Road Trip in Northern Ireland – Belfast, Giant’s Causeway & The Dark Hedges

From Ireland we simply continued our road trip into Northern Ireland. This was the first time we had ever crossed a land border into another country without any passport checks. So what did we get up to in Northern Ireland?

BELFAST

Transport

With our SIXT Car Rental that we picked up in Dublin we were asked if we would be travelling into Northern Ireland, and as we were, we had to pay a €34/$57.93 NZD charge to ensure we were still covered for insurance. After our tour of Doolin Cave in County Clare, Ireland we drove 370 kms to Belfast and our Airbnb apartment (read our review here).

Settling In

Not much settling in needed really, we passed a small sign marking we were now in Northern Ireland and that the speed limit was now in miles per hour. We also needed to get our British Pounds back out.

Activities

  • Titanic Belfast – A few years ago Braxton had become very interested in the Titanic and it’s one and only journey, and after much research on his part over this time it was incredible to be able to take him to the slipways where it was actually built and visit this amazing museum. They have a good website and the museum is very well done with lots of hands on and interactive activities and learning for the whole family. The museum ticket also gives you access to the restored SS Nomadic, the last surviving White Star Line vessel, which is just outside the museum. The boys completed their activity sheets during our visit and earned themselves a certificate. Total ticket cost for our family of four was £46.50/$87.50 NZD and it is well worth the price.

Titanic Belfast Museum_Belfast_Northern IrelandTitanic Belfast Museum_Belfast_Northern Ireland_1

  • McArt’s Fort – Little is known about this hilltop fortification but it may date back to the late Bronze Age or Iron Age and may have been used for refuge in times of crisis or war. Our plan was to take a picnic lunch to the top to enjoy the views of Belfast but the fickle Irish summer weather had other ideas. As we parked the rain showers got a little heavier so we ate in the car but thankfully within 20 minutes it had cleared and we could actually see the city below. We had a steady walk up and finished the climb with some fresh strawberries at the peak and stunning views 368 metres above sea level. McArt’s Fort is within the Cave Hill Country Park and there are quite a few hiking trails, of different lengths, in this area.

McArt's Fort_Cave Hill Country Park_Belfast_Northern Ireland

  • Belfast Castle & Cave Hill Adventurous Playground – After our hike up to the fort we parked at the Belfast Castle for a look around the gardens and searched for “the cats”. It is said that good fortune will come to those visiting the castle as long as the tradition of the castle cat is kept. The story goes that there has always been a resident white cat living at the castle and the gardens celebrate this tale with nine references made to the cat in the paving, garden furniture, sculptures and plants. A bit of fun to try to find them all. From the castle we took a short walk to the very large Cave Hill playgound. It is a fantastic space with lots of different areas and activities for all ages.

Belfast Castle_Cave Hill Playground_Belfast_Northern Ireland

  • Giant’s Causeway – Just over an hour’s drive from Belfast and according to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. The story goes that the Irish giant Fionn Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. Finn hides from Benandonner when he realises that his foe is much bigger than he is. He returns and his wife then disguises him as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the ‘baby’, he assumes that its father, Finn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Finn would not be unable to chase him down. Scientists believe that the over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns are the aftermath of volcanic crashing, burning and cooling. An epic 60-million-year-old legacy to lava. Either way it was another incredible sight to behold and the coastline is just breathtaking.Giant's Causeway_Bushmills_Northern IrelandYou can walk to the causeway and surrounding area for free but the visitor’s centre car park is reserved for those who purchase tickets from them for their tours or visitor experience. We parked at the nearby ‘Giant’s Causeway & Bushmills Railway’ for a flat fee of £8/$15 NZD and took the quick walk up towards the visitor’s centre and the trails to the causeway. The National Trust’s website has information and maps with the different trails around this area and there are also maps and signage around the area. We took a picnic and enjoyed it along the green trail where there are picnic tables, then we headed towards the main attractions along the blue trail. There is a bus shuttle service that runs from below the visitor’s centre to the main causeway, I think it was £1-2 each way. Of course we walked and enjoyed exploring the area and spotting some of the sights like the chimney stacks and the camel.

Giant's Causeway_Bushmills_Northern Ireland_1

  • Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – In the same area as the Giant’s Causeway is this rope bridge, first erected in 1755 by local salmon fishermen and a jaw dropping 30m above the sea. From the carpark we walked in around 1 km to see what the queues were all about and could see the bridge and incredible scenery, but we were glad we didn’t pay the £22.40/$42 NZD for all of us to cross it.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge_Ballycastle_County Antrim_Northern Ireland_1

  • The Dark Hedges – While we haven’t watched any of the the Game of Thrones series, we did know that some of it was filmed in parts of Northern Ireland. During our drive north we saw a sign for ‘The Dark Hedges’ so we double checked the location and decided to make a small detour on our way back to Belfast. Better known in the series as ‘The King’s Road’, this is two rows of intertwined beech trees planted in the 18th century. A pretty area, especially with some filters on the photos, but it is amazing what a movie or TV series can do for what would have once been a very quiet strip of road. There were a few people visiting when we were there but we have seen photos with huge crowds. Now that the series is finished I wonder if things will quieten down here??

The Dark Hedges_Ballymoney_Northern Ireland

Food & Drinks

As per usual we like to try as many local dishes and delicacies and here in (Northern) Ireland we thought we better partake in a “Full Irish”. Logan and I shared a “Belly Buster” at a cafe in Belfast, it was so filling that we couldn’t even finish it between us.

The Belly Buster_Full Irish Breakfast_Belfast_Northern Ireland
The ‘Belly Buster’ – £6.70/$12.60 NZD

I’m not sure what we were actually expecting, but we were pleasantly surprised by both Ireland and Northern Ireland and really enjoyed getting to see a small part of these countries. After a 160 km drive back to Dublin Airport, we returned our rental car and took another quick flight to Bonnie Old Scotland.

Average Daily Spend for 4 nights – $198.60 NZD ($31.40 under budget per day)

– Paula

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