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Four Nights in Northern Ireland

My wife and I will be in Northern Ireland this summer for four nights. We've been to Ireland before but never to Northern Ireland. We plan to rent a car, are pretty efficient and quick travelers, and love to hike. The following itinerary is what I'm currently working with, but would love input. For the sake of convenience, and not having to switch hotels every day, I've been leaning toward staying multiple nights in Belfast, but please tell me if I'm missing out on other great towns by doing so.

We'll be arriving in Belfast from London on a Thursday mid-afternoon and will have until Monday evening before flying back to London.

Tentative Plan:

Thursday - Belfast (stay in Belfast)
Friday - Causeway Coastal Route (stay in Belfast)
Saturday - Hike in the Mourne Mountains (stay in Belfast)
Sunday - Drive to Slieve League Cliffs and hike the area (not sure where to stay...would love advice)
Monday - Depending on where we stay on Sunday night we will decide what to see and do before making our way back to Belfast for the evening flight to London...would love advice on this.

Or...if there is a more efficient way to do Slieve League Cliffs please let me know.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Posted by
913 posts

As long as you don't bring your cousin Sem, you'll be grand. His reputation precedes him and it's not all good!

Posted by
913 posts

I feel bad for making a bad troubles joke and providing no useful input.

Does the Causeway Coastal Route involve driving up the Antrim coast to get there? That's absolutely stunning. I stayed in Cushendall some years ago. Carnlough, Cushendall and Cushendun are all nice little towns. The coast is a great drive, but it's lovely if you get a little back off the coast into the Glens too.

Posted by
2063 posts

The Causeway coast route is excellent with so much to do and see. As well as the Antrim Glens - each is different and there is the potential for some great walks. The Waterfall walk at Glenariff is well worth doing.

The drive around the coast along an unclassified raod from Cushenden to Torr Head (car park and Murlough Bay (car park) to Ballyvoy is well worth doing - although may be not for faint hearted drivers, as there are lots of arrows on the road! and it's not very wide. It's stunning though!.

You also have the ruined Dunluce Castle, Mussaden Temple, Carrick a Rede rope Bridge as well as Giant's Causeway. If time allows it is worth climbing up behind the visitor centre and walking along the cliffs to look down on the Causeway (and all the visitors scurrying around a bit like ants!). Check out details of the red and blue trails. The Causeway is best seen at low tide when more of the columns are exposed.

You could easily fill two days in the area. Ballycastle is also a popular place for an overnight stay, or if you wanted to be further along the coast there is Portrush or Portstewart.

Rather than heading south to the Mournes, have you thought about walking in the Sperrins instead?

You could then head to Slieve League from there. It would cut a good hour off the driving time.

Posted by
913 posts

Since I mentioned Cushendall, I found this little article about the most prominent building in the village, The Curfew Tower -
https://visualartists.ie/ask-for-zippy-bill-drummond-tells-the-tale-of-how-and-why-he-established-the-artists-residency-in-a-tower-on-the-antrim-coast/
That's where I stayed for 10 days almost 20 years ago.

My Cushendall claim to fame is that photographs I took in the village may appear on signage placed by the tourist board, possibly by the beach? They contacted me to ask permission a few years ago, but I haven't seen the finished article.

Posted by
672 posts

Slieve League is gorgeous, but I'm not sure it deserves a cross-country drive when you're already in beautiful country with slightly lower cliffs. I don't see the attraction of Carrick-a-Rede but I grew up with scary bridges. I'd suggest two nights in Belfast and two nights on the Antrim Coast, maybe in one town or two. I think the Antrim coast/glens will satisfy any need for hiking or ocean views.

Friday - Titanic Experience, Crumlin Gaol, Mourne's Seafood, Botanic Gardens, Ulster Museum, McHugh's Bar
Sat - drive into Antrim Glens/Coast, Glenariff Falls hike, staying in Cushendall, Glenarm, etc.
Sun - continue west to Giant's Causeway, Dunluce, return to previous lodging or Ballycastle, etc. I wouldn't go to Portrush as it's a ghost town (IMHO). Maybe go as far as Derry and surrounds.
Mon - Sperrin hikes (or Mourne Mountains, if you insist) to Belfast.

Posted by
10 posts

Have you considered visiting Derry? We did a walking tour of the walled city. There is so much history there. We also visited the Ulster American Folk Center in Omagh - it is outdoors and you walk through 3 sections (life in Northern Ireland, the journey to America and life in America). It focuses on the numbers of Irish who emigrated to the US, the causes and their experiences. If you have a car and end up in Derry, you are only 15 minutes from Grianán of Aileach, a reconstructed stone ring fort with wonderful views that is marked on Ptolemy's 2nd century world map. It is open all day and is free with a parking lot on site.

Posted by
2 posts

I appreciate all of your feedback. The suggestions you've made have helped me to rethink the value of driving to Slieve League on this trip because of how far out of the way it is.

If we eliminated Slieve League, would Derry be a day trip, returning to stay in Belfast for the night, or would it be better to stay overnight in Derry?

Also, what would cause you to choose hiking Sperrin over Mourne or vice-versa (assuming you were forced to choose one)?

Posted by
465 posts

Our Northern Ireland trip involved a train from Dublin to Belfast (cab tour, downtown walking), half a day there, then the train to Derry. We did three nights in Derry (walking tour, genealogy research, doing a lot of walking ourselves) , and rented a car to see County Donegal (incredible landscape, towns, farms, national park, and cliff areas). Then train back to Belfast for another half day (Titanic Museum, downtown), then back by train to Dublin.

Posted by
119 posts

You asked about staying in Derry, which I plan to do next month. I found it was difficult to find affordable accommodation there, much more so than in the other places we are visiting. We will be without a car. With a car, of course, you could stay further out. You can definitely make Derry a day trip, walk the city walls, hit the Free Derry museum, maybe take a guided tour of the Bogside murals.

This will be my 4th trip to Ireland, and the Slieve League is the main site I want to see, so I am biased in favor of seeing that over really anything else in NI, but Giant's Causeway is not to be missed. We stayed in Bushmills and day tripped to GC, Dun Luce and Derry. Given your interests and time frame, I would skip Belfast entirely. Get in the car and head to the Sperrins, maybe staying the night in Omagh? Next day to Slieve League, staying in Killybegs or near Donegal town. Stop off/stay in Derry, then GC, etc. So basically a clockwise loop staying in a different place each night (which is not for everyone, of course).

We will be visiting the Sperrins Sculpture Trail because I am a fan of the Danish sculptor Thomas Dambo. The Sperrins have a very good tourist website with driving routes and lots of good information here: https://sperrinspartnershipproject.com/visit-sperrins/

Have a great trip!