Known in the North as the ‘Glens,’ Antrim brought God to Saint Patrick, discouraged a Scottish giant and was the main home to Game of Throne. A fascinating background that made us wonder what was so spectacular.
Northern Ireland hides some of the most magnificent sceneries in the world, but if your time is limited, County Antrim is THE region to pick out of the six.
It awards with an exquisite taste of culture, tradition and folklore that gracefully mixes with contemporaneity. The Causeway Coastal Road and the country, on their side, provide with bewildering natural settings alongside compelling historical and religious sites.
To assist your planning, we’ve listed for you the following 20+ amazing things to do in Antrim.
#1 Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
This National Trust site, located in Carrick-a-Rede Island, was erected by fishermen to facilitate their North Atlantic salmon migration quest, over 350 years ago. Signs of the past, such as old gears, remain proudly present.
Two ways are leading to the legendary swinging rope bridge. Either take the 1.6km (1 mile) moderate-levelled trail that starts in Harbour Road, or walk from the car park nearby.
Admission Fee: €10.5 (£9.00) for adults and €5.25 (£4.50) for children at the Reception Hut or online if you want to avoid the crowd in the peak season (up to 4 months in advance)
Address: 119a Whitepark Rd, Ballintoy, Ballycastle
#2 Giant’s Causeway and visitor experience
This 60 million-year-old natural rock formation, situated 13km away (8.1 miles), is presumably Northern Ireland’s most acclaimed attraction. Generated by a volcanic eruption, the grounds, displaying over 40,000 lava columns, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.
A glorious myth with two distinct endings reveals another explanation for this creation. Threatened by the Scottish Giant Benandonner, Fionn mac Cumhaill, a hulking local hunter and combatant, raised a more proportionate paved road for them to take on a fight.
In one version, the Irish warrior wins the warfare. In the other, overwhelmed by the size of his opponent, Fionn chooses to hide and is saved by his wife’s clever ruse as she disguised him and pretended he was her baby. Once the giant neighbour sees the infant, he assumed that the dad’s size was beyond gargantuan and left without combat.
Admission Fee: €12.86 (£11) per adult online and €14.61 (£12.50) onsite. €6.43 (£5.50) per child online and €7.89 (£6.75) onsite.
Address: 44 Causeway Rd, Bushmills
#3 The Dark Hedges
Half an hour away is the most photographed location in Northern Ireland. This avenue of intertwined beech trees, planted by James Stuart in the 18th century, will leave you speechless. Although 70 out of 150 trees already disappeared, the now-preserved arboreal spot remains impressive and worth the trip.
Legend says that a spirit flutters from one tree to the other and that, on Halloween’s nights, other spectres join the roaming soul.
Fans of Game of Thrones, do you remember this scene where Arya Stark camouflages as a boy and flees from Kings Landing with those joining the Night’s watch? You got me, that’s where “kings road” is!
Admission Fee: Free!
Address: Bregagh Rd, Stranocum, Ballymoney
#4 Game of Thrones
Other Game of Thrones series spots in County Antrim also include:
- Iron Island, where Theon was baptised, is based in the fishing hamlet of Ballintoy Harbour
- The grotto where Melisandre delivered her shadow infant is 400 million-year-old and is located in the Cushendun Caves
- The Dothraki meadow, in the Shillanavogy Valley, is beneath the Slemish Mountains
- Most Winterfell crypt scenes took place in Shane’s Castle
- Landscapes of the North of Winterfell, in Cairncastle
- Slaver’s Bay and Dragonstone Cliffs scenes, in Murlough Bay
- Renly Baratheon camp, where Catelyn Stark consent to an alliance and, where Brienne of Tarth was first introduced is in Larrybane
- House of Greyjoy (Castle of Pyke) depicted by Dunluce Castle
#5 Rathlin Island and Seabird Sanctuary
Birdwatchers, you are in for a treat as you are entering a Special Area of Conservation. It is the land of 268 species and 55 families including the Common murres, red-billed chough or puffins. Hike the 6.43 km (4 miles) that go from the harbour to the West Lighthouse and enjoy an untamed coastline scenery.
The Boathouse Visitor Centre (free), the RSBP Seabird Centre (€5.84/ £5), Fair Head, Kinbane castle and Bruce’s cave are other places to discover while visiting the island.
How to go:
The ferry leaves 4 times a day (2 in winter) from Ballycastle and costs: €14 (£12.00) return when over 15-year-old, half-price for children and free under 5. Bring your bicycle by booking directly (and only) at the boat office. Cars are not allowed except for owners of a special permit.
