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Ireland's Great Drives: Causeway Coastal Route

The Causeway Coastal Route offers an epic tour of the Northern Ireland coast. It travels from Belfast to Lough Foyle, stretching more than 190 km and taking in most of the major sites in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast and Glens is a unique region with patchwork-quilt countryside, picturesque fishing villages, golden sands, towering cliffs, silent glens, a World Heritage site and the home of golfing champions Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell.¬† Armed with a hire car, a map and a sense of adventure, visitors can amble along this route and experience the region by driving the 120 mile¬†Causeway Coastal Route which is often described as One of the World’s Great Road Journeys.

This part of the island is rugged and windswept. The coast is dotted with historic castles, spectacular natural landmarks and unspoilt beaches. Sometimes the thrill is in the journey, sometimes it’s in reaching each destination, sometimes, just sometimes - it’s both.

Causeway Coastal clifftops
Causeway Coastal Route

While it’s entirely possible to drive the entire expanse from Belfast to Derry in a single day, this leaves little time to explore and experience the attractions. With that in mind, it’s wise to plan an itinerary, do a bit of driving each day and spend as much time as possible out in the field.

The most spectacular attraction along the route is the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site roughly halfway between the start and finish points of the drive. The causeway features a vast collection of 60-million-year old six-sided basalt columns jutting out into the sea. This is a completely natural occurrence, but it’s easy to understand why the ancients believed that the causeway was carved by the hands of a giant.

The legend behind Giant’s Causeway is a light-hearted celebration of brains over brawn. According to the story, an Irish giant named Fionn mac Cumhail was challenged to a battle by Benandonner, a Scottish giant who lived across the North Channel. Fionn was no coward, and he built the causeway so that the two giants could meet and battle it out.¬†

But here’s where the legend takes a turn. In one version, Fionn wins and that’s the end. But in the other, Fionn gets cold feet when learn just how big his foe really is. He starts thinking that building that causeway might not have been the best idea, so his wife dresses him up as a baby and tucks him into an oversized cradle.¬†

About this time, Benandonner comes ambling over the causeway. He looks around for Fionn, but all he can find is what he assumes to be Fionn’s oversized son sleeping in a cradle. He can only assume that if the son is this large, the father must be absolutely enormous. He runs back to Scotland, smashing up the causeway behind him.

Admission to the actual landmark is free, though visitors are charged to park and to access the exhibits in the visitor’s centre. View¬†up-to-date prices¬†through the National Trust website or get connected via¬†Facebook¬†and¬†Twitter.

Torr Head road on Causeway Coast
Torr Head Scenic drive on Causeway Coastal Route

The Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge is also on the route. It spans a 20-metre chasm and hangs 30 metres over the ocean. It was originally hung here so that salmon fishermen could cross over and check their nets. The bridge is stable and safe, but that doesn’t make the crossing any less exhilarating.

Quaint and colourful seaside resorts like Ballycastle, Portrush, and Portstewart offer a feast of family fun - and the Causeway Coastal Route also boasts no fewer than six spectacular swathes of golden sand that have received the prestigious Blue Flag beach award. Be sure to set time aside for Dunluce Castle outside of Portrush. Its ruins preciously preside over a basalt crag. It looks as if portions of the castle and courtyard could practically slide off into the sea without much coaxing. Actually, that’s exactly what happened in the 17th century, when the kitchen collapsed and seven servants lost their lives. ¬†

Dunlunce Castle, Causeway Coast
Dunlunce Castle near Bushmills - Causeway Coastal Route

Bear in mind that this driving route is not a circuit, and drivers will start and end on opposite sides of the country. If you are renting a car in Republic of Ireland, check if the rental company has a fee for driving across the border.   

Visit Causeway Coastal Route website for more information attractions located along the Causeway Coastal Route here.

Other driving routes in Ireland:

  • Ring of Kerry - 179km stretch with spectacular landscape, County Kerry
  • Sky Road - "The Capital of Connemara", County Galway
  • Ring of Beara - Located in Co. Kerry and Co. Cork with 137km driving route
  • Healy Pass - The Healy Pass is a winding mountain road between Adrigole in Co. Cork and Lauragh in Co. Kerry
  • Slea Head - Drive on the Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry
  • Wild Atlantic Way - Ireland’s first and only 2,500km driving route, which will stretch along the Atlantic coast from Donegal to West Cork.
  • Lough Inagh Drive - 165 km of the Galway coast