Causeway Coastal Route: Belfast to Portrush
Drive the Causeway Coastal Route from Belfast to Portrush to experience Northern Ireland’s rugged coast, castles, and causeways. County Antrim is home to attractions such as the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, Dunluce Castle, and the world-famous Giant’s Causeway. A road trip through the spectacular cliffs and beaches of the Causeway Coastal Route is one of the best things to do in Northern Ireland.
Our one-day Belfast to Portrush driving loop explores the stunning County Antrim coast. Use our Causeway Coastal Route map and itinerary as a guide to plan the stops for your Northern Ireland road trip. Or, use our list of the best things to do on the Causeway Coastal Route to pick a tour that includes the sights you want to visit.
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WHAT IS THE CAUSEWAY COASTAL ROUTE
The Causeway Coastal Route is a series of roads that follow the coast of Northern Ireland from Belfast to Derry. Along the route, well-marked signs identify historical sites, cultural attractions, towns, hiking routes, and other scenic drives and points of interest.
WHERE IS THE CAUSEWAY COASTAL ROUTE
On the northern coast of Northern Ireland, the Causeway Coastal Route follows the shore of the Irish Sea in County Antrim. The length of route is 195-miles (313km) from Belfast to Derry.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO DRIVE THE CAUSEWAY COASTAL ROUTE
With its rocky seascapes, windblown bluffs, Irish fishing villages, and romantic ruins one could easily spend 3-5 days on the County Antrim coast. If you drove the 195-mile roadway from one end to the other, it would take around 4 hours. Our Causeway Coastal Route guide strikes a balance between the two. It is designed to be utilized as follows:
The Causeway Coastal Route map packs some of the best stops along the route in an itinerary that can be completed in an 10-hour day of driving and sightseeing; or
Our list of the best things to do on the Causeway Coastal Route can be used to pick a commercial tour that includes the sights you most want to see along the route. Many tours are offered and our list can help take the confusion out of picking the right one for you.
CAUSEWAY COASTAL ROUTE MAP: BELFAST TO PORTRUSH LOOP
Total Mileage: 147 miles
CAUSEWAY COASTAL ROUTE ITINERARY – 1 DAY
Length of Day: 10 Hours
Length of Day with Titanic Museum: 12 Hours
Our Causeway Coastal Route itinerary – 1 day begins and concludes in Belfast. The day includes six stops along the coast. With time allotted to explore each stop, it is estimated the journey will take about 10 hours. If you add on the Titanic Museum in Belfast, the day extends to 12 hours.
BEGIN TOUR: From Belfast, UK, follow highways M2 and B6 for 1-hour and 16-minutes to Portrush, UK.
STOP 1: Portrush, UK (Time 30 minutes)
Drive through the charming seaside town of Portrush to 'Old Town.' Find a café and purchase a hot drink. Stroll by the railway station and town’s many restaurants and hotels. Back on the road look for the town’s three Blue Flag beaches; West Strand, East Strand, and White Rocks as well as the historic Royal Portrush Golf Club.
Take A2 and Causeway Street to Dunluce Castle (87 Dunluce Rd, Bushmills BT57 8UY, United Kingdom). Distance 3.5-miles in 8 mins.
STOP 2: Dunluce Castle (Time 45 minutes)
The ruins of Dunluce Castle are some of Northern Ireland’s most romantic and photo worthy. Built in the 16th and 17th centuries; the castle was home to feuding clans throughout the ages. More recently, the Dunluce Castle was featured in the HBO Game of Thrones series as Castle Greyjoy. The castle is open most days during the daylight hours. There is a small fee for entrance and tours are self-guided.
Take A2 from Dunluce Castle to the Giant’s Causeway (Giant's Causeway, Bushmills BT57 8SU, United Kingdom). Distance 5 miles and 15 minutes.
STOP 3: Giant’s Causeway (2 hours)
A visit to the Giant’s Causeway will likely be the highlight of trip. Run by the National Trust, the nature reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Causeway consists of a series of stunning shoreline and cliffs made up of some 40,000 hexagonal columns of basalt rock. Formed by cooling lava between 50-60 million years ago the geological wonder is an awe-inspiring sight.
At the Visitor Centre learn about local legends that involve warring giants along the Causeway Coast. In the park there is a network of trails and shuttle buses for visitor's to utilize. There is a fee for parking, guided tours, audio tours, shuttle rides, and center exhibits. It is free to walk park’s trails. For more information on Giant's Causeway, read our travel blog post, Giant's Causeway Day Trip.
Note: If you have already toured Giant’s Causeway, we recommend you substitute The Gobbins (see description below) for this stop.
