Antrim Things to Do Tips by Dabs Top 5 Page for this destination
Antrim Things to Do: 50 reviews and 157 photos
Glenarm Forest Park
Once you get north of Larne on the coastal road from Carrkickfergus, you start driving through the nine Glens of Antrim, a lovely scenic drive that goes through many small villages and along the coast of Northern Ireland. The 1st village that we came across was Glenarm, the major seat of the Earls of Antrim after Dunluce Castle was abandoned. We tried to find Glenarm Castle but all we could find was the walled gardens, the woman working there said the castle was private property but still I thought we'd be able to see the exterior. Instead of visiting the walled garden, we drove to the Glenarm Forest Park where there are several trails for walking. Although it was nice to stretch our legs, the Park wasn't anything out of the ordinary and we didn't see any waterfalls as mentioned in one of our guidebooks or have a glimpse of Glenarm Castle which was mentioned on website.
After leaving Glenarm we continued on the coastal route and headed to Cushendall where we made a slight detour to see the ruins of the 14th century Layd Old Church. The church was established in 1306 and ceased to be used as a parish church in 1790 when it was replaced by one in Cushendall.
A sign at the church says there is a coastal path leading to Cushendall Bay and that there are spectacular views of the Scottish coast, Lurigethan, Red Bay Castle, and Garron Plateau on a clear day, round trip is about an hour. Regrettably we had neither clear weather or an hour to spare.
Julia McQuillan's burial site
Just before reaching Ballycastle we made a short stop to visit the ruins of Bonamargy Friary, founded by the McQuillan family around 1500. Julia McQuillan, the Black Nun, is said to be buried near the entrance to the church so that worshippers would tread on her grave, as a token of her humility. Look for the round Celtic cross that you can see in the lower left corner of my 1st photo. Members of the rival MacDonnell family are also buried here, Sorley Boy and his son Randal which both had connections to Dunluce Castle which we visited later the same afternoon.
The friary stands on the River Margy which is linked with the Irish legend of the children of Lir whose evil stepmother turned them into swans and made them spend 300 hundred years on the Sea of Moyle.
Since we didn't visit the Giant's Causeway because of the rain and wind, we headed to Dunluce Castle which sounded like a great idea until we noticed that it had no roof. We started the visit watching a video about the history of the castle and then toured the ruins of the castle.
There may have been a fort here previous to the 16th century when the McQuillan family owned the castle but the glory days of the castle was after the castle was taken by force by Sorley Boy MacDonnell in 1565. The structure that you see when you visit is the remains from the MacDonnell's time of ownership. There are signs describing what the layout of the castle was including the gatehouse, mainland court, manor house, loggia and kitchen court
On a stormy night in 1639, the north wall of the kitchen court fell into the sea along with several servants who plunged to their deaths. The Countess MacDonnell, wife of Sorley Boy's son Randal, who reportedly didn't care much for the place anyway, packed up and left Dunluce never to return.
Directions: A couple of miles east of Portrush along the coastal road
The Giant's Causeway is Northern Ireland's top tourist draw and it's easy to see why once you've actually seen it, not only does it have an engaging legend to accompany the weird geometric shapes that have popped out of the ground, it's like a giant jungle gym for adults as you can climb up and over it.
I'll give you the scientific explanation first, the estimated 40,000 columns are the result of volcanic activity 60 million years ago, the tallest columns are about 36 feet tall. Most of the columns are hexegons (6 sides) but some have 4, 5, 7 or 8 sides. There are explanatory panels next to the Giant's Causeway that go into a lot more detail on the formation of the columns.
But it wouldn't be Ireland without a legend, which is far more entertaining than the scientific stuff, and of course the legend involves a couple of rival giants, Finn MacCool, who lived on the north coast of Ireland and Benadonner, who lived across the sea in Scotland. One version of the legend has the much smaller giant Finn creating a path across the sea to fight Benadonner but he sees how much bigger the Scottish giant was and fled back to Ireland with Benadonner chasing him. As Benadonner approached, his wife dressed Finn as a baby and put him in bed and tells Benadonner that Finn is hunting. Benadonner, thinking Finn must be huge if that's his baby, flees back to Scotland smashing the causeway as he goes so Finn could not follow. There are also basalt columns on the Scottish isle of Staffa on the other end of the Giant's Causeway.
If you drive to the Giant's Causeway, you will have to pay to park, the rate is currently £6 but remember that there is no charge to visit the Causeway so don't get too ticked off by the fee. Coming early doesn't avoid the charge as there are pay and display boxes and you are required to have a ticket on your dashboard. Once parked we asked a ranger what the options were to visit and he suggested taking the cliff top footpath to the Shepard's path which is 162 stairs down to the Causeway, having a look around the Causeway and then taking the bus or walking back up to the visitor center. There is a small charge for the bus, we walked back and it wasn't too strenuous of a walk.
