The Perfect Itinerary from Dublin to the Causeway Coast – Everything You Need To Know
If you are planning a trip from Dublin to the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland, then you have come to the right place. If you want to see their most popular sites – the Dark Hedges, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Giants Causeway and Dunluce Castle, then you have come to the right place. With first hand experience, I have everything you need to know (including tips and tricks) to have the perfect trip from Dublin to the Causeway Coast.
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Driving from Ireland into Northern Ireland
The Causeway Coast is in Northern Ireland and a part of the United Kingdom. So you will have to pass the border when driving from Dublin to the Causeway Coast. There are quite a few things to know beforehand when you drive into Northern Ireland, but one thing remains the same – you still drive on the left side of the road.
Northern Ireland Fee
First thing you will need to be prepared for is the (possible) fee to drive your rental vehicle from Ireland into Northern Ireland. Prior to our Ireland road trip, we were told that we would need to inform our rental car agency that we were taking the car across the border. We were also told that we would incur a fee to drive into Northern Ireland.
We booked our rental car with Alamo and on their website we read the fee was €30. We also looked into Enterprise and saw their fee was €150! So it appears that each rental car company has their own rules for their clients driving into Northern Ireland. However, when we told Alamo we were driving to Northern Ireland, they said that they do not charge an extra fee. With that said, we recommend that everyone should still prepare to pay a fee to drive into Northern Ireland. You should also know, when you enter Northern Ireland, the currency changes from euro to pounds.
In addition to the rental car fee, there is a small fee for a toll you must take. However, if you choose to have your GPS avoid tolls while driving from Dublin to the Causeway Coast, you will pass the border with no toll at all. We actually almost missed the Northern Ireland “welcome sign” because crossing the border happened so fast. We recommend this route because not only do you save a few bucks, but you experience a more scenic route. (For those wanting another passport stamp, you will not get one – we were disappointed too).
KPH to MPH
Though you still drive on the left side of the road, the speed changes from KPH to MPH. We recommend doing some preliminary research on KPH to MPH or vice versa because most cars do not have a speedometer that features both KPH and MPH. So definitely be aware of this change and your speed when driving.
For more driving tips check out our link 20 Helpful Driving Tips to Have the Best Ireland Road Trip
Driving Route from Dublin to the Causeway Coast
When planning a road trip, we love to use the perfect road trip planner, Furkot. You should try using it for your Ireland road trip – we did! Speaking of road trip…Before we dive into each of the popular sites on the Causeway Coast, here is the itinerary of our trip (please note times can change with breaks, traffic etc):
9am: Depart from Dublin to the Dark Hedges – driving time: 2hrs 30mins, arrive: 11:30am, duration: 45mins
12:15pm: Drive to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – driving time: 15mins, arrive: 12:30pm, duration: 1hr 30mins
2pm: Drive to Giants Causeway – driving time: 15mins, arrive: 2:15pm (peak time), duration: 1hr 30mins
3:30pm: Drive to Dunluce Castle – driving time: 10mins, arrive: 3:40pm, duration: 30mins
Then from Dunluce Castle we drove to our final destination, Lough Eske Castle Hotel & Spa, in Donegal, Ireland.
Though our itinerary is plausible, if we had more than seven days in Ireland, we would have done our trip a little differently. So if you have the time, here is an alternative and a more perfect itinerary of driving from Dublin to the Causeway Coast:
Spend two days in Dublin getting acquainted with the Irish culture and lifestyle – aka dancing, singing, drinking beer and whiskey in traditional pubs.
Leave Belfast early in the morning to beat the crowd at the Dark Hedges.
From the Dark Hedges, continue as our itinerary above with a visit to Bushmills Distillery after Giants Causeway. If you really have a lot of time and want to beat the crowds at Giants Causeway, we recommend spending the night in Bushmills.
After Bushmills Distillery, continue to Dunluce Castle and then visit the Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple.
Continue your next destination on your Ireland road trip.
Whether you are a Game of Thrones fan or not, the Dark Hedges are a site to see during your trip from Dublin to the Causeway Coast. Not only is it on your way to the Causeway Coast, but it’s the perfect pit stop to give yourself a break from driving. If you ask us, walking down a road full of trees that form a tunnel is not a bad way to stretch your legs.
The Dark Hedges is on Bregagh Road and vehicles are not allowed to drive through it. With that being said, we found a very small parking lot right before the Dark Hedges entrance. If you find this lot is full, visitors can park at Gracehill House or Hedges Hotel for free. The Hedges Hotel and Gracehill House are only a 2-5 minute walk away to the Dark Hedges.
