Mini City Guide: The Best Spots in Belfast

On my first visit to Belfast several years ago, I was excited to explore a new city, and see more of the beautiful Irish countryside.

During my second visit, in September of 2020, I spent plenty of time driving around the coast, but also did a bit more exploring in the city. Of course, activities in the city were a bit limited with COVID, but enough was open for me to check out a few sights and see more of Belfast.

Where to Stay

On my first trip, I stayed at an Airbnb about a 15-20 minute walk from the city centre – which, was fine, but on my return, I decided it’d be better to be closer to the centre of all the action.

When looking for a hotel, there were plenty of options in downtown Belfast, but Bullitt was the only place I found that was the perfect mix of affordable, excellent location and trendy.

The rooms are small, but have everything you need for a comfy stay, including lush king size beds, refreshing rain showers and smart TVs.

I loved being able to walk right out the hotel lobby into the heart of the city, mere steps from great cafes and awesome eateries, plus plenty of pubs. If you don’t feel like leaving the hotel, you’ll be chuffed to find room service available, plus a bar, cafe and restaurant downstairs.

In fact, I enjoyed my stay so much, I contemplated spending an extra night in Belfast and nearly did, but the Bullitt was sold out- that’s how good it is, fully booked, even in a pandemic.

What to Do

St Georges Market: Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, more than 150 traders set up stalls offering everything from crafts to antiques to fresh baked bread and gorgeous produce.

The Crown Saloon: Owned by the National Trust, this beautiful Victorian pub has been in operation since 1885. The decor is incredible- most of the finishings are original. A real gem. I’ve included a few more of the pubs we enjoyed below, but this should be considered a can’t miss for a glimpse into Belfast’s history.

The Cathedral Quarter & Commercial Court: The perfect spot for a night out- plenty of great bars and restaurants. Also, charm is everywhere with cobbled streets, colorful murals and beautiful brick buildings.

Titanic Belfast: As the city that built her, Belfast is the home of the Titanic. The museum is a tribute to Belfast’s shipbuilding industry with a focus on how the Titanic came to be- it’s even built on the slipways where the ship was constructed over 100 years ago.  We were here for a little over two hours, and really enjoyed the experience. Definitely book tickets in advance though, the museum gets very busy, and if you buy day-of, you may have to wait over an hour to enter.

The Merchant Hotel: Renovated from the old Ulster Bank, the hotel’s restaurant and bar exude elegance. We popped in for a few drinks at the bar, it’s considered to be one of the best hotels in the world for cocktails. I loved the menu- it’s built on classic services, but offers alternate versions for each one in case you want to try something new.

Black Cab Tours: For over 30 years, Northern Ireland was enthralled in a bloody civil war, fought between the nationalist catholic community and the loyalist protestant community. Out of the turmoil came one of Belfast’s most recognisable attractions, its murals. On a black taxi tour, you’ll drive around the city from east to west and north to south, taking in both sides of the community and their detailed murals.

Explore the countryside: Regarded as one of the most beautiful drives in the world, Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route is the kind of rugged coastline you don’t really find anywhere else in the UK. You can take a guided tour, as I did on my first trip with the Game of Thrones tour experience, or rent a car and go at your own pace (as I did on my second visit). From living abroad for over four years and routinely driving on the left, I’ve become comfortable doing so and would definitely recommend that option over taking a tour- you’ll have way more flexibility in your schedule- where you stop, how long to spend at each place, and such. After almost getting left at the Dark Hedges on my guided tour experience, I can’t recommend a DIY driving tour of Northern Ireland enough.

