Waaaaaaay back in August, my parents came for a visit. As I mentioned before, we spent a few days in London, but most of our time together was spent in Northern Ireland.
My parents had never been to the Northern part of Ireland before, and Richard still has some family living outside Belfast. It was a great excuse for us to visit family, while also showing my folks a part of Great Britain they had yet to see. We debated driving up through Scotland and crossing the sea on the ferry, but just didn’t have the time. The next time my parents visit, I want to do Scotland properly – I long to explore Edinborough and the Isle of Sky, but haven’t had the opportunity yet.
So, as we weren’t going to drive there, we took the quicker option and flew to Belfast. From there, we rented a vehicle and drove straight up the coast to see the many sights of County Antrim. A few years back, for our first Christmas together, Richard and I toured the coast of Antrim. Of course, it was rainy, windy, and horribly cold during that trip, so I was excited to see the same places in a slightly warmer climate. It is Northern Ireland after all 🙂
When Richard and I had visited before, we spent a couple nights in the Causeway Hotel and rather enjoyed it. It’s right near all the main sights, and quite reasonable in low season (however, this time was a bit pricier). The breakfast had been excellent last time, and was the place I got my recipe for wheat bread! The food wasn’t quite as good this time, but the location just can’t be beat. It’s right beside the visitor center for the Causeway and grants you free access.
I love the mosaic tile in their entry!
We decided to just relax that first night and grab dinner in the hotel, then wake up early the next morning to visit a couple of the sights. First up, was the Carrik-a-Rede rope bridge. It’s a beautiful little spot just a ways down the coast from our hotel, and plenty busy with all the tourists. The last time that Richard and I were there, it was closed and I never got a chance to go across to the little island. It used to have a proper rickety rope bridge, but now it’s pretty sturdy. But it’s still a scary crossing for some of the tourists there!
Once you get across (which can take time with the lines of tourists in the summer), you can just wander around the little island and enjoy the views of the cliffside. Be careful, as there are no ropes or anything keeping you from falling off the sides of the cliffs!
On our drive back to the hotel, we stopped at Ballintoy Harbor. It’s not much more than a pretty little place to sit and have tea, but you might recognize it if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones. It was one of the many filming sites that they used, and we often saw plaques showing the scenes at all the locations for tourists. They even used the overflow parking area at Carrick-a-Rede in an episode!
As we drove back to the hotel, we decided to grab some coffee. We had passed by a cute-looking place on our way to the rope bridge and thought it might be nice for a coffee and some sort of pastry. Bothy Coffee in White Park Bay is still kind of new to the area (don’t remember seeing it in 2015), but is already a local favorite. The space is super cute, with good coffee and plenty of outside seating. We all sat down to relax a bit, after being surrounded by tourists all morning. It was a welcome reprieve for sure.
photos of Bothy Coffee by Orr and Gillespie via Houzz
After our coffee break, we had intended to view the causeway, but arrived at a packed parking lot and tour groups everywhere. So, we decided we would do the Causeway the next morning, first thing, and caught a taxi over to the town of Bushmills. Here, we wandered the shops in the town a bit and took in a tour of their famous distillery.
I won’t bore you with the details of the tour (in my opinion, when you’ve done one tour, you’ve kind of done them all), but Richard and my dad sure enjoyed the free tastings they got in the end, as both my mom and I dislike whiskey. From there, we decided to get a small bite at a local fish + chips spot, The Cod’s Way, before heading to the Bushmills Inn. None of us had eaten lunch, and our dinner reservation wasn’t for a while yet. So we thought we’d have some chips perhaps, and then a couple pints at the Inn before dinner. Well… let me tell you, we had more than a few chips.
Richard and I decided to share some fish + chips, and it was probably the biggest fish we had ever seen! Not only that, but it was really good! The best either of us had ever had before. The shop had recently opened in Bushmills, so let’s hope it’s still just as good now, as it was that day – I’d highly recommend it! It was hard to find online, but if you’re in the area, let me know if it’s still a great little spot 🙂
After a few pints in the pub at the Inn, we made our way through to the restaurant. It’s a really great place, and far larger than you would think from the outside. We all had a lovely meal and enjoyed a break from touring around. If you’re ever in Bushmills, I would highly recommend it. You can even spend the night there if you want, but it was a little outside of our budget.
The next morning, we all woke up early to get down to the Causeway before anyone else. We decided to wander around it first and have breakfast after, in order to beat the rush.
Many tourists think that you can only access the Causeway through the visitor center, and thus wait for it to open in the morning. But, if you get up early, and wander along the hilltop, you come to a little pathway down to the rocks below. Once you climb to the bottom, you’ll have the place almost to yourself until the tourists descend on it.
It’s really quite a unique place, with all the strangely shaped rocks, and if you bring along a Northern Irishman, he can regale you with stories of the Giant who built it all 😉 He’ll point at wonky-shaped rocks and tell you that one is a boot, another a camel and that the upthrusting columns of hexagonal rocks on the hillside are actually a giant’s organ. Or you can visit the center at the top of the hill and read about it yourself.
Once we’d had our fill of the coast, we hopped on one of the buses back to the top and had our breakfast. From there, we packed our vehicle and drove to our final sites, the Dark Hedges and Dunluce Castle.
First up, was Dunluce Castle. Located just on the other side of Bushmills, it’s a really quick drive, but the parking can be quite manic in high season. Maybe try to get there earlier in the day, in order to have the place to yourself. Dunluce is my favorite kind of castle – ruined! While they have rebuilt some sections, it’s mostly just crumbling walls and views of the seaside.
The kind of place that’s perfect for climbing and goofing around!
It’s one of the last proper sites in County Antrim, but we still had one more thing to see. If you drive a way outside of Bushmills, down some windy roads and farmland, you’ll find the Dark Hedges… or as Richard kept calling them, the Black Bushes 😉 You’ll want to use something like Google Maps to find it, as it’s just a stretch of road, not a proper tourist attraction. We got lost the first time we tried to find it.
photo via Mother Nature Network
The road is well known for being featured in an episode of GOT but otherwise is just a pretty road with huge beech trees that meet overhead. If you go at the right time of year, it’s quite beautiful. However, when we went there were so many people(!) on the road, that I didn’t bother trying to take any photos. It’s not a great picture when there are cars lining the road and people standing all over trying to get selfies… ugh. When we went back in 2015, it was December, and no one was around. However, the trees don’t have leaves, and I’d wanted to come back for a better photo… oh well!
And that’s it! All the popular sights in and around County Antrim and Bushmills. Afterwards, we continued our journey to a little town in Ireland, Belfast for a couple days, and then a bus to Dublin. I’d sort of stopped using my camera by this point (hence the fact that I’m not doing a post about them), but I have a few iPhone shots from our trip.
It was a great 10-day trip with the folks and makes me excited for the next time we all get together. Perhaps Scotland this time?!