From old medieval castles like Dunluce Castle to the glens and lighthouses in Antrim, as well as its shores and beaches and old fishing villages, this road along the coast will leave you in windswept awe on perches of emerald-green. There’s country parks, woodland walks and forest trails, ruins of old mansion houses perched on cliff tops, more castle ruins of Dunserverick and Kinbane, ancient settlements like Mountsandel and the famed Bushmills distillery – Ireland’s oldest working distillery for whiskey production.
Read More: Game of Thrones Attractions and Map of Game of Thrones filming locations by Northern Ireland Tourism
A must-do visiting to the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland
St George’s weekend market in Belfast full of food stalls and locally made goods
Taking a Black Taxi tour is one of the best ways to learn about the political history of Northern Ireland and the Catholic and Protestant areas that still remain divided by a Peace Wall and other gates that close in the evening.
The Coastal Causeway Route spans 200km of the Atlantic ocean, on a trail from Belfast to Londonderry (pictured)
More Than Conflict: Things to Do in Northern Ireland on the Coastal Causeway Route to Make You See it Differently
Places to Go and Things to Do in Northern Ireland
Visit Belfast and Explore a City in Regeneration
The path is a long walkway that goes along the Causeway Coastline and hangs from tall cliffs. The Gobbins path is around 32 miles long and home to some of the world’s most amazing views, but also cool history in places like old smugglers’ caves. The Gobbins coastal path tours are in small groups which are well-managed to prevent any kind of over-crowding.
Just one visit to Northern Ireland will instantly shatter your preconceptions, as you step into a destination that’s outgrowing its old face, shaking off the negative image and ready to show the world exactly what it’s about.
With the Coastal Causeway of Northern Ireland declared a designated World Heritage Site since 1986 with rich geological and historical importance and designated special areas of conservation, protection, scientific interest and nature, in Northern Ireland you get to mix heritage and legends with rugged natural beauty.
Learn how to build a shelter at Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland
When choosing from all the places to visit in Northern Ireland, the restored Victorian attraction of the Gobbins Path should be one of them. It is a stunning work of architectural prowess built to show off the natural landscape it protects. That goes double when you realise that it was built just at the turn of the 20th century, and even though it’s received extensive renovations, it’s pretty much the same walkway that has existed for over one hundred years.
The Cathedral Quarter in Belfast is one of the city’s most exciting areas
Go to Lough Neagh – The Largest Lake in Northern Ireland
If exploring popular culture and history is something you’re interested in then don’t forget to check out everything behind the legend of the world-famous ship the RMS Titanic in the Titanic Quarter urban waterfront development, where you’ll also find the 100-year-old HMS Catherine. This area one of the latest and regenerated Belfast points of interest, for it was in Belfast’s shipyard that the iconic Titanic was built, and you will find an incredibly detailed, modern museum dedicated to its history and shipbuilding heritage. Spanning six floors, the museum is the very same height as the Titanic was once complete.
Exploring Londonderry / Derry – The Only Remaining Complete Walled City in Ireland
Travel to Northern Ireland is often shrouded by a negative reputation of recent years, as it continues to heal from the conflict days of The Troubles. During those violent clashes and subsequent peace missions, tourism took a massive hit. Just 15 years ago, seeing a tourist in Belfast and beyond would have been a surprise, yet the fact is there always has been and still is, a host of things to do in Northern Ireland along the Coastal Causeway route that will make you see it very differently.
With the boom in NI tourism, there’s been a burst of Belfast hotels outside of the standard known brands. Independent offerings with artistic concepts and renovated old listed buildings now form a part of the city’s accommodation choices, at affordable prices.
Travel to Northern Ireland and change your perspective of it as you explore its pristine nature, learn the dual narrative of its history from the main cities of Belfast and Derry and indulge in the coastline of adventures on the Coastal Causeway Route.
Cross the old salmon fisherman’s bridge at Carrick-a-Rede on the Causeway Coast
The area of West Belfast is where you will find a series of art murals, and it’s important to see both the art on the Falls Road on the Catholic side and the Shankill road on the Protestant side in order to understand the conflict from both perspectives. While this fervency is still very much present, this is the opportunity to learn first hand by people who lived through the era known as ‘The Troubles’ and how this relates to the positive changes in the city of Belfast today.
