The Causeway Coast is a strip of the evocatively named coastline along the northern end of the island. Stretching 52 km or 32 miles from Belfast to Derry, the Causeway Coastal Route is a trail that takes its name from the famous Giant’s Causeway and encompasses the main sights along the coastline.
The Causeway Coastal Route runs from Belfast to Derry in Northern Ireland. Located on the island of Ireland, Northern Ireland – including the entirety of the Causeway Coast – is part of the UK. As the route connects the region’s two main cities, it is easy to get to and from the start and end points of the Causeway Coastal Route. The route encompasses the whole coastline of Counties Antrim and Derry/Londonderry.
There are train stations in Belfast as well as a few other places along the way, including Derry, Colraine, and Portstewart. Belfast has two airports – a regional and an international airport – and Derry also has a small airport. There are also bus options throughout Northern Ireland. Learn more about travelling in Ireland.
Visiting the Causeway Coast from Belfast? Check out our travel guide to the city of Belfast to make the most of your stay in Northern Ireland’s vibrant capital.
There are multiple ways visitors can experience the magic of the Causeway Coast. While many visitors simply choose to visit a section of the route on day trips from Belfast, the best way to truly take in the beauty of the Causeway Coast is to travel along the whole route.
Some visitors prefer to drive the route as a road trip, stopping at selected places of interest. This allows for a degree of flexibility, in choosing which highlights are the must-sees for you. This is also the quickest way to experience the coastline. However, visiting by car may mean you’ll miss out on coastal hikes and places not easily accessed by car.
For the most active visitors, pull on the hiking boots and choose to hike sections of the coastal route.
The whole route is 52 km/32 miles, starting in Belfast and running along the Antrim and Derry coasts to the city of Derry. Some visitors may choose to hike the whole trail while other visitors may like to pick and choose sections.
The most iconic and beautiful place to hike on the Causeway Coast is the section from Dunseverk Castle ruins to the Giant’s Causeway, ideally finishing in the seaside village of Portballintree. This section of the Causeway Coast is a total of about 7 miles or 11 km.
As with any route accessible by car, it is also possible to bike the Causeway Coast. As always, do keep in mind that the roads can be busy and narrow, and cyclists must also share the road with tour buses and other vehicles. While there is no car-free bike path along the Causeway Coast, it is a stunning place to explore on two wheels.
One of Ireland’s most impressive Norman castles, this 12th century heap was built by John de Courcy upon conquering Ulster. Due to its strategic position, Carrickfergus Castle remained an important stronghold for the English Crown to maintain control over Ulster and the North.
The Gobbins Experience is a cliffside trail designed at the turn of the 20th century to provide an invigorating coastal adventure. Including a network of walkways, staircases and bridges that connect the rugged coastal cliffs, the Gobbins is an experience like none other.
Cushenden is a small village on the Antrim coast with a sheltered harbour home to a dark past of invasion, murder and hauntings. The area has risen to recent fame as Cushendun Caves were used in HBO’s Game of Thrones® – the sight where Sir Davos lands ashore, and the rather memorable scene where Lady Melisandre births the terrifying shadow baby.
Rathlin Island is not technically on the Causeway Route, but as Northern Ireland’s only inhabited island, it deserves mention. At just 4 miles long, the island is home to a tight-knit community of about 150 people. Visitors can see Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre on a clear day in the distance. More locally, the island hosts a unique “upside down” style lighthouse – the East Lighthouse (fun fact: the world’s first commercial wireless telegraphy link was sent from Marconi Station in Galway to Rathlin’s lighthouse at the turn of the 19th century).
There are a few great hikes along Rathlin’s coastlines, along with stunning coastal walks on the Causeway Coast. Love coastal walking? Find other great coastal walks and hikes on our guide here.
Puffins & Bird-Watching on Rathlin
The rugged Rathlin Island is of volcanic origin, with remarkable sea stacks and sweeping cliffs. Such uneven surfaces make fantastic nesting sites for birds. Indeed, Rathlin has an RSPB centre on the island – a protected bird sanctuary for thousands of seabirds. Many species live here, but the island is most famous for its puffins, who alight here each spring. With regular ferry connections and its small size, Rathlin Island is actually one of the easiest places to spot puffins in Ireland from April to June or July. Read more about puffins in Ireland here.
Want to keep reading about this fantastic island? Read our Rathlin Island travel guide below.
Connecting the Causeway Coast mainland cliffside with the rocky pinnacle 100 feet (30m) above the swirling sea, this narrow rope bridge isn’t for the faint of heart. It was originally put in place by salmon fishermen who wanted to use the island for its prime fishing opportunities about 350 years ago (the bridge itself has been replaced since then, don’t worry). Unsurprisingly, this wild spot enchanted locations scouts, and the area around Carrick-a-Rede was also used in Game of Thrones®.
Descend the narrow, winding road to the tiny and excessively quaint Ballintoy Harbour. Rugged rock walls rise on three sides, forming a sheltered boat slip evoking a fantasy world. This little place was featured on Game of Thrones® as the Island of Pyke. Scenic, wild, and peaceful, it is the perfect place to appreciate the beautiful harshness of the Causeway Coast.
