A road trip snaking around the Northern Coast of Ireland promises magic, myths and the most delicious local food, writes Jillian Bolger
Take a Journey Along the Causeway Coastal Route with us.
Imagine a road trip connecting one historic city to another, along the wild and winding Causeway Coastal Route. Imagine rugged cliffs and wild beaches, windswept paths and pretty villages. Imagine breaking the journey with delicious food, regional specialities and warm hospitality. Plan a trip along Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route, and all these riches are yours.
Starting just outside Belfast, your route will hug the dramatic Antrim coastline, overlooking the wild Atlantic waves, inviting surfing and swimming, hiking and history lessons. The distance isn’t arduous – just 212 kilometres – making it a perfect route to tackle over a weekend, or dawdle along, stopping off to enjoy every view or village that piques your interest.
If time allows, start off with a day or two in Belfast. With a colourful history, impressive architecture, cultural attractions and Titanic Belfast experience, it’s a city that begs to be explored. The dining scene is electric too, riding a wave of creativity at the moment, with vibrant cafés, fine dining and cool casual restaurants around every corner.
Get your bearings with a stroll around St George’s Market (open from Friday to Sunday), a lively and colourful food market stocking Northern Ireland’s many local specialities.
Fine dining aficionados will struggle to choose from Michelin-starred restaurants like OX, Deanes Eipic and The Muddler’s Club, each showcasing an abundance of wonderful Northern Irish produce.
Casual diners should add Bia Rebel, Mourne Seafood Bar, Hadskis, James St and OX Cave to their list. (If you fancy letting someone do the hard work for you, Caroline Wilson’s Taste & Tour itineraries are just the ticket. Read our Fantastic Food Tours feature in this issue to find out more.)
You can’t fail to be impressed by the dining scene here and you can set off on your road trip knowing more great food awaits you along the way. Mother Nature has been more than generous on this coastal route, her rich waters and lush pastures gifting many wonderful ingredients to farmers, producers and chefs.
Road trips can be hungry, and thirsty work, and there’s no shortage of culinary inspiration along the way. Visually, there’s a thrilling mix of attractions too, from the essential Giant’s Causeway and dizzying Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge to Derry’s Mussenden Temple and you’ll discover early on that the drive is just as arresting as the stop-offs.
From Belfast to Ballycastle, you’ll round the top of the country, passing breathtaking views along the way. The nine Glens of Antrim run through the county, from the coast inland, like seams of gathered fabric, each greener and lusher than the last. A joy to climb, with generous views from their slopes, if you have to pick just one choose Glenariff, the Queen of the Glens and the biggest and most popular with visitors. Taking about 3 hours to climb, you’ll find way-marked walking routes; the tenacious are rewarded with cascading waterfalls and sweeping views of the green valley.
En route, make sure to stop at Cushendun Caves, hidden away in the small coastal village of Cushendun. An unexpected thrill, walk into the imposing cliff face, past intricate rock formations and you’ll emerge on a pebble beach where sea stacks, cliffs and waves outdo each other’s beauty.
Heading along the coast, your next stop has to be the Giant’s Causeway. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, choose your own interpretation of the angular basalt rocks – formed 60 million years ago by volcanic activity or created by the legendary giant Finn McCool – before popping up the road to the thrilling and spectacular Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge.
After the salty sea air and breathtaking geology, you’ll be ready for something delicious and The Bushmills Inn is just the spot. An atmospheric coaching inn serving weary travellers since the 1600s, it serves up a slice of history with its delicious food. Book in for tapas, fine dining, afternoon tea or an overnight stay. A cosy place to sleep, guests love the inglenook turf fires, hayloft snugs and hidden library.
Minutes away, you’ll find the Old Bushmills Distillery, Ireland’s oldest working distillery, Dunluce Castle and Royal Portrush Golf Course, should you fancy a round.
Game of Thrones fans flock here to explore the nearby film locations, such as the mesmerising Dark Hedges, which doubles as the Kingsroad. Westeros awaits around other corners too, from Slaver Bay and Renly’s Camp by Murlough Bay to Derry’s Downhill Beach and Mussenden Temple which feature as Dragonstone locations.
(You’ll find Dothraki Grasslands and the Coast of Dorne en route too.) Of course, the scenery and history of this mesmerising route have been casting spells long before HBO’s camera crews breezed into town.
Before passing through Portrush, you’ll want to look up the opening hours of Ursa Minor. It would be a shame to come this far and not get to tuck into the bakehouse’s delicious bread.
Great baked goods are the focus with their sourdough, pastries, coffee and treats, all perfect road trip snacks.
If you fancy a pristine beach on the North Antrim coast, park up at White Park Bay and prepare to be dazzled. Tucked away between two headlands, it’s a pristine swathe of golden sand fringed with sweeping dunes and grasslands that are perfect for stretching your legs.
Popular Victorian seaside town, Portstewart is your next main stop, drawing crowds with its spectacular beach, pretty harbour and breezy promenade. You’ll find great swimming here, and all the best seaside frills, including Harry’s Shack. Low key and sun-bleached, the modest wooden shack serves up a heady mix of top-class local seafood and cocktails. Add a side of sea vistas and this will be one of those meals to remember.
It’s an hour’s drive to Derry from here, following along the curve of the coast. Compact and colourful, the Walled City is like a pot of gold at the end of this road trip rainbow. A beauty to explore on foot, everything is within easy reach and the city enjoys a thriving food and drink scene. Leave plenty of time to unearth the city’s rich and complicated history working up an appetite while exploring.
Dining highlights include Pyke’n’Pommes, where local and organic ingredients are teased into big flavours and properly made fast-food style favourites. For great local beer, head to The Walled City Brewery, the first craft brewery in the city for a century. This smart outfit serves up an impressive gastropub experience alongside their signature brews and good food. Having spent the last few days enjoying the highlights of this picturesque coastline, it seems only fair to celebrate the region by eating and drinking the best food and drink that this dazzling Northern region has produced.
Why not visit one of Good Food Ireland’s members along the route,
Antrim offers Stormont Hotel, Europa Hotel and Grand Central Hotel in Belfast, The Bushmills Inn and Ballygally Castle in County Antrim and Everglades Hotel in Derry.
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