Art on the Falls Road, Belfast
I ended up in Derry three times within two weeks. After the first visit, and upon finding family in Ireland, it meant more. I found out my grandmother worked there before leaving for a new life in London. Other family members are from there or have strong ties, since my heritage home of Moville in Country Donegal is just over the border (and technically Northern Ireland but not politically, as they say, “you have to go south to go north”). It was also important to find time to visit the Museum of Free Derry that puts the political climate before, during and after Bloody Sunday into hard-hitting perspective.
Go Moonlight Kayaking on the River Foyle
For me, one main aspect of travelling is trying new experiences, and this time it was all about fishing (for our next meal)! At 6.30 am we jumped on board the Causeway Lass boat in Portrush, for some deep-sea fishing and spectacular north Coastal Causeway views of craggy rock formations, seals and seagulls, while embracing the chilly winds and the wild waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
Game of Thrones Tours in Northern Ireland
The unspoilt beauty of Northern Ireland’s Coastal Causeway scenery at Carrick-a-Rede
The wall in Belfast dividing Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods
The incredible facade of the Titanic Museum in Belfast, which represents the three main ships build here at this dockyard
Old medieval castles like Dunluce Castle are some of the highlights of travelling the Coastal Causeway
Adventure 32 Miles When You Walk The Gobbins Path
Portrush is a resort town that has been popular ever since Victorian times. It’s lined by yellow sand beaches and surrounded by cliff-face scenery and Ireland’s County Donegal that peeks through in the background.
The Blokart with a special sail to pick up the wind and propel your forwards
As the largest lake in Northern Ireland, Lough Neagh is drenched in culture and heritage. It’s situated very close to Belfast and this is the place to go if you want to explore Northern Ireland’s fascinating folklore and history. Toome Bay is a location on the lake where the oldest human artefacts have been found in Ireland, and there is another important archaeological site on Coney Island.
It’s one of the best places to surf in the entire region, as the waters are perfect for these daring escapades. This is one of the biggest reasons why Portrush is considered the Causeway Coast’s capital of fun. Enjoy the sandy beaches of Whiterocks Coastal Park with dunes and soaring white limestone cliffs that date 135-190 million years to the Jurassic period, where at one end you’ll find Portrush and the other, the crumbling ruins of Dunluce Castle.
Visit The Giant’s Causeway for 60 Million Year Old Nature
The Dark Horse Pub courtyard has some of the best street art in Belfast
The old city wall of Londonderry / Derry city, Northern Ireland
The Foders Northern Ireland travel guide (updated for 2019) remains one of the best-selling guidebooks on the country. It includes overviews on ultimate experiences and itineraries including a suggested tour of Northern Ireland sightseeing. The pull-out maps and planning tools are also a helpful addition.
Cross the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge on a Heart-racing Journey
Portstewart Strand is owned and managed by the National Trust and is home is the nature and wildlife reserve of Barmouth – a highlight for birdwatchers.
Because importantly, to visit is about understanding Derry’s past and seeing how 20 years of peace since The Troubles have given it (and Northern Ireland) a new lease of life. One way is to take a tour by skateboard – wheeling around on what’s known as a boom board – with local guides from Far and Wild Adventure. This two-hour boom board tour is a first for Ireland, with Far and Wild not only introducing a unique slow adventure activity for visitors but who also use it internally to work on community projects about inclusion and reconciliation. We started in the park where you get to practice, before wheeling around the neighbourhood, then over the Peace Bridge that’s literally and symbolically connecting this once-divided area and ending in the old walled city.
Enjoy the Coastline Beaches of Portrush & Portstewart Strand
The second of the two main cities of Northern Ireland is Londonderry. Often known as ‘Stroke City’ for its double name reference, here it is more commonly referred to as Derry, and that’s all to do with the political divide and the Irish vs. the British namesake. It is one of Northern Ireland’s oldest cities, its second-largest city and the only remaining complete walled city in Ireland, stretching 1.5km around the city centre and offering a panoramic view from the fringes of the old city and within. What’s more, Londonderry is one of the few remaining cities in Europe to have its city walls entirely intact.
The Causeway Lass fishing boat that we boarded at 6 am ready for our Atlantic Sea adventure
The pride for Games of Thrones in Northern Ireland is immense, even amongst locals who have never watched it. With around 80% of the world’s biggest TV show filmed in Northern Ireland for 10 years, it has brought tourism to the fore at a time when Belfast (where the studios are based) and the coastline (where you’ll find a scattering of famous scenes) needed it most.
