Best Travel Destination in Europe was awarded to Ireland at the Group Travel Awards in London July 2019, so we decided to take a road trip and experience it for ourselves. Sitting down to plan our trip we used Experience Northern Ireland to plan our travel itinerary so we could add places to visit, where to eat and where to stay. Here’s how we got on….
5 Days, 4 Nights, forever memories!
Scenic drives in Northern Ireland are around every corner, from country road to villages and harbours, going to and from the cites, but let us draw you into the Causeway Coastal Route home of the Antrim Coast Road and Glens of Antrim. As one of the most stunning, peaceful and inviting coastal drives in the world, you will truly feel that you have been able to fill your heart with Ireland. Extraordinary scenery, a different view around each glen, friendly locals and delicious food in tune with the seasons.
Dotted with golden beaches, fishing villages, glens, valleys and cliff paths, it is easy to admire as you set off on your road trip adventure in the car. The beauty of this region deserves your time to stop off along the way so plan your journey with Experience Northern Ireland, where to stay, what to do, things to see and where to eat.
Add places to stay to your itinerary, a Hotel, Bed & Breakfast, Holiday Cottage or Hostel in Carrickfergus, Whitehead, Larne, Ballygally, Ballymena, Glenarm, Carnlough, Glenariff, Cushendall, Cushendun, Ballycastle or inland in the Glens of Antrim, add several places to stay as you hug the coast and enjoy every moment of the Causeway Coast Route for at least 5 days.
First stop Carrickfergus and use the Experience Northern Ireland category search to find your ideal accommodation and Add to your Planner for Day 1. Take in the breath-taking dominance of Carrickfergus Castle and book ahead to meet local guide from Lead The Way Walking Tours to tell you the local story and the role Carrickfergus played in WW2. Head to the town with no streets and as you drive to Whitehead, glance to the view of Belfast Lough where the majestic RMS Titanic rested overnight before her maiden voyage. A town favoured by the Victorians to escape industrial Belfast, discover stem giants and a tour at the Whitehead Railway Museum, home to the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, check out the movie stars in residence! Whether its breakfast, lunch, dinner, deli selection or take away cheese board, Whitehead has it all on offer. The Lighthouse Bistro & The Bank House are a must! and as standard it’s the home of locally sourced food ingredients and time to chat with the locals. Book ahead of your trip and enjoy a Whitehead Walking Tour & Food Tasting Tour with Toast The Coast, just a few hours and leisurely walk to enjoy the interesting features of the town whilst sampling 3 food stops all with different tasting plates. Now that Day one on your itinerary is planned out using Experience Northern Ireland www.xperienceni.com it’s time to drive to your overnight stay and relax and be ready for Day Two. Not sure what time you will get there? don’t worry Experience Northern Ireland maps your times and distances on your itinerary.
Day 2 your morning activity, taking 2.5 hours and the most dramatic cliff face walk in Europe, The Gobbins Cliff Path Islandmagee (booking ahead recommended, don’t forget your hiking boots or phone ahead to hire some when you get there). The huge basalt cliffs of the Islandmagee peninsula is a truly unique hiking trail experience. Walk over the tubular bridge (10 meters above the sea), in the footsteps of the Victorians and spot some local wildlife. Climb stairways clinging on the rocks and discover caves around the waves crashing below. Certain months of the year you could be lucky to be on Northern Ireland’s only mainland coastal puffin colony. Well-earned and ready for a treat, at any time of day, and I mean anytime, do not miss the chance to have some of the family made recipes of ice cream since 1921 at The Rinkha the only problem is choosing which flavour! Just a short distance away, find out how far on your itinerary planner, is Kilcoan Gardens where you can enjoy a cottage garden stroll, herb gardens, stunning views of the lough with a cuppa and homemade bun or biscuit (check out their website for opening times and the workshop date book ahead if the workshop date suits). No dogs permitted as poppy lives here and welcomes your arrival, pooch cuddles are free!
Ready for lunch drive to your next stop that you can add to your itinerary planner, Billy Andy’s Traditional Irish Pub in Larne, a snug pub and restaurant built in the early 19th century, enjoy locally sourced food and stunning menu in the winning surroundings of 2019’s Northern Ireland Pub Food of the Year! (Saturdays from 3pm means Traditional Irish Music for top tapping fun). Add a bit of retail shopping to your afternoon, park up and explore the bustling town of Larne one of Irelands oldest inhabited areas, many of the businesses are run by local families and the town is proud of its warm welcome offered to visitors from near or far. Retail not your thing; then book a cookery class at Bellahill Cookery School and step into a rural family home for ideas, recipes and tastings.
