Our recent visit to Northern Ireland was by far the best day of our 12 day tour of the Emerald Isle, if not our entire summer abroad! It’s a funny thing too, considering “we” almost skipped this part of the trip, because while Northern Ireland was at the top of my list it wasn’t even on Tim’s.
However, My heart was set on seeing the many natural wonders located on Northern Ireland’s Antrim Coast! After all we would already be on the Island so It’s not like it was exactly out of our way.
Before we get too much further in this post I should disclose that I am a huge Game of Thrones fan* and although that wasn’t the initial driving factor when deciding to visit Northern Ireland (Seriously, it wasn’t!) I will admit that seeing some of the show’s film locations did seem appealing. My wish list of sights was quite long and I wasn’t sure we would be able to see everything on our own in one day, so a guided tour seemed like our best option. After quite a bit of research and vetoing many tour companies** I chose Paddy Campbell’s Belfast Famous Black Cab Tours, and we couldn’t have been more pleased!
Our guide, Tom, met up with us at our hotel and after a brief discussion about the day’s itinerary we set off in Tom’s “black” taxicab. The tour covered everything from Belfast and it’s Troubles, to The Antrim Coast and was an all day affair. I wrote about Belfast in an earlier post: Northern Ireland! Belfast! A bonus for me were the multiple Game of Thrones locations!
Many Photos Ahead…
Northern Ireland’s coastline is some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever had the good fortune to see! Each and every place we visited was a photographers dream come true, so even though it poured rain the entire day and the lighting definitely wasn’t on my side, I still managed to take MANY photos. I’ve done my best to narrow them down, but as you’ll see below I had a tough time with that… as I often do.
The Dark Hedges
Our first stop, The Dark Hedges, was also my favorite stop of the day! Planted in 1775 the 150 beech trees that make up the Dark Hedges were initially planted to help add interest to the approach of Gracehill House. Talk about a fancy driveway!
Not only is this natural wonder an incredibly beautiful and spooky spot, it’s also the film location for The King’s Road in Game of Thrones making it a very popular tourist destination. Even sharing the experience with all my fellow tourists couldn’t dull the moment. I couldn’t believe I was actually standing there.
Practical information: The Dark Hedges are one of the most photographed and visited attractions in Northern Ireland, but they are also alongside a road which is still very much in use. Buses, cars and pedestrians are everywhere, so caution is in order whether you’re walking or driving a vehicle. Some of the trees are as old as 350 years and hopefully with care and respect they’ll live a long time. I definitely hope to get back there someday…
Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
It’s hard to put into words just how much I enjoyed our visit to this lovely spot, even in the pouring rain. Just a short walk from the car park to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge you’ll be treated to amazing coastal views along the way and on a clear day views of Scotland!
Crossing the bridge isn’t as scary as it might sound and the breathtaking views you’ll see from this unique vantage point (including down) will make it worth your while! If you do decide to give it a try you’ll be following in 400 years of footsteps before you.
Simon went first.
It’s my turn next!
Then Tim and Elliot… Watch your step Elliot!
When you’ve had your fill of beautiful views or you’re completely soaked, which ever one comes first, head back across the bridge and follow the trail back to your car. Make sure to look back over your shoulder for one last look.
Practical Information: The walk to the bridge is fine for all ages, however keep in mind there are no protective fences on the island. You’ll want to keep a tight hold on any little ones you may be traveling with. The rope bridge isn’t very wide and it does move as you walk on it, so look where you’re going. Elliot’s first footstep was on the netting! Good thing Tim was holding his hand tight!
Our stop at Ballintoy Harbour, was a bonus for me, otherwise known as the Iron Islands, and according to our guide, the Red Woman’s Cave. Unfortunately the rain was coming down especially hard during this part of the day, so the boys stayed in the taxicab while I jumped out to snap a few photos.
The Giants Causeway
The one that started it all! As soon as I read about The Giant’s Causeway, I knew we’d be traveling to Northern Ireland! It’s no wonder this place is on just about everyone’s list of places to see on the Emerald Isle. It’s an amazing natural wonder! Or is it?
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986 The Giant’s Causeway was created when the giant Finn McCool was challenged to a fight by Benandonner a Scottish giant. Finn built the causeway so the two giants could meet in the middle for their fight, but Finn played a trick on Benandonner making him think Finn was much larger than he was, Benandonner fled back across the sea destroying the causeway as he went. Or so the story goes…
Another plausible theory is that the Causeway, a very large area of interlocking basalt columns, was created as a result of an ancient volcanic eruption. Whatever story you believe this is a place worth visiting!
Practical Information: Although there is a fee to enter the visitor center, you don’t have to pay to visit the Giant’s Causeway. Buses located just beyond the visitors center will take you up and down the hill for about 1￡. Take care when walking on the columns as they can be extremely slippery.
The Wee Cottage
Toward the end of our day we realized we’d been so busy marveling at the scenery around us we’d never eaten lunch. Tom suggested the Wee Cottage an adorable little Family run restaurant. The setting, food and service were perfect (I recommend the bacon cabbage soup!), it was just what we’d been looking for. As usual the boys ordered cocoa with their meals. This heavenly concoction of chocolate, white chocolate, marshmallows and mint was one of the best we’ve ever had! An absolute 10! The fresh baked scones with loads of cream weren’t too shabby either!
Our final stop of the day, Dunluce Castle, was conveniently located just steps from the Wee Cottage. Even with scaffolding covering a large portion of the castle you could see why this place has been the inspiration for multiple books, poems, record albums and movies! Amazingly It’s been around since 1500, but perched on the edge of a sheer cliff, it looks like it might slip into the sea at any moment…
Farewell Emerald Isle
After 12 incredible days my dream visit to Ireland and Northern Ireland was coming to a close. It was everything I’d imagined it to be and more!
Next stop: Glasgow, Scotland!
*Northern Ireland is one of the main filming locations for the HBO series Game of Thrones.
**We learned our lesson about joining large bus tours during our visit to The Ring of Kerry.