Northern Ireland also emphasizes “Leave No Trace,” therefore they ask that visitors leave no litter or damage in the area. Unfortunately, the beech trees that make the Dark Hedges have already been vandalized or destroyed. These outcomes have left gaps where it was once a full tunnel of trees. So, please respect the Dark Hedges and help the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust to preserve these beautiful beech trees. It is truly the most iconic tree tunnel road in the world.
Follow the light to capture the Dark Hedges scenic beauty.
If it is crowded, get your camera set up exactly where you want to capture your photo and quickly take your pictures when people leave your frame.
Bregagh Rd, Stranocum, Ballymoney BT53 8TP, UK
+44 28 2766 0230
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
The next stop on our route from Dublin to the Causeway Coast, is literally on the coast – Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is owned and operated by the National Trust. The 60 foot long rope bridge is about 100 feet above the water and links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede. This bridge was erected over 350 years ago by salmon fishermen during a time when there was an abundant amount of salmon near the coast. Today, the salmon are scarce and the bridge is only used for tourists.
Visitors must pay for a specific time slot to enjoy the scenic walk and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. These tickets can ONLY be purchased in person at the ticket office. During their peak season (May – August), we recommend you purchase your tickets ahead of time. We went in late March and were fortunate to purchase tickets for the current time slot. The parking lot is significantly big, it’s just a matter of how close you can park to the ticket office.
The bridge is not close to the ticket office, you must walk one mile (around 30 minutes) each way. Please note, this walk is beautiful, but there are times it is more of a trek. The trail can also be rocky and uphill at times. We absolutely loved the coastal walk to the bridge – the Causeway Coast is simply stunning. You can even see Scotland (only 13 miles away) from the Causeway Coast. Once you make it to the rope bridge, enjoy the walk over the Atlantic Ocean and the incredible views.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
119a Whitepark Road, Ballycastle BT54 6LS, UK
+44 28 2073 3335
Open daily: 9:30am to 6pm
Prices: adults are £8.00, children are £4.00
The next adventure on the Dublin to the Causeway Coast route is Giants Causeway, a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and the most visited site in Northern Ireland. There is history and a myth to share about Giants Causeway. Over 60 million years ago there was a volcanic fissure eruption. This eruption resulted in creating more than 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. The myth of the story is about two giants, one Gaelic and one Scottish, that decided to build a causeway across the North Channel to fight. Though they never fought, they did create huge hexagon shaped stepping stones that we call Giants Causeway.
Though this beautiful natural site should be easy to visit, there are a few tips and tricks to know beforehand. Accessing the Giants Causeway is not easy because there are no parking lots available to the public. Since Giants Causeway is owned and operated by the National Trust, they are the only ones who provide parking. Though visitors do not have to pay to see this natural phenomenon, the National Trust are making visitors pay via parking which also includes access to the visitor center. Not interested in this tactic? Fear not, we have a tip for you.
Giants Causeway Alternative Parking
The visitor center has been awarded the National Award of Excellence for “Best Tour Visit” by CIE Tours International for five consecutive years. However, if you are uninterested in visiting it, we have other parking options for you. The option we chose is a small parking lot at a restaurant called, The Nook. As long as you purchase something inside, whether it be a coffee or sandwiches, you can park here for free. Then the visitor center is less than a two minute walk away. Since we started our drive from Dublin to the Causeway Coast at 9am, we were very hungry. Parking at The Nook was both easy and convenient for us. We even asked our server if it was okay to leave our car in the parking lot to go to Giants Causeway and they had no problem with it.
Another option is parking in Bushmills City for free and using their park and ride. Their shuttle bus operates every 20 minutes, so just plan accordingly. The last option is parking at Bushmills Railway for $6 and then walking at least five minutes to the visitor center. Whichever parking option you choose, simply walk across the grass roof of the visitor center and follow the signs to Giants Causeway.
Experiencing Giants Causeway
The walk to Giants Causeway is around .7 miles on a paved road and takes around 20 minutes. Most of the walk is an easy downhill and then flat surface. Like Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, it is a stunning walk along the Causeway Coast. There is also a shuttle bus that runs from the visitor center to Giants Causeway for £1 (cash/coins only). If you don’t mind walking, we recommend walking down to Giants Causeway and then taking the shuttle back uphill.
