Causeway Coastal Route Day Trip from Belfast

A view of the coastline along the Antrim Coast in Northern Island.
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The Causeway Coastal Route is an area of Ireland where you could wander for days enjoying all the small villages, beaches, castles, and views the area has to offer. However, more often than not, people do not have days to enjoy this part of Northern Ireland. Luckily, the highlights of the Causeway Coastal Route can be done as an easy day trip from Belfast. We have organized this itinerary to hit our favorite spots and still give you enough time to move on to your next destination.

Causeway Coastal Route from Belfast – A Day Trip Itinerary

The Causeway Coastal Route is a 195 mile/313 km coastal drive from Belfast to Derry along Northern Ireland’s Antrim Coast. The route has too many sites to see in one day. To make this a viable day trip, we have selected a few of our favorites. Our itinerary starts from Belfast, but you could easily do the route in reverse if you were coming from somewhere west, like Derry.

A. Start in Belfast

Our itinerary starts from Belfast. Don’t shortchange Belfast! At minimum, we recommend spending a full day visiting Belfast, especially a black cab tour and the Titanic Belfast museum. For ideas on what to do in Belfast, check out our What to Do in Belfast (including 1-day itinerary) post.

If you decide to do our Causeway Coastal Route daytrip itinerary in reverse (roughly west to east), then you will end in Belfast.

B. The Dark Hedges / The Kings Road for Game of Thrones Fans

  • Drive time from Belfast city centre: ~1 hour
  • Estimated visit time: 15 minutes

The first thing to know is that if you’re not a Game of Thrones fan, you can skip this first stop. Having never watched the HBO series, we aren’t fans, but stopped to see what the fuss is about and to help our readers!

Beech trees curve over the road to form the Dark Hedges, which is a popular stop for Game of Thrones fans on the Causeway Coastal Route.
The beech trees line the road to form the Dark Hedges aka The King’s Road. Photo by Nick Kane.

The Dark Hedges, or Kings Road for GoT fans, was planted in the 18th century by James Stuart. He planted more than 150 beech trees along the road to impress visitors to the family estate. Nowadays, only about 90 trees remain. The twisting branches of the beech trees tangle overhead to form a tunnel-like road.

The next thing to know is that you must pay for parking at The Dark Hedges. The road does not have any shoulder or pullouts. Parking (and driving) along The Dark Hedges is strictly forbidden. Sadly, early visitors often parked on the road and may have damaged tree roots.☹ The nearby Hedges Hotel offers paid parking less than a 5-minute walk away. Many online sources claim that parking is free at Hedges Hotel, but when we visited in May 2023 you had to pay £4. A person collected the parking fee as you drove in so don’t plan on “just a quick look before anyone checks.”

The Dark Hedges are pretty, but given the number of people and parking fee, we don’t recommend a stop unless you are a huge GoT fan.

C. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

  • Drive time from The Dark Hedges: 20 minutes
  • Drive time from Belfast city centre: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Estimated visit time: 1-1.5 hours

Your next stop on the Causeway Coastal Route (or first if you skipped The Dark Hedges) is Carrick-a-Rede. Carrick-a-Rede is a small, rocky island separated from the mainland by a stone’s throw.

Translated from Carraig-a-Rade in Gaelic, it means “the rock in the road” since salmon had to swim around it looking for their home rivers. This made the island an excellent salmon fishery. In 1755, the local salmon fishermen realized it would be a whole lot easier to build a bridge to Carrick-a-Rede rather than keep boating across every day. That bridge was actually rope and only had one handle! Hopefully, being men of the sea, they knew their knots well. Thankfully, the bridge has a bit more engineering behind it these days and includes some trusty steel cables.

A boy waits his turn to cross a rope bridge to Carrick-a-Rede island on the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Island.
Falcon waits his turn to cross the rope bridge to Carrick-a-Rede. Most people take their time on the bridge to enjoy the view and pose for photos.

The highlight of the visit is the rope bridge. It feels slightly dangerous, which adds to its allure. The island itself is tiny. After crossing the bridge, follow the short path to the top and enjoy views out to sea, down the coast, and into the water itself. There are tons of birds to watch and you might catch sight of a basking shark or porpoise! Don’t miss looking at the fishermen’s cottage. It was closed when we visited, but is open some summer weekends.