Dramatically clinging to a clifftop, Dunluce Castle perches on a rough headland, seemingly staying up by sheer luck. The castle dates back to the 16th century, with later improvements made in the 17th century and beyond. The feuding rival clans, the McQuillan and MacDonnell families variously inhabited it. Erosion and storm winds have caused some parts of the castle to collapse over the years, leaving behind an eerily beautiful ruin. So magical is this place that fantasy giant C.S. Lewis was inspired by the castle when writing his beloved Chronicles of Narnia – it’s said to be the basis of the castle Cair Paravel in the books (read more here). As with most other places featured here, Dunluce Castle also featured on Game of Thrones®.
Irish folklore is fascinating. The Causeway Coast takes its name from the iconic Giant’s Causeway. Origin stories differ about this unique geological formation. Fanciful tales attribute the creation of the Giant’s Causeway to feuding giants – the Irish Finn McCool and the Scottish Bennadonar.
The story goes that warring giants built a causeway between Ireland and Fingal’s Cave in Scotland to have a fistfight. But when Finn saw how big his Scottish rival was, he hurried back to Ireland. Enlisting the help of his clever wife, he disguised himself as a baby, effectively scaring off the Scottish giant – for if that was the size of the babe, imagine how big the father must be! Bennadonar retreated across the Causeway, tearing stones up as he ran, leaving the Giant’s Causeway behind. Read the whole story below.Read More
The more scientific version of the story is that the 40,000 interlocked hexagonal basalt columns are the result of a volcanic eruption some 50 to 60 million years ago, pushing the molten stone up from the sea. Such hexagonal stones are known to form as the rock cools and contracts, and the result are the unique forms we see on the Giant’s Causeway along the Antrim Coast, as well as other places like Fingal’s Cave in Scotland today. Ireland has its fair share of weird and unusual geology – read more below.Read More
Visitors can start at the Causeway Visitor Centre and do the short walk down to the stones, which is ideal if you’re in a hurry. But the proper way to experience it is to walk along the coast. Start from the crumbling ruins of Dunseverik Castle and follow the Causeway Coastal Route. To one side, emerald green stretches into the distance; to the other, the land falls away into the azure-blue sea, stretching out to the horizon.
Marvel as the coastline, and its geology, become increasingly wild, with volcanic formations becoming more frequent the closer you get to the Causeway. You’ll also get a stunning aerial view of the Giant’s Causeway that those approaching from the visitor centre miss out on. Read more about visiting the Giant’s Causeway below.Read More
Further along the Causeway Coast is a strange, round temple perched 100 ft in the air overlooking the quiet Downhill Beach. A stone’s throw inland are the roofless ruins of the expansive Downhill House. Known as Mussenden Temple, the strange circular structure was built in 1785 as a library dedicated to the memory of a cousin of the lord of Downhill House.
For whiskey lovers, a visit to Old Bushmills is a must. Arguably the oldest licensed distillery on the island of Ireland, Bushmills is a staple of Irish whiskey. You’ll see the iconic brand on the menus and shelves of most pubs, bars, and restaurants, but nothing beats a tour and tasting of their various brews on their home turf with the smell of barley in the air.
Want to know more about Irish whiskey? Read our whiskey guide here.
Ending in the city of Derry, this city has risen to recent fame due to the popular and hilarious TV show, Derry Girls. With a troubled past, this compact walled city is actually one of the nicest cities to visit in Ireland. The Derry Walls are the city’s most iconic landmark, and a walking tour of the walls provides history and perspective. It is also home to a number of pubs and restaurants, a brewery, and in October, it hosts a massive Halloween festival.
The north of Ireland seems to have inspired numerous writers and storytellers. C.S. Lewis took inspiration from Dunluce Castle on the Causeway Coast and various outdoor spots near his hometown of Belfast, and the beautiful Carlingford Lough, the third of Ireland’s fjords, for the magical worlds within his classic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia.
Then there’s Derry Girls, a darkly hilarious TV series about five young people growing up in Derry during the Troubles, set and filmed in the city of Derry (“also known as Londonderry, depending on your persuasion,” so starts the first episode). Derry has many cameos during the series, and throughout the episodes, the viewer learns to love Derry almost as much as its five heroes.
Just a short distance across the border into neighbouring Donegal, the rugged, windswept headland of Malin Head was used for most of the close-up shots of the alien planet otherwise represented on-screen by Skellig Michael in Kerry, during the recent Star Wars films.
Last but not least, there is a plethora of Game of Thrones® filming locations. Of course, other world locations were used –Iceland, Croatia and more. But the majority of the filming was done in Northern Ireland. Location scouts did a terrific job of locating the North’s most magical spots and twisting them into the mystical locations we saw onscreen. What wasn’t produced in the great outdoors was shot in the studio in Belfast – a must-visit for any fan.
The Causeway Coastal Route is 50 miles or 32 km.
The Causeway Coast is named after Northern Ireland’s most famous spot, the Giant’s Causeway, a unique geological formation created as a result of volcanic activity 50 or more million years ago.
Yes, you can, though you’ll have to get out of your car often in order to experience the scenery. Some places require a short walk to reach, such as the Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Red rope bridge, Mussendun Temple and others.
Check out our self drive tour of Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway and Donegal – learn more here.
Yes you can, but do bear in mind that some of the route is along roads. There is limited accommodation as well. It might be more beneficial to identify sections of the Causeway Coastal Route you wish to hike – such as the drop-dead-gorgeous section from Dunseverik Castle to Portbalintree via the Giant’s Causeway.
Join a small group tour of the Causeway Coast and Donegal – learn more here.
The waymarked route starts in Belfast, and ends in Derry, with a few detours along the way.