So, you have arrived in Northern Ireland and you are keen to start touring. There is so much to see and you don’t want to miss a day. Where do you start? Our favorite tour was the Antrim Coast. We have called the tour, tourism Antrim coast. It is a fairly full tour and will take a whole day. So summer is preferable with the long hours of daylight. Even in summer, however, start as early as possible to make the best of the day and give you more time to spend at attractions.
The starting point of tourism Antrim Coast is Larne. If you are based in counties Down or Antrim, Larne can be reached within less than an hour (depending on your exact location). If you are based on the west of Northern Ireland you might want to do tourism Antrim Coast in reverse order. The quickest way to get to Larne from the Belfast direction is on the M2 and then the A8. If you are based in Belfast you might be tempted to get the coastal A2 which takes longer than theM2/A8 but is more scenic. Don’t. There are plenty of distractions along the way, (e.g. Carrickfergus Castle) and you might find it is noon before you get to Larne and half the day is gone before the tour has even started. Reserve the Belfast-Larne coastline for another tour and just head straight to Larne on the M2/A8. You will need all the extra time you can get.
Larne is a beautiful coastal town with a lot of history. A local amateur historian told me that six US presidents had their roots in the vicinity. Nowadays Larne is best known because it is one of the main harbors that connect Northern Ireland with Britain. If you like religious history you will want to drive through the High Street where John Wesley preached on a number of occasions. A plaque marks the spot on the upper end of the High Street but you might need to ask for directions as it is not easy to spot.
Tourism Antrim coast continues towards Glenarm. In Larne take the A2 coastal route and go north-west. Glenarm is well signposted. The moment you leave Larne you will realize why the Antrim Coast is famed for its scenic views. The coast is rugged and the road narrow and quiet. Do not rush. Enjoy the fresh sea air and the numerous quaint villages. Feel free to stop at anyone for a short break or a quick snack or some fat and cholesterol (fish and chips). Glenarm is one of the oldest towns on the island and a favorite stop in our tours. It has a beautiful marina.
If you love nature you may want to stop at Glenariff waterfall a few minutes off the coastal route. The hike there is pleasant and the location refreshing, especially on a warm summer day. You might need some insect repellent. If you do choose to stop at Glenariff make it a quick visit for there is much more to see ahead. We generally left Glenariff for a relaxed afternoon visit from Larne, rather than a stop while doing tourism Antrim coast.
Cushendall and Layde Church
Cushendall is one of the more popular towns you will meet on your tourism Antrim coast and on a weekend you are likely to meet a small traffic jam in the narrow main street. Be patient, it will only last a few minutes. Nearly every tour we took we made sure we stopped at Layde Church. From Cushendall town centre turn right towards the sea and golf course and follow the signs. Layde Church attracts very few visitors. Yet we kept coming back both because of its curious history and also because of the stunning location and vistas. Depending on how early you have started your tour, you could spend from half an hour to as much as two hours, walking down to the seaside or along the cliff-hugging path high over the coast back towards the town.
Next on the list is Ballycastle, probably the most touristy town between Larne and Giant’s Causeway. Here you can have some of the best fish and chips in the UK. Park near the harbor and walk along the road and on your right, very close to the sea, is a little hut. If you like fish and chips try theirs. They used to fish the fish themselves, I am not sure if this is still the case. There are no tables to sit, but you can eat in the car or on a bench looking out to the ocean.
Stunning Sites in Quick Succession – Kinbane
Once you leave Ballycastle, tourism Antrim coast takes a dramatic look. There are numerous places to see in quick succession. The first is Kinbane Castle. You leave the Antrim coast road (which at this point is not on the coast) and turn right towards the sea at the appropriate sign. The road now is very small and not suitable for coaches. At the end of the road is a car park from which you can look out into the sea. The car park is perched on a cliff and to get to the castle you need to follow a path down to sea level. The path is usually closed as it is not completely safe. However, you can see the ruins of Kinbane on a small rock promontory that juts out to sea. There are toilets by the car park so you might want to stop even for that and a quick view out to sea.
Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge is one of Ireland’s better known attractions. A visit will require a minimum of one hour because it takes about 20 minutes to walk from the car park to the bridge and 20 minutes to get back. Carrick-A-Rede used to be a rope bridge joining the mainland to Carrick island. The rope bridge has now been replaced by another rope bridge which, however, has a more solid walking platform and is better secured to avoid accidents. You can read more about it here.
Just two miles from Carrick and next on our tourism Antrim coast is the little village of Ballintoy. If you like a dramatic view, turn right at the sign to Ballintoy Harbor and follow the small road all the way to the sea. You will first pass the old village church. The road then begins a quick descend and as it turns to the left you see Ballintoy Harbor below. There are massive rocks scattered in the ocean and on a windy day the scenery is powerful and dramatic with the waves lashing against the rocks and the harbor waters quiet and serene. One of our most traveled visitors declared this route, and Ballintoy especially, as one of the most scenic he has ever seen and comparable to the fjords of Norway in beauty.
Tourism Antrim coast reaches a high point with Giants Causeway, an amazing natural arrangement of mostly hexagonal rock formations that are so finely structured it almost seems as if they were intelligently placed there. It is Northern Ireland’s premier tourist attraction. You can read more about it by clicking here. You should allocate at least two hours to the visit so that it will not be rushed.
Dunluce, Dunseverick and Lacada
Just before Giant’s Causeway, the main highlight of the Antrim Coast tour, you might want to stop to quickly see Dunseverick Castle. The only thing that remains is ruins so a quick stop should suffice. More fascinating is Dunluce Castle beyond Giant’s Causeway which is certainly worth a visit if there are still hours in the day. From there (or from the Causeway) you can look out to Lacada Point the scene of the famous Girona shipwreck or out to see where the form of the island of Islay is visible and where the Exmouth sunk with sad and terrible loss of life.
St. Gobbans, Ireland’s Smallest Church
While at Dunseverick you should also visit St. Gobbans, Ireland’s smallest church. Nestled next to the ocean among a handful of other buildings it is a sight worth seeing. You might not be able to find it yourself so just ask one of the locals and they will be happy to show you how to get there. To read more about St. Gobbans click here.
The Bushmills and Causeway Railroad
The Bushmills and Causeway Railroad is very close to the Causeway and an experience you and your children will love. It follows the coast to Bushmills and back.
Can I See All These in One Day?
Chances are that you will not be able to fit everything mentioned above in a one day Antrim Coast tour. The three most time consuming stops would be Giant’s Causeway, the Railroad and Carrick-A-Rede bridge. If you can do the tour over two days it would be ideal. Otherwise select the sites that appeal most to you.
Whichever way you organize your tourism Antrim coast tour, you will probably agree with us that an Antrim Coast tour combines the best of Northern Ireland – stunning nature, rich history and places really worth a visit.
Once you finish the Antrim coast tour, do not go back along the coastal road you came on as it will take you a long while to get to Larne or Beflast. Instead, from the Causeway area go inland towards Ballymena and onto the main Belfast – Londonderry road. You should be in Belfast in about an hour to an hour and a half depending on the traffic.