Where to Eat & Drink

Cafes, perfect for coffee or brunch-

  • Established Coffee: Proper coffee, the espresso was excellent
  • General Merchants: Great coffee + brunch, about a 15 minute walk from the city centre and nearby Georges Street Market
  • Root & Branch: Popped in here for flat whites on our second day on the way to our coastal tour, small simple cafe with good brews
  • The Pocket: Love a cute local coffee shop

Great eats-

  • Bootleggers: The food here is so good, Bootleggers is a must visit anytime I’m in Belfast. It’s rare you find a place with ace cocktails, great beer selection and lots of delicious vegetarian options on the menu. The halloumi tacos and burger were amazing
  • Made in Belfast: Good craft brews, and dishes presented with an Irish flair
  • Pizza Punks: Delicious wood fired pizza, great for takeaway if you’re staying in a nearby hotel and want to eat pizza and chill with Netflix
  • Little Wing Pizzeria: Great lunch stop if you’re on a budget with a £6 pizza and salad deal

Fantastic drinks-

  • Muriel’s Cafe Bar: Great cocktails, we came here for another pre-dinner tipple after The Merchant hotel
  • The Duke of York: Adorable, lively pub
  • Kelly’s Cellars: One of Belfast’s oldest pubs, it’s said to be the best authentic Irish bar in the city – was certainly lively on a Friday evening
  • Bittles: An odd shaped pub with great music and a good selection on draft
  • The John Hewitt: Another good pub, we came here because I heard they had a solid cider selection

Extra Belfast Travel Tidbits

Language: British English. Although, it’s likely you’ll encounter a range of accents while travelling around Northern Ireland.

Currency: GBP, the queen’s finest. You’ll find many places accept contactless (especially during COVID), even on small purchases. 

Budget: In direct comparison to London, Belfast feels a tad cheaper and in comparison to Dublin, it’s definitely cheaper. For example, I’d pay €12-14 for wood-fired pizza in Dublin, but in Belfast at Pizza Punks, the same kind of pizza only cost £7. Of course there’s the pounds to euros conversion, but even so- you’ll find things are usually at least a few euros (or cents) cheaper than Dublin.

Getting Around the City: Walk. There are a few parking garages (I recommend the one on Queen Street) and street parking available, but the city is small enough, that it’ll likely be easiest to walk from place to place.

When to Visit: Having visited in August and September, I’ve lucked out with great weather on both trips. However, much like the weather in Ireland, conditions in Northern Ireland can change quickly and dramatically. Bring waterproof gear and layers to be able to flex between seasons at a moment’s notice. 

Tipping: For exceptional service, tip 10%. However, much like in England, Scotland and Wales, tipping isn’t expected as workers are paid a living wage. 

WiFi Access: If you’ve got an unlocked phone, you can easily pick up a cheap/quick activation SIM at Tesco (or any of the major phone contract carriers). On several instances, I tried connecting to wifi in restaurants and found the networks unlocked, but with verification required (phone number), so if you’re totally cut off from service and hoping to rely only on cafe/restaurant wifi to get around, you may have a tough time. 

Have you ever been to Northern Ireland? Have you explored Belfast or drove along the Causeway Coast? 

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The ‘Can’t Miss’ Guide to Northern Ireland’s Most Beautiful Places

Ah, Northern Ireland- Game of Thrones country.

Even if the tv show isn’t your thing (I’ve only watched up to season six), there’s no denying the beauty of the Causeway Coast.

Regarded as one of the most beautiful drives in the world, it’s the kind of rugged coastline you won’t see anywhere else in the UK, Ireland, and even most of Europe.

How to Get Around

Having travelled the Causeway Coast twice- once by guided tour- and once on my own, self-driving, I can’t encourage going the rental car route enough.

The guided tour was great, but you also miss so much out on so much when on big group tours. Sure, you may see the highlights, but you won’t have any control over how long you spend at each place, or be able to check out the ‘off the beaten path’ destinations.

 

Roads in Northern Ireland are in great condition- if you drive one way along the coast, and the other back inland via highway, you’ll have no issue. And, for anyone worried about driving on the left- I learned how to drive on the right, but actually feel more comfortable driving on the left. Sure, that’s after living in the UK for three years, travelling Asia/Australia/New Zealand for a year, and living in Ireland for a year- all ‘drive on the left’ destinations. But, I promise you get used to it quickly.

Recommended Route

Both times I’ve visited the Causeway Coast, I’ve underestimated just how much there is to see and do. If you can swing it, I’d recommend spending three days along the coast. But, if you’ve only got two days before you head on to Belfast or to the west coast of Ireland, here’s how I’d structure my time.

