Northern Ireland is absolutely beautiful and the Causeway coast was named Lonely Planet’s best region in the world to visit in 2018.
With this in mind and also because my ventures up north have been shockingly sparse, I decided to head off on a Northern Ireland road trip with my friend Niamh over the June Bank Holiday weekend.
Taking in as much of the sights as three days would allow, I already know that I will need to return again soon.
Our first day was spent driving up from Dublin and taking in the various sights along the way. With Niamh in the driver’s seat, I took my job as co-pilot and music master very seriously!
We had a bit of a disagreement with the voice behind our Google maps as it seemed she was deliberately trying to lead us down roads that didn’t exist, but we got there in the end.
Arriving at Roe Park Resort, we decided to go for a walk in the nearby Roe Valley Country Park, a much-needed bit of movement after sitting in a car all day. This scenic and tranquil park on the outskirts of Limavady offers spectacular riverside views and paths of varying difficulties.
A few hours later and we had worked up an appetite, so we headed down to Greens restaurant for a dinner of Plum Tomato & Fivemile Town Goats Cheese Galette, Roast Fillet of Salmon with a Smoked Haddock Croquette and a Cider Braised Pork Belly with Anise Carrot Puree, and maybe a glass or two of wine.
There was a time when I was terrified of flying and I hated having no control over what happened to me in the air. Thankfully that fear is now behind me, but in the moments leading up to my very first helicopter ride, I was a little bit scared.
However, as soon as we took off with pilot Jason of Cutting Edge Helicopters, I felt the thrill of being in this small flying machine. The windows surrounding me provided an enviable panoramic view of the beauty below and the 30 minute journey quite literally flew by.
Following our thrilling helicopter ride, we set off along the causeway coast, stopping to take in the sights at Castlerock, Portstewart and Binevenagh (an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), with the white shores of Portstewart Strand being the highlight.
A sunny day, families parked their cars on the beach, grabbed a cool treat from the ice-cream van and just relaxed. We took a walk along the beach, stopping to gaze up at Mussendon Temple, which was perched high on the rocks above us.
Our next major stop was the historic ruin of Dunluce Castle. Located on the dramatic Antrim cliffs, this is not somewhere you would want to have a clumsy moment. Built around the year 1500, the castle has had a long and varied history but has been wonderfully preserved.
You can stroll through the courtyard and what’s left of various rooms and towers, easily imaginging what it would have looked like in the glory days of the past.
Feeling ambitious, we decided to tackle the Giant’s Causeway as well. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the causeway consists of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns of varying different shapes and sizes.
I had never been to the Giant’s Causeway before and was hoping it would live up to my expectations. Thankfully, it did. Despite having a working knowledge of geography, I prefer to let my inner child out and believe in the myth of how the causeway was created.
After a hectic but incredible day on the road, we drove a little further and came to a stop at the Fullerton Arms in Ballintoy. Snapping a photo of the Game of Thrones door, we answered the angry growls coming from our stomachs and tucked into a feast of battered fish, scampi and chips.
You can’t beat seafood along the coast, especially when it’s covered in an indulgent batter. The staff were incomparably friendly and we reluctantly got back into the car and made our way back to our base outside Derry as the sun began to set.
The next day, we checked out of Roe Park Resort and set off for the famous Dark Hedges from Game of Thrones and the very trees from which the Game of Thrones doors were created.
Making a pit stop in Owen’s Bar in Limavidy to see one of these doors, we got chatting to the owner’s grandson, who admitted that he had yet to watch the tv series. I like to think we managed to convince him otherwise, but we’ll have to see.
Getting to the Dark Hedges nice and early, we managed to avoid the influx of tour buses, taking a quick stroll down the road before moving on to our next stop.
A few tunes and winding roads later and we arrived at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Incredibly busy (unsurprisingly so), we parked the car and set off on our journey to the famed rope bridge.
The bridge was shorter than I expected, but the breezy day upped the thrill factor, as did peering over the cliff edge on the island.
After this, our appetites were starting to make themselves known, so we decided to set off for our final destination of the weekend, Ballygally Castle.
Our attraction to this venue came both from its Game of Thrones themed afternoon tea (which we had of course, decided to book into), and the hotel’s ghost stories. With traditional afternoon tea dishes inspired by the series, we were in fangirl heaven.
With full stomachs and no ghost sightings, we set off on our journey home to Dublin. The route’s coastline was brilliantly dramatic. With still waters to the left and towering cliffs to the right, it was a pretty spectacular drive. Our good weather luck finally decided to end but as we were safe inside the car with all our activities complete, we didn’t mind.
On route back to Dublin, any Game of Thrones fan should take a 40 minute detour from Belfast over to Strangford and Portaferry and visit Castle Ward. I had made this trip during a visit to Belfast the previous weekend, so it’s up to yourself if you want to prolong your three day trip or save this section for your inevitable return to Northern Ireland.
Here you can get a tour of major Game of Thrones filming locations. If this isn’t entirely up your street or if one of your road trip buddies isn’t a fan of the series, the scenery alone is pretty spectacular.
For a medieval feed before heading back to reality, check into The Cuan, located about a 10 minute drive from Castle Ward. Home to door number one of the Game of Thrones Journey of Doors experience, here you can indulge in the fare of the literary series (medieval attire is optional).
The coast of Northern Ireland is basically a movie playing before your eyes, especially when passing through small towns while dramatic cliffs tower above.
Film and TV buffs can combine filming locations with many of the area’s sites and attractions as all are part of the incredible landscape.
There’s so much to see and do in Northern Ireland and I’ve only skimmed the surface with this road trip. I need to return and see the rest in the near future – stay tuned for part two!
Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.
Named Best Break Out Travel Writer at the 2018 Travel Media Awards, Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with TheTaste.ie combines her love of food and travel.
A big people person, especially when it comes to hearing other people’s stories, Sarah loves interviewing chefs, food producers and more.