A Guide to Getting off the Beaten Path in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is massively popular with Game of Thrones fans, as well as being home to the Giant’s Causeway, one of the world’s best-known natural wonders. Yet outside of these two huge tourist draws, Northern Ireland offers rich pickings for the adventurous traveler.
This small corner of Ireland is packed with natural beauty, and its best sights remain undiscovered. The coach tours and selfie-snappers head straight for the Dark Hedges and the Giant’s Causeway, leaving great opportunity for those who prefer to travel off the beaten path.
The rest of the region is barely visited, including ruined castles in spectacular locations, thundering waterfalls, and wild beaches.
Carrick-a-rede is a popular site, but it doesn’t see the tourist numbers of the Giant’s Causeway and the Dark Hedges.
Getting to the rope bridge and island involves walking along the coast path, so visitors are also more spread out than at the other sights.
The footpath offers gorgeous views of the coast.
The coast of Antrim is scattered with castles built by Scottish clans. Long ago these Scots crossed the short distance by the sea from the Mull of Kintyre. Castles in Antrim have more in common with castles in Scotland than in the rest of Ireland.
The three castles at Kinbane, Dunluce, and Trevarrick all have atmospheric positions on rugged clifftops, above the sea. They are in various stages of ruin. Dunluce is the most intact castle, while Trevarrick is the oldest and most ruined.
When visiting Dunluce you can explore the castle and find out what life was like there. Trevarrick is so ruined that only a few stacks of stones remain, but it is surrounded by fantastic scenery and coast paths walks.
Kinbane Castle is a single tower that lies on a headland. It’s surrounded by tall cliffs and accessed via a set of steep steps cut into the cliff.
Northern Ireland boasts amazing beaches. Vast swathes of golden sand form a large part of the coastline of counties Antrim and Londonderry.
Benone Beach flanks Binevenagh mountain. It’s a huge, raw expanse of completely wild and undeveloped beach.
Even in high summer most of the beaches are deserted, including this one near the Giant’s Causeway.
Bushmills – Giant’s Causeway Heritage Railway
A heritage railway operates along the Antrim coast, between the stations of Bushmills and the Giant’s Causeway.
The train runs slowly through a golf course, behind sand dunes and a beach. The train carriages are often empty, unless your trip coincides with one of the few coach groups who use the train.
The fare is just £2.50 each way, and you can buy tickets at either end. Giant’s Causeway station has a ticket office, while Bushmills station is just a platform, but you can buy tickets at Bushmills from the conductor when the train arrives.
Glenariff Forest Park
The Glens of Antrim are part of a landscape where high moorland and forest are cut through by riverine valleys. Glenariff Forest Park covers more than a thousand hectares, in one of the prettiest glens.
Take a walk here in lush forest beside thundering waterfalls. Wooden boardwalks wind through scenery that feels more like a tropical jungle than Ireland, with its bright green canopy and gushing rivers.
Walks around the Giant’s Causeway
While the Causeway itself is packed with visitors, it doesn’t take long to get off the beaten path. All around the Giant’s Causeway multiple footpaths lead off in different directions over beautiful coastline.
Beyond the Giant’s Causeway, a shingle bay curves round to an awesome feature known as the Giant’s Chimney. Here the hexagonal stones that make up the famous causeway are stacked on top of each other in tall columns in the cliff face. The scale is awe-inspiring when you stand next to them and look up.