Assuming you’re arriving from Dublin or flying into Northern Ireland, start in Belfast. Once you’ve seen Belfast for a day or two, leave the city early morning and start your day driving north along the coast. Spend the entire day driving through cute towns and scenic views.

  • Key stops: Carnlough; Cushendall; Cusendun Caves; Corner House Cafe; Giant’s Causeway; Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge; Sunset at White Rocks Beach in Portrush

Spend the night in Portrush, one of Northern Ireland’s larger towns with plenty of options for dinner. There’s so much to see along the coast, if you can split this day into two, you could a few more things, like Tor Head and really take your time soaking in the views.

The next day, hit a few more stops along the coast before ending your day with a short hike. This route assumes you’re headed back to Belfast or Dublin, but could easily be adjusted if you’re headed elsewhere- to Enniskillen or west Ireland.

  • Key stops: White Rocks Beach; Dunluce Castle; Bushmills; The Dark Hedges; Kinbane Castle; Glenariff Forest Park

Are the above day splits aggressive? Yes, a bit. But, if you have good weather and head out in the morning, returning in the evening, they’re doable for an adventure packed weekend.

Can’t Miss Stops Along the Causeway Coast

Carnlough: Hello, quaint Irish coastal village. A half hour stop here is just enough time to walk around the harbour and main street of town.

Cushenden Caves: Scenes from GOT were filmed here, so if that’s your thing, this may be a really exciting stop for you. If you’re not into GOT, the cafes are still very cool. After perusing the caves for a bit, walk through the town and stop at the cosy Corner House Cafe for the best raspberry scones you’ll ever try (ps. the chocolate cake is unbelievable, too).

Giant’s Causeway: A definite highlight of driving the Causeway Coast, Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As the most spectacular spot along the Causeway Coastal Route, the Giant’s Causeway actually lends its name to the whole driving route.

Giant’s Causeway’s unique look was formed by volcanic activity 60 million years ago. Although, local legend would have you believe otherwise. Legend says a giant by the name of Finn McCool was having trouble with someone across the water. The Scottish giant Benandonner was thought to be threatening Ireland. An enraged Finn grabbed chunks of the Antrim coast and threw them into the sea, forming a path for Finn to follow to teach Benandonner a lesson.

Folklore aside, the causeway is spectacular, so unique in appearance, it’s hard to believe it’s real. Some of the columns are appear symmetrical, it seems only logical they’d be human crafted but that’s not the case.

Having visited Giant’s Causeway twice and hiked along the cliffs a bit, words truly fail describing the magic of this place. It’s definitely the kind of place you want as much time as possible- at least 2 hours to truly appreciate the exceptionalness of it all.

My first time visiting, Giant’s Causeway was crowded, but still enjoyable. Visiting in 2020, access was more limited (keeping with COVID compliance), and a much better experience- I know I’ve got Giant’s Causeway listed as a mid-day visit in my ‘key stops’ list, but if you’re able, I’d come first thing in the morning or near closing to experience the sight with fewer people around.

If you’re visiting in COVID times, consider reserving a ticket to have access to the visitor center (main perks: no line for toilets; parking adjacent to the visitor center). Any other time though, you can park nearby (plan to pay for parking or walk a half mile to a mile to reach the visitor’s center), and visit Giant’s Causeway for free.

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge: The rope bridge played a big role in Northern Ireland’s history, with salmon fisherman crossing the bridge daily during fishing season with their daily catch. Since the bridge opened to the public, they’ve ensured safety features, like two side handles for crossers to grip while walking across.

Ready to challenge my fear of heights, we picked up our bridge tickets and walked 20 minutes to the start of the bridge. We couldn’t have been more lucky with the weather- 60 degrees F, sunny and a light breeze keeping us cool from the water.

A few years ago, crossing the rope bridge wouldn’t have been laughable for me- I had such a paralysing fear of heights, I couldn’t even look at the window of high office buildings. Since then, I’ve made major progress in becoming more comfortable off the ground, even skydiving once. That said, while the bridge is high (but not unbelievably high), I did find myself taking deep breaths across the bridge each time I crossed it.

Even if you don’t want to cross the bridge, seeing it and walking along the adjacent cliffs is reason enough to visit.

