Even though I’ve been all over Ireland, I especially like the northern part. I have a soft spot for that area because my grandfather is from there, but it’s also one of the most beautiful places in the country. Almost everywhere you drive, you can see the ocean on one side. A Northern Ireland road trip is something I always recommend that people add to their itinerary.
While the rest of Ireland has its share of beautiful sights, Northern Ireland has a special kind of charm that can’t be found anywhere else. A road trip around Northern Ireland is a must for any tourist because of the stunning scenery you’ll see along the way and all the charming towns you can explore.
I last visited the area in the fall time, and a drive along the coast of Northern Ireland during that season was incredible. I loved taking pictures of the leaves changing colors and the misty mornings and smelling the fresh ocean air. This article will give you helpful tips on how to take a Northern Ireland drive and where to stop during your journey.
This post was first written in 2021 and last updated in March 2023.
Tips for Driving the Northern Ireland Coastal Route
If you’re driving yourself around your Northern Ireland itinerary map, be sure to read up on road rules to avoid getting into any sticky situations. I have some helpful tips on how to drive in Ireland if it’s your first time.
- You’ll need a valid driver’s license to drive in the UK (but you don’t need any further permits besides that). You should also note that cell phone use while driving is not permitted, and you’ll be driving on the left-hand side of the road.
- Some of the roads up here are pretty narrow, so make sure to take your time when going around the corner. Like most places in Ireland, livestock on the road is a real threat, so you don’t want to speed and hit any sheep!
- You should also note that Northern Ireland is actually part of the United Kingdom, not Ireland. That means that if you’ve been driving around Ireland paying in euros, you’ll now be paying in pounds. The conversion is different, so take a minute to familiarize yourself with it before you buy something.
While I highly recommend renting a car so you can see all of these spots, there are plenty of tours in the area if you want someone else to drive you to a few of these destinations.
How many days do I need for Northern Ireland?
How long you spend on your Northern Ireland road trip depends on exactly how many activities you do, but I recommend spending at least three days in the area to fully explore it. That way, you can take your time at places you like on your road trip in Northern Ireland and not feel rushed driving around.
What’s the best time for a Northern Ireland road trip?
You can drive around Northern Ireland any time of the year – they don’t typically get snow, so you don’t need to worry about that. However, visiting Ireland during winter often brings windy, rainy days, so you’ll want to keep that in mind if you mainly plan on being outside.
I’ve been here in the dead of winter before, and it was manageable when I brought all my essentials from my list of things to pack for Ireland in winter (especially a warm coat, raincoat, and rain boots!). Also, there’s no better place to end a rainy day than in a cozy Irish pub, which you can find anywhere you look.
How long does it take to drive around Northern Ireland?
If you choose to stick to the Causeway Coastal Route and follow the roads down all the way past Belfast, it will take you about six hours. Keep in mind that this is only sticking to the roads by the ocean, so there are many ways to make this shorter if you get onto a main highway. This time also doesn’t include any stops, which you’ll want to do on your Northern Ireland driving tour.
Northern Ireland road trip map
I find it helpful to look at a map when planning out a trip, so here’s a map of all the stops you’ll make on a Northern Ireland coastal route. You can use this to help you plan out your Northern Ireland road trip itinerary and decide how many of these stops you want to make, whether you spend 7 days in Ireland or longer.
13 Fun Stops on a Northern Ireland Road Trip
While the drive through Northern Ireland is an experience in itself, there are so many amazing places to stop and explore as you pass them by. If you’re looking for where to visit in Northern Ireland, we’ve compiled a spectacular guide of Irish landmarks, viewpoints, and other important places to see.
This is by no means the complete list, but you definitely should not miss the following places.
1. Mussenden Temple
Location: Sea Coast Rd, Coleraine
Open: 10 am to 5 pm
Cost: From £5.00 per person
This striking, dramatic structure on a 120 ft cliff top offers unbelievable views over the Atlantic Ocean and is the first stop on your Northern Ireland scenic drive. It’s a popular spot for weddings and a great place to do an impromptu vacation photoshoot when looking for picturesque places to visit in Northern Ireland.
You can browse inside the temple and Hezlett House or enjoy the outdoor space. Family picnics, dog walks, and an easy 2-hour walk down the Downhill Demesne Walking Trail are all possible activities here.
2. Glens of Antrim
Location: A region of County Antrim
Open: 24 hours
Cost: Free to explore
Found less than 50 kilometers north of Belfast and taking up around 130 kilometers of cliffs and open hills, the Glens of Antrim are a must-see on a North Ireland road trip.
This large area consists of 9 Glens, each with its own character and stand-out features. These include stunning beaches, miles of gorgeous hiking trails, and even a hotel that hosts a friendly ghost resident.