Go Sailing in Northern Ireland, On the North Coast from Portrush
Visit Free Derry Corner
The mountain of Binevenagh formed 60 million years ago by molten lava, is an ideal place for trekking and hiking, or for simply admiring the natural beauty of the region from great heights. It’s a place that’s been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty due to its exquisite scenery. On a day where the weather is clear you can view the entire coastline, but also you can spot Scotland in the distance.
The perfectly placed stones are the result of millions of years’ worth of volcanic activity, and their perfect symmetry is a lucky coincidence that resulted in astounding natural beauty.
When you visit Northern Ireland you can’t miss the symbol of history that is the ‘Free Derry’ Corner outside of the old city gates. Here you’ll find the Catholic neighbourhood, known as The Bogside and the street art that lines it. The People’s Gallery murals each displays a portion of Londonderry’s stormy history and in remembrance of those who lost their lives during the violent clashes.
Blokart at Binevenagh Beaches
If you love adventure then you’ll never be stuck on what to do in Northern Ireland when it comes to fast-paced exploration and there’s nothing like sailing the amazing waters of the northern coast of the country as the waves crash with a view of The Skerries.
Canoeing on Lough Neagh as part of wilderness survival
Iconic sights include Belfast City Hall, St George’s weekend market and the Cathedral Quarter where old warehouse spaces that line the cobbled stoned streets have been turned into trendy bars, revived old-timey pubs, world-class eateries and new generation coffee houses.
Wall mural on Shankill Road in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Understanding the History of Northern Ireland – Further Reading
One of the murals that are part of The People’s Gallery in the Bogside, Derry, Northern Ireland
Planning to Discover Northern Ireland and Drive the Coastal Causeway Route?
It’s an activity that intends on you being part of the main experience. There are many skippered sailing charters that will allow you to explore the surrounding region, where you’ll feel like the only ones out there with a front seat to nature’s show. A tour can last anywhere from three to seven days most of the time, but there are some that will allow you to customise your excursion any way you see fit.
The approach to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge crossing
Where to Stay in Northern Ireland on the Causeway Coast
The Bogside – the Catholic side of Londonderry / Derry, Northern Ireland
Hotels in Belfast
“Because we had the conflict, we didn’t have the confidence,” said my guide, Dee about how the true beauty of Northern Ireland remained hidden.
- The Bullitt Hotel is a trendy offering in the very centre of Belfast and the lively Cathedral Quarter. Its crisp design matches its no-frills concept where you’ll find no over-the-top extras or hidden costs. The Bullitt is also home to the Babel rooftop bar, the largest in the city, and perfect for signature cocktails and views over Belfast. The coffee shop here is also known for its quality brew.
- The Malmaison Belfast is a 4-star boutique hotel in the centre with 62 rooms and suites in contemporary style. For those looking for a 4-star a little further out, the Titanic Hotel (opposite the Titanic Museum) is one of the latest Art Deco choices.
- For those really wanting to go completely upmarket, the Merchant Hotel is an upscale city symbol, set in a historic former bank. An event I attended was held here, and the bar and lounge areas are quite the exquisite hangout.
- I stayed for one night in the Flint Hotel which has beautifully designed, minimalist studio style rooms. The price point is lower since there isn’t a breakfast buffet area on-site or any kind of food and drink service or bar. In the morning, you can leave a brown paper bag on your door which will be filled with juice, muesli and fruit that you can enjoy in your room.
- I stayed in the budget option Hotel Ibis Belfast City Centre for a brief overnight stay when I was back in the city and not staying long before a flight out. Although a cheaper, no character option, it is still well located less than 10 minutes walk to the very centre of the city and a good option if you are not bothered about style and land a good last-minute price deal.
Hotels in Derry/Londonderry
Causeway Coast Hotels
Protestant side of Londonderry / Derry in Northern Ireland
Many simply use Belfast as a base and travel along the coast with maybe a coastal town stop-over in between. Regardless of whether you book ahead or decide to be spontaneous along the way, there are plenty of places to stay in Northern Ireland. Here’s a pick of the hotels and bed and breakfasts I stayed in on my NI trip.
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Taking a walking tour with Martin McCrossan City Walking Tours is one of the best things you can do in Londonderry, taking you through the history of the old centre and along the wall.
Boom boarding was followed by a chance to sample the growing culinary scene in Londonderry, like the Pyke n Pommes taco hut