Before or after the bridge, be sure to stop at Larrybane, a limestone quarry with gorgeous views, where scenes from GOT were shot.

White Rocks Beach (Portrush): One of the most beautiful beaches in Northern Ireland (and Ireland), White Rocks Beach is just as it sounds- a sandy beach, adjacent to towering, spectacular white rocks. Don’t miss the overlook point between the beach access and Dunluce Castle.

I’ve put White Rocks Beach on my ‘must see’ list twice in Northern Ireland because it’s an equally gorgeous place at sunset and during the day.

Dunluce Castle: Roofless castle ruins on the edge of a cliff? Breathtaking.

Exploring the castle grounds only costs a few pounds, and is well worth the cost- the medieval castle is also said to be inspiration for many fantasy writers. Check with the ticket shop to see if the hillside is open, and if it is, climb down for gorgeous views of the castle sea-level.

Bushmills: The town is the perfect size for a late morning/early afternoon snack (read: a bunch of cafe and restaurant options), and if you’re into whiskey, don’t miss a tasting or tour at the distillery.

The Dark Hedges: The hedges are almost surreal- towering hedges shading part of a country road, surrounded by farm side. Famed for an appearance in GOT, the trees date back to the eighteenth century. The Stuart family planted these rows of beech trees, their purpose was to create an impressive sight for visitors as they approached the Stuart home, Gracehill House.

On my most recent visit, I was relieved to see road traffic was cut off. In September 2020, I was able to park on the side of the road (Google Maps location for The Dark Hedges), and leisurely stroll up and down the road, without fear of being run over – a big improvement to my first visit in 2018.

Kinbane Castle: A bit of a hidden gem- hike down a cliffside to reach castle ruins on a stretch of land only accessible when the tide is out.

The views from the top of the bit the ruins sit on is unbelievable- hike to the top for the most incredible views.

Glenariff Forest Park: Hailed as one of the best places in Northern Ireland to experience nature, make don’t miss driving through the Glens of Antrim. There are nine in total and each has its own charming and unique character that is incredible to explore.

Once you’ve arrived, make sure to explore the forest. With its rugged beauty and cascading waterfalls, it’s  known as the “Queen of the Glens”. There are several walks you can take from the main parking lot, including two perfect for a quick exploration:

  • Viewpoint trail (1 km): From the viewpoint on the trail you can look down the Glen to the sea in the distance. The walk takes you past the café and back to the car park via the ornamental garden
  • Waterfall walk trail (3 km): Seeing the Glenariff waterfalls and boardwalk, which wind through Glenariff Nature Reserve is a must do.  Access to the waterfalls is via foot, starting from the main car park or the restaurant car park beside the lodge. Although the trail isn’t that long, be prepared for a steep climb and plenty of steps

Even though I’ve been to Northern Ireland twice, I can’t wait to return. On a future trip, I’d love to stop at:

  • DunDrum Castle 
  • Carrickfergus Castle: One of the best preserved medieval castles in Ireland, it may not look that exciting but is gorgeous at sunset
  • Tollymore Forest: At the base of the Mourne Mountains, the forest is one of the most beautiful places in Northern Ireland
  • Craigmore Viaduct: Known locally as the ’18 Arches’, the viaduct opened in 1852. Trains between Dublin and Belfast still cross the bridge to this day
  • Enniskillen: I’ve seen enough from this area of Northern Ireland to know it’s worth spending a day or two in the area to take in all the natural beauty
  • Castle Roche: Located in Ireland (very close to the border), Castle Roche is everything my Irish drone flying dreams are made of

Have you ever been to Northern Ireland? Which stop from this list would be a ‘must visit’ for you?

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Two Days in Beautiful Belfast

Belfast, a city previously defined by The Troubles, is quick becoming a destination worthy of a city break. Slowly rising from its dark past, Belfast is less crowded and cheaper than Dublin.

There for two days before a race weekend in Dublin, I was excited to explore a new city, and see more of the beautiful Irish countryside.

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Day 1: Exploring the city

Exhausted from a late night arrival, we slept in and had a slow morning at our Airbnb. Mid-morning, we walked into the city to start exploring.

