Welcome to your guide to the very best country in the world! Ok, so this one may be a little biased but I am absolutely in love with my home. The North Coast of Northern Ireland was Lonely Planet’s best region to visit for 2018 so I would say a lot of other people have discovered the raw, natural beauty our wee country has to offer. I guess we are a little late to the party seeing as it’s 2019, but that’s no reason to stop celebrating this historic stretch of coastline that makes up the Causeway Coastal Route.
After travelling across the world and seeing some amazing places I have to say Ireland ranks up there with the best of them. I know I know, biased opinion but if Lonely Planet has chosen it as their top region to visit then it must be true. Unlike most holidays you wont be coming here for the sun but we do have the sea and sand. So pack your raincoat and prepare for an epic coastal adventure along the north coast of Northern Ireland.
Grianan of Aileach
How Irish does this place sound? This one is a bit of a stretch as it is just outside of Derry/Londonderry but I could not leave it off the list. The origins of the fort date back to 1700 BC. That’s seriously old. It is situated on a hilltop 250m above sea level and offers the most amazing 360 degree views from the top. You’ll be exposed to the elements up here so wrap up warm, but the view of the surrounding countryside and the loughs is something not to be missed.
Mussenden Temple is probably the locals favourite stop on the North Coast and for good reason. This beautiful Roman style temple is set right on the cliffs edge, 125 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. It was built in 1785 as a summer library. Nice for some eh. It is part of Downhill Demesne which also contains the beautiful ruins of the old Bishops house.
This also has to be the place in Ireland where most people get down on one knee and propose to their spouse. I can’t count how many friends have gotten engaged here so if you are looking for the perfect spot to propose on your trip, this is it. You wont find a much more spectacular backdrop anywhere in the world.
Drive 5 minutes round the corner and you will come to Castlerock beach. A stretch of golden sand that is overlooked by Mussenden Temple. Walk to the opposite end of the beach to take a stroll down the pier where you will be able to see across the river to Portstewart strand. When I think of the North Coast my mind wanders to this beach. It envelopes everything that makes this stretch of coastline so awesome.
Another old building perched on the edge of a cliff. Seems to be a bit of a recurring theme here. Dunluce Castle was built around 1500 by the MacQuillan family. We actually have a pretty special piece of history here as Roxy is a descendant of the MacQuillan family. So this random Canadian girl I met in Australia has family history in a place that I lived 5 minutes away from back home. Small world.
You may also recognise this as Castle Greyjoy from Game of Thrones. This will be another recurring theme as a lot of the TV series was filmed here. Most of the Iron Islands from the series are comprised of the gems on the North Coast. What’s really cool is that if you meet a local with long hair and a big beard, chances are they have been an extra on the show.
The Giants Causeway
The Giants Causeway is considered by most as the cherry on top of the delicious cupcake that is the North Coast of Northern Ireland. Or the jewel in the crown if that’s a better metaphor. It is believed to have formed from volcanic eruptions 60 million years ago. The 40,000 basalt stone columns have created Northern Irelands first UNESCO World Heritage Sight.
Through years of story telling and folk tales you can now take a tour through the land where giants lived and learn everything there is to know about Finn McCool. The location of the causeway is almost as stunning as the geological formations. Take in the rugged cliffs that surround you as walk in the footsteps of giants.
The Dark Hedges
Another spot made famous by Game of Thrones. It is featured several times in the series as The Kings Road. The beautiful stretch of Beech trees was planted in the 18th century by the Stuart family in a bid to impress their visitors. Centuries later and we are still blown away by this natural wonder so I’d say that’s mission accomplished.
A seriously talented photographer friend of mine, Dusty, recently visited Ireland for a wedding and took some time out to see the sights. I think you will agree he captured the beauty of this place perfectly. Check him out on Instagram @DustyVision. After doing a pretty good tour of Ireland he also wrote a great blog on the 15 best places to visit in Ireland. Accompanied by his amazing photos it’s well worth the read.
This is one place that I truly believe should be enjoyed from the water. So get ready to pull a wetsuit on and go for a swim. The harbor is surrounded by lots of smaller islands that aren’t much more than a stones throw from the beach. It’s a great way to see the coast from a perspective that most others will miss. You can spend hours swimming, climbing over rocks and cliff jumping in this spectacular natural playground.
The absolute best way to see the coast is with Causeway Coasteering. Matt is born and raised on the North Coast and knows these parts better than anyone else on the planet. I went out on a trip with him on my last visit home and had an absolute blast. He knows the safest spots (blah, boring, but after 8 stitches in my foot from dodgy cliff jumps I can tell you how much this matters), but more importantly he knows all the hidden gems. He’ll have you swimming through underground tunnels, getting tossed around in natural wavepools and doing cliff jumps you never thought you could do. He will give you a great few hours of craic and always has a camera on hand so you will have something to remember your day. An adrenaline filled adventure with Matt at Causeway Coasteering is a must do for anyone passing through this part of the world.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
I hope you’re not afraid of heights. The final stop on your trip will take you to Carrick-a-Rede Island. The rope bridge is suspended 100 feet above the Atlantic Ocean below. If you are brave enough have a look down and see the brilliant colours of the Irish coast. The water is spectacularly clear here on a calm day and gives off a beautiful emerald colour. On a stormy day look down and watch the waves crash beneath your feet.
The bridge is sturdier than it once was, so while you still feel a thrill as you sway in the breeze you also feel like the bridge is’nt going to collapse into the water which is always a good thing.
I don’t think I could ever recommend going to visit the North Coast of Northern Ireland enough. And while its time as the Lonely Planet region to visit is at an end its time as The Coastal Campaigns region to visit is just starting. Disclaimer: it will be my region to visit forever.
If the Wizard of Oz taught me anything its that there’s no place like home. If only I could click my heels three times and end up back on the emerald isle.