Address: Ballycastle Marina, 5 Bayview Road, Ballycastle
#6 Dunluce Castle
First built in the 15th/16th century, Dunluce Castle was the witness of an essential period of Northern Ireland history. The McQuillans (Scottish), at the origin of the construction, lost the land against Sorley Boy McDonnell (Irish), at the battle of Orla. The royal home was then beleaguered back and forth for the next 100 years, which led to a multiculturalist town with English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh and more.
Tucked away at the top of a basalt cliff, this protected archaeological site still hides 95% of its ground. Recently discovered, a 1,500 years passage is yet to be explored, but the Mermaid’s Cavern on its side, 25 metres beneath the edifice, is accessible by green stairs.
- Artistic drawing used as the inside cover of Led Zeppelin Album “Houses of the Holy.”
- Inspired to create Cair Paravel, Narnia’s royal castle
- It appears in the Medallion, with Jackie Chan, as ‘Ravens Keep.”
- It also comes into sight in Your Highness, a comedy with James Franco, Zooey Deschanel and Nathalie Portman
Admission Fee: 16-year-old and above, it’ll cost €6.42 (£5.00), from the age of 4 to 16 (as well as Seniors) €4.08 (£3.5) and free under 4-year-old.
Address: 87 Dunluce Rd, Bushmills
#7 The Causeway Coast and the Glens
The Causeway coastal route is a 320km (200-miles) road that goes from Belfast to Derry-Londonderry. It encompasses a unique journey through over 128 kilometres (80 miles) across Antrim mesmerising valleys. Start your journey from Dunluce Castle all the way to Belfast (or vice-versa). Discover 18 magical and historical spots including the acclaimed Nine Glens of Antrim. Stop and enjoy the Glenariff Waterfall, Ballygally beach and Cushendall; the capital of the Glens where each year, the ‘Heart of the Glens’ festival takes place. Dance day and night under the traditional sounds of Northern Ireland.
The best way to discover the area is by renting your own car. Public transport will lead you to some places (which is already fabulous), but you might miss out on some great spots.
#8 Surf and Kayak at Whiterocks Beach
This Blue Flag awarded strand is known for its untamed chalk surroundings. The strong waves,
which shaped the beautiful rock facade and arches, are perfect for both surfing and kayak surfing.
Follow the 130km (70 nautical miles/80.5 miles) “North Coast Sea Kayak Trail” and discover some of the wildest spots in the country alongside grottos only accessible by sea. Different ways lead to this unique formation: you can either drive, take public transports (both train and bus bring to Portrush) or walk one of the two paths. The 10.6km (6.6 miles) track will take you from Bushmills to Portrush by Dunluce Castle (see above) and Portballintrae Bay. A longer route of 53km (33 miles), baptised the Causeway Coast Way, runs along the coast from Portstewart to Ballycastle, and stops in some of the most important sites in Northern Ireland.
#9 Glenarm Castle & Walled Garden
The home of the McDonnell noble family since the 17th century opens its imperial doors only at specific dates, from Easter to end of September.
If you travel on the lower season, you can still explore one of the earliest walled castle gardens of the island (from mid-March to mid-October). You’ll follow the trail and discover the sculpture of the 16-year-old Angela Sykes, Madonna and Child while learning some herbalist trick from the herb garden and the Glasshouse.
Gardens Admission Fee: Adults: €6.95 (£6.00), Youth/12-18: €3.48 (£3.00), Children under 12: FREE
Address: 2 Castle Lane, Glenarm, Ballymena
#10 Carrickfergus Castle
Eighteen kilometres (11 miles) away from Belfast, lies a 12th-century castle in the town of Carrickfergus. Despite Scottish, English, Irish and French who all beleaguered the fortress, it stays one of the best-maintained structures of the middle age time. The structure, primarily used for military purposes, lies by the sea and holds 22 canons. Its last function, ante its current, was as a shelter in case of air attacks during World War II.