We didn’t have a plan in mind, per se but knew there were a few things and places we wanted to check out over the course of the day. This is where Google maps come in handy, and why I love them so much- having plotted out a few stops we wanted to make, it was easy to see where things were as we explored.

Stops on our day of exploring:

  • St Georges Market: Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, more than 150 traders set up stalls offering everything from crafts to antiques to fresh baked bread and gorgeous produce.
  • The Crown Saloon: Owned by the National Trust, this beautiful Victorian pub has been in operation since 1885. The decor is incredible- most of the finishings are original. A real gem. I’ve included a few more of the pubs we enjoyed below, but this should be considered a can’t miss for a glimpse into Belfast’s history.
  • The Cathedral Quarter & Commercial Court: The perfect spot for a night out- plenty of great bars and restaurants. Also, charm is everywhere with cobbled streets, colorful murals and beautiful brick buildings.
  • Titanic Belfast: As the city that built her, Belfast is the home of the Titanic. The museum is a tribute to Belfast’s shipbuilding industry with a focus on how the Titanic came to be- it’s even built on the slipways where the ship was constructed over 100 years ago.  We were here for a little over two hours, and really enjoyed the experience. Definitely book tickets in advance though, the museum gets very busy, and if you buy day-of, you may have to wait over an hour to enter.
  • The Merchant Hotel: Renovated from the old Ulster Bank, the hotel’s restaurant and bar exude elegance. We popped in for a few drinks at the bar, it’s considered to be one of the best hotels in the world for cocktails. I loved the menu- it’s built on classic services, but offers alternate versions for each one in case you want to try something new.
  • Food & Drink:
    • Established Coffee: Proper coffee, the espresso was excellent
    • Root & Branch: Popped in here for flat whites on our second day on the way to our coastal tour, small simple cafe with good brews
    • The Pocket: Love a cute local coffee shop
    • Little Wing Pizzeria: Great lunch stop if you’re on a budget – we had the £6 pizza and salad deal
    • Made in Belfast: Good craft brews, and although we didn’t eat anything here, the menu looked great
    • Muriel’s Cafe Bar: Great cocktails, we came here for another pre-dinner tipple after The Merchant hotel
    • The Duke of York: Adorable, lively pub
    • Kelly’s Cellars: One of Belfast’s oldest pubs, it’s said to be the best authentic Irish bar in the city – was certainly lively on a Friday evening
    • Bittles: An odd shaped pub with great music and a good selection on draft
    • The John Hewitt: Another good pub, we came here because I heard they had a solid cider selection
    • Bootleggers: The food here is so good, we came for dinner two nights in a row. It’s rare you find a place with ace cocktails, great beer selection and lots of delicious vegetarian options on the menu. The halloumi tacos and burger were amazing

With only one day to see as much of the city as possible, there were a few things we didn’t get to, but I’ve heard great things about, like the Black Cab tours and street art in the west.

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Day 2: Driving the Causeway Coast

Regarded as one of the most beautiful drives in the world, Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route is the kind of rugged coastline you don’t really find anywhere else in the UK.

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Travelling with one other person we looked at the cost of renting a car for our coastal explorations, but ultimately decided it would be more affordable (and easier) for us to join one of the guided Causeway tours.

Normally not one for guided tours, I was a bit hesitant about signing up for a mass group experience. But, when found a Game of Thrones tour with Irish Tour Tickets that had great reviews and stopped at every place both of us were interested in seeing, we decided to go for it.

Turned out to be a great decision. Even though we were on a coach, our driver kept us on a tight schedule- at most stops, we arrived ahead of other buses, which meant no where we went was too crowded.

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Back to the tour. I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones, but still enjoyed the tour. The reason we decided to do the GoT tour over the other Causeway options was because of the day’s final stop at the Dark Hedges.

First stop: Carnlough, a quaint Irish coastal village. We were only stopped here for 20 minutes, but it was just enough time to walk around the harbour and snap a few pictures.

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Next, we drove to the Cushenden Caves. After perusing the caves for a bit, we walked through town, popping into a cosy cafe for raspberry scones to bring back to the bus for an afternoon snack.

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Heading further north, we drove through beautiful valleys- so much greenery and endless rolling hillsides.

