We got up early hoping to hit the road to beat the morning traffic. The Premier Inn provides an array of breakfast options, full and continental for £8.99 and you can eat as much as you like at the self-service buffet. Just in the nick of time, we managed to have brekkie and checked out before the free parking time slot expired.
We had planned a more inland route but decided on the costal road to Carrick-a-Rede Bridge then to the UNESCO World Heritage site, The Giant’s Causeway. It’s a slightly longer manoeuvre by comparison, but what a drive! It is a wonderful meander through villages and towns offering stunning scenery as it hugs the coastline. We broke our drive here and there for photo stops and breaks.
From Belfast City we headed onto the M2, M5 then A2. Apart from leaving the City, the traffic flowed freely helped by the well laid out roads. After we joined the A2, the scenery started to change dramatically. The lush green fields with displays of autumn leaves were a feast for the eyes. My lungs are definitely enjoying the fresh countryside air and the breeze coming in from the Irish Sea.
Our first stop was at Carrickfergus town in County Antrim, one of the oldest towns in Ireland. Across the road where we parked is the Carrickfergus Castle overlooking Belfast Lough. Built in 1177 this 800 year old plus Norman castle is home to historical displays as well as cannons from the 17th to the 19th centuries. This a popular stop for tourists. Entrance to the castle is Adult – £5.50, Child (age 4 – 16) – £3.50. It is a pretty town and a great place to explore and get some roadie supplies.
After a quick coffee break, we are back on the road. The wind is picking up and the sea is becoming rough and choppy, adding a further element to the spectacular views. The A2 is a single lane road but thankfully the road was pretty empty. Second stop was in Larne, we topped up on some essentials like water, lollies, sandwiches and a couple of sensational home made sausage rolls, delicious!
It took us around 3.5 hours to reach Carrick-a-Rede, longer by an hour as per the Waze app suggestion to drive via M5. The drive along the coastal road boasts some of the most stunning inland and coastal views. We totally recommend this route for a memorable visit to the Antrim County. If you are a biker or cyclist, put this in your bucket list of rides to do.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
It’s best to book your bridge pass online in advance especially during the busy periods. We noticed there was a queue at the visitors office near the car park for a bridge pass. If you book online, you can choose the time to cross the bridge, this way you can plan your trip to see other attractions in the area. Our crossing time was between 11:30 to 12:30.
After we parked our car we followed the signs to the walking trail. It was blustery and a touch cold but the breathtaking views warrant the exposure to the elements. The walk to the bridge is about 20 minutes with some inclines and steps. The crew will check your ticket before you descend to a rather steep flight of metal stairs to the start of the bridge where you will be marshalled into small groups to cross.
The suspension bridge is about 20 metres long and 30 metres above the frothing sea below, easily viewed through the rope and slat construction! Crossing the choppy Atlantic Ocean is the most thrilling part, the bridge sways and flutters when the winds pick up. Carrick-a-Rede Island is home to a single building – a fisherman’s cottage is the final destination. Although the number of visitors crossing the rope bridge is controlled, when we got there, it was quite crowded and difficult to take a photo without the usual photo bombers. The top part of the walking area was fenced off during our visit, so it got a little cramped as people milled around. After some photos it was back over the bridge, I must say the sweeping views are unforgettable.
Once across we opted not to follow the crowds, instead we continued climbing up the hill, finally being able to take photos of the bridge from another perspective. This path will also take you back to the car park.
We spent at least 1.5 hours here, even though it was mid morning, mid week and late October, the number of visitors and tour buses was quite surprising. I think it would be a challenge to enjoy it in full summer swing as I’m sure the crowds would triple. Next stop is The Giant’s Causeway, a 20 or so minute drive down the road.
Group Adult Min 15 £7.20
Group Child Min 15 £3.80
(As of Dec 2019 for details of current prices click here.)
How to get there:
Combined Train and Bus – Catch a train from Belfast’s Great Victoria Street station to Coleraine. Causeway Rambler (Ulsterbus No. 376) Bushmills to Carrick-a-Rede runs in the summer; or Ulsterbus No. 252 is a circular route via the Antrim Glens from Belfast. Both stop at Carrick-a-Rede. For further details check this link. Other options are self drive or join a day tour.
The Giant’s Causeway
Finding a car park around The Giant’s Causeway is confusing. The first car park we checked out was full so we proceeded to the main carpark opposite the Visitors Centre. We followed the instructions of the car park attendant and purchased tickets for £12.50 each (adult price) to avail the parking lot, it also allows you access to use the Centre’s facilities. Opened in 2012 you’ll find interactive exhibitions, tourist info, cafe and coffee, toilets and souvenirs. After a quick browse in the centre, our pilgrimage commenced by following the road down to the sea. A bus runs between the Centre and The Giant’s Causeway for £1 each way saving those weary legs!
Breathtaking is an understatement! As you descend from the hill the Causeway comes into view, looking down on the basalt columns tumbling down into the Atlantic with a whopping 40,000 or so of these near-perfect hexagonal-shaped pillars, dating back to a volcanic age almost 60 million years ago. Mother nature at Her best!
We spent an hour or so admiring the whole scenery, taking photos and listening to the roaring waves. Again high crowd numbers were distracting. It’s time to head back, we opted for the bus so we could rest our aching feet. Looking at our schedule, we were getting behind, we have a booked bus to Dublin tonight hmmm crossing our fingers as we headed to the M5, the fastest way back to Belfast!
Free to visit the Giant’s Causeway
Entrance Fee: Giant Causeway Visitor Centre, free for National Trust Members.
Group Adult Min 15 £8.75
Group Child Min 15 £4.40
Clifftop Experience Adult £35.00
(As of Dec 2019 for details of current prices click here.) Our entrance fee covered parking on site and Centre access.
How to get there:
Combined Train and Bus – Catch a train from Belfast’s Great Victoria Street station to Coleraine, transfer to buses 170 or 402 from Coleraine to Giant’s Causeway. For further details check this link. Other options are self drive or join a day tour from Belfast, most bus tours include all the major sites.
Tips and Notes:
I had read so much about the Centre and the confusion about what to pay for, so to clarify: The walk to the Causeway is free. If you drive and wish to park at the Centre, at least one of you will have to pay the visitor fee, do not pay for everyone in your group unless all or some wish to visit the Centre. Cheaper parking can be found at the nearby Bushmills Heritage Railway (£8.oo per car – as of 2019) A bit of research can save you a lot of time and money.