We did take the Clifftop footpath and the Shepard's path and then made a diversion to see some of the natural formations-the organ and the chimneys and then doubled back down to see the main attraction, the Causeway and it's thousands of geometric pillars. If time is short you can take the bus back but I'd suggest walking down as you get some different views as you walk along. The clifftop path isn't a must but it was a nice walk if you have the extra time and once again it gives a different view although the main part of the Causeway looks soooo small from up there. It's a 1km walk from the visitor's center to the Giant's Causeway and 1.75km from the visitor's center along the clifftop footpath to the Giant's Causeway.
There are a whole bunch of rock formations that have been named, some of them are very easy to spot, some of them aren't so obvious. What I originally thought was the camel wasn't, and what I thought was a lizard appears to be the camel. I never did spot the granny. Some others to look for are the wishing chair and onion skins.
Photo 1-the Giant's Boot was really easy, someone was posing on it as we approached it and it looks like a boot. It's located past the major site of stones on the lower path.
Photo 2-the organ is also easy to spot as it's so big, if you take the Shepard's steps down from the clifftop, keep heading in the same directions
Photo 3-chimneys, also easy to spot, keep traveling past the organ and look up, it's on a cliff
Photo 4-I assumed this was the camel
Photo 5-but when I got home, this looked more like the pictures of the camel. I thought it was a lizard.
If you have plenty of time to visit the Giant's Causeway, you can walk along the clifftop over the Causeway coast for a view from above. The stones don't look like much from that high up but you do get a nice sweeping view that you don't get from the lower path. Once you get to the Shepard's path, 162 steps that lead down to a path where you can continue on to see the Organ, the Ampitheater and Chimneys. We then doubled back to go visit the Giant's Causeway
It looks a little longer when you get close...
"Hell no, I'm not crossing that little tiny rope bridge in 30 mph winds, no way, not going to happen" was what I was chanting as we sat in the car waiting for the 3rd or 4th rain storm of the morning to subside so I was a bit surprised when "2 adults" popped out of my mouth at the ticket booth and I forked over my £4.90 x two.
They give you plenty of time to contemplate your impending death as you walk past the ticket booth, when you see the rope bridge for the first time way way off in the distance it doesn't seem so bad as it looks really short and you can't see the bridge swaying in the wind. Not yet anyway but as you get up to it and descend the stairs it starts looking a lot longer and much less stable. But I've already paid for it and can't endure the inevitable taunts that would come for the rest of the trip and quite possibly the rest of my life.
I focused my eyes on the other end of the bridge and tried not to think about "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", is that the bridge of death? And the gorge of eternal peril? And why is the bridgekeeper asking me my name, my quest and my favorite color?
I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I got to the other side, it's really not that bad if you hold your breath, don't look down and keep your eyes focused on the other side of the bridge. But in order to get back to civilization I had to do it again and by now the wind had kicked up even more and I had an audience watching me as I contemplated whether sleeping on the island was an option. The bridgekeeper motioned to me, apparently he would have come and rescued me but I thought he was telling me to get a move on so I sucked in my breath and scurried back across, I've obviously lived to tell the tale.
So why is this bridge here? The bridge connects the mainland to Carrick Island and fishermen have been stringing a rope bridge up here for over 350 years in order to get to the best places to catch salmon and they've found a way to get a little of the tourism dollars now by maintaining a permanent bridge.
And why cross it? Well, to say that you did it, nothing like a little adrenaline rush to get your heart pumping. Plus the view is quite nice from the island and they told me that they hadn't lost anyone over the side...yet...
My guidebook and some online guides implied that the bridge closed during certain times of the year but the sign out front had hours for the whole year. Tickets are sold from 10am until at least 5:15pm most of the year (6:15pm May24-Aug 31) except Nov 2-Feb 27 when it's only 2:45pm, you have 45 minutes after that to cross the bridge.
Address: North Antrim Coast
Directions: Closest city is Ballintoy, if you are driving the Antrim Coastal road it is well marked
We stayed right next door to Carrickfergus Castle which is located right at the start of the Antrim coastal road as you head north from Belfast. Unfortunately it didn't open until 10am and we were all ready to go so we just had a walk around the outside. Admission was only £2 or £3.
The castle was was built by Anglo-Norman invader John de Courcy around 1180 as his headquarters. At that time it was almost entirely surrounded by water, parts of it are still on the water today. In 1315 the the castle went under siege by the English forces of Robert and Edward Bruce, in 1760 it was the French who tried to take it but it was recaptured by the English. In 1778, during the American War of Independence, John Paul Jones fought a successful battle off the coast here with the British navy, the 1st American naval victory. In 1797 the Castle became a prison. The castle was garrisoned continuously for about 750 years until 1928 when it was transferred to the government. The castle has been restored and is open for visitors.
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Antrim Travel Guide
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