On the way to the Giant’s Causeway, we stopped for pictures at Dunluce Castle. Roofless castle ruins on the edge of a cliff? Breathtaking. The medieval castle is also said to be inspiration for many fantasy writers.

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Early afternoon, we arrived at the Giant’s Causeway, a definite highlight of the afternoon. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the causeway’s unique look was formed by volcanic activity 60 million years ago.

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Although, local legend would have you believe otherwise. Legend says a giant by the name of Finn McCool was having trouble with someone across the water. The Scottish giant Benandonner was thought to be threatening Ireland. An enraged Finn grabbed chunks of the Antrim coast and threw them into the sea, forming a path for Finn to follow to teach Benandonner a lesson.

Folklore aside, the causeway is spectacular, so unique in appearance, it’s hard to believe it’s real. Some of the columns are appear symmetrical, it seems only logical they’d be human crafted but that’s not the case.

When we visited, it was crowded, but still enjoyable. We had two and a half hours here, and spent the entire time walking along the columns and hiking the coast. There’s also a visitor’s centre with a cafe, toilets and educational materials.

Ready for the next adventure, we hopped on the coach and drove to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Before heading to the bridge, we stopped at Larrybane, a limestone quarry with gorgeous views where scenes from GoT were shot.

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Ready to challenge my fear of heights, we picked up our bridge tickets and hiked 20 minutes to the start of the bridge. We couldn’t have been more lucky with the weather- 60 degrees F, sunny and a light breeze keeping us cool from the water.

The rope bridge played a big role in Northern Ireland’s history, with salmon fisherman crossing the bridge daily during fishing season with their daily catch. Since the bridge opened to the public, they’ve ensured safety features, like two side handles for crossers to grip while walking across.

IMG_9385

A few years ago, crossing the rope bridge wouldn’t have been laughable for me- I had such a paralysing fear of heights, I couldn’t even look at the window of high office buildings. Since then, I’ve made major progress in becoming more comfortable off the ground, even skydiving once. That said, while the bridge is high (but not unbelievably high), I did find myself taking deep breaths across the bridge each time I crossed it.

Even if you don’t want to cross the bridge, seeing it and walking along the adjacent cliffs is reason enough to visit.

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At last our final stop of the day, the Dark Hedges. The hedges are almost surreal- towering hedges shading part of a country road, surrounded by farm side.

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Back in Belfast at 6 pm, we headed to Kelly’s, one of the oldest pubs in Belfast for a few pints with the after-work Friday crowd. Next up: A stop at another pub, Bitter’s, before heading to Bootleggers for burgers, fries and a couple craft cocktails.

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A beautiful two days in Northern Ireland.

Have you ever been to Northern Ireland? Have you explored Belfast or drove along the Causeway Coast? 

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Driving Northern Ireland’s Stunning Causeway Coast

Regarded as one of the most beautiful drives in the world, Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route is the kind of rugged coastline you don’t really find anywhere else in the UK.

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On a spring road trip around Ireland, I drove with friends from Dublin to the south, and finally west to Galway. From there, I flew back to London and my friends continued north to Sligo and then Northern Ireland before ending in Belfast.

Part of the reason I didn’t join them further north was because I’d already planned on visiting Belfast in August when I had plans to return to Dublin for a race, and as part of that trip, was going to spend two days in Belfast prior.

My first day in Belfast was spent exploring the city. On the second day, I knew I wanted to drive along the coast. Travelling with one other person we looked at the cost of renting a car, but ultimately decided it would be more affordable (and easier) for us to join one of the guided Causeway tours.

Normally not one for guided tours, I was a bit hesitant about signing up for a mass group experience. But, when found a Game of Thrones tour with Irish Tour Tickets that had great reviews and stopped at every place both of us were interested in seeing, we decided to go for it.

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Turned out to be a great decision. Even though we were on a huge coach, our driver kept us on a tight schedule- at most stops, we arrived ahead of other buses, which meant no where we went was too crowded.

If you’d rather rent a car, there are several dealers in Belfast. Coming from Dublin is also do-able, but remember to let your dealership know you’ll be crossing the border- most charge a small fee, but better to let the know where you’re headed than chance it if something happens.

