Medieval castles, Edwardian walks, legends about giant and the British Open in 2019. Between Belfast and Derry/Londonderry lies the Causeway Coastal Route route and it's a traveler's dream.
It has spectacular scenery and dramatic history, great food, cozy pubs and whiskey tasting. This route is easy enough for the first-time solo traveler yet special enough to be a bucket list dream trip for all solo travelers.
There are a few ways to navigate this trip. After I've enticed you with some detail and photos, make sure you read to the end for practical information on getting around. Here, in geographical order, are my highlights.
The Gobbins, a Stop on the Causeway Coastal Route
As railroads expanded in the 19th century railway companies looked for ways to attract more people to travel on them. It was to inspire people to travel that Berkeley Deane Wise, Chief Engineer of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway Company, built The Gobbins. a path along the coastal cliff facing out to the North Sea. It opened originally in 1904 to great acclaim but over time due to lack of maintenance funds it finally could no longer be repaired. It closed in 1954. (The word Gobbins means, in Irish, tip of land or headland.)
The Gobbins was restored and reopened in 2015. Access is only by guided tour which follows the narrow winding cliff edge path with its rises and dips and curves along the curious geology. It includes bridges, tunnels, caves, steps, unique rock formations, incredible bird life (possibly puffins though I wasn't so lucky), and stunning views.
- All tours must be pre-booked. Book online or call the visitor centre at (028) 9337 2318.
- They emphasize that The Gobbins is a “strenuous outdoor experience.” The path is uneven and steps can be steep but I found it quite easy – with one exception. The hill going down to the Gobbins is steep. It will take your breath away when going back up.
- They won't allow you to go without proper footwear. They had a pair of hiking boots for me to rent. They don't promote this so I'd call to confirm availability.
How to get there: Though the Gobbins is a bit off the beaten path, you can get there by car, train, and bus, though the latter two will take a little walking. There is specific information on how to get to the Gobbins on their website.
Imagine, 40,000 interlocking, mostly hexagonal columns rushing from the mountains and cliffs to the sea.
As the legend goes, the columns were built by Irish giant Finn MacCool so that he could cross the water between Ireland and Scotland to fight his Scottish Giant adversary. Hence their collective name, the Giant's Causeway.
Or, we can believe the perhaps less interesting, geological explanation of the causeway which dates back 60 million years. My apologies. For those with a more scientific bent, this explanation using ordinary kitchen materials will be fascinating.
Regardless of the source, the Giant's Causeway is a World Heritage Site and a destination not to be missed when in Northern Ireland.
- Buy your tickets online to save money and save waiting in line.
- There is a shuttle bus that runs every 10 minutes to take people down to the causeway.
- The Giant's Causeway is a National Trust site. If you're a member you get in free. If you're not you may want to consider becoming a member depending on your travel plans.
How to get there: The Giant's Causeway is an easy day trip from Belfast. Take public transit and get a small discount on your entry ticket. Here is the information on how to get to the Giant's Causeway from their website.
Getting Around the Causeway Coastal Route
I was fortunate to be on this trip as a guest of Tourism Ireland. I had the luxury of a guide/driver for this trip so that I could cover a lot of territory in a few days. I did what you see above in two days though I would recommend a more leisurely pace.
Going by car is probably the best way to explore this spectacular route. You'll be able to get into the nooks and crannies of this route as well as stop as often as you want. However, if you're driving alone you will be driving on the left side of the road. If you're from North America or Europe you may want to consider how comfortable you'll be with that. Fortunately, there is a public transit option.
The bus and train network in Northern Ireland will help you get around. Choose the Goldline buses if you're going between major cities. To poke about you'll want the Ulsterbus. They have a journey planner to help you sort out your travel plans. I'd suggest the Rambler service.
Translink’s Summer Bus Rambler Day Ticket gives you a hop-on, hop-off kind of service that allows you to explore Northern Ireland’s most spectacular scenic areas with unlimited travel on Ulsterbus, Goldline, and Metro. Services Monday – Sunday after 9.15am. £9.00 for an adult.
I have many more posts to write about Northern Ireland. For now, I'll leave you with a few more photos from the Causeway Coastal Route.