance to all of the attractions listed in this blog post.
With so much to see and do, incredibly friendly locals and a laid back vibe we highly recommend a trip to explore Northern Ireland. As often is the case, being fortunate to have a glimpse of a new destination, we are inspired to make a return journey… perhaps a long road trip from the top of Northern Ireland, across the border and down the west coast of Ireland… maybe in a camper van…