The Antrim Coast Road, a road trip to North-Ireland at it's best
A part of the A2 in Northern Ireland, called the Antrim Coast Road, is one of the most famous road trips in the world. A large section of the road is winding trough the countryside, following the scenic coastline. Some parts are even built between large 100m high cliffs and the sea.
We start following the road in Belfast. From there, it will take us to all major attractions of North Ireland’s coast before it ends near the walled city center of Derry, at the border with the Republic of Ireland. The Antrim Coast Road is often praised as Ireland's most scenic drive. This part of the road is also relatively narrow and lightly used, which is great for a road trip.
The road was constructed between 1832 and 1842 by civil engineer William Bald. Instead of building the road inland, Bald had the vision of building the road at the foot of the cliffs. This avoided the road having steep gradients as it ran along the valleys. The workers blasted parts of the cliffs, and the fallen debris then formed the base for the coast road. It was a great engineering achievement for its day and made a great difference to the people of the Glens. Before the road was built, they sailed their goods across the sea to markets in Scotland, because the sea crossing was easier than travel by land.
From Belfast, we follow the A2 to Larne. This mid-sized town is the starting point of the Antrim Coast road. The road starts following the shoreline to the North. As we drive further, we’ll pass the Glens of Antrim. These nine valleys radiate from the Antrim Plateau to the coast. The Glens are an area of outstanding natural beauty and are great for hiking.
Some miles further down the road we pass a headland called Garron Point. The scenery is amazing here; we start to understand why this road is listed in the Guardian’s top 5 of road trips. Let the sea breeze flow through your open windows and start cruising.
Eventually we arrive in Cushendall, a small coastal town. It lies at the meeting point of three of the Glens of Antrim: Glenaan, Glenballyemon and Glencorp. Much of the historic character of this 19th century settlement remains. In 1973 it was designated as the second Conservation Area in Northern Ireland, and includes the largely intact Irish Georgian buildings of the town’s four original streets. At Cushendall the A2 is heading inland, but we keep following the coast by taking the spectacular Torr Road.
This small road is winding and climbing its way up to Torr Head. From there you can easily see Scotland (which is only 16 miles away) on a sunny day. We keep following the Torr road and eventually rejoin the A2 at Ballyvoy. Not for long though, because we leave the A2 a few miles further again at Ballycastle to take the B15 towards the famous Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.
This rope suspension bridge links the mainland to the tiny Carrick Island. The bridge spans twenty meters and is hanging thirty meters above the rocks below. The bridge is open all year round. After this little walk we continue our way on the B15 which will rejoin the A2 after a few miles.
Further down the road, our next exit is the B147, also known as the Causeway Road. The Giant's Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that were formed some million years ago by an ancient volcanic eruption. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. At some spots the columns are about 12 meters (39 ft) high, and 28 meters thick. This natural wonder alone is already worth the trip.
We keep following the B147 and arrive in Bushmills. This little village is home to the world’s oldest licensed distillery: The Old Bushmills Distillery. The distillery's range includes the Bushmills Original and Black Bush blends and the 10, 12, 16, and 21 year old Single Malts. Several of these whiskeys have won international prizes.
After the whiskey tasting we continue on the A2. Just after leaving Bushmills you can already see the Dunluce Castle ruins. These ruins are perfectly located on a spectacular headland. The castle is surrounded by extremely steep drops on either side and is only accessible via a bridge connecting it to the mainland
Take a walk from Dunluce to the West, and you’ll arrive at White Rock Beach, near Portrush. This beach is known for its great white cliffs and rock formations.
ortrush itself is a small seaside resort town. The main part of the old town is built on a mile–long peninsula, Ramore Head. The town is known for its three sandy beaches and for its golf club. Portrush is also the end of the most scenic part of the route. After a little walk on the peninsula, we keep following the A2. The road turns more inland and heads for Derry, the end of our trip.
Derry is the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland and one of the finest examples of a walled city in Europe. The Walls constitute the largest monument in State care in Northern Ireland and, as it was the last walled city to be built in Europe, stands as the most complete and spectacular.
The Walls were built in the 17th century as defenses for settlers from England and Scotland. The Walls are completely intact and form a walkway around the inner city. They provide a unique promenade to view the layout of the original town which still preserves its Renaissance style street plan. There are four original gates to the Walled City to which three further gates were added later. Historic buildings within the walls include the Gothic cathedral of St Columb, the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall and the courthouse.
It is one of the few cities in Europe that never saw its fortifications breached, withstanding several sieges including one in 1689 which lasted 105 days, hence the city's nickname, The Maiden City.
In total, this road trip is only 198km (123 miles) long. With a driving time of 3h30m it can be done perfectly in one day, with some stops at the biggest highlights. If you’re going to North-Ireland, don’t hesitate to rent a car and do the trip, you won’t regret it.