We had only a weekend to spend in Ireland. After spending 24 hours in Dublin, we thought why not to visit Northern Ireland as well! We booked a day trip from Dublin to the coast of Northern Ireland. The day started early with rain in Dublin. We were very lucky with gorgeous blue skies and sun rays once in Northern Ireland. So what did we see?
Causeway Coast & Carrick-A-rede Rope Bridge
Our first stop was at the Causeway Coast. Spectacular views in the bright sunny day! We could see the Rathlin Island and even the Scottish Coast, which was only 13 miles away.
After walking 1km from the car park at the Carrick-a-Rede and Larrybane site, we reached the Carrick-A-rede Rope Bridge. The bridge is swinging 100ft above the sea, made up of planks strung between wires. The rope bridge connects the mainland to the island of Carrick-a-Rede. The bridge was originally built by fishermen, so they could check on their salmon nets. Nets were set by boat, one end of the net was attached the land and the rest laid out in an arc to trap salmon. Fishermen used the bridge only in the summer. In the winter the bridge was dismantled and stored till the next season.
Noways, the bridge is open all year round but can be closed due to windy weather. The bridge is maintained by National Trust. It costs £8 (adult) to cross the bridge (see more details here). You need to purchase a ticket at the reception hut at the car park. Note: there is no charge to park and walk down to the bridge's entrance. We went ahead and crossed the bridge. Although, I was expecting the bridge to be longer. Interesting fact that when crossing the bridge you are also walking across the mouth of an ancient volcano. The last time the volcano erupted was over 60 million years ago. Also, the bridge was featured in the Game of Thrones TV series.
Was it worth it? I think so. Actually, I would recommend doing it. However, the crossing of the bridge was well controlled and probably for good reasons. We were hastened through the bridge. If you stopped on the bridge to look down or take picture, you would hear a whistle indicating to move forward. After crossing the bridge you had about 10 minutes on the Carrick-a-Rede island till everyone crosses the bridge back. When we arrived there was a queue as well. Some people opted out crossing the bridge and instead enjoyed the coastal walk. If think that was a good plan as well.
I was looking forward to this part of the day trip and it was not disappointing. The Giant's Causeway is steeped in myth and legend. The legend tells that it has been carved from the coast by the mighty giant, Finn McCool. Stone in shape of hexagons makes this place unique. Unsurprisingly, this place is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some say it is magic how these interlocking columns appeared. It is a geological wonder with over 40,000 basalt columns resulting from intense volcanic and geological activity. 60 million year-old! I have not seen anything like this before.
Out walk started from the visitor's centre. The centre itself needs a special mention. It blends into the landscape. It is energy sufficient and gives 360 degrees views of the Causeway coastline. At the centre we picked up some headphones, which told local folklore stores and geological points about the area. There are four different trails at the Giant's Causeway. We picked a moderate difficulty one, it took us 25 minutes. Also, there was a bus running to the hexagonal columns and back.
The next stop on our tour was the picturesque site- Dark Hedges. It is the most popular natural phenomena in Northern Ireland. The trees were planted in the 18th century by the Stuart family to impress their guests upon arrival to their house. Any Game of Thrones fans? You must recognize this place as King's Road from the TV series. Without surprise, it is one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland. Dark Hedges look probably even more impressive in spring or summer with green leaves and all the vegetation.
One other stop was at the Dunluce Castle. In the itinerary it was described as a photo stop. That what it was, just a stop to take a picture of the castle from far away. Sorry but it was a complete waste of time! You could actually visit the ruins of the castle, which would have been much more interesting. I guess this is a negative side of pre-booked trips as you are limited how much you can explore. Also, often the itinerary is packed with sights to make it to look impressive but in reality some stops are just quick stops with no true value.
The trip ended with a last stop at the city centre of Belfast. It was Easter Sunday and we arrived past 4 pm, so most places were closed by this time. I think, you need at least a half day to explore Belfast and an hour is nowhere near enough, especially when pretty much everything is closed. Personally, this stop on the trip was unnecessary. Maybe on a weekday or Saturday it would be better.
We paid for the day trip £60 each. It was a reasonable price for a full-day trip. Note that dinner was not included in the price.
Overall, we had a good glimpse of the coastal Northern Ireland. There is much more to see! We are wondering, if we could go there in spring/summer, rent a car and travel around the coast for more than a day. Plans, plans....😊