Giants Causeway is simply stunning – it was probably our favorite stop during our journey of Dublin to the Causeway Coast. What we love most about it, is the ability to not just see it, but explore it. We spent at least an hour walking over the hexagonal stepping stones and admiring the creation of the volcanic fissure eruption. Waves would come crashing into the basalt columns with such beauty that we couldn’t stop watching. Lucky for us again, we faced minimal crowds during our visit. We went close to 5pm as the sun was starting to go down and we really enjoyed the lighting and ambience. It was the perfect setting to capture great photos of Giants Causeway.
44 Causeway Rd, Bushmills BT57 8SU, UK
+44 28 2073 1855
Giants Causeway Open daily: dawn to dusk
Visitor Center: Mon – Thurs: 9am to 6pm and Fri-Sun: 9am to 7pm
Prices: adults are £11.50, children are £5.75
Our last sight to see in Northern Ireland during our road trip from Dublin to the Causeway Coast was Dunluce Castle. During our time in Ireland we visited over ten castles and Dunluce Castle is without a doubt one of the most picturesque and romantic castles.
This ruined medieval castle sits on a dramatic edge of a basalt cliff. Its history dates back from 1513 and into the 1550s when the MacDonnell clan (who swore allegiance to Queen Elizabeth) seized the castle. A local legend states that during a stormy night in 1639, the kitchen collapsed into the sea killing all the cooks. This is said to be a false story, but during the 18th century, the north wall of the residence building actually did collapse into the sea. The MacDonnell clan continued to reign in the castle until 1690 when the castle began to deteriorate from disuse. The people of Dunluce town scavenged the remaining materials to build their nearby buildings.
Today, Dunluce Castle is used for visitors to explore. Visitors can discover not only the castle, but also archaeological digs which show the Dunluce Town’s street grid system. For Game of Throne Fans, if you think this picturesque castle looks familiar, you are correct. Dunluce Castle was used to create the Greyjoy Castle (or House of Greyjoy) on Pyke Island.
Mermaid Cave at Dunluce Castle
We were disappointed to find the entrance to the Mermaid Cave closed when we visited. However, we encourage you to visit for us! The Mermaid Cave is an amazing sea cove beneath the castle and towering basalt cliff. It is almost entirely hidden, but can be found by taking the staircases to the right of the Dunluce Castle’s gatehouse.
87 Dunluce Rd, Bushmills BT57 8UY, UK
+44 28 2073 1938
Open daily: 10am to 5pm (last entry at 4:30pm)
Prices: adults are £5.50, students, seniors and children (4-16yrs) are £3.50, children under 4yrs are FREE
Other Notable Sights to Visit on the Causeway Coast
If we did not have dinner reservations at Cedars Grill in Donegal, Ireland, we would have spent more time along the Causeway Coast. So if time permits, we recommend stopping at these beautiful sights during your road trip from Dublin to the Causeway Coast.
Old Bushmills Distillery
Being a tourist is hard work, trust us we know. So grab a drink at the worlds oldest distillery! Visitors can enjoy the tour of the distillery and enjoy a free drink at the end. Or they can just visit Bushmills’ bar and grab a drink there.
Old Bushmills Distillery
2 Distillery Rd, Bushmills BT57 8XH, UK
+44 28 2073 3218
Mon – Sat: 10am to 4:45pm
Sun: 12pm to 4:45pm
Tour prices: adults are £8.00, students and seniors are £7.00 and children (8-17yrs) are £4.50
Downhill Demesne is a beautiful mansion built in the late 18th century for Frederick Augustus Hervey, more notably known as the Earl of Bishop. The mansion was built on a vast piece of land overlooking Downhill Beach and Castlerock. With stunning views surrounding the mansion, it’s no surprise why the Earl of Bishop chose this location for his Demense.
107 Sea Rd, Castlerock BT51 4TW, UK
+44 28 7084 8728
Open daily: Downhill Demesne grounds from dawn to dusk, Downhill Demesne facilities from 10am to 5pm
Prices: adults are £5.60, children 5yrs and older are £2.70, children under 5yrs are FREE
The Mussenden Temple was built in 1785 as a summer library and part of the estate of Frederick’s Downhill Demesne. It is located on the edge of a 120ft. cliff with spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Downhill Strand towards Magilligan Point. The temple is included in your ticket of Downhill Demesne.
Seacoast Rd, Coleraine BT51 4RH, UK
Open Daily: 10am to 5pm
Ticket prices included with Downhill Demesne
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