The Glens and their name meanings are:
- Glenarm – valley of the army
- Glencloy – valley of the dykes
- Glenariff – valley of the plough
- Glenballyemon – Edwardstown Glen
- Glenaan – valley of the little fords
- Glencorp – valley of the dead
- Glendun – brown valley
- Glenshesk – valley of the sedge
- Glentaisie – named after Taisie, princess of Rathlin Island
3. The Dark Hedges
Location: Bregagh Rd, Stranocum
Open: 24 hours
Cost: Free (public road)
Way back in the eighteenth century, the Stuart family in Ballymoney planted a row of beech trees on either side of the road leading to their home. They did this in an effort to impress their visitors (which I’m sure worked).
Now, everyone living in and visiting Northern Ireland enjoys and admires this stunning road. The trees make such a pretty sight that they’ve attracted Hollywood attention as well. The Dark Hedges was used as a filming location for an episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, making it a bucket list item for fans of the show when on a Northern Ireland road trip.
You cannot drive through the hedges anymore, so you’ll need to find a parking spot to stop at to take photos. I saw multiple people make this mistake before they were waived off the road (make sure to know what not to do as a tourist in Ireland before visiting).
Or, if you have some spare time, book yourself into one of the nearby accommodations, such as an Irish country house hotel, and enjoy easy access and free parking.
This is one of the most popular Northern Ireland road trips, so get here early. I recommend going during spring in Ireland to beat the crowds.
If you want more knowledgeable information during your visit when looking for what to do in Northern Ireland, consider booking a guided tour of the Dark Hedges.
4. Glenarm Castle
Location: 2 Castle Lane, Glenarm
Open: Every day, 9 am to 5 pm
Cost: Adults pay from £6.00 to £8.00 for access to the garden
One of Northern Ireland’s most beautiful estates, Glenarm Castle, was first built in the seventeenth century by Randal McDonnell, 1st Earl of Antrim. The castle has been the ancestral seat of the McDonnell family ever since.
Today, visitors can stop by and explore the castle and its brilliant walled garden. The Woodlands Walk also offers a birds-eye view of the garden and plenty of opportunities to view wildlife. Sneak a peek at the resident Shorthorn cows, squirrels, rabbits, and beautiful flowers and plants.
On the castle grounds is also a tea room, milk parlor, potting shed, and a castle gift shop, so I recommend stopping here when driving in Northern Ireland.
While you can’t stay here, there are plenty of castle hotels in Ireland where you can book a room at.
5. The Gobbins Cliff Path
Location: Turn off from Gobbins Road, Larne
Open: 24 hours, but tours and visitor center are available from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm
The Gobbins Cliff Path is a stunning stop, providing unparalleled views and a slight sense of adventure, so you’ll want to stop here when touring Northern Ireland by car. You’ll park your car in one of the free allocated parking spaces and then go down the 3 km-long cliff path. There are many steps and a steep incline at the end, so you’d need to be able to manage this.
Do the walk with a tour guide, and you’ll get a detailed history and explanation of the area and its significance. If you’re an avid bird watcher, you’ll want to try and make this trip sometime between May and August in Ireland. This time of year is when you’ll be treated to a stunning sight of migrating birds.
This is a popular day tour from Belfast that you can check out.
6. Carrick-a-Rede Bridge
Location: Near Ballintoy in County Antrim
Open: 10 am to 5 pm
Cost: From £1.00
One of my favorite Northern Ireland places to visit, Carrick-a-Rede Bridge is picturesque and fascinating. Brave this 20m-long rope bridge hanging 30m above the sea and discover what life was like for Northern Ireland fishermen many years ago (as well as learn other fun facts about Ireland). You can still see the remains of an old cabin there, which I couldn’t fathom living at with how windy it was when I visited.
The bridge was built as a way for salmon fishers to get onto the small island of Carrick-a-Rede. It was quite rickety and undoubtedly a little dangerous when people first used it 350 years ago. However, it’s now been restored, and although it may still feel rocky, it’s safe for visitors to cross (and a fun kid activity in Ireland).
You can reach the bridge from the striking Northern Ireland coastal route, which is wheelchair accessible. However, the bridge itself is not as accessible. You’ll love adding this to your list as one of the most scenic drives around Northern Ireland.
7. Cushendun Village
Location: County Antrim
Open: 24 hours, but best to visit during the day
Cost: Free to explore
This area is one of the most stunning places to go in Northern Ireland. It’s a quaint little coastal village in County Antrim that you’ll want to stop at on your Northern Ireland road trip. The entire town is in a conservation area that the National Trust manages.
Although it’s small, there are many shops and pubs in the village (perfect for trying a traditional Irish drink), so you can easily spend a day here getting to know the locals. Visit the beachfront, stroll one of the scenic paths, and stop by the harbor.
There are also the Castle Carra ruins and Cushendun Caves to add to your itinerary. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you may recognize the Cushendun Caves as one of the GOT filming locations in Ireland. You’ll love putting this on your Northern Ireland driving itinerary.
Book a room at Glenn Eireann House to explore the town more if you feel like staying the night.
