If you were only to do one scenic drive in Northern Ireland, it should be along the coast of Antrim. Ireland has numerous beautiful drives, including the well-known Ring of Kerry drive, but the drive along the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland can match any of them for its variety and stunning scenery.
Highlights include coastal towns like Portrush and Ballycastle, Bushmills with its famous whiskey distillery, the World Heritage Site of the Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the spectacular Glens of Antrim.
Facts About the Drive along the Coast of Antrim, Ireland
From Portrush to Belfast along the Antrim costal route is about 75 miles (120kms)
The drive should take 2-3 hours, plus extra for stops. Two days would be better, to enjoy everything
There is a faster cross-country route from Larne or Belfast to Portrush, if you need to return more quickly
Route for the Drive along the Coast of Antrim, Ireland
From Portrush drive east along the A2 into Bushmills. The coastal scenery is magnificent from the start. In Bushmills allow time to visit the Old Bushmills Distillery, the first legal whiskey distillery in the world.
From Bushmills follow the signs for the Giant’s Causeway, where you will also want to spend plenty of time. From the Giant’s Causeway turn left as you exit, to enjoy more of the beautiful Antrim coastal scenery, and then this road rejoins the A2. Turn left towards Ballycastle.
Before you get to Ballycastle take the B15 road forking left to Ballintoy. Go through Ballintoy to the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede, joined to the mainland by a swaying rope bridge. Beyond Carrick-a-Rede the B15 rejoins the A2 at Ballycastle, a lovely harbor town and a good place to take a break for lunch, or even stay overnight.
From Ballycastle the A2 goes all the way along the east coast to Larne, from where you can either go on into Belfast or return to Portrush taking the more direct inland route via Ballymena.
However, along this stretch is where you will find the Glens of Antrim, and you can divert inland to enjoy one or more of them, as time allows. If you only have time for one drive, then make it Glenariff, known as the Queen of the Glens. For this you take a right turn on the A43 at Waterfoot, just after passing through Cushendall. It’s only a short drive of six miles or so, but it goes through the impressive scenery of Glenariff to the Glenariff Forest Park. Here you’ll find a Visitor Centre and a chance to explore, before continuing the drive.
For a little variety, turn left out of the park onto the B14 which takes you back to Cushendall through Glenballyemon, another of the Glens of Antrim, and back to resume the Antrim Coastal Drive.
Hotels and Attractions in Northern Ireland
The Antrim coast of Northern Ireland is one of the most beautiful parts of the country, and of the whole of Ireland. The northern Antrim coast includes major attractions such as the Giant’s Causeway (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Rathlin Island and Carrick-a-Rede island with its famous rope bridge. The stunning Glens of Antrim lead down to Antrim’s east coast, north of Belfast. On the Antrim coast you’ll also find the Bushmills Distillery too, and attractive and lively towns like Ballycastle and Ballintoy.
Antrim hotels are plentiful and range from cheap, budget guesthouses and b&bs to luxury 5-star hotels and other accommodation including historic coaching inns. The best of these Antrim hotels also have fine dining restaurants, where excellent Northern Ireland food is prepared and served, and this can range from simple but hearty dishes to new Irish cuisine.
Although the county of Antrim is large in Irish terms (the 9th largest of all the Irish counties), it’s still only 2844 sq km – smaller than Rhode Island. You can drive the entire Antrim coast in a couple of hours, so if you find an Antrim hotel that you like, you could stay there for a week or more and still be able to cover the whole of the Antrim coast easily. However, unless you’re traveling at the height of summer, you can also move around and should be able to find good Antrim hotels or other accommodation options without booking ahead.
For visiting the Glens of Antrim and the eastern Antrim coast, Carnlough and Cushendall make good bases. On the north Antrim coast, somewhere around Ballycastle makes it easy to explore the eastern end, while there are plenty of Antrim hotel and accommodation options in Bushmills and Portrush at the western end of the north coast.
Here are some select suggestions for Antrim hotels, including coaching inns, guesthouses and a modern country house hotel.
ANTRIM HOTELS: EAST COAST
The Londonderry Arms Hotel
20 Harbour Road, Carnlough, County Antrim
Tel: 0044 (0)28-288-5255
Right on the harbour-front, this one-time coaching inn has 35 bedrooms, 3 stars from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and a rosette from the AA for its cooking. Carnlough is at the foot of Glencloy, one of the nine Glens of Antrim.
16 Cloghs Road, Cushendall, County Antrim
Tel: 0044 (0)28-2177-1762
Voted Northern Ireland Guesthouse of the Year, Cullentra House is about a mile outside Cushendall. It has just three ensuite rooms and is in an area giving great views of the Glens of Antrim and across the sea to Scotland.
ANTRIM HOTELS: NORTH COAST
Bushmills Inn Hotel
9 Dunluce Road, Bushmills, County Antrim
Tel: 0044 (0)28-2073-3000
The Bushmills is a historic coaching inn, part of which is thought to date back to about 1608, when the nearby Bushmills Distillery was granted the first licence in the world to allow it to distil whiskey. Most of the inn dates from the 1820a, but it has been recently renovated and the rooms are modern with all the comforts. It has won awards for Best Hotel, Golf Hotel of the Year and its bar and restaurant have won accolades too. Ideal for the Giant’s Causeway and other north Antrim coast attractions.
Glenmore House and Restaurant
94 White Park Road, Ballycastle, County Antrim
Tel: 0044 (0)28-2076-3584
This modern country house hotel in Antrim is between Ballintoy and Ballycastle, and has 10 ensuite rooms, two of them with their own Jacuzzis. Set in 95 acres of countryside, it’s ideal for walkers and wildlife watchers. There’s golf and trout lake fishing options too, and Glenmore has its own restaurant and traditional Irish music sessions too, on some nights. Very cheap prices for the excellent facilities and superb location.