A Quite Classic Tour To Enjoy The Best of Northern Ireland in 2 Days
This loop itinerary starts and finished in Belfast, with a night in Coleraine. It is the itinerary I followed when I visited the region; and I feel it is a great introduction to what Northern Ireland has to offer if you only have a couple days.
The Itinerary at a Glance
- Itinerary Type: Road trip with car rental
- Itinerary Shape: Loop
- Starting Point: Belfast
- Ending Point: Belfast
- Time: 2 days
- Driving Distance: Day 1: 153 km (95 mi); Day 2: 124 km (77 mi);
Total: 277 km (172 mi)
- Driving Time: Day 1: 3+ hours; Day 2: 2+ hours;
Total: 5-5:30 hours
- Sleeping: 1 night in Coleraine
Day 1 – Belfast to Coleraine [153 km / 95 mi]
This first day is dedicated to exploring a portion of the Causeway Coastal Route, one of the most scenic roads in the world.
Belfast Cushendun 1:15 hour | 85 km / 52.6 miles
To save a bit of time (and arrive on time at the Giant’s Causeway for sunset without rushing), you can choose to go straight to Cushendun via the M2 motorway. However, if you really want to drive a long the coast, it is totally possible but you can add 30-40 mins of driving time.
Cushendun Torr Head 20 mins | 11 km / 6.7 miles
From Cushendun you are only about 20 mins away from Torr Head, introducing you to the wonderful landscapes of the Causeway Coastal Route, with all its greenery and its rugged shoreline.
Torr Head Fair Head 17 mins | 10 km / 6.1 miles
Next, drive for about 17 mins to arrive at the small parking area of Fair Head. Do take the time to do the small hike to the impressive cliffs and enjoy the incredible silence. You will need to enter the nearby field and follow the path that will take you to the cliffs, passing by a nice small lake.
Fair Head Ballycastle 15 mins | 8.5 km / 5.3 miles
By now you should be starving! Luckily, you are not far from the town of Ballycastle, where you will be able to find a nice and inexpensive local restaurant for lunch. You will also be able to relax from the driving on the beach or around the harbour.
Ballycastle Carrick-a-Rede 10 mins | 7.5 km / 4.6 miles
But it’s time to get back in the car and continue along the Causeway Coastal Route. The next stop is a quite famous and popular attraction, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. From Ballycaslte, it should only take 10 mins. You will be greeted by some more beautiful cliff landscapes, that you will be able to see from close and with a fun touch from the rope bridge.
Carrick-a-Rede White Park Bay 10 mins | 5.6 km / 3.5 miles
Another 10 min drive will take you to the big and wild beach of White Park Bay. At the time of my visit, there was cattle on the beach!
White Park Bay Giant’s Causeway 15 mins | 9 km / 5.6 miles
Last but not least, the last stop of the day is the world famous and stunning Giant’s Causeway. It is only about 15 mins from White Park Bay. Depending on the time of the year and how much time you took at the previous stops, you may arrive at around sunset time. It was the case for me. This site is truly surprising and beautiful, and I would say that it would be worth skipping something else in order to see it, if you had no choice because you are running late. However, if you couldn’t make it on time, don’t worry! You will have a chance to easily include it in the next day’s itinerary 🙂
Giant’s Causeway Coleraine 27 mins | 20 km / 12.4 miles
It is now the end of the day, and after seeing so much and driving all that distance, you will be happy to find your hotel. I had personally found the Premier Inn Hotel in the city of Coleraine. If you happen to finish your visits little late (like it often occurs during free & easy road trips!), I can at least tell you that there is a McDonalds next to this hotel that is open 24 hours if you haven’t had dinner. Always useful to know!
Alternatively, you can of course find a hotel closer to the coast like in Bushmills for example or even Portrush.
Day 2 – Coleraine to Belfast [124 km / 77 mi]
It is already the second and last day of this small road trip, and today’s itinerary will lead you back to Belfast.
Coleraine Portrush 20 mins | 12.5 km / 7.8 miles
Assuming you slept in Coleraine, you will first need to drive back towards the coast, to the town of Portrush about 20 mins away.
Portrush White Rocks Beach 7 mins | 4 km / 2.5 miles
From Portrush, you will explore a new small portion of the coast, starting with a very pretty wild beach called White Rocks Beach, very close from Portrush. And you guessed it, what makes this beach special is the white color of the cliffs and rocks. Surprisingly, if the cliffs are made of white rock, the big stones coming out of the sand on the beach are black!
A part of the beach is also lined with a big sand dune covered with thin grass. I totally recommend to have a nice walk on that beach and explore the wild shores.
White Rocks Beach Dunluce Castle 5 mins | 2.7 km / 1.7 miles
Then, just drive for 5 mins and you will come across the Dunluce Castle. The view to this ruined castle built on top of the cliff is amazing. A real postcard image! You can follow a little path that will take you around the castle in the cliffs, and you can also enter and visit the castle itself after paying an entrance fee.
OPTIONAL: Second chance for the Giant’s Causeway 10 mins
At this point, you have a second possibility to visit the Giant’s Causeway, if you couldn’t reach it on time the day before, or if you feel like visiting it a second time! You will only need 10 mins to drive there, following the coastal road in the same direction.
Dunluce Castle The Dark Hedges 25 mins | 20 km / 12.7 miles
If you are ready, it is now time to get away from the coast and slowly go back south towards Belfast. The next stop is a very pretty countryside road, made famous by the huge beech trees that were planted along it, and which make really awesome photo opportunities. This place is called The Dark Hedges. The driving time to reach it is about 25 minutes.
The Dark Hedges Antrim 40 mins | 50 km / 32 miles
Once you had fun walking on this picturesque road and shooting tons of pictures, you can continue towards the south to the city of Antrim. I suggest you to visit the Antrim Castle Gardens. I would consider this stop optional, but it is a nice opportunity to have a little break from the driving and walk in a nice garden. Driving from the Dark Hedges to Antrim takes around 40 mins.
Antrim Belfast 30 mins | 30 km / 19.5 miles
This was the last stop before Belfast, and it is time to drive the last stretch of road to close the loop! It should take around 30 mins via the M2 motorway. You can now enjoy a nice evening in Belfast with all the wonderful images of the Causeway Coastal Route in your head!
Last Thoughts About This Itinerary
This itinerary may or may not suit exactly your interests and your traveling pace, but it can be a good source of inspiration to create your own. This itinerary was planned with an attempt to reach the Giant’s Causeway for the sunset, but if you feel that the first day is too packed, it is very easy to include the Giant’s Causeway on the second day instead.
With 3 days instead of 2, you can probably make this loop go all the way to Londonderry, or take a day to explore Rathlin Island by taking a ferry in Ballycastle.