Take Whitepark Road/A2 to Whitepark Bay (Whitepark Bay Beach,Ballycastle BT54 6NH, United Kingdom). Distance 5.4 miles and 10 minutes.
STOP 4: Whitepark Bay Beach (45 minutes)
Next, decompress from the crowds of the Giant’s Causeway with an interlude at Whitepark Bay Beach. The 3-mile stretch of golden sand beach is a quiet gem on the Antrim Coast. Rimmed by towering sand dunes, the beach is perfect for sunbathing, beachcombing, and hunting for marine life. Parking is free. Note: There is a rip tide here and the beach is not suitable for swimming.
Take Whitepark Road/A2 to the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge (Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, Ballycastle BT54 6LS, UK). Distance 3 mile and 8 minutes.
STOP 5: Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge (Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes)
The Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge was first constructed as a fishermen’s bridge linking the island of Carrickarede to the mainland in 1755. Today, it is a popular cultural attraction run by the National Trust. For a small fee, visitors can walk over a rope bridge swinging 100 feet above the ocean. In addition, the park offers 2 km of walking trails with a fishermen’s cottage and quarry to explore. Note: visitors will walk over uneven, rocky surfaces. Also, the bridge is not suitable for individuals with vertigo.
Take the A2 to Carnlough Harbor (Carnlough Harbour, 58 Harbour Rd, Carnlough, Ballymena BT44 0EU, United Kingdom). Distance 31 miles and 54 minutes.
STOP 6: Carnlough Harbor (Time: 30 minutes)
Carnlough’s stone harbor was built in 1854 as a way to increase business for the nearby Gortin Road Quarry. Since then, the stone harbor has protected the village’s fishing fleet in one of the prettiest harbors along the Northern Ireland coast. Purchase a snack and take few minutes to trek the harbor and main street.
Take the A2 to Belfast, UK. Distance 39 miles and 1.25 hours.
TOUR ENDS: Belfast, UK (Time 2 hours)
If you have time, visit the Titanic Museum. This outstanding museum tells the story of the ill-fated ocean liner from its inception, through the building phase, to her maiden voyage. The museum is located at the site where the ship was constructed and launched.
CAUSEWAY COASTAL ROUTE DRIVING TIPS
If Belfast is not convenient for you, the tour can be accessed at any point along the route.
Get an early start to avoid tour buses on the road and crowds at attractions. Attendance is heaviest at the Giant’s Causeway between 11am and 3pm. The goal is to arrive a by t the Visitor Centre by 10am at the latest. If you leave from Belfast, try to be on the road by 7am.
Purchase or download driving maps prior to making the trip. Cell service is spotty on the Northern Ireland Antrim coast.
The route is not complicated. It is well signed and the roads tend to be in good condition making the Causeway Coastal Route a great place to rent a car. If you do drive, we recommend paying the extra money to rent an automatic. The roads are curvy and crowded (even if you are used to driving a standard there is the added challenge of doing it on the opposite side).
Dress for the environment and weather. Wear shoes with good tread and sturdy soles. Consider packing rain gear, a warm fleece, hat, walking sticks, sunscreen, water and snacks in all seasons.
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO DO IN NORTHERN IRELAND
Carrickfergus Castle: Carrickfergus Castle is a well-preserved Norman Castle in Carrickfergus, County Antrim. The 800-year-old medieval structure has historical exhibits and cannons, and is available for touring (for a fee).
The Gobbins: The Gobbins is an outdoor cliff walk in Ballystrudder on the Antrim Coast. The cliff walk utilizes iron corridors, bridges, and stairs to run past cliffs, over ocean water, past caves, and into a tunnel. Tickets are on sale at the Visitor Center. Note: there is a height limit.
Glenarm Castle: Glenarm Castle is the residence of the Earl of Antrim when he is in Northern Ireland. Glenarm is not open to the public for touring, but the castle’s gardens and woodlands are available to explore (for a fee). Visitors can also enjoy a tea room and gift shop on site.
Ballycastle: Ballycastle is a small town on the Causeway Coastal Route. The quaint village is fun to stroll. The village is surrounded by mountains and glens (the Nine Glens of Antrim), and designated as a UK area of outstanding natural beauty.
Old Bushmills Distillery: The Old Bushmills Distillery bills itself as the “oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world.” The distillery offers guided tours, tasting experiences, and retail sales. This is a popular stop on many Northern Ireland road trips.
Royal Portrush Golf Course: The site of the 1951 and 2019 Open Championships, the Royal Portrush Golf Course is open to the public. The golf course is surrounded by the Causeway Coast and beaches. If you are a golfer, check out the 36-hole course. See the golf club’s website for procedures to book a tee time.
Slán leat (goodbye and health to you), Laura and Randy
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