We flew into Derry and spent the evening walking around the city walls and learning more about the Troubles (the fighting between the Irish nationalists and UK unionists in the late 20th century). The next morning we woke up early to experience the beauty of Northern Ireland by renting a car and driving along its scenic coast.
We spent the day enjoying the Causeway Coastal Route and Antrim Coast Road, and all of the famous stops along the way. We closed the weekend in the capital city of Belfast, and a visit to its famous Titanic Museum. Oh, and our plane tickets for this adventure were only £30 round-trip per person!
Things to do in Derry
Visit the town of Derry (Londonderry) for a dose of Irish history and a great example of a European walled city.
Walk along the Derry old city walls. At various locations around the old city, you can find stairs that take you to the top of the historical walls that, surprisingly, remained completely intact during the 17th century when English and Scottish forces attempted to take over the city.
Bloody Sunday Monument
An important reminder of the violence during The Troubles, and the unfortunate loss of civilian lives.
The Peace Bridge
Walk over The Peace Bridge. Erected as a means to improve relations between city residents, connecting the unionist “waterside” and the nationalist “cityside”. The Peace Bridge is a cycle and pedestrian only bridge over the River Foyle.
Free Derry Murals
Walk around the area known as Free Derry for amazing murals painted on the sides of buildings. The imagery is symbolic of the struggle and emotion that the people of Derry felt over the years.
Food and drink in Derry
Walled City Brewery: Head across the River Foyle to Walled City Brewery for craft beer tasting, good eats, and a fun ambiance.
Waterloo Street: Enjoy a Guinness and live Irish music at the bars along Waterloo Street, especially Peadar O’Donnells, a classic pub covered in old sports paraphernalia and filled with plenty of locals.
Where to stay in Derry
Located near the walled city’s Bishop Gate, Bishop's Gate Hotel is a boutique hotel with nice rooms, helpful staff and a great breakfast. Live music can also be found in the hotel’s restaurant.
Derry to Belfast (Causeway Coastal Route / Antrim Coast Road)
Rent a car and drive along the northern coast from Derry for a cruise along the coastline cliffs, offering amazing views of the ocean and various points of interests such as beaches, castles and the incredible Giant’s Causeway. You can make the entire drive in a day, with time to stop at at the main sights, if you get at it early. In the winter months, you have less daylight so you'll want to plan to be in Belfast by 5pm. In the summer, the extra sunlight can give you more time to enjoy the journey. Heading out from Derry, follow signs for the Causeway Coastal Route and Antrim Coast road.
Tips: Head out as early as possible from Derry so that you can maximize how much you can see along the coast. Be sure to keep an eye on weather - and pack a raincoat and wellies if there is any chance of rain!
Whiterocks Beach, Portrush
Coastal beach with limestone cliffs, carved over centuries into the jagged coastline. Today it is full of hidden caves and archways.
A medieval castle (now mostly ruined) situated right on the edge of the coast, with dramatic drops over the cliffs. Try to imagine what it must have been like in its former glory. A great spot for pictures!
Fabled as the remains of a causeway built by an Irish giant who was meant to fight a Scottish giant, this natural wonder is a must-do when in Northern Ireland. It is made up of 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns formed by rapid cooling of lava. They look like a giant honeycomb!
Tips: Wear comfortable walking shoes (preferably waterproof with good traction) as there is about a half mile walk from the visitor’s center (there is a shuttle bus too).
Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
Quite an exhilarating stop for us (and anyone with a fear of heights!). Access to this simple suspension bridge is along a coastal walking path, about 3/4 mile from the parking lot. Located approximately 100 feet above the water and rocks below, the 66 foot long bridge connects the mainland to a small island used primarily for salmon fishermen. It is basically wood slats and wire rope -- if going over it once isn't hard enough, you have to find the courage to cross it a second time to get back! Talk about sweaty palms.
Other Antrim Coast Road Stops
If you have time, also stop at Torr Road (Torr Head), Garron Point, and the Caindhu House on your way to Belfast.
Things to do in Belfast
The former industrial city has been transformed in recent years, and is home to the World's Leading Tourist Attraction, the Titanic Museum. Visit for its history, pubs, and fun tourist attractions.
Donegall Square and see Belfast City Hall
A wonderful piece of architecture located in the heart of Belfast. It's particularly pretty when lit up at night!
Peace Walls and Murals
See the Peace Wall and walk through the neighborhoods they divide to experience the strong views of both the nationalists and unionists. Each neighborhood is flanked by murals, statues, and memorials, expressing the beliefs of the opposing parties and the lives lost during the time of heavy violence. The wall is somewhat in use today, as some gates still close in the evenings.
Titanic Quarter and Museum
Walk through the seaport district called Titanic Quarter and visit the Titanic Museum. Located at the shipbuilding site, the Titanic Museum outlines the history of the ships birth and the subsequent events that led to its sinking.
Tips: You can purchase tickets in advance online to avoid long lines at the ticket office.
Albert Memorial Clock Tower
Stop by the Albert Memorial Clock Tower In Queen’s Square. Built on wooden piles in marshy land near the river, the clock tower now leans four feet from the vertical plane! Built in the mid-19th century, it is comprised of both French and Italian Gothic architectural styles.
Victoria Square Viewing Gallery
Head up to the viewing gallery at Victoria Square for 360-degree views of the city and surrounding area.
Food in Belfast
Eat at Howard Street for a cozy ambiance and a nice meal, known for their full-flavoured dishes made with fresh local ingredients.