Acrophobia? The rope bridge hangs 100 feet/30 metres above the sea. It is 65 feet/20 metres long and 3 feet/1 metre wide. The bridge is sturdy and you can cross quickly, but it does sway. Andrew made it…at a brisk walk.

If you’re visiting during the summer months, we recommend booking your tickets ahead of time. Your ticket includes parking. A UK National Trust pass covers admission and parking, but you still must reserve a spot online.

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is not accessible by wheelchair or stroller. The first portion of the trail to the bridge is accessible, but you won’t be close enough to see the bridge itself.

D. Giant’s Causeway

  • Drive time from Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge: 15 minutes
  • Estimated visit time: 1.5 – 2 hours

Head east on the Causeway Coastal Route to reach The Giant’s Causeway, possibly the most recognizable site in Ireland. A seemingly never-ending puzzle of basalt columns spread from the hillside into the Irish Sea. This geologic wonder was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986.

Boy climbing on the basalt rock formation at Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland
Falcon enjoys exploring the Giant’s Causeway

With over 40,000 columns to clamber over and explore, you can easily spend two hours here including the 1.2 km / 0.75 mile walk up and down the hill. Just don’t expect to be alone. This is a stop on everyone’s itinerary.

This site is free to visit, but a Visitor Experience ticket or UK Trust membership brings extra benefits, including parking. Before you visit, be sure to read all our tips and details, including lots of photos, in our guide to visiting the Giant’s Causeway.

E. Dunluce Castle

  • Drive time from Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge: 10 minutes
  • Estimated visit time: 45 minutes

Our next Causeway Coastal Route stop is Dunluce Castle. Dunluce Castle is a medieval castle perched on a cliffside. Literally, as in not a spare inch between the cliff edge and the castle wall. I would not have wanted those rooms as my bedroom. Legend has it that the kitchen fell into the sea during a storm, taking all the kitchen staff with it except for one lone bow cowering from the storm in the corner. Since the kitchen ruins are still there, this seems to be the stuff of legends.

3 people cross the bridge to Dunluce Castle ruins along the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland

The castle is ruins so there isn’t a lot of detail to explore. We enjoyed poking around in the nooks and crannies. The views are amazing! 

F. Portrush & Whiterocks Beach

  • Drive time from Dunluce Castle: 8 minutes
  • Estimated visit time: as little or long as you want (depends on how long you spend at the beach)

Just down the Causeway Coastal Route from Dunluce Castle is the relatively large town of Portrush. This is a great spot for a snack…and the beach! Portrush Whiterocks Beach has miles of sandy beach for playing and in the summer may be lifeguarded.

Whiterocks Beach at Portrush. Photo by John Forson.

Golf fans will want to check out the Royal Portrush Golf Club pro shop. Wowzer, they want a lot for a shirt, but they did have some great designs!

I Want to See More on the Coastal Causeway Route

Great! Here are some easy Causeway Coastal Route sights to add on this itinerary.

  • Bushmills’ Distillery is a short detour on your drive from Giant’s Causeway to Dunluce Castle. Kids under 8 are not allowed to join a tour. You can learn more about visiting on the Bushmills’ Distillery official site.
  • Larrybane Quarry is next to the Carrick-a-Rede overflow car park and is an quick add-on to your visit. The limestone quarry was in use for 100 years until the 1960s.

As we mentioned before, those with time for a multi-day itinerary have plenty to see. For a full listing of sites along the full length of the Causeway Coastal Route, check out The Irish Road Trip’s guide.  

How to See the Causeway Coastal Route Without a Car

Good on ya! We admire anyone who takes on the challenge of seeing Ireland via public transport. We don’t have any public transport advice, but there are a number of tour providers who offer day trips to the Causeway Coastal Route from Belfast. The Dark Hedges, Giant’s Causeway, and Dunluce Castle are routinely sights on the tours. Carrick-a-Rede is a less common stop.

This highest-rated tour from Belfast includes numerous Coastal Causeway Route stops, including Giant’s Causeway and Dunluce Castle, but does not include Carrick-a-Rede. For a tour that also includes Carrick-a-Rede, consider this tour that visits all the sites in this post except for Portrush. For the Game of Thrones fans, you may prefer a GoT-focused tour that includes the Giant’s Causeway.

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