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Back to the tour. I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones, but still enjoyed the tour. The reason we decided to do the GoT tour over the other Causeway options was because of the stop at the Dark Hedges.

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Excited for a day of visiting UNESCO heritage sites and hiking cliffs, we walked to city centre from our Airbnb, stopping at Root & Branch for flat whites before hopping on the tour bus.

First stop: Carnlough, a quaint Irish coastal village. We were only stopped here for 20 minutes, but it was just enough time to walk around the harbour and snap a few pictures.

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Next, we drove to the Cushenden Caves. After perusing the caves for a bit, we walked through town, popping into a cosy cafe for raspberry scones to bring back to the bus for an afternoon snack.

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Heading further north, we drove through beautiful valleys- so much greenery and endless rolling hillsides.

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On the way to the Giant’s Causeway, we stopped for pictures at Dunluce Castle. Roofless castle ruins on the edge of a cliff? Breathtaking. The medieval castle is also said to be inspiration for many fantasy writers.

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We also drove through Bushmills, but didn’t stop at the distillery. The absence of that stop, and addition of the Dark Hedges is the main difference between our tour and other Causeway tours.

Early afternoon, we arrived at the Giant’s Causeway, a definite highlight of the afternoon. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the causeway’s unique look was formed by volcanic activity 60 million years ago.

IMG_9323IMG_9346IMG_9327IMG_9335

Although, local legend would have you believe otherwise. Legend says a giant by the name of Finn McCool was having trouble with someone across the water. The Scottish giant Benandonner was thought to be threatening Ireland. An enraged Finn grabbed chunks of the Antrim coast and threw them into the sea, forming a path for Finn to follow to teach Benandonner a lesson.

Folklore aside, the causeway is spectacular, so unique in appearance, it’s hard to believe it’s real. Some of the columns are appear symmetrical, it seems only logical they’d be human crafted but that’s not the case.

IMG_9300

When we visited, it was crowded, but still enjoyable. We had two and a half hours here, and spent the entire time walking along the columns and hiking the coast. There’s also a visitor’s centre with a cafe, toilets and educational materials. The price of entering the visitor’s centre was included in our tour ticket, but I believe it’s 11.50 for adults.

Ready for the next adventure, we hopped on the coach and drove to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Before heading to the bridge, we stopped at Larrybane, a limestone quarry with gorgeous views where scenes from GoT were shot.

IMG_9369

Ready to challenge my fear of heights, we picked up our bridge tickets and hiked 20 minutes to the start of the bridge. We couldn’t have been more lucky with the weather- 60 degrees F, sunny and a light breeze keeping us cool from the water.

The rope bridge played a big role in Northern Ireland’s history, with salmon fisherman crossing the bridge daily during fishing season with their daily catch. Since the bridge opened to the public, they’ve ensured safety features, like two side handles for crossers to grip while walking across.

IMG_9385IMG_9387IMG_9398

A few years ago, crossing the rope bridge wouldn’t have been laughable for me- I had such a paralysing fear of heights, I couldn’t even look at the window of high office buildings. Since then, I’ve made major progress in becoming more comfortable off the ground, even skydiving once. That said, while the bridge is high (but not unbelievably high), I did find myself taking deep breaths across the bridge each time I crossed it.

Even if you don’t want to cross the bridge, seeing it and walking along the adjacent cliffs is reason enough to visit.

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At last our final stop of the day, the Dark Hedges. The hedges are almost surreal- towering hedges shading part of a country road, surrounded by farm side.

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Exhausted from a full day of exploring, we eagerly climbed back aboard the coach and began to discuss where we wanted to head once we we back in the city. While we were looking up pubs and restaurants for dinner, other tour patrons were playing a GoT trivia game for the chance to win hop on/hop off bus tickets.

Back in the city, we headed to Kelly’s, one of the oldest pubs in Belfast for a few pints with the after-work Friday crowd. Next up: A stop at another pub, Bitter’s, before heading to Bootleggers for burgers, fries and a couple craft cocktails.

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All in all, an unforgettable day adventuring Northern Ireland’s natural wonders.

Have you ever been to Northern Ireland? Did you drive along the Causeway Coast? 

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