The Causeway Coastal Route
Only an hour’s drive from the city of Derry, is the bustling seaside resort town of Portrush, on the north coast of County Antrim. It neighbours the upmarket haven of Portstewart, home to one of Northern Ireland’s most visited beach. Portstewart Strand, is a National Trust beach, is a 2 mile long stretch of stunning Blue Flag Golden Sand Beach.
The Causeway Coastal Route, voted the Number 1 Region in the World to visit by Lonely Planet in 2018, is a raw, rugged, breath-taking 195 mile journey from Belfast to Derry. The stage we are going to explore in this post is the 25 miles from Portstewart to Ballycastle and don’t be fooled, you will be stopping to soak up the amazing views all along this stretch so it will takes alot longer than you think.
Portrush and Portstewart are very popular in the height of the Summer so can be very busy spots hence, while I would not recommend you make a day trip from Belfast, you could certainly stay in around Derry and make a day trip. The three world famous attractions in this area are Dunluce Castle (3.5 miles from Portrush), the Giant’s Causeway (4.8 miles from Dunluce Castle) and Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge (8.4 miles from the Giant’s Causeway) so it is easy to see all three in one day if you set out early. I would recommend you book all these attractions in advance.
Dunluce castle, whilst a ruin, has to be one of the most romantic and dramatic castles in Ireland. A Dunluce Castle app for iPhone and android devices is available free of charge from the App Store and Google Play. The dramatic history of Dunluce is matched by tales of a banshee and how the castle kitchens fell into the sea one stormy night in 1639. Visitors can explore the findings of archaeological digs within the cobbled streets and stone merchants’ houses of the long-abandoned Dunluce Town. You can wander around the ruins at your own pace and descend a stairway, external to the castle grounds, to visit the cave beneath Dunluce.
The grounds are very safe for children and you can manoeuvre a buggy around most of the ruins but just remember this castle hangs on a cliffside so you would not want to leave the kids out of site. You would want to give yourself about an hour here.
Nearby Magheracross Viewing Point and picnic area is an excellent spot to stop and take in the stunning, coastal scenery, and a fantastic viewing vantage for the castle.
The Giant's Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway, one of the most iconic natural wonders of the world is a must see for every Irish child with the myth of the two giants surroundings its formation and its dramatic origins from a volcanic eruption is part and parcel of every classroom throughout Ireland and captures their imaginations.
You can visit the Giant’s causeway without every paying an entrance fee and avoid the visitor centre altogether. However, we all enjoyed the visitor centre with Lonán discovering the local sea life and learning about the legends of the Causeway, while Saoirse was enthralled with the geographical elements and its formation now that it had more meaning from her secondary school geography class.
The Giant's Causeway
The visitor centre is also home to an excellent café where you can enjoy soup, sandwiches and snacks. I would recommend you hire a self-guided device which we did listen to as we walked down to the causeway itself. You can get a bus but I would recommend walking down (approx. 30 mins with kids and stops) and getting the bus back it. Make sure you have a few pounds on you as there is a small charge for the bus.
I have been to the Giants Causeway twice and swore that on the next occasion (when Lonán is a little older) we will take one of the walking trails that snakes up along the upper cliffs further on from the Giant’s Causeway as it looks spectacular so if you do have kids prepared to do a hike throw in the hiking boots and give yourself plenty of time.
Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge is a two-kilometre coastal walk with views of Rathlin, Scottish Isles and Carrick-a-Rede Island. The first rope bridge was first erected by salmon fishermen in 1755. Suspended almost 100ft above the Atlantic Ocean, home to basking sharks, dolphins and porpoises. It sits in a place of stunning natural beauty and the turquoise clear waters would fool you into thinking you were on a tropical island. The rope bridge itself is a very safe yet thrilling adventure for children.
I must admit, I did chicken out at first when Lonán was slightly hesitant but once she saw the others cross she was not long striking off so I had no choice but to follow. Once on the other side, it is a beautiful spot to sit and take in the world. There were kids of all ages but you would not get a buggy the whole way down or across the bridge and there is only a charge if you plan on crossing the bridge which is manned by the National Trust. Tickets must be purchased at the beginning but again I would advise you to prebook at busier times.
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Where to Eat
The Giant’s Barn is a gorgeous café/restaurant only five minutes from the Giant’s Causeway and I would recommend having a bit to eat here as there is something for everyone. They cater for children very well and have plenty of gluten free and dairy free options too. You will get something a little more substantial than the café at the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge.
Harry’s Shack located on Portstewart beach is a famous local hotspot and unfortunately were all booked out when we visited which was disappointing as the views over the beach are as spectacular as the menu by all accounts in the relaxed beach shack surroundings.
We dined at 55 Degree’s North Restaurant in Portrush town overlooking the beach but again it was difficult to get a reservation as most restaurants during the Summer season are booked out well in advance so make sure to be organised.
Where to Stay
Portrush has something for all the family with its promenade, blue flag beaches, golf courses, water sports but the one place the kids will not let you avoid is the amusements. The amusements are a large indoor and outdoor park located in the town and it was not too expensive for an afternoon as you can purchase a family pack of tickets. However, one day was enough even if the kids did not agree.
We stayed at the Portrush Atlantic Hotel located in the centre of Portrush town overlooking the dramatic Atlantic coastline. Portrush Atlantic Hotel is a 3 star hotel with nice size rooms for families. The hotel itself is basic but perfectly adequate. You are right in the centre of all the action and the staff are very friendly and helpful
I found Portrush to be a busy spot and is your typical seaside resort town. One night was plenty for me but you could make a week of it and enjoy the many beaches dotted along the coast. If I was to go again, I think I would make a day trip from Derry as the town did not wow me in the same way as Derry and it is harder to get availability for accommodation and restaurants.
However, you certainly cannot visit Northern Ireland without driving along this gorgeous coastal route as it is one of the most breath-taking spots on this island.
What the Kids Said....
“The bridge was really cool and it was fun listening to the audio headsets at the Giant’s Causeway”
“Worth the drive”
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Our family Shannon Cruise with Craig our captain and the kids his crew where the journey becomes the adventure and the water their playground!
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Derry was one of those places that we really connected with and in my opinion it very much gets overlooked in favour of Belfast but