Admission Fee: Adult €6.28 (£5.50); Senior, students, children aged 4 to 16 and benefit claimants €4 (ID required £3.50) Child under 4 – free
Address: Marine Hwy, Carrickfergus
Note: At the time of writing (May 2019), there is some restoration work to be done: the Inner Ward and Great Tower will not be accessible until further notice. Other areas might also close from time to time. To check call +353 (028) 9335 1273 or email email@example.com
#11 Layd Old Church
One-and-a-half kilometre away (1 mile) from Cushendal, encompassed by the Glens of Antrim, Red Bay and the Mull of Kintyre, prevails the ruins of the Layd Old Church. Walk from Shore Street and pass both Salmon Rock and Port Vinegar before arriving in this 13th century local Parish. Some historians state that the construction happened earlier, which explains the long distance between the church and devotees. Others believe that Scottish were practising their faith in this hidden house of God, as their new queen proscribed them for doing so in their homeland.
Admission Fee: Free!
Address: Layd Church, Cushendall, Ballymena
#12 Andrew Jackson Centre
The home of the seventh head of the United States was located in Boneybefore. Indeed the straw roofing cottage, constructed in the mid-18th century, was where President Andrew Jackson’s parents used to leave before immigrating to the US. Today, the perfect reproduction (as replaced by a railway track in the 1850’s) of the former house turned into a museum and, relates the life of the historical chief of state.
Admission Fee: Free!
Address: 2 Boneybefore, Carrickfergus
Note: The museum only opens on Wednesdays from 11:00AM to 3:00PM
#13 Slemish Mountain
Folklore says that Saint Patrick was a shepherd for 6 years of his life, in the 5th century, within those same mountains. Working hard and forlorn, he was praying every day out in the meadow, and God came to him. A 1.5km (round way) pilgrimage occurs every Saint Patrick’s Day. The hike goes around the extinct volcano and up to 437 metres (1,500 feet). Beware that even if the walk is short; it is quite arduous, rugged and slippery when wet. In summer, you’ll smell the lavender growing around. All year long, despite the rain, the vistas from the top are hypnotizing, and birdwatchers will gaze buzzards and wheatears.
Address: Car Park: 7 Carnstroan Ln, Broughshane, Ballymena
#14 Kinbane Castle
The breath-taking ruins of this 16th-century castle, erected on top of a limestone peninsula, is one of Northern Ireland most alluring hidden-gem. Because of the setting, it feels that the construction is an extension of the land. Colla of the MacDonnell clan, at the origin of the primary structure, could not handle the English invasion that occurred 8 years later.
The access down the remains is slippery and steep. When too dangerous, the passage is out of service, but the vistas are still excellent from the vantage point. If you plan to hike up to get closer, make sure to wear proper footwear. The climb is dangerous and is to be avoided in case of bad weather.
Admission Fee: Free!
Address: 81 Whitepark Rd, Ballycastle
#15 Antrim Castle Gardens and Clotworthy House
Nearby Lough Neagh lies the early 17th-century fort and the Cotworthy house. Victim of a blaze in 1922, this treasure, restored recently, is the holder of an Ulster in Bloom Special Award. Follow the trail of the 24-hectare (60-acre) and discover the Yew tree pond, Her Ladyship’s Pleasure Garden and the owner’s history.
Address: Clotworthy House Randalstown Road
#16 The “Queen of the Glens”
Also, know known as Glenariff Forest Park, the “Queen of the Glens” spreads over 1000 hectares (2471 acres). Walkers and hikers will be pleased by the 3 (and a half) following trails:
- Viewpoint trail, 1km where sea goes as far as the eye can see and, impressive views of the Glens, as well as exquisite gardens, await you.
- Waterfall trail, 3km through a steep path entering the Nature reserve and either directly leading to both Ess-na-Larach and Ess-na-Crub Waterfalls, or through a 0.6km detour, known as the Rainbow Trail, in view of its bridge, crossing the river.
- Scenic trail, 8.9km through the rocky Inver River gorge, three heart-stopping viewpoints. This walk should be undertaken by severe gradients as the climb tends to be extremely abrupt and arduous.
If you are touring the park by vehicle and plan to pitch a tent for the night, it will cost €29.11 (£25.5) to erect your portable shelter up to four people.
Admission Fees: To access the forest by car, expect to pay €5.71 (£5). A motorcycle will pay half price when pedestrians are welcome at no cost.
If you feel the need to visit the forest several times a year, annual discount cards are available for purchase.
Address: Glenariffe Road, Ballymena
If you like waterfalls, riversides, forests and short (1.6km/1 mile) but steep walks, you should visit Glenoe’s as well. Its nearest car park is located about 6.4km (4 miles) south of Larne on B99.
#17 Dalriada Festival
Dalriada is the most acclaimed family fest; it occurs in Glenarm Castle during the summer months (13th and 14th of July at the time of writing). For two days, great food, music, dance, arts and crafts as well as kids-oriented amusement entertain over 25,000 people each year.
