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Northern Ireland - North Antrim Coast

Top 10 places

Top 100 places to visit in Northern Ireland

The North Antrim Coast

1. The Giant’s Causeway

The Giant's Causeway attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, who come to marvel at this other-worldly sight. Comprised of around 37 000 polygonal black basalt columns, the causeway was formed sixty million years ago when a huge subterranean explosion spewed up a huge mass of molten rock. Cooling rapidly on the surface, the basalt formed into what are essentially crystals, with regular geometrical shapes  - hexagons, pentagons and up to ten-sided columns.

2. Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle is sited dramatically close to the edge of a headland, along the North Antrim coast. Surrounded by jaw dropping coastal scenery, its history is inextricably linked to that of its original owner, Sorley Boy MacDonnell, whose clan, the so called 'Lords of the Isles,' ruled northeastern Ulster from this base. A spectacular scramble takes you down to the cave below the castle that pierces right through the promontory, with an opening directly under the gatehouse.

3. Raithlin Island

Rathlin Island lies 5 miles north of Ballycastle and just 12 miles west of the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland. Take the ferry from Ballycastle to visit this craggy place. On the north east point is Bruce’s Cave, a black basalt cavern where legend has it that Scottish King Robert the Bruce hid in 1306, after being defeated by the English at Perth. The Boathouse by Church Quarter’s Harbour has been converted into a visitor centre where you can discover more about the culture and history of the island.

4. Old Bushmills Distillery

The Old Bushmills Distillery started here in 1608 and is the oldest licensed whisky distillery in the world, and its well worth taking the factory tour. Bushmills, like most Irish whisky, is distilled three times, once more than scotch, making for a smoother finish. At the end of your tour you'll be offered a tot of the produce - go for the unblended malt, which is most representative of what goes on in Bushmills, or in winter ask for a hot toddy.

5. Surfing Lessons at Portrush

The town of Portrush has everything you'd expect from a seaside resort, with sandy beaches backed by dunes and plenty of amusements for children. Winter can be cold, so April to October are the best times to visit. The more adventurous may like to try a surfing lesson with a qualified instructor which will provide a good introduction to the sport. Lessons operate out of Troggs Surf Shop on Main Street and boards and wetsuits can also be hired. Book a week or so in advance to be sure of a place.

6. Murlough Bay National Nature Reserve

Murlough Bay is the most spectacular of all the bays along the coast of Northern Ireland. From the rugged cliff tops, the hillside curves down to the sea in a series of wildflower meadows that soften an otherwise harsh landscape. As much as anywhere else on the Irish coastline, this is a place for just spending time and drinking it all in. From sandy beaches and grassy dunes to stunning heathland, the vast array of habitats at Murlough National Nature Reserve are home to many rare and uncommon plants and animals.

7. The Antrim Hills Way

The beauty and variety of the Northern Ireland landscape, the compact distances and ever-changing vistas make this a wonderful place to explore on foot. The Antrim Hills Way is a scenic 22 mile walking trail across the Glens of Antrim, stretching from the historic village of Glenarm to the volcanic plug of Slemish Mountain. The walk has splendid and extensive inland views across the Antrim Hills and from the coastline, views can be enjoyed as far as Scotland.

8. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Take the exhilarating rope bridge challenge to Carrick-a-Rede island. Near the North Antrim Coast Road, amid unrivalled coastal scenery, the 30-metre deep and 20-metre wide chasm is traversed by a rope bridge that was traditionally erected by salmon fishermen. Visitors bold enough to cross from the cliffs to the rocky island (which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest) are rewarded fantastic birdwatching and splendid uninterrupted views to Rathlin and the Scottish islands.

9. Portrush Coastal Zone Centre

Visit the Coastal Zone Centre at the seaside town of Portrush. The current exhibition 'Time and Tides' tells the story of how the rich marine environment and natural coastal processes of the Northern Ireland coast have influenced, and continue to influence, past, present and future human activities - from fishing to tourism - and how it itself is now under threat from modern day pressures. There's also a children's activity zone with model painting, a library, gift shop and viewing platform.

10. Traditional Irish music at McCollam’s Bar

Drop in on a traditional Irish music session at McCollam’s Bar, Cushendall. Every Friday night throughout the year, and on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays in Summer, you may meet the cream of the local musical talent: Accordionists Ciaran Graham, James McCurry and Leo Brown. Banjoists PJ Hill and Alex Fyfe, plus many fine singers including Denise McKeegan and Charlie McDonnell.
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