Coast, Glens & Countryside
Our short series “Undiscovered Ulster” aims to introduce you to a part of Ireland that has had less publicity than Dublin, Cork and Galway. The Ulster region undoubtedly offers some of the Island’s most stunning scenery and is far less crowded. In the first article of the series, we showed you the hidden gems of Nigel’s hometown of Belfast. Now we are taking you to the to 10 places on Northern Ireland’s stunning North Coast.
Leaving Belfast, head north towards the port of Larne, which marks the starting point for the famous Antrim Coast Road and some of the finest coastal scenery in the world. There is everything from cliff paths and rope bridges across gorges to historic castles and spectacular beaches. And if that’s not enough, there is also Northern Ireland’s crown jewel – the world famous Giant’s Causeway! You won’t see all of this in a day so to do it justice, try to allow at least three days. This is our top 10 list of things to see and do!
#1 The Gobbins
This famous cliff path just south of the port of Larne reopened recently having been closed for almost 50 years. Its series of bridges, tunnels and caves along a cliff-face has quickly become a popular attraction – just like when it first opened back in 1902. Advance booking for one of its tours is essential, especially at weekends.
#2 Glenariff Forest Park
Leaving Larne, follow the coast road, which is widely recognised as one of the world’s great drives. Passing through small towns and harbours on the way such as Cushendall, Cushendun & Carnlough, take the short detour to Glenariff Forest Park, the largest and most beautiful of the Glens of Antrim. Worth spending a few hours exploring the park and seeing its famous waterfalls.
#3 Rathlin Island
Take the short ferry ride from the town of Ballycastle to visit Rathlin Island, Ulster’s and Ireland’s most northerly island, which is inhabited by approximately 70 people – and hundreds of animals. It’s a ruggedly beautiful place with steep cliffs, amazing views on a clear day and an abundance of wildlife – from seals in the harbour to the bird sanctuary at the cliffs around its lighthouse on the island’s western most tip. Here, you can see puffins, guillemots and razorbills, amongst others. This place is well worth a day trip and it even has its own pub and an award winning fish and chip shop! It is possible to stay on the island, but accommodation is limited so advance booking would be advisable.
#4 The Dark Hedges
Located in the middle of the Ulster countryside at Stranocum you’ll find this beautiful avenue of beech trees. In the last few years it has become besieged by fans of hit TV show Game of Thrones, following after being featured in an episode. It is literally in the middle of nowhere but is it’s worth the detour. And if three coach loads of Game of Thrones fans don’t show up at the same time as you do (we speak from experience) you may even get some very cool photos!
#5 Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
First erected by salmon fishermen in 1755 to more easily reach their nets over on the island, the rope bridge is now a popular attraction between the towns of Ballycastle and Bushmills. Every year, thousands of visitors ‘brave’ the 20 metre chasm with the sea and rocks 23 metres below. It is however very safe and even Nigel with his fear of heights is quite at ease on it! In his childhood however it was a rather more flimsy construction, which the Health & Safety police would never allow today! Owned by the National Trust, there is an entrance fee and there are some steps and a bit of walking involved. Bathroom and cafe facilities are available on site.
#6 White Park Bay
We have told you about this gem and its unexpected inhabitants in a previous article. A short distance from Carrick-a-Rede you come to White Park Bay, a beautiful crescent shaped beach. Park at the small free car park and take the ten-minute walk down to the beach. If you’re lucky you might meet some of its famous residents, a herd of cows that loves a bit of sunbathing time at the water’s edge! Walk to the far end of the beach and as long as the tide is out you can then proceed across the rocks to another small beach. From here, you can take a pathway past amazing rock formations to the quaint harbour at Ballintoy, which incidentally was another one of Ulster’s many Game of Thrones filming locations!
For more photos of our bovine buddies, please click here.
#7 Giants Causeway
You’ve probably all heard about Ulster’s most famous attraction. If you have seen photos, we probably don’t need to sell this attraction to you! If you haven’t then look no further than this article. This World Heritage Site and one of the UK’s most popular natural wonders has been attracting visitors from all over the world to marvel at its 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns since the 19th century. A modern, state of the art visitor centre tells the story of how the Causeway was formed and there are a variety of walking trails all offering breath taking views of the Causeway and surrounding area. Save money on the entrance fee by pre booking your tickets online.
#8 Bushmills Distillery
Ulster is a compact little place and so a drive of no more than five minutes from The Giants Causeway brings you to the small sleepy village of Bushmills, which has achieved fame around the world thanks to its whiskey distillery. The oldest in Ireland, it has been producing one of the worlds most popular whiskey brands for over 400 years. Sampling tours are available most days of the week, check website for details.
#9 Portballintrae/Dunluce Castle
On the doorstep of Bushmills is the village of Portballintrae. Visit its beautiful beach and enjoy one of our favourite walks anywhere in the world! Walking to the far end of the beach, follow the cliff path around the coastline to the Giant’s Causeway. Leaving Portballintrae, follow the coast road towards the popular summer resort of Portrush and stop off at the iconic Dunluce Castle to take photographs or explore it’s famous ruins.
#10 Mussenden Temple
Last but certainly not least on our list is a visit to Downhill Demesne. Amongst other attractions, Mussenden Temple is perched on a cliff edge here and offers one of the most photographed scenes, in all of Ireland, looking over Benone strand towards the mountains of Donegal.
Join us next time as leave Northern Ireland to explore the part of Ulster that is part of the Republic of Ireland: County Donegal, possibly the most beautiful region in all of Ireland.
(c) Originally published in German on http://blog.bravofly.de
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