Admission fee: It will depend on how long you attend the fest and your sleeping plans (camping 1/2/3 nights). For more details, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Address: 2 Castle Ln, Glenarm, Ballymena
#18 Auld Lammas Fair, the Oldest Fair in the Country
This fair started in the 17th century and has been running since then. The festivities take place yearly in the last Monday and Tuesday of August and awards with a carnival spirit. Weave through the large crowd (200,000 people in 2017) to taste the sweet Yellowman honeycomb candy or the red and salty dulse alga. Enlighten yourself with local arts such as bo-oak carving while listening to the verses of the local ballads. Bargaining is the key to trading, so have fun and head back home with timeless farm produce.
Admission fee: Free!
Address: All over Ballycastle
#19 East Strand
Out of 11 Blue Flag Beaches, Portrush holds three titles, and East Strand owns one of them. This 4-kilometre (2.5 miles) sandy area blends with Whiterocks and Curran Strand. Take the pedestrian path from east to west and enjoy the vistas over Donegal and Scotland, test your golfing skills at the Royal Portrush Golf Course or pull on your wetsuit and head into the waters for a surf session.
Every Saturday morning, at 9:30AM, a team of volunteers organise a free Portrush park run and end up the exercise by grabbing a cup of coffee together. The run is an excellent way to meet locals, get fresh air and workout: register here if interested (free).
#20 Museums to visit
Whitehead Railway Museum
Choose to either download the museum’s audio tour or ask for a (free) guided visit. Head to the excursion station and take a ride in an 1879-built steam locomotive from the end of March until the last day of August.
Admission Fees: €7.97 (£7) for adults, €6.83(£6) for concession and €5.69 (£5) for kids. The train Ride costs between €2.28 and €2.85 (£2 to £2.5).
Address: Whitehead Railway Museum, Castleview Road, Whitehead
Flame Gasworks Museum of Ireland
Flame is the only Victorian and (exhaustive) coal gasworks remaining in the island of Ireland. Its extensive collection of appliances and library are both truly a place of knowledge.
Admission Fee: Free!
Address: 44 Irish Quarter W, Carrickfergus
Also known as the Braid Museum, the modern building displays history and pre-history of Mid-Antrim in two spacious exhibition rooms. An interactive collection wall, several temporary exhibitions and multiple events take place within the art centre.
Admission Fee: Free!
Address: The Braid Ballymena Town Hall Museum & Arts Centre, 1-29 Bridge Street Ballymena Antrim
Another contemporary construction presenting documents and artefacts related to the city since the middle ages up to more current times.
Admission Fee: Free!
Address: Carrickfergus Museum and Civic Centre 11 Antrim Street Carrickfergus
Island Arts Centre
From exhibitions to family workshops, festivals to shows, or talks and education, the Island Art Centre is a cultural hub offering an endless choice of entertainments.
Admission Fee: Exhibitions are Free
Address: Lagan Valley Island, Lisburn
More Things to Do
At the boundary of the county, you will find the 35-year-old and earliest independent commercial brewery in the island of Ireland. Walk or take the Hilden Bike N’ Brew Tour and cycle in nature before tasting meals made out of ale. Taste the robust and flavourful double IPA Buckhead or have the Headless Dog Amber Ale.
Admission Fee: €11.59 (£10) per adult with sampling
Address: Hilden Brewery Hilden House Grand Street Hilden Lisburn
Old Bushmills Distillery
Join the 120,000 visitors each year and discover the world’s oldest distillery, opened in 1608.
Admission Fee: €10.43 (£9.00) for Adults, Senior Citizens (60 years +) and students (18 years + Student ID) €9.28 (£8.00), Children (8 – 17 years) €5.8 (£5.00)
Under 8-year-old, kids are not allowed to join the tour.
Address: 2 Distillery Rd, Bushmills
Note: from the 14th of June to the 12th of July, some maintenance is undertaken, and some access will be restricted
Other sites to visit in County Antrim include:
- the 1817’Curfew Tower
- Marconi Memorial in Ballycastle
- The 28-meter 10th century Round Tower in Antrim
- The Country Life at Shanes Castle
- The award-winning Ecos Centre in Ballymena
- Word of Owls in Randalstown
- The dramatic Gobbins Cliff Coastal Path in Larne
- The colourful 191-hectare (472 acres)of Carnfunnock Country Park