We decided to keep our holiday simple for July and head across the water to explore Belfast and the coast of Northern Ireland. While many scoffed at our decision to visit such a non-sunny, non-beachy destination, we were actually greeted with continuous days of sunshine and warmth!
We spent the first night in Belfast before renting a car and setting off to drive the entire Causeway Coastal Route, which stretches from Belfast to Northern Ireland’s second-largest city, Londonderry.
Some of the highlights from Belfast included:
Victoria Square Shopping Centre: A high-end shopping centre, there is a glass dome that you can walk or take the lift up to for views of Belfast.
Belfast City Hall: This building reminds me quite a bit of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings in Victoria back home.
Titanic Belfast: The world’s largest Titanic exhibition, I would guess that this is one of the main reasons that people visit Belfast – it certainly was for us. The architecture of this monument is simply amazing – and the inside explores everything from the history of how Belfast developed its maritime heritage to the legend of Titanic.
Some of the highlights from the coast of Northern Ireland included:
The Gobbins: This is a cliff path that runs through bridges, caves, and a tunnel. We would’ve liked to walk through it; however, it is currently closed due to ongoing essential maintenance.
Caves of Cushendun: The caves are featured in the popular TV series, Game of Thrones, and was used as the place where Melisandre gave birth to the “shadow” baby.
Torr Head: You can climb to the top of Torr Head for some amazing views over the Mull of Kintyre.
Whiterocks Beach: We stayed quite close to this beach in Portrush, which features limestone cliffs. On a sunny day, you wouldn’t even realise that it’s in Northern Ireland.
Giant’s Causeway: Likely the star of Northern Ireland. I’ll be honest – I was quite underwhelmed at first glance. I expected some huge basalt columns from afar, of which they are not. But as we walked closer, I realised they are quite magnificent. We even went back at the end of the day (since it was such beautiful weather!) to catch the sunset. There are also identical basalt columns in Scotland! They can be found at Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa.
TIP: Skip the Visitor Centre, built by the National Trust – you do not have to pay to see a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
The Dark Hedges: I’d known about The Dark Hedges long before Game of Thrones used it as a filming location, so it had been on my bucket list for a while. Of course, heavily edited photos of it on the internet make it look more spectacular than it does in person, but it is still worth seeing. (Expect many other tourists there as well though.)
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge: This famous rope bridge was originally nothing more than a handrail and large gaps between some slats that fishermen used to get to and from the mainland. It may be crossed for a fee of £5.90 per adult.
Rathlin Island: This wee island on the northernmost point of Northern Ireland can be crossed over to via Rathlin Ferry (sit inside if you don’t want to freeze from the wind!). A main feature of the island is the bird sanctuary, which tourists can get to via the “Puffin Bus”. Though there were more seagulls than puffins, they are visible through binoculars and telescopes provided by the sanctuary.
Glenariff Forest Park: At the suggestion of one of the owners of the B&B we stayed at in Portrush, we decided to do a short hike in Glenariff Forest Park, which is part of the Glenariff glen. Passing through two waterfalls, it is a lovely and not-at-all strenuous hike to get back with nature.
Mussenden Temple: This is a wee circular building on cliffs near Castlerock and forms part of the Downhill Demesne. Erosion over the years has brought the temple a tad too close to the edge of the cliff, so the National Trust carried out work to ensure the temple stays where it is.
Downhill Beach: Just below Mussenden Temple is Downhill Beach, which cars are welcome to drive on!
Londonderry: While we only spent a few hours in Derry, there is the old walled city that people can walk around for some history of the area.
Overall, we had a very eventful time in Belfast and Northern Ireland, enjoying the sunshine and warm weather that came with it!
Keeping it in the UK this summer, next up is the Scottish Highlands in a few days!