Just in time travel the coast for the Dine with Wine Dinner Menu at Ballygally Castle you can enjoy locally sourced foods with a menu designed by Executive Head Chef, part of the Hastings Hotels Group and experts in food provenance & finest hospitality. Built in 1625 explore one of Irelands oldest continually inhabited castles, tucked into Ballygally Bay, up the spiral staircase to Isobella’s room (resident ghost) and stunning views across the bay and Glens of Antrim! Game of Thrones® fans ring ahead and book the sharing Westeros Tomahawk Steak with “Valyrian Steel” inspired carving knife, get your Doors of Thrones Passport stamped!
A few hidden gems are worth visiting on Day 3 but it’s time for a rest from driving and what better way than to book a tour with a local guide, give Milliken Tours Ireland or CraicNTour a ring, ask to see a not to be missed Ireland Bucket List; waterfalll, church ruins, hidden history, quaint harbour and walk the steps of the locals! Call in for lunch at Laragh Lodge nestled at the bottom of the Waterfall in Glenariff Forest Park before heading back towards your starting point, stop off at the harbour in Carnlough and catch the boat trip with Carnlough Boat Tours before stepping into the Londonderry Arms Hotel once owned by Sir Winston Churchill, dinner with local seasonal food ( I can recommend the Glenarm Shorthorn Burger followed by Apple Crumble)and a wee dram of Bushmills Whiskey in the Arkle Whiskey Bar, don’t forget to rub the lucky horse shoe!
Day 4 and the final day planned on your itinerary (don’t worry if you are staying longer you can plan more on the go), destination National Trust gems the Giants Causeway & Carrick-A-Rede lets get up and out early from your overnight stay, remember to add it as your starting point, to your itinerary so you know how long it takes to drive between each place you are visiting today. Capture the coast a lifetime memory, shaped by fire & ice dramatic glens and cliffs take over, visit Cushendun Caves, and if you’re a Game of Thrones® fan note the birthplace of the shadow baby. Just over the bridge, after saying hello to Arlene (the local goat) visit one of Irelands smallest pubs and order some early lunch in Mary McBride’s & The Little Black Door a good East Coast USA type chowder is always a special as well as the slow roasted Beef & Guinness pie. We now know why Northern Ireland is the Worlds Best Food Destination 2018/2019, it truly is delicious and genuinely local. Wash down with a pint of the black stuff and if you ask the right person you can have a go at pouring your own pint of Guinness (certificate included). Not your style? then there are several Award-Winning Gins, Local Craft Beers, a Whiskey Collection and drinks to choose from (including really good coffee too). Another Game of Thrones® inspired Door, Door of Thrones passports at the ready thank you.
A scenic drive over Torr Head or inland it’s your choice but plan it on your itinerary so you can visit the Giants Causeway and/or Carrick-A-Rede in the afternoon/early evening. You can book online and secure your time slot (it will give you piece of mind). I won’t spoil the experience and I won’t tell you what you see and feel when you visit, but all I can say is prepare to take a deep breath, immerse yourself in the mystery and magic of great footsteps, you’ll go home with a warm memory of a lifetime! (also neck scarf and hair bobble recommended as it’s a wee bit windy most of the time). As Day 4 closes in with nightfall, you might be lucky enough to capture a stunning sunset before heading back to your accommodation somewhere between Ballycastle & Portrush the choice is yours.
Day 5 book in advance to take advantage of a personal experience and a real connection with the local environment, join Born to Run Tours (who run at your pace and timeslot) or Causeway Coast Kayaking Tours for a taster session or expedition for 1 to 4 hours (book
Energetic not your thing and think it’s time to relax by Day 5? then head to Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort the first thermal village of its kind in Ireland, Celtic Sauna, forest and river view bathing, extensive spa treatment menu as well as 4 Restaurants, Afternoon Tea Conservatory and Ireland’s largest Gin library, it really has it all so just enjoy, you deserve it!
Enjoy the rest of your vacation whilst you Experience Northern Ireland.
This trip includes many highlights and forms part of the Causeway Coastal Route, voted the Best Destination in the World to Visit by the Lonely Planet Magazine (2018) – You can view and do everything at your leisure, plan your trip from 1 to many days and choose from a huge choice of accommodation options. Plan your itinerary, send to family or friends, or change on the go when you are on your road trip. You are in control with www.xperienceni.com
(all items correct at time of publication 09/07/2019 Copyright Experience Northern Ireland ©)