In September of this year we took a trip to Northern Ireland and very quickly fell in love with the people and the land. Although there were a few sights on our five day trip that we missed out due to illness/time we covered a fair amount of counties and great tourist spots and I wanted to share our route with anyone wanting to explore this beautiful land of green or cover some Game Of Thrones highlights. I’ve included rough driving times and postcodes for each point of interest also!
Day One: We flew into Belfast International airport and drove into the centre to our hotel and then took a walk into town. It immediately reminded me of a super chilled London and I really liked the relaxed vibe of the locals. We noticed pretty quickly that there is a huge difference from our side of the pond in regards to how they treat their employees particularly within restaurants. Having worked for various restaurant chains I know the strict rules on labour and know first hand how gruelling a shift can be with constant cuts on team members and tighter hours to work to. This was a different story in Belfast and in fact the entirety of Northern Ireland.
We didn’t come across one employee, be it waiter, bartender, receptionist, that was not warm and welcoming and incredibly friendly, and it made me think to my N.Irish friends who are in fact just the same. I noticed though that wherever we went there was an abundance of team members. We never had to wait to be seated or served and there was always a spare person floating about for a recommendation for our travels or just a ‘wee’ chat. It seems that they appreciate that an overworked team member is an unhappy one and it definitely made an impact on us.
We popped into Deanes Love Fish for dinner which is a cool restaurant with 3 or 4 different rooms that served different styles of food. We shared a seafood platter which was super fresh and fangirled when Indira Varma (Ellaria Sand) came in and sat next to us.
Day Two: Belfast CC – Castle Ward 50 mins (BT30 7LS) We were up early on day two to head to Winterfell a.k.a Castle Ward and stopped off at a cute little cafe called Cafe Q in Downpatrick. We were unfortunately about half an hour too early (Northern Ireland loves to sleep!) but they let us in for hot drinks before they started breakfast.
We were booked onto the Archery class at Castle Ward and changed into the provided Game of Thrones costumes-cloaks and swords included (heaven). Of course it was chucking it down with rain but it added to the authenticity of it and we really enjoyed the experience.
We were well and truly drenched so headed to The Cuan pub down the road where Sean Bean had stayed during filming and we grabbed some veggie soup before mooching around at the Door of Thrones and Ned Stark’s sword, Ice. Unfortunately I was feeling rough on the second day so we went to the Odeon cinema in Belfast City Centre (which is CRAZY cheap) and then headed to bed.
Day Three: Belfast CC – Cushenden Caves 1 hr 15 (BT1 1HF) We left Belfast CC early again (and were reminded that NI really does love to sleep, no early morning cafes here!) and headed North. Our first stop was the Cushenden Caves where Melisandre gave birth to the shadow (there’s a theme here). It was a quick stop but the town had stunning views and we made friends with a goat.
Cushenden Caves – Dark Hedges 35 mins (BT53 8TP) Our next stop was The Dark Hedges. We were shocked at how tranquil the area was around the Hedges with it being such a widely known scene even long before it became Kings Road. We drove up and down the road a few times to take in the beautiful natural phenomenon before heading up to Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge in County Antrim.
The Dark Hedges – Carrick-A-Rede 20 mins (BT54 6LS) The bridge was the opposite of the hedges and was incredibly busy. It cost £5.90 (discount with National Trust cards) to cross the bridge and there was a couple of miles walk from the box office to the bridge. The views were stunning and we even spotted a seal in the water before heading back. We were lucky enough to miss the rain on the bridge but it came in full force walking back and again we got well and truly soaked.
Carrick-A-Rede to Ballintoy Harbour 5 mins (BT54 6LS) Before our final destination we drove down the winding roads down to Ballintoy Harbour or for the Game of Thrones fans Pyke/Iron Islands. We passed so much farm land and residences we thought we had missed a turning but we eventually reached the harbour. It was getting late by now and it was pretty cold although the rain had laid off. I can’t imagine it took long for the GOT producers to chose this beautiful harbour. There were stunning pools filled with sea beaten rocks, rocky formations that a colony of seagulls used as look outs, an old stone building for a view point across the sea and high grassy dunes that were home to pools of rain water where we took the header photo of this post. Luckily we missed the rain this time so we decided on one final trip for the day which was the Giant’s Causeway.
Ballintoy Harbour – Giant’s Causeway 14 mins (BT57 8SU) The causeway is a selection of strangely formed rocks and hills said to have been carved by a great giant named Finn McCool including one formation that looks like a camel – it really does! We walked around for about an hour but decided against hypothermia and headed to our Inn for the night where we met up with my favourite N.Irelander Steph in Portrush.
Day Four: Portrush – Walls of Derry (BT48 6PR) 1 hr We were both a little poorly again so we took it easy on the fourth day. We drove a few minutes down the road from Portrush to Portstewart to visit the sandy dunes where Jamie Lannister and Bronn first arrived in Dorne before heading for an egg bap in a nearby cafe.
We journeyed to Derry and strolled around the Walls. It is a quirky little town that is part contained within high walls with some great views over the city. There is a lot of history here and it was somewhat sinister compared to the rest of the region, with lots of murals from Ireland’s civil war and an abundance of Derry Coat of Arms and Ulster Flags flying from buildings and homes.
Day Five: Strabane – Gweedore 1hr 30 (No postcode) We visited family just outside of Derry before crossing the border into the Republic of Ireland. It was so bizarre crossing over and honestly we were unsure if we actually had for a fair while. I suppose we were expecting big signs indicating the cross over but it was only when road signs turned from English to Irish and £s turned to €s that we agreed we had definitely crossed into the ROI.
We drove to Gweedore which has 75% native Irish speakers and is surrounded by stunning landscapes. The view along the way was beautiful with long valleys and grassed hills and many many sheep. It reminded us of Tenerife’s Mount Teide except wet and very green! We drove passed Mount Errigal almost by accident and parked up to look down onto the Poison Glen. You can walk to the Glen but there are no signposts and after ending up in a few back gardens we continued on. It was SO windy here and we braved the edge of a viewpoint for some photos. After admiring the area we luckily found a cafe in Bunbeg that not only accepted GBP but made fresh pizzas with quorn chicken. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name but the town is so tiny you can’t miss it if you visit. En route back to Strabane we stopped into the grounds of a castle, the visitor centre was actually closed so we quickly ran down to the water and took in the (cold) view before driving back through the sheep ridden plains.
We spent the evening with family and their beautiful dog Hogan (photos of this beauty in my Dangerous Dogs blog post) and headed home the following day.
Although we were hit by the rain most days we really enjoyed our trip around Northern Ireland and the rain only enhanced the beauty of the vast greenery of the land. We were shocked by the friendliness of everyone we met and were constantly impressed with the service we received. There are a few things we missed out but we will definitely back to visit in the future. Thanks for having us Northern Ireland!
Photos by Daniel John Cotton Wall