8. Rathlin Island
Location: Off the coast of County Antrim
Open: Ferry times vary between 8:30 am – 12:30 pm & 1:30 pm – 5:00 pm
Cost: Ferry costs are £12 per adult return and £6 per child return (5-15); under 5 are free
Take a break from scenic drives in Northern Ireland and hop on a ferry to Rathlin Island. Here, you can park your car and discover the island home to a growing population of around 140 people.
The island is small but offers visitors the chance to cycle, do bus and walking tours, visit the Seabird Center, and check out the Boathouse Visitor Centre. There is also an outdoor gym, a children’s playground, and shops and restaurants.
Discover the island’s beauty, happen upon the many shipwrecks, and admire the basking seals as you make your way around this 10-kilometer-long piece of green land.
9. Dunluce Castle
Location: 87 Dunluce Rd, Bushmills
Open: March to October daily from 9:30 am to 5 pm & November to February daily from 9:30 am to 4 pm
Cost: £6.00 per adult
A scenic and romantic Irish castle, Dunluce was built between the 1400s and 1600s. It was originally built by the most powerful earl of the time, Richard Od de Burgh. He selected a magnificent spot right on the cliff edge overlooking the striking Irish seas.
The castle was seized by the MacDonnell clan and was also home to the McQuillans and a group of Scottish settlers throughout the years. History is abundant in these walls, and it’s like stepping through time when you visit here.
The castle is mostly in ruins now, but there is still much left to admire and discover. It’s a great place to bring the family and spend a couple of hours soaking in the beauty. I loved walking through the ruins and trying to imagine what it was like living on this castle right on the cliff back in the day.
This is a good time in your trip to pull out your Irish voltage converter and charge your camera.
10. Roe Valley Country Park
Location: 41 Dogleap Rd, Limavady
Open: Daily 9 am to 7 pm
Cost: Free entrance
Step out of the car and stretch your legs with an outdoor experience at Roe Valley Country Park. This large and open woodland area offers so much green space and fresh air, so it’s a must on any Ireland road trip.
The park is home to part of the Roe River, and visitors can enjoy a load of fun activities here. These include fishing, canoeing, rock climbing, orienteering, and viewing the many cute critters living in the park.
There is Ritters Tea Room for refreshments and a museum and countryside center that details the area’s heritage.
11. Giant’s Causeway
Location: 44 Causeway Road, Bushmills
Open: Dawn to dusk
Cost: £13.00 per adult
Just a little way from Cushendun Village, Giant’s Causeway is a wonder in its own right on your Northern Ireland road trip. This spot draws in thousands of visitors every year, attracting them with its unique look and picturesque views.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come here the first time I visited Ireland due to how touristy, but I do recommend it – this is definitely one of the more unique rock formations in the country. It was fun walking among the different rock columns, and I almost thought they didn’t look natural because they were so different.
Giant’s Causeway is an area made up of over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns created by the flow of balsamic lava around 6 million years ago. The hexagon shapes of these stone columns look almost other-worldly. It’s no wonder that the Irish know this as their own ‘8th World Wonder’.
To visit one of the best Northern Ireland scenic drives, you can park in one of the parking spots nearby and walk one of the three trails in the area. Stop to take in the scenery, snap photos, and fully absorb this wonder. It’s also a fun thing to do with kids near Belfast.
If you’re visiting Ireland without a car during this trip (although I highly recommend it for this itinerary), there are plenty of tours from Belfast that will take you here.
This attraction is a popular place to go while on a guided tour.
12. Bushmills Village
Location: On the north coast of County Antrim
Open: 24 hours
Another welcoming village to visit on your Northern Ireland road trip is Bushmills. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve driven into a time-traveling portal as you enter the village, as it hasn’t fully joined the 21st century yet. However, this is what gives it all of its charm.
The town is home to around 1,295 inhabitants and is about 100 kilometers from Belfast. There’s a whiskey distillery, a war memorial named The Diamond, and the Bushmills Railway tram, which can take you right to Giant’s Causeway for the day.
If you’re visiting during June in Ireland, be sure to check out the annual Bushmills Live event at the distillery. There are plenty of places to buy Irish souvenirs if you need something to take home.
This is a great place to come during November in Ireland, so you can stay a bit drier.
Book one of the hotels in Bushmills and spend some time exploring the streets as well as the beauty surrounding the village when you’re there.
Location: County Antrim/County Down
Open: 24 hours
A must-see is the Titanic Quarter, where you can stop at the very spot where the massive ship was built. There are also many shops, restaurants, and landmarks to be found – so a walking tour of the city is a great idea. You’ll love trying some of the traditional Irish foods you’ll find in the city, and you may want to know the difference between Dublin and Belfast before you go.
Stroll through the Botanical Gardens, see the Queen’s University, and go watch a Belfast Giant’s game at the SSE Arena. There are also many things to do with kids in Belfast that you’ll want to check out.
Spend more time exploring the area and stay the night at Radisson Blue Hotel Belfast, a modern hotel in the fun Gasworks neighborhood.
Whether you see all of these places or just some, you’ll remember your Northern Ireland road trip for a long time!