4 Days in Ireland: Discover Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route
PHOTO: The other-worldly Giant's Causeway on the Causeway Coastal Route. (Photo courtesy Thinkstock)
HBO just announced that “Game of Thrones” will premiere on April 24, but if you can’t wait that long, head to Belfast and get a feel for the real life locations in the show with a self-drive tour in Northern Ireland.
The Causeway Coastal Route is often referred to as one of the world’s great road journeys, following along a majestic coastal road from Belfast. The 195-mile route hugs the coastline and dips into rural glens and villages along the way. It’s not a huge distance, but it’s a journey worth savoring.
You can book a self-drive tour with any number of tour operators, including Auto Europe and CIE Tours, who can arrange accommodations and car rentals for you.
If you need ideas for your itinerary along this route, you can turn to Tourism Ireland where you will find a number of self-drive itinerary ideas from daylong jaunts to journeys as long as a week or more.
Day 1: Belfast to Cushendell
Begin in the northern city of Belfast where you can visit highlights such as the Titanic Museum, which chronicles the fate of the doomed vessel.
The Causeway Coastal Route officially begins as you leave the city, heading north. You will find Belfast Lough on your right and join the route at Newtonabbey. Your first stop is Carrickfergus, with its harbor-side castle, built in the 12th century and used all the way through World War II – of particular note is its chilling dungeon.
A few miles farther, travelers will take a loop around Islandmagee and visit the cliffwalk at the Gobbins, where you can book a walk in advance along the suspended bridges and cliffs with views of the sea and Scotland.
The drive continues north through Ballygally, where the Ballygally Castle Hotel is a nice stop before continuing through the Glens, which includes one of Irelands oldest estates and on to Carnlough, a seaside town perfect for an overnight.
Day 2: Cushendell to Ballycastle
The second day of this suggested itinerary includes Glenariff Forest Park, the Cushendun Caves, Ballypatrick Forest and Dark Hedges. The Dark Hedges is one of Northern Ireland’s most iconic sites and also serves as the Kings Road in “Game of Thrones.”
Another highlight of the area is the Vanishing Lake near Ballycastle, which is a great place to overnight for the evening and enjoy some traditional Irish music at O’Connor’s Bar (held Thursday nights) or take a moonlit stroll.
Day 3: Ballycastle to Portrush
Travel from Ballycastle to Portrush on the third day. Take in Ballintoy, the harbor of which was given a rugged makeover to serve as the port of the Iron Islands. You can stop at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which connects a path to the island of the same name.
Next stop – and something you will want to save time for – is the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also the location featured on the cover sleeve of Led Zeppelin’s "Houses of the Holy.” The visitors center here is the perfect place to stop and discover the scientific and mythic explanations for this whimsical landscape.
Finish the day at Dunluce Castle before stopping for the evening in Portrush.
Day 4: Portrush to Londonderry
Travel to Londonderry on your last day, stopping at the port town of Portstewart, the university town of Coleraine and the oldest known human settlement in Ireland, Mountsandel Fort. Other stops that are on the must-see list include the Bishop’s Palace, Mussenden Temple, Binevenagh Mountain, the town of Limavardy and the Roe Valley Arts and Culture Centre, a hub of Northern Ireland’s artistic life.
Derry-Londonderry is the final stop on the Causeway Coastal Route – and also the beginning of another famous scenic route through Ireland, the Wild Atlantic Way. So if you haven’t yet had enough, continue on and make your way south along the west coast of Ireland.
Hardcore “Game of Thrones” fans can also alter this four-day itinerary, turning into a true tour of Westeros and covering approximately the same distance.
More by Janeen Christoff
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